Group-Think, The Precarious Power of Protest, and Owning Your Own Skepticism – Pt. 2

Narrating An Alternative Past, Present, and Future That Is Meaningful

One of the central features of atheistic and skeptical protest, is the way in which it often appeals to the moral sensibilities of their audience. Yet, one of the fundamental obligations that they routinely fail to assume, is explaining how (given atheistic or agnostic assumptions) morals themselves can be a real and meaningful feature of the world in which we live. Here’s what I mean:

Every one who possesses a worldview (including atheists and skeptics) will have particular answers about our origin, condition, and destination. That is, they will possess specific answers regarding the questions of: Origin: “Who am I, and where did I come from?” Condition: “What went wrong with the world?” Destination: “What can be done to fix it?” [1]

The reason that these three questions deeply matter, is that every moral denunciation will implicitly assume a specific answer to each of these three questions. For example, if an atheist or skeptic protests that the Israelite slaughter of Canaanites Josh. 1 – Judges 2:5) was morally perverse, they can’t make such a protest without assigning a specific value (origin), condition, and purpose (destination) to the Canaanite peoples that neither skepticism nor atheism can provide. Yet, the atheist and skeptic are rarely pressed to come clean with their own fundamental commitments and explain how these commitments relate to the issue they are protesting.

In his critique of secularism, Ravi Zacharias offered a critique that is equally pressing to the atheist and skeptic:

“…one cannot defend the particulars of a moral choice without first defending the theory in general upon which any choice is made. Secularism, on the other hand, can defend any choice because it is never compelled to defend its first principles, which are basically reduced to an antireligious bias. But secularists do not take into account that on their own terms no position needs to be defended if a commitment to it is sufficient reason in itself. If it is believed that all moralizing is purely one’s private view then ought not that view itself be kept private? The secularist never answers how he or she determines whether anything is wrong with anything except by sheer choice. Secular belief grants itself privileges that it does not equally distribute.” (emphasis mine) [2]

Questions & The Pain Of Listening

Following are 7 questions that the atheist and skeptic would do well to ask and answer before protesting religious belief(s):

  1. How do the opponents you are criticizing answer the questions of origin, condition, and destination?
  2. Why do they find satisfaction in the particular answers that they have given?
  3. Am I willing to listen to my opponent’s position until I can grasp and restate the strength of their position? “Listening with patient integrity to both sides of an argument can cause acute mental pain. For it involves the interiorizing of the debate until one not only grasps but feels the strength of both positions.” [3]
  4. As an atheist or a skeptic, how do I answer the questions of origin, condition, and destination?
  5. Why do I find these answers satisfying?
  6. In my personal interactions, public engagements, and protests, am I willing to publicly own the answers that I give and explain how they relate to issues of moral concern, so that others can know and interact with my own fundamental convictions? It is really quite easy to chide Christians for the beliefs outlined in a publically accessible Bible, while simultaneously concealing your own fundamental commitments from any meaningful scrutiny. “Giving yourself the privilege of destroying other positions while parking your own position in an unidentifiable location is a form of linguistic terrorism.” [4]
  7. Where there has been personal failure in the life of the person I’m protesting, how would I narrate or explain the process of forgiveness?

In my own personal interactions, I rarely witness atheists or skeptics make a sustained effort to address any these questions. One of the ways these questions can be fruitfully explored is in the context of committed and sustained relationships. This is just as much of a need for Christians as it is atheists. One of the reasons that committed and sustained relationships are helpful is that they actually give people who deeply matter the time they need to explore these questions well. Perhaps our future exchanges in can model something different.

Although Lee doesn’t work at my place of work any more, I deeply value the time that we spent together and the ways in which his willingness to engage deeply stretched me. His courage and willingness to talk would turn an ordinary day of work into something extraordinary.

(This is the second part in a series on thinking carefully about the nature of skeptical protest: Pt. 1)


[1] Others have done excellent work in thinking through the questions of origin, condition, and destination. See: Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004).

[2] Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture (Dallas, TX: Word, 1996), 59.

[3] John Stott, The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World (Downers Grove, IL: Inner Varsity Press, 1992), 109.

[4] Ravi Zacharias, Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth in An Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (New York, NY: Faith Words, 2012), 14.

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About pastoralpensees

I have been happily married to my wife since 2000 and have two young sons. In 2012, I graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary with an MDiv,, and I would like to engage in pastoral ministry in a local church.
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