Christian Living

What Can We Do to Deepen the Cultural Conversation about Christianity?

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 04/30/2014

David Bentley Hart has a post on First Things responding to a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik:

Ostensibly a survey of recently published books on (vaguely speaking) theism and atheism, [Gopnik’s article] is actually an almost perfect distillation of everything most depressingly vapid about the cogitatively indolent secularism of late modern society. This is no particular reflection on Gopnik’s intelligence—he is bright enough, surely—but only on that atmosphere of complacent ignorance that seems to be the native element of so many of today’s cultured unbelievers.

Hart warns, “The article is intellectually trivial, but perhaps culturally portentous”:

Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do. The logical and imaginative grammars of belief, which still informed the thinking of earlier generations of atheists and skeptics, are no longer there. In their place, there is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness....

The real problem with his article is not its dialectical deficiencies so much as its casual inanities....

Almost all public discourse is now instantaneous, fluently aimless, deeply uninformed, and immune to logical rigor.... Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice. Perhaps this really is the way the argument ends—not with a bang but a whimper.

The phrase “casual inanities” is a good way to describe what I’ve observed (see “To the Atheist Who Called Jesus ‘The Magic Carpenter’” and “Atheists’ Small View of Christianity,” for example), but I fear the problem did not begin with atheists.

If we Christians have a small view of God and the story He’s telling through history, if we lack reverence, wonder, and awe when we contemplate and speak of Jesus and the cross, if we view church as a self-help exercise, if our services reflect this empty perspective, we can’t be surprised when the culture around us absorbs the same shallow view.

Christianity’s intellectual history is rich and deep, its art is meaningful, its theology addresses the universal condition of man and responds to our greatest questions, its worldview created Western civilization. We can’t change the atheists’ awareness and appreciation of these things, but we can intentionally increase our own.

I’m not primarily talking here about learning more reasons to think Christianity is true, I’m talking about immersing ourselves in the true story of redemption, as revealed by our Creator in the Bible. This is the story that was powerful enough to change all future Western stories. Know that story. Love that story. Live that story. Connect yourself and your church with centuries of great thinkers and lovers of God. Worship in a way that’s worthy of Him.

Let discussion of Christianity—whether between atheists or Christians—never again be filled with “casual inanities.”