In this chapter Guinness begins by asking the question: In what sense are the “New Atheists” really new, and why are they so aggressive, strident, intolerant, or just plain rude—as Richard Dawkins appears to delight in? He points out that historically, atheism has been around since the Greek philosophers Epicurus and Democritus and that the cause for such aggression and rudeness are multifaceted.
First, the failure of the Enlightenment secularization theory where reason alone is king and naturalism grounds the view of reality. But what brought about this massive shift in the West? First, Guinness says, “The oppressive intolerance of Christendom”. He continues:
“Far from honoring truth and open debate, the orthodoxy of the previous centuries had made “truth dangerous” in the sense that when the power of orthodoxy was coercive, there was no freedom to disbelieve.[i] When the Catholic Church claimed a monopoly on thought, when dissent was outlawed and “error had no rights”, when the era of Inquisition, the Index, and later the Syllabus of Errors was at its height, and when forced conversions were the order of the day, dissent was impossible and the truth was considered too dangerous to allow people to be open about what they thought. Thought control in its late medieval form was a Christian form of political correctness on steroids, and it could be life threatening.” (Pg.62)
This type of intolerance to dissenting beliefs created a private/public dichotomy in the culture. For fear of punitive damages, people would give lip service to the Church but privately dissent in their hearts. This was a tragic, non-Christian spirit that is a stain and deep wound in Church history. Back then the Catholic Church tolerated no dissenting thought. Today the State tolerates no Christian thought.
Second, the corruption of the Church had reached a sad peak such that relativism ruled the roost, not the truth—especially Scripture. When Church authorities bed relativism, truth is prostituted, corruption is inevitable and justice is aborted. Thus, when the Church of the Renaissance spoke, they had lost their persuasive power, their social capital had vanished. Thus the powers that be forbade open dissent, and were corrupt. Not good, but frightening.
In response to this climate, Erasmus wrote a book titled The Praise of Folly where he focuses on the biblical notion of folly and fool-making and uses Dame Folly as the central spokesperson. The reason Guinness brings this up is because the times of Erasmus profoundly mirror ours as Postmodernism and its relativism has ushered in an “anything goes” mentality that has resulted in a, “severe crisis of authority that leaves the church in many Western countries sounding as either a mumbler, a mute, a hypocrite or someone speaking out of several sides of his mouth…”
Thus Erasmus’ book can be very instructive to us when straight forward communication is unpromising, for Scripture speaks of the fool in powerful ways and demonstrates the power of subversive persuasion in order to make a point.
The first fool is the fool proper. This is the atheist who says God is non-existent. They flat out refuse to acknowledge God or fear Him: “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps.14:1). This type of fool is not to be emulated for he has nothing to teach us concerning communication.
The second fool is the fool for Christ. This is the fool bearer not the actual fool. That is, this person is willing to be seen and treated as a fool—for Christ’s sake. The Corinthians thought themselves intellectually superior to the apostles but Christ was actually God’s wisdom—superior to their Greek philosophers (1 Cor.4:10). Guinness reminds us that faithfulness in a “Fallen” world is costly (E.g., Kind David was seen as a dancing fool by his wife, Jeremiah was the laughing stock in Israel).
Jesus, as in most things, is our example to follow. He allowed himself to be mocked as king before the religious leaders, the king and the Roman authorities. The irony here is that he actually was the King; not powerless nor a poser. Nevertheless, our sovereign momentarily endured the taunts and jeers so that real fools might have hope. That’s ironic! Hebrews says that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame because of the joy that was set before him—the subversion of sin for the rescue of rebels.
The third fool is the fool maker. This is the person who is not a fool, but is willing to be seen as the jester in order to confront power with truth and “wisdom” with “foolishness” so that society’s power brokers may be utterly humbled and broken beggars may find bread. Guinness says that’s exactly what God did (the ultimate fool maker) through the cross:
“He simultaneously shamed and subverted the vaunted wisdom, strength and superiority of the world through the cross—shaming and subverting the world’s wisdom through folly, the world’s strength through weakness and the world’s superiority through coming in disguise as a nonentity” (Pg. 73)
Had the forces of darkness known what God’s plan from eternity was, the crucifixion never would have occurred. The Devil went for the bait and was utterly surprised with horror. As Guinness puts it:
“Everything that climaxed in that sultry Passover week was spring-loaded with a deeper, history-shaking truth, although under a disguise so strange that it bewildered even the closest and most ardent followers of Jesus—and the devil himself fell for the smell of the cheese. Just so did God shame the world’s folly, subvert the world’s pride and put death to death through the death of his Son.” (Pg. 73)
Guinness points out that by Erasmus writing his Praise of Folly he actually wrote the Praise of Wisdom through writing it upside down so that those opposed to being challenged would be more receptive through humor. This humor can open the door to faith according to Guinness because as humans we tend to think ourselves the center of the universe, but know that’s an absurdity (Ps.8). We see life’s conundrum’s of how things are as opposed to how things ought to be and they at one time or another make us laugh or cry.
The New Atheists according to Guinness are one dimensional with their naturalism which reduces humanity to nothing more than a piece of meat whose “dignity” and “freedom” is but an illusion; and Eastern worldviews who utterly deny any distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil ends up with a meaningless existence.
The Biblical worldview however does not reduce existence to only one dimension or an illusory reality, but deals with both worlds. It gives hierarchical meaning to humanity based on God’s image, even though it understands things are not the way they are supposed to be—that day is forth coming. It also admits that good and evil are real and justice is not an illusion, thus a day of reckoning awaits all mankind.
Because of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, people can have real hope, can smile at the future and laugh. Reality is not just sadness and sorrow, but ultimately it’s joy unspeakable.
[i] This would severely anger my sense of personhood and must have to them. Even today when someone wants to shove their views onto us (E.g., Same Sex Marriage is good, or Abortion is bad) we are repulsed because all humans are passionate about something they deem worth living for.