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Last month, during a commercial break for CBS' 60 Minutes weekly Sunday program, Ronald Reagan Jr. (yes, son of former President Ronald Reagan) was featured in an ad promoting atheism and mocking religion, specifically Christianity and the teaching about Hell.
Aside from some rather obvious points, like, for example, that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (whom the commercial was for) must be rolling in the bucks, an ad on 60 Minutes costs millions. The ad was controversial enough that some local stations refused to air it — but most did.
But laying all the "earthly" stuff aside, let's jump to the theological and philosophical. Atheism must define itself in the negative — as in, "We believe in not God." Well, then, what precisely, in a positive sense, do you believe? "Not God" has to be the answer.
Those among them who do not quite understand that their entire approach is based on a negative might endeavor to play word games and attempt to make what sound like positive assertions — but in the end, they really aren't.
For example, to say "I believe in science" is pretty darn lame. Science, as the average layman understands it, merely makes observations about how the physical, material world operates, nothing more.
Add two molecules of hydrogen to one molecule of oxygen and you get water — H2O. Brilliant. But it is woefully lacking, completely insufficient in explaining why that happens. Science explains that things happen; it can never explain why.
It can give an answer through empirical observation that this or that happens, and that's where the line is drawn. It has no answer to the "why." That a thing happens can be explained by material forces. Add fire to paper; it reduces to ash. Water a plant; it grows.
The cavemen were making these sorts of empirical observations, for goodness' sake. All that's been added is our technology's enhanced ability to look deeper into things physically (in the material order). We, today, are not a bit closer to understanding how the universe works (the underlying forces and principles at work) than those cavemen were.
The ultimate reason is because the "how" of something points to an intelligence, while the "that" points to method. That there is a painted image on a canvas can be observed easily enough. How it got there demands much more of an explanation — an application of reason, a moving beyond what is simply observable.
The atheist says that there is an image and insists, over and against all reason, that how it got there was not by the hand of an artist: "Not sure how, but I know it was not produced by an artist." The atheist gets all wrapped up in talking about the science of something. For example, continuing with the artwork example, he correctly observes that the pigments work together — they transition so seamlessly from one to the other, blah blah — without ever acknowledging that how this happened is through the mind and will of the artist.
They do the exact same thing with the material universe, acknowledging the form without ever conceding the substance — the "how" it all came to be — and moreover, how it all remains in existence and, most importantly, in order.
Then they grab a few random phrases from Scripture and/or distortions from Protestantism and attack that straw man, which never properly captures the essence of Christianity, especially Catholicism. Little by little, they advance their seemingly rational case in public until the scales have tipped — which is where we are today.
Most people don't believe in God. They either flat-out reject belief in a divine being (the position of the atheist) or, more subtly, pay lip service to a belief that has almost no bearing on their day-to-day life. They are practical atheists, meaning they practice their lives as though there is no God.
That's why Ronald Reagan Jr. can spend millions on an ad on one of the most watched shows in America and say he's not afraid of Hell because there is no God. Even if large portions of society might intellectually disagree with the "there-is-no-God" part of that, most agree that there either is no Hell or most people don't go there, and, certainly, they are not going there.
So one way or another, the mission of atheism is advanced. Is America an atheistic country? Not exactly. But it moves along as though there is no God. Atheism is on the march, even if it hasn't quite captured all the ground it wants yet — yet. And where is the Church in response to this? And by Church, we mean you.