Famous magician, decent bloke, funny writer and not very angry atheist, Penn Jillette is attributed with this very fine point:
I don’t mean to make this post into an apologetic polemic. My intention here is to simply state a clarifying principle. Very often when engaging with contemporary atheism, I am stuck by how rare it is that my interlocutor is familiar with the Biblical text. It is rarer still that they have actually are fluent in its narrative. It is practically unheard of to find someone today who actually understands how that narrative works. Finally I have never encountered any atheist in this generation who has a sense of how all this fits together. In an analogy with the natural science, when it comes to Christianity, atheists are able to do sums and hence conclude they natively understand all physics.
So back to Mr. Jillette. This is a most excellent critique of something, but not orthodox Christianity.
With this he takes down large swathes of theology written after a fellow called Reimarus. With this he destroys a big quarter of the contemporary church that imagines Christianity is just civilisation taken to its (il)logical perfection. But it is a claim that leaves the heart of Christianity untouched.
When serious minded sceptics ask me how to engage with Christianity I advise them to read a Swiss man called Karl Barth. Now Barth himself is not that special, as he always reminds us. He is just the closest in age to us of a tradition that stretches back through Jonathan Edwards and Calvin and Luther and Thomas and Anselm and back to the very old names of Athanasius and Augustine and Tertullian. As the closest to us in age, we find it easiest to relate to how he tells the story.
The story of Christianity that he tells is exactly not like science in this crucial regard: It is revealed.
If God did not reveal Himself, we would not know him.
Religion is actually exactly what Jillette claims it to be: humanity’s effort to fill a void. Christian claims are not undone by such insights because of this revelatory proposition.
Now I do not mean to suggest that since we claim God revealed Himself, therefore He did. Rather, simply, the claims that are made in the name of the Trinity are not the kind of claims that will repeat themselves.
Your Correspondent, Shopped for love in a bargain store and didn’t get what he bargained for