There seems to be a growing
consensus around the globe that godlessness is in trouble. "Atheism as a
theoretical position is in decline worldwide," Munich theologian Wolfhart
Pannenberg told United Press International Tuesday.
His Oxford colleague Alister McGrath
agrees. Atheism's "future seems increasingly to lie in the private beliefs
of individuals rather than in the great public domain it once regarded as its
habitat," he wrote in the U.S. magazine, Christianity Today.
Two developments are plaguing
atheism these days. One is that it appears to be losing its scientific
underpinnings. The other is the historical experience of hundreds of millions
of people worldwide that atheists are in no position to claim the moral high
Writes Turkish philosopher Harun
Yahya, "Atheism, which people have tried to for hundreds of years as 'the
ways of reason and science,' is proving to be mere irrationality and
As British philosopher Anthony Flew,
once as hard-nosed a humanist as any, mused when turning his back on his former
belief: It is, for example, impossible for evolution to account for the fact
than one single cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the
Encyclopedia Britannica put together.
Flew still does not accept the God
of the Bible. But he has embraced the intelligent design concept of scholars
such as William Dembski who only four years ago claimed to have been mobbed by
pro-evolutionist colleagues at -- of all places -- Baylor University, a highly
respected Southern Baptist institution in Waco, Tex.
The stunning desertion of a former
intellectual ambassador of secular humanism to the belief in some form of
intelligence behind the design of the universe makes Yahya's prediction sound
probable: "The time is fast approaching when many people who are living in
ignorance with no knowledge of their Creator will be graced by faith in the impending
A few years ago, European scientists
sniggered when studies in the United States -- for example, at Harvard and Duke
universities -- showed a correlation between faith, prayer and recovery from
illness. Now 1,200 studies at research centers around the world have come to
similar conclusions, according to "Psychologie Heute," a German
journal, citing, for example, the marked improvement of multiple sclerosis
patients in Germany's Ruhr District do to "spiritual resources."
Atheism's other Achilles heel are
the acts on inhumanity and lunacy committed in its name. As McGrath relates in
Christianity Today: "With time (atheism) turned out to have just as many
frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. ... With Stalin and Madalyn
Murray O'Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the
Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively."
John Updike's observation,
"Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been is drastic
uninterestingness as an intellectual position," appears to become common
currency throughout much of the West.
The Rev. Paul M. Zulehner, dean of
Vienna University's divinity school and one of the world's most distinguished
sociologists of religion, told UPI Tuesday: "True atheists in Europe have
become an infinitesimally small group. There are not enough of them to be used
for sociological research."
The only exceptions to this rule,
Zulehner said, are the former East Germany and the Czech Republic, where, as
the saying goes, de-Christianization has been the only proven success of these
regions' former communist rulers.
Zulehner cautions, however, that in
the rest of Europe re-Christianization is by no means occurring. "What we
are observing instead is a re-paganization," he went on, and this worries
Christian theologians such as Munich's Pannenberg and the Rev. Gerald
McDermott, an Episcopal priest and professor of religion and philosophy at
Roanoke College in Salem, Va.
For although in every major European
city except Paris spirituality is booming, according to Zulehner, this only
proves the emergence of a diffuse belief system, Pannenberg said, but not the
revitalization of traditional Christian religious faith.
Observing a similar phenomenon in
the United States, McDermott stated that the "rise of all sorts of
paganism is creating a false spirituality that proves to be a more dangerous
rival to the Christian faith than atheism."
After all, a Satanist is also
Pannenberg, a Lutheran, praised the
Roman Catholic Church for handling this peril more wisely than many of his
fellow Protestants. "The Catholics stick to the central message of
Christianity without making any concessions in the ethical realm," he
said, referring to issues such as same-sex "marriages" and abortion.
In a similar vain, Zulehner, a
Catholic, sees Christianity's greatest opportunity when its message addresses
two seemingly irreconcilable quests of contemporary humanity - the quest for
freedom and truth.
"Christianity alone affirms
that truth and God's dependability are inseparable properties to which freedom
As for the "peril of
spirituality," Zulehner sounded quite sanguine. He concluded from his
research that in the long run the survival of worldviews should be expected to
follow this lineup:
"The great world religions are
best placed," he said. As a distant second he sees the diffuse forms of
spirituality. Atheism, he insisted, will come in at the tail end.
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