There is a long and thoughtful piece by Adam Gopnik in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine about the rise of the atheist and the decline in belief in God. It begins:
In Tom Stoppard’s 1970 play “Jumpers,” the philosopher hero broods unhappily on the inexorable rise of the atheist: “The tide is running his way, and it is a tide which has turned only once in human history. . . . There is presumably a calendar date—a moment—when the onus of proof passed from the atheist to the believer, when, quite suddenly, the noes had it.”
I had never really thought about whether there was a time when Christians were on the defensive, feeling that they had to answer for their belief in God. Gopnik rightly points out that in large parts of the world this is not an issue, but it certainly is in Western nations. I suppose I named this in a recent sermon where I picked up on the epistle reading from 1st Corinthians where Paul speaks of the "foolishness" of the incarnation and the cross. If anything Christians have an added challenge because we hold the belief that God became human, although a fair number of Western Christians would prefer Jesus to be a sage rather than one aspect of the Trinity.
Gopnik uses the term "contemptuous tone" to describe the so-called New Atheists, including their champions including Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, as well as others. They are so aggressive and polemical there isn't much room for dialogue.
Atheism is hardly new. As an undergrad nearly 40 years ago I had conversations with other students who were keen to challenge my Christian faith. Since then I have been sneered at, dismissed, pitied, and vilified more times than I care to recall, because clergy are a lightning rod for contempt. I should say that this all happens in a rather Canadian way, without any wild stuff.
For all this I carry on as a person of faith, with my doubts and disappointments, stubbornly persistent in my convictions and -dare I say it?-- experience of God-with-us. I'm with Paul. I like Christianity best because it is so wildly improbable from Bethlehem stable start to Jerusalem cemetery finish. I stand with Mary at the tomb and weep, only to be surprised once more by the resurrected Jesus the gardener of our soul.
How are you doing when it comes to your faith? Has it strengthened or waned over the years? Does it actually make a difference?