The latest issue of the English magazine The Spectator offered Theo Hobson's Writing God Off about the atheism of some of England's major novelists. (If you want to read it, read it now, because they seem to post their articles only until the next week's issue is posted.
Religion, writes the author, an agnostic himself,
is complicated. Even if you reject it you ought to admit this. But these writers fail to see anything deep or difficult in religion: it is simply wrong. They seem to commend a stance of adolescent indignation: it’s all a load of rubbish.
The writers he discusses include Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Jeanette Winterson. He gives three reasons for their "theological illiteracy" and their "pride in such illiteracy, as if it were a virtue." I would add a fourth, which is simply that atheism is useful to a writer.
Atheism, particularly the sweeping and total kind of atheism these writers exhibit, makes God and religion an easy target to hit. Even in secularized England, you can still win points for being daring and bold by taking on God. The newspapers will still report it and some (the leftist Guardian, for example) will support you as a brave man taking on the establishment. And because it is a once Christian country now secularized, you will have lots and lots of potential readers who want to see God smacked down. They might not believe in him (or think they don't) but their parents did and that's enough to convict him.
And there is also the fact that atheism has its uses for any fallen human being. I've read enough about the lives of some of these writers to suspect that they would find real belief in God, or even facing the possibility that God exists and has a plan for their life, rather threatening. If they believed in God, really believed in God, they'd have to become one of those people they make fun of in their novels.
The Christian recognizes that the choice to believe or reject God is at least as much moral and spiritual as intellectual. When a man says "God is unbelievable," he means, whether he knows it or not, "I can't believe in God." He may, perhaps, be unable to believe from real intellectual conviction, or he may be unable to believe because he's a creature of pride or a practiced liar or an adulterer or a glutton or because he's repeatedly compromised his conscience to get where he is and knows it.
One if justified in raising a skeptical eyebrow when anyone tells you he can't believe in God because it's a stupid idea. The question is whether he's in a stupor himself and no more a judge of the intellectual plausibilty of the existence of God than a roaring drunk is of reading the fine print on a eye doctor's chart.
I don't know why some people believe and some don't. I have a naturally agnostic turn of mind, much to occasional frustration of my children, who want black and white answers, but I came to believe not only in God as a first principle or guarantor of the moral order but as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who invite me into the life of the Trinity, and now I can't imagine not believing.
I have a mind changed by grace, as do most of you reading this. Why Amis and Hitchens, two writers I admire very much, don't believe in God, indeed why they hate God so much, is a mystery. But we still don't have to accept their claims.