Heaven: The Celestial North Korea?

A trend that has become decidedly more noticeable in the recent past is the aggressive position of atheists and atheistic organization in getting out their message and their confrontation of Christianity. In fact it now has its own name: the New Atheism. The “new” doesn’t refer to a new set of beliefs as much as it refers to a new attitude and new tactics.

According to one source; New Atheism is a social and political movement in favour (sic) of atheism and secularism promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
This is happening not only on an academic level (Christopher Hitchens et al.) but also on a more popular level (Bill Maher for example).

Prior to his death, Christopher Hitchens was one of the New Atheist who championed this new approach. Take this statement for example: I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque. . . . Just consider for a moment what their [the devout’s] (sic) heaven looks like. Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self, a celestial North Korea.

I want to make several observations, first about New Atheism in general and then about Hitchens’ view.

Christians should not despair over the new vocalness of atheist, in fact we should welcome an open and honest conversation with those who oppose our faith. It is in the spiritual darkness that we are told to shine the light of the gospel (Matthew 5:14-16). In one sense people like Hitchens are doing us a favor – they are bringing the conversation out into the open; they are instigating the dialogue. We don’t have to wonder how we can bring up the subject of the gospel with our neighbors, they have done it for us. Let’s rejoice and take advantage of the new opportunities!

As for Hitchens’ view of God, the Christian life and eternity, I think that we can take away several things. First we need to ask ourselves where his views came from. Is that really the message that we as Christians are communicating by our lives and message? I rather suspect that it comes from a very prejudicial reading of the Bible, however, we need to keep in mind that for most people their views on God, the Christian life and eternity are going to come from how we live and what we communicate. If they have defective views perhaps it is our fault.

Secondly, we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. How do you respond to the charge that we as Christians live under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring? How would you explain heaven to an unbeliever? Will it be as Hitchens claimed a place of, endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self, a celestial North Korea? (Notice the truth mixed with error – heaven will be a place of endless praise and adoration, as should our lives be today. It will not be a celestial North Korea). Too often we despair over criticisms of our faith instead of searching for ways to answer them.

Thirdly, it seems to me that Hitchens operates from a world view that is not just centered on man (anthropocentric) but expressly self-centered (egocentric). Life and eternity are all about Christopher Hitchens. In contrast in the Christian life God is at the center of our lives and our eternity (theocentric). When anyone installs themselves at the center of their universe they have enthroned themselves as the ultimate authority, as their own god. That might give them an ego boost but it’s a dangerous place to be.

There have always been atheists (2 Peter 3:3-4), people who choose to deny the existence of God and fashion their lives in their own image. As we come to the end of the age – and we’re there (Hebrews 1:2) their voices will grow louder. That’s when our lights need to shine the brightest.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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