Well, I'm actually an agnostic, and there are important differences between atheists and agnostics.
Nonetheless, I developed this philosophy years ago, when I was still an
atheist, so I'll let the title stand.
You're probably wondering "How can an atheist defend
Christianity?" And maybe you're also wondering "Is this guy
really an atheist, or is he a covert Christian trying
to gain converts through some sort of weird devil's advocate
Have no fear. I'm pretty much your garden-variety agnostic; I agree
with many of the standard anti-religious
arguments (though they may sometimes seem like the knee-jerk reactions
of cynical adolescents striving to cast off the bonds of their
putatively oppressive upbringing). I cannot understand, for example,
why an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being would allow innocent children to suffer and die, nor do I find it satisfying to
dismiss such issues as "part of God's great mystery." I've read
arguments by theologians and have found them unsatisfying.
That said, I think that Christianity is no different from a knife or
a drug: it has no inherent morality by itself; rather, its moral value
depends entirely on the way in which it is used. A knife can be used to
kill an innocent man or to prepare a shelter for him; a drug can be used
as a poison or as an anesthetic to relieve pain. To its believers,
Christianity can provide ultimate and indisputable justification for any action; thus, it can inspire extraordinary harm or extraordinary
Thus, like many people, I condemn without reservation the amoral and
criminal scum who use Christianity as a justification for hatred or
abuse or assault or even murder.
I pity (but do not condemn) the starry-eyed narcissists who
see portents in every dark corner and God's hand in every aspect of
their life. I'm sometimes irritated by the people who try to push their views on me, although I can understand why they do it.
But I can't condemn the role religion played in the life of a doctor
know. He told me once that his faith had gotten him through a long, dark
period of his life--a period in which his wife died, his child was
diagnosed with autism
, and he himself was struggling through a difficult
. For a while, he felt as though he had nothing to live for;
he considered leaving medicine
and even contemplated suicide
. As far
as he could see--and as far as I could tell from his story--there was
nothing to indicate that his life was going to get much better.
In spite of all that, he had faith. He was "sure of what he hoped for
and certain of what he could not see," to quote the Bible. He was not
previously terribly religious, but he prayed regularly and chose to
believe--his words, "chose to believe"--that God had a plan for
him and would see him through.
And his belief helped him survive. Now he's the chairman of the
endocrinology department. He's conducted important studies on
metabolic disorders and has personally saved the lives of countless sick
It's hard to argue counterfactuals--as C. S. Lewis said somewhere, no
one ever really gets to know what would have happened. But suppose
that he would have killed himself or quit medicine if he hadn't become
religious. You would have lost someone who's had a tremendous effect on
the world. Even if you are a devout atheist, will you condemn this man for a single intellectual error?
Yes, in my mind, his religious devotion is an imperfection--but it's
one of the most benign imperfections known to man. I may never be able
to accept Christianity, but I will not condemn those who use it in such a
noninvasive and beneficial way.
I'm sure someone will tell me "You know, your radical ideas about
society, individualism, and religion have already occurred to others."
But that doesn't mean they've occurred to everyone...and there seem to be
a lot of mindless cynics out there.