Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Barna Report on Atheist Militancy
The Barna Group has a new Update titled "Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians." In the report Barna states:
...a new survey shows there is indeed a significant gap between Christians and those Americans who are in the "no-faith" camp. For instance, most atheists and agnostics (56%) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. At the same time, two-thirds of Christians (63%) who have an active faith perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.
After a discussion of the growth of this segment of Americans, and noting the differences and similarities between Christians and various forms of unbelief, the Barna report continues with an analysis provided by David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group:
Kinnaman addresses some of the realities of increasing hostility toward Christians in a new book that examines Mosaics and Busters, releasing in the fall of 2007, called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...And Why It Matters. "It is important for Christians to understand the environment and the perspectives of people who are different from them, especially among young generations whose culture is moving rapidly away from Christianity. Believers have the options of ignoring, rejecting or dealing with the aggressiveness of atheists and those hostile to the Christian faith. By their own admission, Christians have difficulty handling change, admitting when they are uncertain of something, and responding effectively to divergent perspectives. These characteristics make the new challenges facing Christianity even more daunting."
While it is encouraging that Barna's organization recognizes the challenge posed by engagement with atheism and agnosticism, this does not seem to translate into appropriate forms of communication. Curiously, in this same report a resource is offered titled Jim & Casper Go to Church, a book that represents a pastor and an atheist sharing impressions on various church services in the U.S. As the Barna website describes the book:
Jim interacts with another atheist...to take a nationwide road trip in visiting a dozen of America’s churches, including some well-known (such as Saddleback, Willow Creek and Lakewood) and some little-known. Jim wanted to document the "first impressions" of a non-believer at those places. The book offers an intimate and frank dialogue between an atheist and a believer, helping us to see church anew through the eyes of a skeptic, and tracks the development of an amazing relationship between two men with diametrically opposing views of the world who agree to respect each others’ experience.
While I'm sure this process has some value, it strikes me as strange that rather than engaging the atheist on his own terms with his issues and in his cultural and intellectual forum, the pastor brings him to church to ask him what he thinks of a worship gathering of various expressions of the Christian community. Why is the institutional setting of the church the chosen place for engagement and dialogue between these two? Might it not have been better for the Christian to consider how to enter the atheist and agnostic thought world and to engage them in their pathways of life and concerns rather than inside a church building? Perhaps I'm the only one that finds this strange, but to me this seems like another indicator that Christians in post-Christian America still struggle with how to grapple with increasing religious and irreligious pluralism.