As a staff, we’ve all been reading Bunyan’s epic, Pilgrim’s Progress. Lots of things jumped out at me and will perhaps appear here in due course. But one small theme is that of the atheist objections to the very foundations of the Christian life – namely that it is a pilgrimage to something beyond this life. The first has Christian’s companion, Faithful, describing a difficult conversation he’s had with a man called Shame:
FAITHFUL: …he objected against religion itself. He said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion. He said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that hectoring liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustom themselves unto would make him the ridicule of the times. He objected also that but few of the mighty, rich or wise were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, and to a voluntary fondness to venture the loss of all, for nobody else knows what… He said also that religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices (which he called by finer names), and made him own and respect the base, because of the same religious fraternity; and is this not, said he, a shame? (pp81-82)
In other words, religion is bad for you – it makes one “unmanly”! Is that why there are more women in western churches than men?! Then, at a later point, Christian is accompanied by another friend, Hopeful,when they encounterATHEIST. Atheist asked them where they were going:
CHRISTIAN: We are going to Mount Zion. Then ATHEIST fell into a very great laughter.
CHRISTIAN: What’s the meaning of your laughter?
ATHEIST: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and yet are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.
CHRISTIAN: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?
ATHEIST: Received! There is not such a place as you dream of in all this world.
CHRISTIAN: But there is in the world to come.
ATHEIST: When i was at home in mine own country, I heard as you now affirm, and from that hearing went out to see, and have been seeking this city these twenty years, but find no more of it than I did the first day I set out (Eccles 10:15, Jer 17:15).
CHRISTIAN: We have both heard and believe that there is such a place to be found.
ATHEIST: Had not I, when at home, believed, I had not come thus far to seek; but finding none (and yet I should, had there been such a place to be found, for I have gone to seek it farther than you), I am going back again, and will seek to refresh myself with the things that I then cast away for hopes of that which i now see is not. (pp156-157)
All quite interesting – Atheist reminds me quite a bit of the words commonly attributed to Yuri Gagarin, but more accurately taken from a speech by Soviet Premier Khrushchev: Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any God there. But more relevant even than that outmoded Soviet jibe, it at least proves that the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are not saying anything new (in case we ever thought they were). They’re simply conforming to type!