Christians are known for inflicting damage on themselves from time to time, sticking many feet in many mouths, and coming up with some outlandish claims, especially when they try to play “prophet” while reading the newspaper headlines. However, Christianity has come under attack by a group often known as the new atheists through a series of books such as the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and A Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. Who will stand up for God and the Christian faith?
Reporter, writer, and satirist Becky Garrison who ably wields her MDiv from Yale steps into the ring to take on these atheist crusaders, who have set out to undermine religion, in her book The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail. Garrison is a Christian writer who contributes to the God’s Politics blog, serves as contributing editor to the Wittenburg Door, among other projects. Though not a scientist, Garrison is an able researcher who carefully steps through the various levels involved in this issue: science, religion, politics, and some pretty flimsy, overblown accusations the new atheists level against Christians.
Keep in mind that while Garrison is fighting the new atheists’ writings toe-to-toe, she’s not setting out to attack them personally. By adopting a kind of zany, light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek tone, Garrison avoids a combative tone, opting instead to kind of playfully slap around the views of the new atheists. She doesn’t deal a knock-out blow, but carefully picks them apart with a wide smile, revealing the foolish bits of their arguments, while never leaving behind a bloody opponent on the mat.
You could call it a humane mercy-killing of the new atheists.
In addition, Garrison uses her journalistic expertise to assemble a carefully chosen group of scientists and religion experts to stand in her corner. She even finds atheists who want nothing to do with the closed-minded new atheists, but rather want a friendly, civil discussion about whether or not God exists (201). With friendly atheists, theologians, God-believing scientists, and Christian activists in her corner, she unleashes round after round of exploration and analysis of the new atheists. While the new atheists may dismiss Garrison because she’s not credentialed into the academic elite, I assure you this book is a knock-out blow to the new atheists brand.
Garrison isn’t so much concerned about debunking all atheists though. She presents plausible explanations about God that will make any atheist think twice, but she isn’t concerned so much with winning a fight to prove God once and for all. I stress this because many apologetic Christian books can adopt a combative, us vs. them tone. Garrison isn’t up to that here. Rather, she’s picking apart the sensational, absolutist claims of the new atheists (I’m stressing the italics here!) who misrepresent God and religion.
What did Garrison find? I’ll tell you:
- First of all, the new atheists sound absolutely ridiculous when they talk about Christians or the Bible. In fact, they sound as bad as some Christian theologians who try to explain evolution. Yes, it’s that bad. Dawkins lists Keenan Roberts, Pat Robertson, Ann Coulter, and Fred Phelps in his line-up of Christians in the mainstream, to which Garrison almost lost her lunch (52-53). Garrison experienced similar difficulty with food when she ran into Dawkin’s explanation of the Old and New Testaments (169).
- The new atheists generally seem to think religion should be eliminated altogether and in this sense advocate a kind of atheistic fundamentalism. Some are extreme on this point. Same Harris states “Religious dogmatism impedes medical research, starts wars, diverts scarce material and intellectual resources–in short, it gets people killed” (49). Such a statement is an example of the kind of over-the-top sensationalism employed by the new atheists. Journalist Chris Hedges, a liberal Christian who fears conservative Christians (see American Fascists), remarked during a book tour to promote I Don’t Believe in Atheists that he would never again debate Sam Harris because of his use of inflammatory rhetoric and shameless overstatements that render discussion impossible. Garrison has a field day picking apart this dangerous absolutism in the atheist camp.
- A willful ignorance that atheist societies are just as likely to commit atrocities as religious societies.
I could go on, but you get the point. Even if the new atheists have some legit issues with explaining the existence of God, their methodology and tactics are often left wanting. I’ll stress again that Garrison is no straw-man stuffing farm girl. She’s a gifted researcher and writer who no doubt favors the Christian view of things, but has no trouble with atheists and even shares a great interview at the end of the book with Hemant Mehta, something every Christian should read. I hope they republish this interview in Christianity Today or some other widely read Christian magazine at some point because Christians need to engage in discussions with thoughtful atheists such as Mehta.
Of course some folks won’t like this book: the kind of people who would much rather read the books Garrison cites. Well, the good news is that the people who wouldn’t like this book have plenty of options. However, and here is the genius of Garrison, this book connects with a wide range of readers. It fills the void often left open when a scholar claims to have published a book for the common lay person, but we all know that Mrs. Jones our Sunday school teacher or our high school youth group would never pick up such a book.
The New Atheist Crusaders is the kind of book I could give to my sisters in high school, my friends from college, my parents, or even some friends from seminary. It’s not going to be on the book list for say a seminary class, but it will be read by many, many Christians and it will make books most would never touch suddenly accessible. This is the kind of book we need, taking the best of scholars and making it accessible, relevant, and, best of all, fun. I won’t say I couldn’t put it down, but I certainly stayed up late reading it when I should have gone to sleep.