Weak faith is not worth preserving
In a column appearing on the Examiner website, atheist examiner Trina Hoaks addresses the notion that atheism somehow poses a threat to religious faith.
"There does seem to be an awareness that atheism is here to stay and that its numbers seem to be growing," Hoaks writes. "This is in stark contrast to the mood not too long ago. Some religious leaders and writers supposed that atheism would fizzle out, or at least that is what they expressed. Whether they really believe it or not is debatable."
Hoaks goes on to write about an episode of Focus on the Family in which Dr James Dobson and Dr Albert Mohler discussed how to combat the "new atheism".
In the program, Mohler insisted that "the 'New Atheists' are 'dangerous' and a 'threat'."
This, of course, begs an important question: a threat to whom, precisely?
The argument often raised about the "new atheists" is that they're dangerous to religious faith: essentially, that the challenges of these atheists may cause religious believers to question, or even abandon, their faith.
The self-appointed representatives of atheism are a formidable lot. Richard Dawkins is a skillful speaker and writer, as are Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.
But to anyone who does themselves the intellectual service of periodically pondering their faith, they are no threat.
Day to day life should challenge the faith of any believer. One doesn't need to look far to find suffering or injustice. Particularly, the belief in a benevolent, intervening and even retributive God can be difficult to maintain in the face of a clearly imperfect world.
In the face of such a revelation, it's only natural for a rational person to question how deeply they believe in such a being, and why. A thinking person's faith should be flexible enough to be situated within the world as it is. It shouldn't rely on the world being as one wishes it to be.
If one's faith is strong and their reasons for belief well-founded, their faith should survive nearly any challenge. If it isn't, then their faith likely wasn't worth preserving in the first place.
In the world of religious faith, as in the world of nature, survival is largely preserved for the fittest.
The answer to the imaginary "threat" posed by the "new atheism" isn't to censor or silence their messages, as some extreme individuals such as Charles McVety and Britain's Stephen Green seem to have called for.
Rather, the answer is for thinking believers, just as Dawkins has called upon atheists, to speak up and challenge atheism's most aggressive proselytizers on their own intellectual ground.
Sometimes it can certainly be difficult to decide how to best do this.
Religious thinkers haven't always been up to the task. For example some, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort chiefly among them, have attempted to challenge atheisms' canonization of the Theory of Evolution by attempting to refute it. A wiser strategy would be to challenge the purported right of atheists to canonize it as their version of holy scripture.
They must contend with any intellectual environment that proves hostile to religion. Hoaks writes that Mohler insists 'intellectual intimidation' "is taking place in colleges across the nation and that parents need to arm their children against this kind of 'religious persecution'. He also said that atheists persecute the young and high school students through intellectual intimidation."
There are some who seek to foment an intellectual environment hostile to religious belief. These individuals should be revealed for what they are. Many of them, such as PZ Myers, will do so on their own if ever placed within an academic environment in which they face any faint trace of disagreement.
They, like Dawkins et al, are no threat to religious belief; although they should be challenged nonetheless.
The path religious believers choose to follow isn't an easy one. They must find a way to adapt the concept of God to the real world. They must learn to tell the word of God from the word of man. Most importantly, they must have the courage to live according to their convictions, regardless of whatever the detractors of religion would tell them.
If religious believers cannot do this, then perhaps it really is time for religion to go bravely into the dark night.
But atheism's most vigorous proselytizers may be in for a surprise. There are many religious believers who are prepared to take on this challenge.
All they need to do now is stand up and challenge their detractors.