Turning the Tables on Atheists (Part 2)

Author Patrick Madrid Discusses "The Godless Delusion"

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By Karna Swanson

GRANVILLE, Ohio, MAY 13, 2011 (Zenit.org).- If you want to know what happens when atheistic principles overtake a society, look no further than the totalitarian regimes of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, says Patrick Madrid.

Madrid is the co-author, with Kenneth Hensley, of the book "The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism" (Our Sunday Visitor), which exposes the internal contradictions of a non-belief in God.

According to Madrid, "the atheist claim that there is no God entails the claim that there is no absolute standard of morality," which in turn means that "what is 'right' and 'wrong' is simply what the individual or groups of individuals decide is 'right' or 'wrong.'"

He explains that in this situation, what is "good" is often what is "what is expedient, what promotes the consolidation of power and privilege, what facilitates the elimination of resistance and ideological competition (Christianity, for example)."

Madrid is the author or editor of 16 books, the director of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College, the publisher of Envoy Magazine, and host of the Thursday edition of EWTN Radio’s "Open Line" broadcast (3-5 p.m. ET).

In this interview with ZENIT, Madrid discusses the atheism of the 20th century and today, as well as what he has learned over the years about individuals who embrace a disbelief in God.

Part 1 of this interview was published Thursday.

ZENIT: You address in your book the problem of proselytism by atheists. First, why is it important for atheists to push their non-belief in God? Second, what happens to society if they succeed?

Madrid: Perhaps the most vividly convincing evidence of what happens to a society when atheist principles are put into practice on a grand scale are the repressive, totalitarian, genocidal horrors wrought by atheists during the 20th century. Avowed atheists such as Stalin and Mao systematically imposed atheist principles as state policy, and in the processes liquidated more than 100 million men, women and children.

As we discuss in "The Godless Delusion," the atheist claim that there is no God entails the claim that there is no absolute standard of morality. And if there is no absolute standard of morality, then what is "right" and "wrong" is simply what the individual or groups of individuals decide is "right" or "wrong." In this scenario -- as countless doomed Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, and others discovered -- what is expedient, what promotes the consolidation of power and privilege, what facilitates the elimination of resistance and ideological competition (Christianity, for example) is "good."

Among the more ominous characteristics of the early 21st century is the rise of the "new atheists," men such as Christopher Hitchens ("God is Not Great"), Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion"), Sam Harris ("Letter to a Christian Nation"), and Greg Epstein ("Good Without God"). These new atheists are militant in their commitment to atheism, ferociously anti-religion, and quite prepared to engage in a public struggle with theists through their books, movies, DVDs, Web sites, magazines and public lectures.

What separates the new atheists from previous generations of less combative and, frankly, more intellectually formidable atheists such as Bertrand Russell, is that the new atheists are actively, relentlessly "proselytizing" for converts among Christians. And unlike the earlier, more staid, Bertrand-Russell brand of intellectual atheists, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the rest of the new atheists see their worldview as a righteous cause that must be carried forward aggressively with the goal of converting as many believers as possible so as to free the world of the evils they argue are inevitably fomented by religion and religious people.

As atheists often proclaim: "Religion Kills." They see ridding the world of religion to be a singularly worthy goal that will bring about enlightenment, happiness, and freedom from "superstition," ignorance, suspicion of science and violence perpetrated in the name of God.

Obviously, we Christians have a lot of work to do to help atheists see that even if individual Catholics are guilty of such things, the question of whether God does or does not exist is in no way predicated upon the behavior of those who believe he exists. 

ZENIT: You mention in your introduction your first encounter with an atheist as an 11-year-old boy, and how you were on that occasion "thoroughly routed." What is the biggest lesson you have learned since then when discussing the existence of God with those who don’t believe? And do you have any advice for the rest of us?

Madrid: One of the key things I’ve learned in the 40 years since that discussion with the atheist lady who lived across the street from us is that many atheists are very intelligent, even brilliant people. They place a very high value on seeking truth based on facts and evidence, rather than what they regard in Christians to be "blind faith" and superstition. Fair enough.

While I reject the atheist assumption that Christianity relies on blind faith or wallows in superstition, I do not hesitate to admit that atheists are admirable in their desire to find evidence for what they believe. But what amazes me is that many atheists will close their eyes, cover their ears, and refuse to even consider the evidences that abound for the existence of God.

How it is that so many very intelligent and clear thinking people can fall for the lie of atheism is perplexing. It is a subtle lie, and it appeals to human beings on different levels, not the least of which is the attracting notion that if there is no God, then there is no hell; and if no hell, then there are no ultimate, eternal repercussions, good or bad, for how we live out our mortal lives. Of course, atheists will complain about the problem of evil and insist that people should be "good without God." But why? If God does not exist, why be good?

ZENIT: What can Christians do in the face of aggressive attacks from the other side?

Madrid: My view is that Christians must do three things if we are to adequately meet the challenge of atheism and conclusively demonstrate to atheists that their worldview is rationally untenable and cannot account for certain fundamental realities, and that Christianity can account for them.

First, we must pray fervently for atheists and rely on God's illuminating grace as far more important than our own efforts to refute atheism. Second, we must become proficient in both understanding and explaining the many compelling reasons for believing in God, including the classical proofs for his existence, and the rationally powerful and convincing answers to the arguments atheists raise against God (see Kreeft, Tacelli, and Feser for a head start in that direction, by the way).

And third, we must understand how to critique atheist claims on their own merits. Moving beyond responding to atheist argument with proofs for God's existence, we need to show atheists why atheism itself is false. And that last part is precisely our goal in "The Godless Delusion."

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Part 1: http://www.zenit.org/article-32562?l=english

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On the Net:

"The Godless Delusion": www.osv.com/BooksNav/TheGodlessDelusion/tabid/8102/Default.aspx

Patrick Madrid's Web site: http://patrickmadrid.com