New Atheism

What is New Atheism's Doctrine of Salvation?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
While openly mocking Christ's atonement, all that New Atheists can offer instead is "salvation" through environmentalism.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part seven of a series. Read part six.

While openly mocking Christ and His atonement, all that New Atheists can offer in its place is a "salvation" through Darwinian environmentalism: Man's environment must be "saved" so that the struggle of the fittest to survive, climbing upon the carcasses of the "unfit," can continue from generation to generation.

Mocking Christ and His Atonement

New Atheists mock the Biblical doctrine of salvation from sin through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Richard Dawkins' rantings are typical:

Well, there's no denying that, from a moral point of view, Jesus is a huge improvement over the cruel ogre of the Old Testament. Indeed Jesus, if he existed (or whoever wrote his script if he didn't) was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. . . .

Notwithstanding his somewhat dodgy family values, Jesus' ethical teachings were - at least by comparison with the ethical disaster area that is the Old Testament - admirable; but there are other teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support. I refer especially to the central doctrine of Christianity: that of 'atonement' for 'original sin'. This teaching, which lies at the heart of New Testament theology, is almost as morally obnoxious as the story of Abraham setting out to barbecue Isaac, which it resembles....Original sin itself comes straight from the Old Testament myth of Adam and Eve. Their sin - eating the fruit of a forbidden tree - seems mild enough to merit a mere reprimand. But the symbolic nature of the fruit (knowledge of good and evil, which in practice turned out to be knowledge that they were naked) was enough to turn their scrumping [apple-stealing] escapade into the mother and father of all sins. They and all their descendants were banished forever from the Garden of Eden, deprived of the gift of eternal life, and condemned to generations of painful labour, in the field and in childbirth respectively.

So far, so vindictive: par for the Old Testament course. New Testament theology adds a new injustice, topped off by a new sado-masochism whose viciousness even the Old Testament barely exceeds. It is, when you think about it, remarkable that a religion should adopt an instrument of torture and execution as its sacred symbol, often worn around the neck. Lenny Bruce rightly quipped that 'If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.' But the theology and punishment-theory behind it is even worse. The sin of Adam and Eve is thought to have passed down the male line...What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?...Augustine, by the way, who rightly regarded himself as something of a personal authority on sin, was responsible for coining the phrase 'original sin'. Before him it was known as 'ancestral sin'. Augustine's pronouncements and debates epitomize, for me, the unhealthy preoccupation of early Christian theologians with sin. They could have devoted their pages and their sermons to extolling the sky splashed with stars, or mountains and green forests, seas and dawn choruses. These are occasionally mentioned, but the Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life. Sam Harris is magnificently scathing in his Letter to a Christian Nation: 'Your principal concern appears to be that the Creator the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.'

But now, the sado-masochism. God incarnated himself as Jesus, in order that he should be tortured and executed in atonement for the hereditary sin of Adam. Ever since Paul expounded this repellent doctrine, Jesus has been worshipped as the redeemer of all our sins. Not just the past sin of Adam: future sins as whether future people decided to commit them or not!1

New Atheism's Offer of "Salvation"

What kind of "salvation" do New Atheists offer instead? Daniel Dennett tells us:

I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory: I believe that their salvation may depend on it! How so? By opening their eyes to the dangers of pandemics, degradation of the environment, and loss of biodiversity, and by informing them about some of the foibles of human nature. So isn't my belief that belief in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No; there is a major difference. We who love evolution do not honor those whose love of evolution prevents them from thinking clearly and rationally about it!...So I feel a moral imperative spread the word of evolution, but evolution is not my religion. I don't have a religion.2

In other words, in the New Atheist view man's salvation centers on Darwinian environmentalism: Man's environment must be "saved" so that the struggle of the fittest to survive, climbing upon the carcasses of those who are not fit to survive, can continue from generation to generation. But don't you dare accuse those "who love evolution" and believe that it is "the path to salvation" of having a religion; and don't you dare say that the death of the allegedly unfit among humanity - through abortion, euthanasia, holocausts, wars, disasters or any other means - is their religion's "sacrament".

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

The Scripture-driven Christian understands that God has not left mankind in the state of despairing hopelessness that the New Atheist describes.

We understand that while there is bad news about the entire human race, but there is also good news. We see the evidence of that bad news everywhere we look, in disease, natural disasters, hatred, wars, and death. Since the Bible is the Word of God, it is an accurate historical record of mankind and the universe from the beginning. So we can read the early chapters of the Bible to understand how mankind began. And before we read very far at all, we find that the human race was not always in its present condition. It was once perfect. But something happened - something that changed everything.

The early chapters of the Bible also introduce us to good news from God - the best possible news. That good news is the answer to the bad news about mankind. The Bible tells us that every human being is not merely seriously ill, but is already dead - born dead. Every human being comes into the world spiritually dead, and is therefore moving toward inevitable physical death as well. But there is a cure, and it is only found in one place, the Bible, and in only one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.




1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pages 250-252. Italics are in the original.

2. Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006), page 268.


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