Friday, September 7, 2012

Atheism Is Only a Symptom

There's a story I read as a child that still fascinates me. A town in China was expecting to "receive" a new allotment of "foreign devils," missionaries that is, and some discussion arises as to where they would be housed. "Why not put them in the house at the end of such and such a street. It's  haunted by demons-- they won't stay here long." "Good idea." So the western (American, British, Canadian, I don't know) family arrives and they are oblivious to the demonic realities around them. Realities that everyone in the town can see, know how to see, have known how from birth. The missionary family blithely moves into the haunted house and the towns people wait to see the demons attack. What they see instead is the demons fleeing through the windows, fleeing from these blind westerners, who for all their unawareness, carry the presence of Someone the demons fear. Some in town convert to Christianity on the basis of this obvious demonstration of power, and they tell the missionaries, only to be surprised that the missionaries never even knew what had happened.

I chatted about this story with someone who was recently as missionary in an Asian country, who said it's still this way. Haunted houses are cheaper to rent, and you sometimes have to pray through them to clear away the spiritual cobwebs.

Here's the deal. What I've just related has no place in the materialistically oriented minds of my generation. We don't see, don't sense, don't believe in ghosts, demons or anything. Whatever unseen organ in us that senses, intuitively understands, grasps, gets whatever is spiritual around us has, through that materialistic worldview, atrophied to the point of amputation, such that for us to actually experience God or anything else spiritual, is oh so close to impossible. And the ironic thing is that although we are a blind minority in the world, we think of ourselves as having grown up past all the superstitious "idiots" who actually still can sense what we can't. And we think we are the advanced ones.

I mentioned in an earlier post about materialism and Christianity. Materialistic Christianity is a ludicrous thing. On one hand, you have a world, real because that's all we will allow in our minds, of nothing but what you can see, or test for empirically. But, oh oh, we still believe in God, so we will tack on to our lonely universe the idea of a Creator. (I'm not even going to explore what our impoverished worldview has done to the story of redemption. That would make a study!) We read the Bible and ignore the stuff that makes us nervous. Call them fables. Or, if our tradition won't let us call them fables, let's dichotomize. At all costs, let us avoid being confronted with our foolish notion of a materialistic-only world. Let's teach that all of those miracles were for a different time. God's not doing that kind of thing anymore...

And this is the kind of Christianity many of my friends grew up in. No wonder some have turned to atheism. At least two I know, have, after a period of asking God to make himself known to them, so that they could really believe, given up completely and concluded he's not even there. But it's like trying to use a radio that has only a transmit and not a receive channel. The ingrained materialism has made it impossible to hear God's answer. Furthermore when they are around people who really do communicate with God, they are to inclined ignore them as foolish and superstitious. Human nature is not naturally humble. Instead of regretting one's own blindness, it's easy to switch over to superiority-- "We've outgrown superstition..." As C.S.Lewis put it, we've "seen through what [we] haven't even seen."

 Where does this leave us? Well as far as I know the only thing that changes worldview is experience. Let us continue to pray for miraculous signs and wonders, just like the first church in Acts did, so that the blinders are shaken off and even our materialistic generation can be saved.

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