Atheism As Fashion Statement


Mr. Wilson first came on my radarscope when he wrote in 1990 what I perceived to be a fairly nasty biography of C. S. Lewis which I thought was actually much more about Wilson’s dislike of Christianity.  At the time of writing the book on Lewis, Wilson was an angry atheist.  He had been an Anglican, a Catholic, an Anglican, and then an atheist.  In 1991 he wrote a short volume, 53 pages, entitled Against Religion in which he declared that the love of God was the root of all evil.  An interview from his atheist days is here.

Much to my surprise, I read  a column by Mr. Wilson last week in which he stated that he is now a Christian again.   I found the column interesting, and it is here.  He became an atheist largely to be part of the “herd of independent minds”.

“Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion.”

Atheism as fashion statement.  Very true, and a key weakness of atheism long term.  Intellectual fashions and trends come and go.  The Church has proven its staying power over 2000 turbulent years, in many periods going uphill against the “spirit of the times”.   I doubt if the current wave of atheism will have this type of endurance.

Wilson’s return to Christianity comes down to Easter.

“Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus’s trial – and just how historical the Gospel accounts are.

Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith.

Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I’ve been convinced without it.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: ‘My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.’

Wilson ends by emphasizing the spiritual emptiness, of course, of atheism:

“Sadly, they have all but accepted that only stupid people actually believe in Christianity, and that the few intelligent people left in the churches are there only for the music or believe it all in some symbolic or contorted way which, when examined, turns out not to be belief after all.

As a matter of fact, I am sure the opposite is the case and that materialist atheism is not merely an arid creed, but totally irrational.

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story.

J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives – the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.”

Wilson reminds us of one of the great strengths of Christianity.  A habit God has of raising up champions for us among the opposition.

8 Responses to Atheism As Fashion Statement

  1. I actually liked his biography on Lewis. Yes, it is critical, but it helps one to look at Lewis in a different, non-hagiographical light (and even shows elements of that, too).

  2. Robert says:

    Wilson first laments how Britain has shorn itself of much of its Christian heretage, then goes on to proclaim that he’s now a Christian. This sounds very much like the “fashion statement” you deride atheism of being.

    Atheists have no illusions that theism or religion will be dying out any time soon, given the growing body of evidence suggesting its natural evolutionary origins. Religion itself evolves; one merely has to note the thousands of Christian sects to appreciate this fact.

    You wrote, “Wilson reminds us of one of the great strengths of Christianity. A habit God has of raising up champions for us among the opposition.”

    Is God similarly raising up opponents of Christianity from among its former champions? The number of such individuals is too numerous to count now. One of them, John W. Loftus, has written an exceedingly powerful and well-received book: Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Robert, the answer to your question is no. God is not responsible for the delusion of atheists that matter and energy came into existence ex nihilo and certainly does not provide champions for that position. As with all examples of human folly, humans embrace atheism all by themselves.

  4. Donald R. McClarey says:

    To clarify my above comment, atheists have to believe in creation of matter and energy ex nihilo without God, unless they believe in some eternal source creating matter and energy out of nothingness which they do not call God.

  5. Robert says:

    Donald, I’m sorry, but I fail to see how the origins of the universe relates to my question whether God is raising up opponents to Christianity.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I answered your question Robert. God does not lead us into folly, rather quite the reverse.

  7. Matt says:

    Interesting to see Mr. Wilson pop up again! I read his Belloc bio from the ’80s and enjoyed it though it was erratic and not always reliable. (Some of that may have been due to his biases of the time.) Yet the book was sympathetic and he gave Belloc credit on some of the tough issues, like alleged anti-Jewish bigotry. At any rate, this is nice news, especially from the UK where things are a little bleak at the moment!

  8. Donna V. says:

    From Anglican to Catholic to Anglican to atheist to Christian once again – that’s quite a bit of hopping around. A.N. Wilson is a very good writer though, and I am glad to see he is back in the fold.

    The UK’s situation does sound bleak. I might get jumped on for saying this, but I wonder if a problem there is that the evangelical movement is much weaker than it is in the States (although the UK is evangelicalism’s home turf) and consequently, a predominately Protestant country is left with what would be called “mainline Protestantism” here in the States. It seems as though such weak tea no longer satisfies or inspires or even interests many Britons. I am sure there are good and holy Anglicans, but whenever I read anything Rowan Williams has to say I thank the Lord for Pope Benedict.

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