Well, they’ve come and gone from what was described as the world’s biggest atheist conference. Author Melanie Phillips described it as 2,500 hardcore believers in the absence of religion [giving] a hero’s welcome to the high priest of belief in unbelief, Richard Dawkins. 

It’s interesting to me that Richard Dawkins, who has made a career out of telling everyone how much more tolerant the world would be if only religion were obliterated, demonstrated huge intolerance in some of his remarks.  He referred to the Pope as a Nazi, and described Family First senator Steve Fielding as “more stupid than an earthworm.” Oh, I see, we are to be tolerant but only towards those who agree with us!

The Age Religion Editor Barney Zwartz pointed out that “it was superfluous for speaker after speaker to point out that believers are deluded fantasists who believe in a magic friend who does magic tricks, because for almost everyone at the conference that was an article of faith already.”

But just because the conference demonstrated such arrogance and intolerance, don’t be lulled into the thought that the atheist movement has no agenda.  It does, and it doesn’t include you if you believe in a higher power!  Their number one goal is to reduce the footprint of religion in society. This they want to achieve via clear and focused targets that were identified at the conference: removing funding for religious schools, removing tax exemptions for religious agencies and working to make separation of church and state more explicit.

I agree with the separation of church and state.  Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world.  But that doesn’t mean that church and state need to be enemies. There needs to be mutual support, recognition and appreciation for the benefits that both provide. But what about the other two targets?

Removing funding for religious schools would actually cost the taxpayer more money. For example, one local independent school receives almost $3,000 of funding annually per primary student and about $3,800 per secondary student.  The average cost of educating a student in a government school in Australia is over $7,000 (primary) and over $9,000 (secondary).

In other words, every primary student at this local school saves the taxpayer over $4,000 a year and every secondary student saves the taxpayer over $5,000.  The combined saving to taxpayers from families attending this school is over $13 million annually.

What needs to be made clear is that scrapping – or reducing – government funding to independent schools will increase fees, force some families to send their children to government schools and put extra stress on the public school system.  This in turn will cost the taxpayer more.

The same is true if tax exemptions for religious agencies are removed.  These exemptions are given because the government recognizes the tremendous work accomplished by churches, and other religious institutions, in providing social welfare to poorer Australians.  If these exemptions are removed churches will have less money to continue their social welfare work.  The government will need to pay for what the churches will no longer be able to provide – and it will cost the government more because they do not have the ability that the churches have in mobilizing large numbers of volunteers.

Atheists need to wake up to these truths and, instead of making their agenda the tearing down of that which contributes much good to society, why not apply that same energy to making a positive difference in the World?  I am aware that Richard Dawkins recently spearheaded the raising of hundreds of thousands of dollars to help victims in Haiti.  That is wonderful.  But the atheists are still a long way behind those of us who are inspired to make a difference because of “our magic friend!”

The Global Atheist Convention is coming to Melbourne in March.  The theme is “The Rise of Atheism” and amongst the long list of speakers is world-renowned author Richard Dawkins whose book The God Delusion has been an international best seller.

I read The God Delusion a year or two ago and Dawkins makes some very good points.  However, his stated purpose in writing the book did not work on me – “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down” (Page 5).  It didn’t work because I used to be an atheist and, for the past 32 years, I have been a Christian.  I feel that I have a certain qualification to compare the two and Christianity comes up trumps every time!

The fact is that even the staunchest atheist cannot say unequivocally that there is no God – because no one knows everything.  Maybe God exists outside their knowledge.  The truth of this was recognized in the British atheist advertising campaign of early 2009 that stated, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Note the word “probably.”  I appreciate their honesty!

And now the Atheist Foundation of Australia is starting its own advertising campaign proclaiming “Atheism – celebrate reason.”  It’s an interesting statement.  Is it reasonable to state there is no God?  In The God Delusion,  Dawkins quotes Douglas Adams, the staunch atheist best known as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Adams says, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”  It’s a cute saying but it is flawed because a garden is only beautiful if it has someone who not only designed and made it in the first place but also has someone to maintain it.  I don’t believe in fairies, but I do believe the Universe had a designer and a maker, and I believe that Divine Being also gave the human race the responsibility to maintain it.  Sometimes we do well; other times we don’t.

After reading The God Delusion I picked up another book, this time by a former skeptic turned Christian believer.  Ron Williams, a Sydney lawyer-turned-author who came to faith in Christ via parenthood, prodigious reading and a life-changing illness, wrote God Actually.  This book is the written record of his search for truth, and some amazing truth is recorded in it.  For example:

“The first remarkable thing about [the Big Bang] is the rate at which it happens … if the expansion rate were any faster, the matter in the Universe would not have aggregated into galaxies, stars and planets; if the rate were any slower, the Universe would have collapsed back into itself within the time required for stars to have created carbon.  In either case the conditions for life would not exist.”

“Consider another phenomenon: the relative sizes of the sun and the moon, and their respective distances from the earth.  The diameter of the sun is about 400 times the diameter of the moon.  However, the sun is about 400 times further away from the earth than the moon is.  This means that…during a solar eclipse the Sun is almost exactly obscured by the moon.”

“Think of an experience from your childhood.  Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there.  After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you?  How else would you remember it?  But here is the bombshell, you weren’t there.  Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place.”

If you are searching for truth and meaning in life I encourage you to read God Actually.  It may help you to celebrate reason and to know that there probably is a God so that you can stop worrying and really enjoy your life.  After all, that’s why Jesus came to earth (John 10:10).

One of last year’s biggest selling books was The God Delusion by prominent British atheist Richard Dawkins. In the preface Professor Dawkins states his purpose – to convert religious people to atheism.

Well, he’s now promoting his atheist gospel again by endorsing an advertising campaign on London Buses declaring the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The slogan started as an aside comment from a comedian in response to a church campaign that pointed people to a website that indicated they’d be going to hell if they didn’t believe in God. The comedian suggested a response to “assure people”, which was picked up by Richard Dawkins and has ultimately generated funding from the general public for about $50,000 in donations.

Professor Dawkins says: “Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride – automatic tax breaks, unearned ‘respect’ and the right not to be ‘offended’ … even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side. This campaign – to put alternative slogans on London buses – will make people think; and thinking is anathema to religion.”

I agree with some of Professor Dawkins’ statements especially about the importance of making people think. Being a Christian doesn’t mean a compulsory lobotomy. I also like the honesty of the slogan: “There’s probably no God …” – even atheists aren’t sure if there is one!

The biggest issue is the mistake certain churches have made to run religious ads that “threaten eternal damnation”. When are they going to wake up to the message Jesus came to proclaim? The message (the gospel) is GOOD news. A person being damned is not. The first message Jesus taught was that He had come to proclaim the time of God’s favor; the season when God would accept all people just the way they are (see Luke 4:19). Jesus made it clear that salvation is for the whole world. He also stated that His purpose was not to judge or condemn people (John 3:16-17; 12:47), but to save them.

Why does the church feel it has the freedom to preach another gospel, which is not a gospel at all? If they had been smart the church would now be running a campaign on London buses with the slogan: “There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” But we’re not that smart yet are we?