My column on Ben Hur at Bleedingfool.com kicked off a modest debate in the comments. What started as a discussion of the film has now turned into a debate about faith itself.
I'm not interested in litigating my side over here, but the course of the conversation is worth a closer look.
I'm sure most people of faith at some point will encounter an "evangelical atheist." These people don't believe in God and they don't want anyone else to, either. Marx had a big hand in creating these creatures, and while they deserve compassion, history has shown they can also be very destructive.
While it is unlikely that we will encounter the next Pol Pot at the bookstore or in an online comment thread, I think it is important that we understand where they are coming from.
In my area, a great many were raised by strictly religious parents and their unbelief is a form of rebellion. "I refused to be brainwashed into your cult!" is their battle cry. Others had faith, but for some reason lost it. Again, the stories tend to have many points in common, but each one is unique.
Just as converts often tend to be the most fervent believers, apostates are often the Church's worst enemies. On the psychological level, we can explain this by noting that the same strength of will that can sustain a voluntary life-change can also give it enormous power and zeal.
But if we look spiritually, we a different dynamic. Converts to the faith are trying to share something wonderful and new to them, something that they had overlooked before.
The evangelical atheist, by contrast, has nothing new to share, no gift other than envy and despair.
In the last couple of weeks I came across one who explained that there was no God, and that people should just enjoy life knowing that they were going to die and that would be that. The person insisted that he was perfectly fulfilled, thank you, but that did not explain why he went on a religious forum to spread this message.
I have been seeing this all my adult life. Again, the reasons vary, but the actions have the same dull similarity. The most virulent form of this are the ones who want to outlaw all religious practice in the US military. And that is what gives the game away.
The old secular materialist explanation was that misery loves company, and having had their faith shattered or never being able to find it, these folks seethe with envy and anger when they see smiling religious people find meaning and purpose in their lives. It's especially obvious when they go out of their way to hinder them - like going to an online religious discussion to spread their message.
But if we use the Spiritual Warfare lens, what we see is something different. These people have declared themselves against God and therefore any hint of His presence is a threat to them. That is why they want churches closed, and seek to undermine the faith of others. They are allied with demons, but too blind to see it.
Such creatures regularly appear in the writings of Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, which shows how far back this particular strain of Spiritual Warfare goes. Indeed, one of the Enemy's most successful tactics has been creating an artificial tension between faith and science. Yet there is none. Faith without reason is merely foolish while science without faith is diabolical.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the Ben Hur exchange with the commenter's refusal to even accept the possibility of miracles. Given that the oldest writings we have confirm their existence - indeed there is an evidentiary chain leading to the present day - this is perhaps the most irrational aspect of atheism.
There are no magic words to break through to such people, but my hope is that by giving counter-examples to their misery, people who of their own choice embraced faith and found contentment and joy, they may look about themselves with new eyes.