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What was the question again?

In a column in last Sunday’s local fish wrapper, a Nashville pastor says that atheists and agnostics are avoiding some basic, existential questions.

“The atheism of the current day is not dealing with the great questions of life and death honestly and forthrightly,” writes Kevin Shrum, head philosophizer at Inglewood Baptist Church, “rather, the new atheism seems to be yearning for a freedom from any temporal or eternal explanation, restraint or accountability.” If you can make sense of that last part you’re a better man than I am, but what the writer is obviously and brazenly saying is that atheists have their heads in the sand.

The reverend Shrum may be disappointed to learn that non-believers and skeptics are as likely to grapple with the eternal questions as religious people are; they just don’t assume that God is the answer or “explanation.” Which is the more honest and forthright stance, one might ask: To say “I don’t know the answer,” or to say “I don’t know the answer, but it must be God.”?

Shrum trots out that old warhorse, C. S. Lewis, who insisted that because we have a yearning for something bigger and grander than ourselves, that something must be God, and it must exist. Lewis built the edifice of his Christianity on unproven premises and circular reasoning (“God must exist because we feel it to be so, and because God exists, that is why we feel the way we do), and Pastor Shrum likewise is fond of begging the burning question:

Is there a God? And since there is, what is His nature?

Where do I come from? And since I was created in the image of God, what is my purpose?

Why do we care for one another? And since God made us to, how should we act?

What happens when a person dies? And since we all end up in Heaven or Hell, what do we do to gain one and avoid the other?

“Christians do not argue that atheists do not love or care. They do so in great degree,” Shrum magnanimously allows. “The question is why do they love, care, have a sense of justice, feel moral outrage, and have a sense of right and wrong?” We all know the ready-made answer: It’s because of God.

It’s startling, and a little laughable and a little pathetic, to hear a devout Christian congratulating himself on his curiosity. Only in the mind of the truly religious can the Big Questions turn out to have such small answers.

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