McAtheism and the McChurch
by David Glass and Graham Veale
Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith once complained:
If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.
Smith went on to argue that theism demanded a rigorous academic critique. Compare his honest appraisal of the academic scene with the aphorism: ‘There’s nothing wrong with God that a dose of reality won’t cure’. This soundbite was entered into a competition organised on ‘Blasphemy Day’ to write the slogan most likely to ‘challenge’ religious believers. On the same day young sceptics were encouraged to take up ‘The Blasphemy Challenge’ by uploading comments to YouTube.
Here’s a typical recording according to USA Today: ‘Hi, my name is Ray and I deny the Holy Spirit. [Ray pauses] No lightning. Maybe next time’. Journalist Barabara Hegarty noted that Blasphemy Day was ‘about the future of the atheist movement’. It was part of an attempt by younger atheists to adopt a new approach — ‘a more aggressive, often belittling posture toward religious believers’. Now that this ‘younger, aggressive posture’ has become the public face of atheism, its worth taking a moment to consider why it has become so popular and how the Church should respond.
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Catching the Net
In the late 1990s, several commentators noticed a disturbing trend in evangelicalism. Managerial and promotional techniques were rapidly replacing mature preaching and theological depth. Chuck Colson called the result ‘McChurch’ . The Christian message was sliced down to easily digestible portions. The nutritional value of the church’s message was neglected in favour of more appetising nuggets with mass appeal.
Evangelicalism remains both stubbornly popular and politically powerful in American society. A younger generation of atheists regarded this success with envious eyes. They were more evangelistic than their predecessors, and they were prepared to mimic the tactics of Church marketeers (indeed, many ‘ex-Christians’ and ‘ex-apologists’ brought insider’s knowledge.) The atheist movement has become more media savvy, and has learned how to market its message to a younger, more cynical market. We call this ‘dumbing down’ for mass appeal ‘McAtheism’.
Note that McAtheism predates the publishing phenomenon known as the ‘New Atheism’. Prior to the internet, Humanist Societies did exist, but were relatively small in number and influence. They could not match churches for weekly attendance. The internet has changed all that; it has long allowed strangers separated by geography to meet and exchange thoughts. Blogs and chat-rooms are oddly addictive and can draw people back daily to exchange ideas and comments. Thanks to sites like ‘Infidels.org’ and ‘Dawkins.net’, the individual atheist need no longer feel isolated and swimming against the tide…
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