Why So Many Atheists on CNN Belief?

By Father Robert Barron

The CNN Belief Blog, which has graciously featured a few of my pieces, just celebrated its first anniversary, and for the occasion, its editors reflected on 10 things that they’ve learned in the course of the year. The one that got my eye was this: that atheists are by far the most fervent commentators on matters religious.

This completely coincides with my own experience as an internet commentator and blogger. Every day, my website and YouTube page are inundated with remarks, usually of a sharply negative or dismissive nature, from atheists, agnostics, and critics of religion.

In fact, some of my YouTube commentaries have been specifically targeted by atheist webmasters, who urge their followers to flood my site with “dislikes” and crude assessments of what I’ve said. And one of my contributions to the CNN site — what I took to be a benign article urging Christians to pray for Christopher Hitchens — excited literally thousands of angry responses from the haters of religion.

What do we make of this? I think we see, first, that atheists have come rather aggressively out of the closet. Following the prompts of Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and many others, they have found the confidence to (excuse the word) evangelize for atheism. They are no longer content to hold on to their conviction as a private opinion; they consider religion dangerous and retrograde, and they want religious people to change their minds.

This fervor has led them, sadly, to employ a good deal of vitriolic rhetoric, but this is a free country and their advocacy for atheism should not, of course, be censored. But it should be a wake-up call to all of my fellow religionists. We have a fight on our hands, and we have to be prepared, intellectually and morally, to get into the arena.

Most of the new atheists employ variations of the classical arguments of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, namely, that religion is a pathetic projection born of suffering, that it is an infantile illusion, that it is de-humanizing, etc.

How well do Christians know the theories of our intellectual enemies? Can we identify their blind-spots and the flaws in their logic? Have we read the great Christian apologists — G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Ronald Knox, Fulton Sheen — and can we wield their arguments against those who are coming at us?

In my own Catholic Church, we sadly jettisoned much of our rich apologetic tradition in the years after Vatican II, convinced that it would be better to reach out positively to the culture. Well, at least part of that culture has turned pretty hostile, and it is high time to recover the intellectual weapons that we set aside…

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