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A Daniel in the lion's den

By David Palmer - posted Friday, 13 April 2012


When Nero wanted a scapegoat for the fires of Rome, he covered Christians in the skins of wild beasts, set the dogs on them then opened his gardens for the people to watch. No doubt there will be angry lions salivating at the prospect of tearing apart religion yet again at the upcoming Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne.

I'll be there. A Christian, I've paid my $270 to sit among the lions.

I'm attending to see whether the giants of New Atheism – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett – or our home-grown atheists - Peter Singer, Leslie Cannold, Catherine Deveny - can wean me away from 50 years of faith.

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If they're to be believed, I'm somebody who, despite not coming from a religious home, was brainwashed into believing in Jesus Christ, Saviour of the World as a 15-year-old and has never dared have a rational thought since.

Perhaps they can re-educate me. I'm particularly interested in some of the big questions like why are things the way they are, and for what purpose?

In the past, reading Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Michel Onfray, I have noticed some basic questions elude them and therefore suspect have them stumped. Questions like: What is the origin of the universe? Why is there something and not nothing? What is the origin of life? How do you get life from non-life? What is the origin of mind? How does a living being become a self conscious being? And is there any purpose in life?

Christianity has solid answers to these questions that have satisfied its adherents for more than two millennia.

I suggest this difficulty for atheism is a direct consequence of their a priori rejection of a creator God in favour of purposeless Darwinian evolution. However, I'm prepared to listen and see whether the atheists have some answers other than the usual stale debating points about the marvels of evolution and the evils of religion.

There are a number of other issues I'm interested in.

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Will I see evidence during the Convention of social concern finding practical outcomes? Christians start schools, hospitals, aged-care facilities, run soup kitchens, and provide shelter for the homeless. Will I be hearing about similar initiatives from the atheists or is it just another platform for Dawkins and company to rally the troops with high falutin anti-God talk?

Christians, regardless of whether wealthy or poor, understand that giving a tenth of their income is a reasonable goal in their support of religious and charitable work. I'm wondering if this kind of financial commitment will be mirrored by the atheists beyond their $270+ ticket. For example, will the organisers and speakers take up a collection for Melbourne's first hospital to be run on entirely atheist principles or Melbourne's first atheist school, perhaps named The Richard Dawkins Atheist Academy? Or is the state school system set to achieve this, once the last few religious families have been driven out? Just how committed are atheists to sacrificial giving? I want to see the humanity of the atheists, not in the self focussed individualistic sense but in the sacrificial self giving sense. I'm not sure it exists, but I am willing to be convinced.

I'm interested in the issue of morality as well.

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About the Author

David Palmer is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

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