Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Real Face of Atheism

by Ravi Zacharias

185 pages / 1990 
(some references updated in the 2004 edition)

So what is The Real Face of Atheism? The first section title in the Table of Contents summarizes Ravi Zacharias's answer: Part 1: Man: The Measure of All Things. In a book that is more about the problems of atheism than the solution of the gospel, it's not surprising (depressing, at first, but not surprising) that Part 1 includes five chapters, while Part 2, about God: The Treasure of Life's Pursuits has only two (however, the two appendices add much more). 

Zacharias argues that while atheists claim that reason is on their side, few atheists claim that their philosophy is satisfying to the human heart. That's why his book is more about the existential implications of atheism than the intellectual superiority of Christianity. He starts with a number of quick sketches of the "Morticians of the Absolute" in Chapter 1. After tracing lines between such figures as Galileo, Darwin, Marx, Freud and the philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche, he looks at the disastrous effects of Nietzsche's views in leading Western civilization toward the twin obsessions with power (exploited and worshipped by Adolf Hitler) and sex (exemplified by Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy).

Having demonstrated just how destructive and dangerous atheism is, Zacharias examines four areas in which atheism offers no satisfying answers: the question of origins, the foundation of morality, the search for meaning, and the longing for hope in death. The question "Is There Not a Cause?" of Chapter 2 is answered by a broad-ranging expose of how overconfident secular scientists have been in asserting that the existence of life and the universe itself can be explained without God. Chapter 3, "Virtue in Distress," looks at just how inadequate atheism is as a foundation for morality (even as we live our lives rightly assuming that right and wrong are real). The fourth chapter, "Sisyphus on a Roll," shows how atheism cannot offer any answer to the question of meaning in life, moving from the Victorian Matthew Arnold, to the mythological character of the chapter title, to the Enlightenment skeptic Voltaire, among others; and answering their despair with wisdom from T. S. Eliot, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and, most importantly, Solomon. Finally, "Grave Doubts" exposes the terror, in the face of death, of such men as Woody Allen, Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, and Alfred Lord Tennyson; and looks at how only the hope of heaven and heavenly justice makes the certainty of death bearable.

Having shown the incoherence of atheism, and its inability to satisfy both the mind and heart, Zacharias takes us "Climbing in the Mist" as he shows us how faith is as necessary as reason to address the questions that atheism cannot answer. The last chapter, "With Larger Eyes Than Ours," starts with God's questions to Job and examines how taking God into account makes life comprehensible.

The satisfying conclusion of Zacharias's argument is supplemented by two appendices that may help greatly in our arguing for the relevance of our Christian faith. The first appendix, "The Finger of Truth and the Fist of Reality," demonstrates three ways in which people approach questions of God's existence and action in our lives - through reason, the arts, and child-rearing - and notes that inconsistency among these three areas shows how a person who outwardly denies God affirms His existence in his or her approach to real life. The final appendix, "The Establishment of a Worldview," discusses six different tests of the truth of a worldview.

I highly recommend Zacharias's book for anyone who wants to understand the implications of atheism in either society or the lives of friends or family. Pick it up at Amazon.com here.