A devout friend worried because upon reading one of the proselytizing atheists (I think it was Richard Dawkins) he found himself agreeing with the book. I assured him that agreeing with atheists 99 percent is a profoundly Christian stance. We, too, do not believe in the God or gods that they do not believe in. We do believe in the one God they often overlook. In fact, during the Roman persecution, the main charge leveled against Christians was atheism. We did not believe in the gods and offer them due reverence. One of the reasons St. Augustine wrote The City of God was to refute charges that Christians’ refusal to honor the gods had caused the collapse of Rome. Skepticism regarding claims about God or gods must be a hallmark of Christians, as for Jews and Muslims. "There is no other god besides me" (Isaiah 45:21). Yet, Christians tend to create new gods in their own image and likeness. Fortunately, those are the godlings that atheists often attack so successfully, doing the Church a favor. We should be grateful to them for helping save us from a so-called Christianity that is actually paganism. A case in point is the most recent prediction of the end of the world. A pastor in the United States declared that on May 21 God would begin the end of the world by drawing from the earth all the saved and instituting a six-month-long period of terror and suffering before closing down creation. The man has recalculated and decided that the new date is October 21. Though he claims to be a Christian, it is clear that his god is not for real. It is a projection of his and his followers’ self-satisfied conviction that God’s love is exclusively for them. Of course, the tendency is not limited to evangelical Protestants. There is no shortage of Catholic polytheists whose gods and demigods need to be debunked. There is a Marian devotion focused on Akita, here in Japan. Reportedly a nun was visited by Mary, who among other things supposedly said, "In order that the world might know His anger, the Heavenly Father is preparing to inflict a great chastisement on all mankind. With my Son I have intervened so many times to appease the wrath of the Father." Aside from the regrettable tendency on the part of some Catholics to -- in fact if not word -- deify Mary, this picture of God is one that Christians should join atheists in debunking. If God the Son is uniting with his Blessed Mother to thwart God the Father, that is not theology. It is what Freud called the Oedipus Complex. Worse than that, it in fact posits two deities, since it denies the perfect union of the Father and Son in the Trinity. One of those deities is wrathful, the other, with the help of his mother, opposes and is merciful. Neither is real. So, where can we find the only true God? On the cross. There is no other place where we will get the template by which we can interpret Scripture, theology, experience or speculation. And what do we learn of God there? That God forgives, suffers rather than inflict suffering, does not override human freedom, does not call on angels or his mother to change facts, does not overwhelm the world with any power except love. Any "god" that does not fit on the cross should be thrown to the atheists to chew over. And any of us who by word, prayer, deed or attitude show that we believe in any other god need to develop a good case of atheism. Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.
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