Sociologists, psychologists, and religious scholars have pondered, pondered, pondered the reasons why tens of millions of modern Americans and Europeans abandoned belief in God. But there's one thing none of the scholars espied, namely, that the God idea is itself the cause of incredulity. God is 'simply incredible' on the face of it for many people.
When I interview atheists, I ask them to compose a short 300-word essay explaining why they disbelieve, but they refuse, and they tell me they would no more compose a 300-word essay on why they disbelieve in God as compose an essay on why they don't believe in the Phoenix bird. To them, the notion of God is as fabulous as the Phoenix and incredible on the face of it.
This is a phenomenon particular to our time. Before now, for two hundred years prior, skeptics eagerly made their case against God. Hundreds of books were written by freethinkers. Scores of popular skeptical magazines sold in the millions in the UK and Australia, New Zealand, and in America. Dozens of skeptical organizations and secular societies emerged. Crowds of thousands gathered in buildings and in open-air forums to hear skeptical speakers, gifted with oratorical brilliance, critique God and offer godless alternatives to religion.
Skeptics of those bygone generations would have sat down on the spot to write me that 300-word essay I asked for. They would have done it on their feet, smoothing a sheet over my shirt and using my back as their desk. But not today. And why not today? Why is God 'simply incredible' to today's skeptics?
The answer is that in those earlier eras religion and God-belief were hardy, and skeptics felt they were challenging an irrepressible opponent. But by degrees religion started to unravel. Picture religion as a mohair sweater that modern skeptics and modern events tugged at, loosening the threads until the garment was in tatters. And the garment was in tatters by the end of the sixth decade of the twentieth century. By then the sweater was unmendable, even for the most talented theological seamstresses. A generation was lost to God.
Those 'new atheists' who tossed books up the best-seller list in the early twenty-first century did not create their skeptical readership: those people already existed.
And right now, as we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century, the very latest iteration of unbelief is total indifference to God owing to the complete implausibility of the God idea for these people. Such individuals do not rise to the level or label of 'atheist' because an atheist is really still in the theological game. An atheist is actually just another theologian--and usually a better theologian than a theistic theologian.
There's no need for releasing the Searchers to find out the cause for the current incredulity about God. At some point in Norse history the God Thor became unbelievable at first glance and ceased to provoke a second glance. The reason Thor became 'simply incredible' was not traceable to some psychological injury in the doubters, and there was no sociological event that caused mass unbelief. The Thor idea was itself the cause of the doubt.
To win the Indifferentists (as we may call today's atheists), theologians would have to thoroughly renovate the idea of God, something no theologian has the nerve to try. But it might make things interesting if someone did try.
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