Atheism, “Where’s The Beef?”
Before America decides to wed atheism and irreligion, it should check up on the character of its suitor and ask, “Where’s the beef?” Atheism, agnosticism, and every form of irreligion have been on the rise in American culture for several decades as the principles and practices of Christianity appear to be losing their appeal on the populace. Atheists demand the removal of America’s national motto, “In God We Trust,” from all currency, the elimination of religious symbols from all public property, and much, much more. Historical facts demonstrate that atheism is incapable of producing the kind of society that a Christian moral foundation has produced in various parts of the world, but particularly in America. For those willing to look before they leap into a relationship, the warts of atheism and its irreligious companions become painfully apparent.
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, many in the crowds that were following Jesus decided to leave him. On this occasion, Jesus asked if his twelve Disciples would also leave him, and Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter had apparently been around enough in life to realize no one else could come close to what Jesus was teaching and doing for the people. Unlike Peter, many of us may be tempted by the ranting and raving of the irreligious that often purport themselves as the intellectual elite while remaining completely incompetent to address the insurmountable questions of origins that Darwinism has also failed to answer.
Religion is the attempt to satisfy the expectations that exists between God or gods and their adherents or worshipers. Different religions suggest the relationship between God/gods may be satisfied in very different ways. Those who deny the existence of any expectations between God/gods and devoted followers as well as those who simply fail or refuse to observe those expectations may rightly be called “irreligious,” whether they are atheists, agnostics, deists, or adherents to some other form of denial. They may correctly be called “irreligious” because they deny the existence of or delay fulfilling the duties that are incumbent upon a relationship with a divine Being or beings.
Irreligion the Foundation for the Irresponsible
A question arises from the practice of the irreligious. If an individual denies or delays in his relationship or duty to God/gods, will he feel himself obligated to fulfill expectations or duties in his relationship to other individuals? Most atheists, having been influenced by Christian cultures around them, claim, as did Christopher Hitchens, that they are able to be “good without God,” but the reality is that their morals have been, to some degree, cultivated by a Christian worldview. With Christopher Hitchens, other irreligionists claim they are able to be good without God. But, if this is the case, the religious world has the right to ask, “Where’s the beef?” The immense difference between irreligion and Christianity is massive!
Dr. Harry Ironside Asks for the Evidence
The anecdote presented below remains a challenge to the irreligious. Dr. Henry Allen “Harry” Ironside (October 14, 1876-January 15, 1951) was a Canadian-born Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author who ministered primarily in America when his family moved to the States when he was a young boy. An extended introduction to the story that follows is unnecessary, for it unfolds itself to the reader. It is taken from Ironside’s, Random Reminiscences from Fifty Years of Preaching and retold by James Montgomery Boice in his book, Foundations of the Christian Faith.
Early in his ministry the great evangelist and Bible teacher [Harry Ironside] was living in the San Francisco Bay Area working with a group of believers called “Brethren.” One Sunday as he was walking through the city he came upon a group of Salvation Army workers holding a meeting on the corner of Market and Grant Avenues. There were probably sixty of them. When they recognized Ironside they immediately asked him if he would give his testimony. So he did, giving a word about how God had saved him through faith in the bodily death and literal resurrection of Jesus.
As he was speaking, Ironside noticed that on the edge of the crowd a well-dressed man had taken a card from his pocket and had written something on it. As Ironside finished his talk this man came forward, lifted his hat and very politely handed him the card. On one side was his name, which Ironside immediately recognized. The man [Arthur Morrow Lewis] was one of the early socialists who had made a name for himself lecturing not only from socialism but also against Christianity. As Ironside turned the card over, he read, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question ‘Agnosticism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”
Ironside reread the card aloud and then replied somewhat like this. “I am very much interested in this challenge… Therefore, I will be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions: namely, that in order to prove that Mr. [Lewis] has something worth fighting for and worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the Hall next Sunday two people, whose qualifications I will give in a moment, as proof that agnosticism is of real value in changing human lives and building true character.”
“First, he must promise to bring with him one man who was for years what we commonly call a ‘down-and-outer.’ I am not particular as to the exact nature of the sins that had wrecked his life and made him an outcast from society-whether a drunkard, or a criminal of some kind, or a victim of his sensual appetite-but a man who for years was under the power of evil habits from which he could not deliver himself, but who on some occasion entered one of Mr. [Lewis’] meetings and heard his glorification of agnosticism and his denunciations of the Bible and Christianity, and whose heart and mind as he listened to such an address were so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, ‘Henceforth, I too am an agnostic!’ and as a result of imbibing that particular philosophy found that a new power had come into his life. The sins he once loved he now hates, and righteousness and goodness are now the ideals of his life. He is now an entirely new man, a credit to himself and an asset to society-all because he is an agnostic.”
“Secondly, I would like Mr. [Lewis] to promise to bring with him one woman-and I think he may have more difficulty in finding the woman than the man-who was once a poor, wrecked, characterless outcast, the slave of evil passions, and the victim of man’s corrupt living… perhaps one who had lived for years in some evil resort,… utterly lost, ruined and wretched because of her life of sin. But this woman also entered a hall where Mr. [Lewis] was loudly proclaiming his agnosticism and ridiculing the message of the Holy Scriptures. As she listened, hope was born in her heart, and she said, ‘This is just what I need to deliver me from the slavery of sin!’ She followed the teaching and became an intelligent agnostic and infidel. As a result, her whole being revolted against the degradation of the life she had been living. She fled from the den of iniquity where she had been held captive so long; and today, rehabilitated, she has won her way back to an honored position in society and is living a clean, virtuous, happy life-all because she is an agnostic.”
“Now,” he said, addressing the gentleman who had presented him with his card and challenge, “if you will promise to bring these two people with you as examples of what agnosticism can do, I will promise to meet you at the Hall of Science at four o’clock next Sunday, and I will bring with me at the very least 100 men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and a present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”
Dr. Ironside then turned to the Salvation Army captain, a woman, and said, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?”
She exclaimed with enthusiasm, “We can give you forty at least just from this one corps, and we will give you a brass band to lead the procession!”
“Fine,” Dr. Ironside answered. “Now, Mr. [Lewis], I will have no difficulty in picking up sixty others from the various missions, gospel halls, and evangelical churches of the city; and if you will promise faithfully to bring two such exhibits as I have described, I will come marching in at the head of such a procession, with the band playing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers,’ and I will be ready for the debate.”
Apparently the man who had made the challenge must have had some sense of humor, for he smiled wryly and waved his hand in a deprecating kind of way as if to say, “Nothing doing!” and then edged out of the crowd while the bystanders clapped for Ironside and the others.
The power of the living Christ operating by means of the Holy Spirit through the written Word changes lives. This has been true throughout history. It is a powerful proof that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.
Have you, members of your family, or friends ever received treatment at First Atheist Hospital? Millions have been treated at Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, St. Mary’s, or Mt. Sinai hospitals. Do we remember that the Red Crescent medical care of Islam is the result of the Red Cross that was started by a Swiss evangelical Christian, Henry Dunant. To this list could be added a multitude of commercial, academic, and social institutions and agencies that are the result of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ! America has a right to ask the atheists, agnostics, and other irreligionists, “Where’s the beef?”
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 From childhood, the Plymouth Brethren influenced Ironside. In addition to the Plymouth Brethren, Ironside also worked with the spiritual descendants of John Wesley in the Salvation Army.
 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978): 64-66; adapted from H. A. Ironside, Random Reminiscences from Fifty Years of Preaching (New York: Garland Pub., 1988: 99-107; cited by Michael Donahue, theupwardcall.net http://www.theupwardcall.net/, May 2013).