When I posted my review of Austin Fischer’s Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed a few days ago RonH posted a comment noting that Fischer had debated James White last year on “Unbelievable”. I’m not sure how I missed that one, but I just listened to it. Interestingly, near the end of the program, Justin Brierley observes that many atheists worry about Calvinism. He says:
“Now I speak to quite a few atheists and skeptics on this program as you know, James, uh, because we do a lot of those discussions. And a lot of them say, ‘Well, of all the brands of Christianity that are out there, it’s the Calvinism that worries me the most because of the, the nature of the God…”
White then cuts in:
“Funny, ’cause I’ve had atheists actually say just the opposite, saying the only one they actually respected…”
Brierley then replies:
“It’s interesting ’cause in a sense, you do get that as well.”
Here’s the question: what’s the sense in which an atheist would respect the God of Calvinism over conceptions of the deity as omnibenevolent and a respecter of libertarian free will?
To find an answer, consider, for a moment the poor reception my book Is the Atheist My Neighbor? has received among atheists. As I’ve noted in the past, I sent out a dozen review copies to atheist bloggers who had requested a copy for review, and not one reviewed it. I’ve also been insulted by atheists through twitter and email (none of whom read the book). So why would atheists be collectively opposed to a book written by a Christian that defends atheism?
While there are probably several independent explanations for this response, in my experience a significant factor is that many atheists do not want improved relations with Christians. They prefer Christians to treat them with prejudicial dismissiveness and even arrogance. They want Christians to keep proof-texting Psalm 14:1 and Romans 1 against them and all other disbelievers.
And why would they prefer this state of heightened opposition and mutual antipathy? Because it makes it easier to dismiss Christianity in toto.
I’ve seen the same phenomenon at play when atheists talk about Islam. I’ve seen many atheists attempt to impugn Islam simpliciter with the sins of ISIS buttressed by the claim that militants are the real Muslims because they’re taking the Qur’an seriously.
I suspect the same reasoning is operative in the case of Calvinism. Thus, many atheists may state their preference for the Calvinist conception of God precisely because this picture is so stark and disturbing to the uninitiated that it serves to drive people away from Christianity.
If this is true, then the fact that an atheist purports to “respect” the God of Calvinism is hardly a feather in the cap of the Calvinist.