I can’t tell you how often I have gotten mail from people who tell me they don’t believe in God and then almost instantly reveal that they are furious with him. Sometimes they are furious with him for not existing, but much more often they are furious with him for not doing something they badly wanted him to do.
That’s not stuff for mockery by the way. Because many and many a time the something God was supposed to do was “save my daughter from death by cancer” or “keep my wife from committing suicide” or many other variations of the tragedies with which the world abounds. Many “atheists” are just broken-hearted people who can’t stand the thought that a good God would allow to happen the shock that shattered their world. For such folk, prayer and love, far more than logic-chopping argumentation is necessary thing. Many an “unbeliever” has felt the walls of ice melt between them and the Joy of Man’s Desiring after a wrenching, cleansing, gasping cry of pain and gush of tears after years of frozen rage. Seldom has that happened because somebody hammered them with an apologetics syllogism about papal infallibility. They needed healing, not a sound defeat in a debate.
That said, there are also any number of callow youth whose problem is not some dark wound, but simply that they are callow youth who have read some dim dumb thing that Richard Dawkins wrote or clicked on a diatribe by Christopher Hitchens and decided they are the intellectual heroes who will make them feel superior to their high school sophomore class. These people too cannot be converted by argument because nobody can be converted by argument. Nobody can be converted by your winning smile or my clever words or his watertight philosophical proof. These things can be prelude to conversion and rational human beings can come to acknowledge things by the light of natural reason. But only the Holy Spirit can do the heavy lifting of opening a human heart and mind to the light of divine truth.
That means that the first thing a gung-ho evangelical atheist needs is prayer, not argument. The prayer is not so much for his conversion as for his de-conversion. Because a realio-trulio confirmed atheist already has a deep religious belief. What he needs is not faith (he has that: faith in the three pound piece of meat behind his eyes). Nope, what he needs is right faith: in God and not himself, his brilliance, his rationality, his pride. And no mortal power can disabuse him of that wrongly ordered faith. Only God can.
Of course, not all atheists are of the gung-ho militant variety. Some are atheists because, well, they were just raised outside any living encounter with actual faith. Indeed, I have known a number of atheists who range from curious to wistful about faith in Christ, as though it would be nice to believe if they could, but for whatever reason the inner “click” hasn’t happened to make the life of living faith in Christ real to them. Once again, prayer is the first thing, since only God can convert. At the same time, such atheists are often quite open to having a real conversation about the Faith. Such honest atheists are often treated with profound contempt by the shallow noisy atheist Fundamentalists who have a script and are stickin’ to it. The contempt is due to the fact that these “Christ curious” atheists actually want to use their intellects instead of merely worshipping them as shallow atheists tend to do.
For the dyed-in-the-wool atheist of the New Atheist Speaker’s Bureau, the use of the intellect is strictly forbidden. Slogans and pre-fab sound bites are the key. The same clever lines get repeated again and again in a sort of atheist liturgy that drinks repeatedly from the same stale water. The same prophets (Dennett, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins) are read like the four gospels. Slogans about flying spaghetti monsters get repeated like antiphons at Mass. The same two arguments about “the Problem of Evil” and “How the Laws of Nature Prove There is No Legislator” get trotted out, oblivious to the fact that St. Thomas answered them both. In addition, we hear the same fallacies again and again in the liturgy of Padded Arguments: religion is for suckers, Noah never lived, why can’t women be priests, Catholics sin, some miracles are fake so all are, the Pope is not photogenic, I am smarter than you, Galileo, six day creationism, SCIENCE!, etc.
It’s all as liturgical as a kabuki or a Mass—and as predictable. Only the New Atheist seems to be oblivious to how much he owes the religion he is attacking. Indeed, even his blasphemies depend for their power on the God he blasphemes, which is why he spends all his time Not Believing in the God of the Bible and very little time blaspheming Thor or Odin.