What a trend. Books by atheists. In fact, a trinity of these books is riding high just now.




"The End Of Faith," by Sam Harris. Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", and if that's not enough, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," By Christopher Hitchen. Sheesh! Well, there is much to hate and also much to like from these guys. See if you don't agree. In the Nov. 13, 2006 issue of Newsweek, Sam Harris wrote the following,




"Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the Earth, more than half the American population believes that the entire cosmos was created 6,000 years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue."




Funny! Yes, but Harris is just warming up.




"Those with the power to elect presidents and congressmen &

and many who themselves get elected &

believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah's Ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the Earth and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God. This is embarrassing. . . It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality. A case in point: embryonic-stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. . . [Wrong-headed theology leading to wrong-headed public policy] is prolonging the scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings."




Harris makes some important points here. I like much of what he says, but I don't like that he lumps all Christians together and ignores Christians (like many of us) who read the Bible critically and who have no trouble at all with evolution or stem cell research.




When it comes to religion Harris and the other high profile atheists are throwing the baby out with the bath water. The best person out there making this point for us is Stanley Fish. In June of this year Fish wrote three columns for the New York Times about these books. The last of his columns asks the question &

"Is Religion Man-Made?"




His answer: "Sure it is. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens think that this fact about religion is enough to invalidate its claims."




Is it enough? "No," says Fish, "it undermines the divinity of man, which is, after all, the entire point of religion: man is not divine, but mortal (capable of death), and he is dependent upon a creator who by definition cannot be contained within human categories of perception and description."




"How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out" says the Bible.




"Proving the existence of God would be possible only if God were an item in his own field;" say Fish. "That is, if he were the kind of object that could be brought into view by a very large telescope or an incredibly powerful microscope. God, however, is not in the world; the world is in him; and therefore there is no perspective, however technologically sophisticated, from which he could be spied."




All the great theologians have said as much. The great 11th century theologian, Thomas Aquinas, toward the end of his life, quit writing. He had written a multi-volume "Summa Theologica" summing up everything one could know about God, or so he thought. At first. He even quit talking. He'd had a revelation. I had thought he kept that famous silence of his for only a couple of months, but it went on for years. He realized he had made a fool of himself, trying to contain God in books, and he said so explicitly before his silence. Thomas Aquinas realized that his many words about God were more an expression of his doubt than of his faith.




What is scripture, then? It's a hint, a clue, not a detailed description of the Holy or divine will.




This is important because the fanaticism of one sincere believer who thinks he knows can cause more evil than the united efforts of a hundred thousand atheists. It's terrifying to see what sincere believers will do with airplanes and skyscrapers because they think they know.




In Athens, a city that adored philosophy, the Christian genius, Paul, was being goaded by skeptics to say too much about God and make a fool of himself. Instead of falling for their trap he cunningly quoted one of their own when he said, "In God we live and move and have our being."




What could be better than that? When it comes to God, human beings are like fish swimming in the ocean. God is so much a part of our lives we can't even sense God most of the time.




Religion, at its best, is about us being honest about our lack of awareness, but, yes, also being honest about our hunches. It's about waking up. Look what we've degenerated into. Jews and Palestinians at war. Shiites killing Sunnis. On and on.




"The one who knows, does not say; the one who says, does not know."




All revelations, however divine, are never any more than a finger pointing to the moon. As they say in the East, "When the sage points to the moon, all the idiot sees is the finger."




Scott Dalgarno is pastor of Ashland's First Presbyterian Church