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Tackling the critics of the Christian faith

Network Norwich columnist James Knight continues his 11-part new year series - The Crisis Within Atheism. Part Six - A Hot Knife Through Butter (second instalment).

There have been many atheists who have sought to examine the claims of 139047Christianity with the intention of refuting and repudiating it - many of whom went on to conclude that Christianity is in fact the truth. 
Their open-mindedness was their real blessing, not their intellect. Some of the better atheist writers have quite convincingly concealed their emotions, but they always seemed to me to be the ones who were closest to discovering the truth. To feel passionately that all religion is based on myth must involve, at the deeper level, a form of concealed vitriol; for if Christianity is false, it is false because it is based upon the mistakes of our progenitors which itself should rightly be dismissed, or worse, it is based upon the lies of dishonest people which itself should rightly be hated. 
The writing produced by our counterparts (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, Harris, et al) is, immediately after reading, more outdated and unrealistic than, say, Augustine’s City of God written centuries before; for the real greats attribute to nature a more complex disguise than mere cerebration can ever hope to explain. The man who can see no more than cerebration is like a man who looks into country rambling merely for the purposes of finding the quickest way home. Such a man would be a fool, firstly for ruining the real qualities of the activity, and secondly for assuming that an activity which involves the same somatic processes must itself involve the same rewards. No, the biggest secrets in the universe are much better than that; they are not wholly secret, otherwise we would have no hints that they exist. The plot is being revealed to us gradually. 
I cannot, of course, criticise these works, except by being evidential, for if I were not, I would be competing on a mere philosophical level, probably under the control of a similar partisan to those who I am examining. Only when I stepped out of the laboratory, so to speak, did I find what I should be taking back into it. I am sure that the atheists’ inability to open themselves up to the possibility of the truth is both their misfortune and their main deficiency. If they are angered by the Christian claims that Christ died for their sins, then it follows that ‘anger’ is not the only emotion to be got out of an analysis of Christianity, for anger itself comes in place of a much better and more suitable emotion. If a man likes Spain as a holiday destination but strongly dislikes Portugal, then nothing that can be found in both countries can be intrinsically objected to, it must be something else which is causing his distaste - something outside of both sets of intrinsic common criteria. Similarly my favourite red wine is one of the cheapest brands you can buy, therefore there is nothing in the more expensive wines (suited to better palates) that makes me prefer it over the cheaper wine; the cost does not justify its standing as regards my palate. 
It would not be unreasonable, in my opinion, to say that Messrs. Dawkins, Hitchens et al, are much more afraid of Christianity than they let on. If they are afraid of the moment that some part of their analysis intimates heavily that some deeper truth may be lurking behind the mystery, we should not be surprised to find that their perception of distinction becomes tarnished along the way. There are, in this respect, two types of fear - the kind of fear which is secondarily attached to the numinous, and the kind of fear which is attached to repulsion. The second kind occurs more frequently, as much in, say, jealousy, as it does in dangerous situations. But the first kind is almost a pleasure in itself; that is why a scary film or a ride on a roller coaster are so appealing to the masses, they allow a little bit of the fear to become intertwined with the pleasure. 
Now fear of the supernatural; that is, the spectre of supernatural change occurring in the self, involves a little bit of both kids of fear; thus it is easy to see that impassioned atheists create for themselves a fresh type of imagination which discharges the second kind of fear into the first; thus eliminating any realistic chance of locating the pleasure of the change. The qualitative difference is perceived only through the emotions, which then become manifest in antipathy - in these cases against religious faith itself. 
It is not the fears themselves that have caused the detachment; it is what lies beneath them. The image that they seek to conjure up is an image of an utterly faceless entity; they have cut themselves adrift from the real nature of discovery - the mystery remains a mere intimation, disguised as ‘rational disbelief’. Whispers from the eternal forces have been drowned out by the resounding roar of the demons. This is the difference between life and lifelessness; between eternity and nonentity. This is one of the main functions of the atheists’ attempts to drown out the eternal into a hopeless silence; it presents what is already narrow (Matthew 7:13,14) and seeks to conceal it with humanism, or utilitarianism, or (occasionally) pacifism. But the fervour is really a disguised passion of a replacement - and whatever its strength, it remains hostile to the deeper truths, both of the self and of the eternal forces. 
The supernatural offers mystery beyond that of human rationality - it is very often the divine communicating through pure feeling. But if it were to be rejected, we should feel no greater hostility towards everyday dangers than we do towards providential things. But we do, of course, feel very differently. Some might say that it is all part of our psychology - our fear of danger or death, but that would be a foolish contention - for if it were, we should feel no different being strangled by a burglar than by an apparition - death will come either way. But we do, of course, feel very differently - the latter opens up new dimensions to our psychology; thus we should expect the same in life as in death; we should expect that all those who have experienced the risen Christ feel much the same way about their destiny as the man who suddenly realised his death was only the doorway to new beginnings. 
It is when we step into the unknown, when the first strands of faith start to stimulate our enquiry that we will really see the truth. God will meet us where we are; He will start to take us where He wants us to be. It is a journey that would soon reveal itself to be a false delusion if it had been, all along, a prelude to a deeper desire for the self. But just the opposite is happening, it is a desire to get out of the self - a departure which itself desires for a heavenly return. 
I do not mean that we do not wish to be what we are; I mean that we realise that our whole self needs more of the divine brought back into it; the curtain needs to raised. The perilous obstinacy which comes from denying this hardly ever does justice to the intensity which comes from going in. No solace or recompense is ever known through an outwardly identifiable change of thought - for when all this is absent, strivings for morality and justice and equitability will be the same from whichever corner they are fought. 
In this sense, the fears are never removed; they are merely sublimated into something subtler. The real destination, without the realisations of its corollaries, would satisfy the impulse only in so far as it created a new one. But the new one would, of course, be a reoccurrence of the old; its face will have changed but its body will remain the same; always tormenting, always the same things that were met in the first part of the journey. No man is likely to find the wondrous delights of divine revelation if he is not the sort of man who finds any excitement from ordinary earthly revelations. He will not find stupendous peculiarities in the supernatural if he cannot find them in nature. 
The search which begins with discomfort soon moves into other territories. The search for the divine strengthens our delight in earthly things; the excursion into that which we are called, sends us back to ourselves with renewed hope, for now the curtain has been raised - the drama is beginning, the story is about to be revealed to us in glorious technicolour. We shall begin to see how predetermined things can interrelate with autonomous things - we shall see our freedom to choose and our freedom to accede were never in very much conflict, so long as we understood the real nature of both. We shall see, just as Oedipus did, that our free enquiry is the modus operandi of divine determinism. 
We must, of course, remain sympathetic to their cause - after all their distaste is, to them, a form of morality - the intention is only bad because of what it omits not what it seeks to include. To call these books works of philosophy would be to confer upon them an undeserved compliment. They are not without merit - but they render themselves superfluous by one factor - all that is good in them can be found in other, better, books; in humanitarian treatises, in anti-Jihadist neo-con publications, in literature, in fairy tales even. The best messages remain almost the same no matter how they are employed. There are a finite amount of plots; there is a finite amount of ways to know God. But if cerebration can achieve all that is necessary, we can admit in the next breath that philosophy can replace the divine plan, and that, of course, has to be nonsense. 
BooksPilePerseverance, when it is required, will lead a man to the truth if he wishes to find it. But what are we to make of men who claim they have already found the truth in atheism? Much the same as we do the men who claim to have read a classic piece of literature ‘only once’ and from that reading have managed to absorb all its qualities to the point of proud referencing. Real things, if they are to lead us to the truth, must awake the longing in us, otherwise the real desires will be laid asleep, and the real journey will become a haze of mist and fog. It will be like drinking whisky to quench our thirst. 
And unless our atheist writers realise that the enquiry about religion is only really a net hoping to catch bigger fish. The real factors of the enquiry are those that recognise not states but processes. They clutch at the thinnest of straws in the hope that readers will haul superlatives at them, but their troubles go much deeper. Their real state of thinking is encapsulated not in their merits but in their demerits. The real nature of the self has eluded them; the part of the self that is looking for a reconciliation. Their imaginations might be able to stimulate them in a way that supernatural consideration cannot. But the creature has escaped, it was caught in the net but it got lost amongst thousands of smaller creatures. 
The atheist polemicists accuse Christians of being deluded and stagnant; they say we are stuck in a timewarp. But this seems to me to be a very flawed impression of the real nature of the journey. We are not substituting the old for the new, we are adding new to the old. It was the old that made us search for the new. The real nature of pleasure is not that it should be supplanted at the occurrence of every new pleasure - it is that it should be added to. The Christian is in much the same position with the atheist - he does not wish to leave behind the things themselves (save for the faults), he wishes to add to them, and thus, by adding, he makes them whole, he fills in the cracks; he adds to the inner-self, those things which were coveted all along, the things which were forever being sought in the misleading tenets of solipsism. 
Atheists often accuse Christianity of giving its adherents a false impression of reality. But I think that that imputation belongs more in atheism. No amount of cerebration on its own can give anything but a false impression of the self; for it tries to aggrandise the argument by substituting the feeling. That is why fantasy books are so much better for young children than academic books; the latter, despite being more true, are far more likely to deceive them until they can first understand about themselves. Whenever I attempted to write stories as a child, I had to join up seemingly unrelated patterns until I could envisage not just the story but all of its constituent details. But very rarely does this process occur without the need for change and interpolation. 

We create things in our emotions to fit in with the story, we pull together parts of our imagination and parts of our reasoning until both fit together in the form of some sort of narrative. The biggest accusation I have against those whose books I am reviewing is that they have done as adults, what we once did as fledging child writers. They have contrived reasons why their philosophies, their very bad philosophies, can fit into a sensible nature, but with the most meagre of appeals (in this case under the ragged umbrella of rationality, morality, humanism, and liberalism). 
Our atheist writers (at least three of the four that I am reviewing) are attempting to run machines under conditions to which they not suited. I do not mean that rationality, morality, humanism and liberalism have no place in the world - but under the conditions which they attempt to conjure up - namely the denial of the real nature of the self - they have got it very wrong. This is perhaps the principal reason why the voice of the inner-self is, when listened to, the most comprehensive and the most true to our real situation and our real destination. To know for sure that it is God is to recognise the strongest inner-voice of all. It has almost nothing to do with intelligence - it has almost everything to do with obedience. 
Even now I have omitted to mention the real nature of divine knowing - the deep mysterious nature of growth in Him, the real nature of the interrelation between reason and emotion, and the stupendous wonder of the greatest change of the greatest perspective. Even if I had not trespassed on your time for long enough already, I could not begin to attempt to convey their essence with words. 
Perhaps the one glimmer of hope for atheist polemicists is that the most obvious appeal of atheism is the complete antithesis of the most obvious (and deepest) appeal of divine knowing; thus if a real change of perception sweeps into their soul, they will at least recognise the disparity immediately. Mr. Hitchens is the most literate of the four writers, although paradoxically, he is the one who is most preposterously unaware of his own limitations. His contentions are hampered by one central unawareness - he is unaware, or seems unaware, of the appeal to the self that such sentiments evoke. 
Fallacy is very often alluring so long as it is unnoticed, the strongest winds of reason cannot always demolish it, for they remain alluring as long as the self’s real inner-predicament continues to remain dormant. Solipsism will probably outlive many of the cults, but it will never outlive the self’s real displeasure at its own solipsistic tendencies. The strong aversion that our atheist polemicists have towards religion is easily converted to a strong liking for the self; and then, perhaps, the images might become real, the mysteries might be made manifest in both their reasoning and their emotions - we can but hope. 
If at the heart of their aversion there lies a controlling aversion to typologies, or to coercion, or to subscription, or to any other such thing, it is as involuntary as, say, envy or jealousy. Thus it cannot be removed, only reconstituted - it springs from a discomforting realisation of the limitations of the self. If the self had no limits, it would know no such thing as jealousy or envy, it would know only its own essence. 
It is time to close now; there is only one more point to make this week. The atheist writers that we have been discussing are not looking to be won over intellectually - they are far too predisposed - too much is at stake for them - the allure of illustriousness, the charm of adulation, and the enchantment of praise. And that is why every minor victory is temporal, the sand dunes will reappear, the thorn bushes will grow thicker and faster, the wide gate will become wider. If we want to know what the gate into the mystery looks like, it is not adorned with pearls and diamonds - it is as plain as daily thinking and daily feeling. 
The foray into the real nature of the mystery happens when we are most ourselves, when we know the real needs of the self. To abandon illusion is to abandon disillusionment. The real value of finding the gate is that we can enter the mystery and take with us both what we know and what we know is currently unknown. This fresh awareness will raise the curtain, it will reveal to us our true destiny, the real nature of our reason and our emotions, it will restore what we had lost through apathy and familiarity. 
Just as children enjoy their toys not for their material properties but by pretending that they exist in another world - the Action Man becomes a real solder, the Star Wars figure, a real space traveller - any of us can see that the real object returns qualitatively better because of its foray into the imaginary dimensions of reality. The familiarity of a room in your house always looks like a stranger’s room in the mirror. By seeing through different eyes, through its opposite, so to speak, we see its real quintessence. 
By adding things to the mystery we do not devalue it, nor do we falsify it. We bring back some more of the reality that has been lost in the solipsistic march. Everything that is dipped into the mystery, including the self, will see the real nature both of the self and of the mystery. One does not exist without the other, thus one does not become real; until it comes into contact with the other. The universe was made for no other purpose. Anything that involves the self, involves an inextricable link to the mystery, to the divine plan. It is a mystery, not by being inconceivable, but by the very opposite. It remains mysterious because it is so deeply attached to truth.
More next week….



We welcome your thoughts and comments, below, upon the ideas expressed here, which are intended to stimulate debate. You can contact the author at 

James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich

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