An Honest Atheist Reaction to the Gospel

I’ve been hoping to find something like this for a while.

Polly Toynbee writes the following excerpts for the Guardian against the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus’s holy head every day that you don’t eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion’s breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

She concludes as follows.

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.

Let us be careful not to overgeneralize, but what Ms. Toynbee writes seems to represent more than her alone. She may not see a distinction between the teachings of present-day Evangelicals and the old Evangelicals of the Sixtheenth Century, but I know that there are differences among the doctrines of atheists. She represents only one point of view. C.S. Lewis probably represented a different atheist point of view before his conversion to Christianity.

Variations in atheist doctrine notwithstanding, I am thankful that Ms. Toynbee has written these words, because they clearly and pointedly express exactly the problem she has with the Christian faith and with Christians. Perhaps she is not far from the Kingdom of God. I pray that she, like Lewis, is drawn into it.

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