Recently I had the opportunity to read through some positive and negative reviews of this present book. Among the many summaries a short discussion on the book caught my attention. In Jeremiah Hodge’s praise of Dr. Smith’s volume he writes:
No thinking theist will be capable of undertaking this book and then intellectually holding fast to his fondness for God.
This statement of course stems from his conviction of being an “explicit agnostic atheist.” These terms will be discussed at a later time when we will analyze Dr. Smith’s definitions of “atheism,” “agnosticism,” theism,” etc. Hodges’ conclusion that any thinking theist will surely lose his fondness of God is perplexing. What is he to say of those who have read the book and gained a greater appreciation for the God of Scriptures?
Hodge undermines the presuppositions behind his assertion and misses the central idea that to assume that one thinks require an originator of thought. From his perspective, this book builds his fortress with bricks of reason, whereas the pitiful Christian builds his house with bricks of faith. However, the contrary is the more reasonable position since the absence of a Guide (God) builds an autonomous fortress open to the armies of “dependence.”* George Smith continues his line of reasoning by remarking that,
…man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear (x).
This is a constant charge against the Christian faith, that is, that it simply serves as a guilt reliever with no real relevance (this is assumed from Smith’s point that emotional orientation towards religion stems only from false guilt). For some it has been a family practice for generations but for others it is a way to alleviate the oft-felt guilt of some unsubstantiated act. While I do not for a moment deny the accuracy of such possibilities in reference to Christian religion in general, at the same time atheism is guilty of the same charge. In fact, if you apply atheism to the statement above by Smith it can be equally adequate. Many atheists adhere to atheism simply because it has been passed down to them or because amidst the many options it seems to be the most fitting for anyone who desires to live under his own control. Simply put, if a human being wants to be the captain of his ship and the master of his soul, then atheism defines that lifestyle.
On a more existential note, man has much to gain from Christian experience even if his experience is spurious. The writer of Hebrews confirms this by stating that there are some in the body that “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5), and yet may be found to be outside of the religious (Christian) fold altogether. Certainly I am not advocating that people come to the church simply to experience and taste and then depart, but rather a greater point is in view: that man has much to gain by experiencing or for that case, sampling of the goodness of the truth.** Smith denies altogether this possibility stating that any experience is groundless and false. But he cannot make such objective statements unless he himself has experienced and tasted of the goodness of the Word of God. Christian Existentialists throughout the centuries have advocated such practices and as a result have seen God operate through the experience of Holy Communion (both sacramental and experiential) bringing about a faithful commitment from those who would embrace the glory of God and His Church. God is not in any way limited to the resources of Dr. Smith’s proposals or his formulations of how the Christian faith should operate.
* The contrast is between those who are self-dependent and with those who acknowledge that to depend on a Higher authority than self is much more desirable.
**At this point it is significant to add that though in this life people may enjoy the benefits of the church, namely, interaction with a righteous community, appreciation for what is moral and true, celebrating the God of Creation, etc. ultimately such enjoyment will prove to be fruitless unless one truly commits himself/herself to the Lord of the Church.