American Atheists recently unveiled what they say is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States. In Bradford County, Florida, the Community Men’s Fellowship had erected a monument displaying the Ten Commandments. When the atheist group sued to have the slab removed, they were told that the monument was standing in an area reserved for “free speech.” So they chose to express their sentiments with their own monument.
They built a 1,500-pound granite bench with quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madeleine Murray O’Hair, the founder of their group. The president of American Atheists explained, “When you look at this monument, the first thing you will notice is that it has a function. Atheists are about the real and the physical, so we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench.”
Note that his assertion, “Atheists are about the real and the physical,” assumes that “the real” and “the physical” are the same. By this logic, since “God is spirit” (John 4:24), he cannot be real. Of course, by the same logic, “love” cannot exist. Nor can “friendship,” or “heroism,” or any non-material experience.
At least the biblical and the atheistic points of view are both available to the community. The day is coming when such may not be the case. I recently read D. A. Carson’s fascinating The Intolerance of Tolerance, which contrasts the “old” tolerance with the “new.” In “old” tolerance, every viewpoint was welcome at the table in a spirit of inclusion, but each was welcome to its own claim to ultimate truth. Christians could view Jesus as the only way to heaven, alongside Muslims who see him as only a prophet.
In the “new” tolerance, every viewpoint is welcome at the table since none is more true than another. Postmodern relativism has taught our culture that all truth claims are subjective and personal, so none can be “the” truth. In this context, assertions of singular or ultimate truth are by definition disallowed and unwelcome—hence the “intolerance” of tolerance.
This intolerance is the present and future for Christians in our society. For instance, Christian ministries are already facing discrimination when they “discriminate” against homosexuals. (Note the irony.) Christian commitment in Western culture may soon require more courage than ever before.
Last Thursday the Cultural Commentary observed Independence Day by honoring the heroes whose signatures beneath the Declaration of Independence cost them so much. Today, let’s consider another American hero. Nathan Hale graduated from Yale in 1773, taught school in Connecticut, and became a captain in the Continental Army. Arrested by the British for spying on their troops, he was hanged on September 22, 1776. His last words so moved British observers that they passed them down to posterity: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
What price are you willing to pay for your faith today?