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Well, I'm actually an agnostic, and there are important differences between atheists and agnostics. Nonetheless, I developed this philosophy years ago, when I was still an atheist, so I'll let the title stand.

You're probably wondering "How can an atheist defend Christianity?" And maybe you're also wondering "Is this guy really an atheist, or is he a covert Christian trying to gain converts through some sort of weird devil's advocate ruse?"

Have no fear. I'm pretty much your garden-variety agnostic; I agree with many of the standard anti-religious arguments (though they may sometimes seem like the knee-jerk reactions of cynical adolescents striving to cast off the bonds of their putatively oppressive upbringing). I cannot understand, for example, why an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being would allow innocent children to suffer and die, nor do I find it satisfying to dismiss such issues as "part of God's great mystery." I've read arguments by theologians and have found them unsatisfying.

That said, I think that Christianity is no different from a knife or a drug: it has no inherent morality by itself; rather, its moral value depends entirely on the way in which it is used. A knife can be used to kill an innocent man or to prepare a shelter for him; a drug can be used as a poison or as an anesthetic to relieve pain. To its believers, Christianity can provide ultimate and indisputable justification for any action; thus, it can inspire extraordinary harm or extraordinary good.

Thus, like many people, I condemn without reservation the amoral and criminal scum who use Christianity as a justification for hatred or abuse or assault or even murder.

I pity (but do not condemn) the starry-eyed narcissists who see portents in every dark corner and God's hand in every aspect of their life. I'm sometimes irritated by the people who try to push their views on me, although I can understand why they do it.

But I can't condemn the role religion played in the life of a doctor I know. He told me once that his faith had gotten him through a long, dark period of his life--a period in which his wife died, his child was diagnosed with autism, and he himself was struggling through a difficult residency. For a while, he felt as though he had nothing to live for; he considered leaving medicine and even contemplated suicide. As far as he could see--and as far as I could tell from his story--there was nothing to indicate that his life was going to get much better.

In spite of all that, he had faith. He was "sure of what he hoped for and certain of what he could not see," to quote the Bible. He was not previously terribly religious, but he prayed regularly and chose to believe--his words, "chose to believe"--that God had a plan for him and would see him through.

And his belief helped him survive. Now he's the chairman of the endocrinology department. He's conducted important studies on metabolic disorders and has personally saved the lives of countless sick children.

It's hard to argue counterfactuals--as C. S. Lewis said somewhere, no one ever really gets to know what would have happened. But suppose that he would have killed himself or quit medicine if he hadn't become religious. You would have lost someone who's had a tremendous effect on the world. Even if you are a devout atheist, will you condemn this man for a single intellectual error?

Yes, in my mind, his religious devotion is an imperfection--but it's one of the most benign imperfections known to man. I may never be able to accept Christianity, but I will not condemn those who use it in such a noninvasive and beneficial way.

I'm sure someone will tell me "You know, your radical ideas about society, individualism, and religion have already occurred to others." But that doesn't mean they've occurred to everyone...and there seem to be a lot of mindless cynics out there.


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