Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What convinced you of the Gospel?
Suzie Mason: ‘Convinced me of the gospel’ is not a phrase that sits well in my brain. It sounds far too certain to have anything to do with faith. You wouldn’t find too many British Christians using that phrase. I’ve chosen to be a Christian because I think that given the choice between two positions with evidence (theism and atheism) where neither has proof, theism is the one that makes most sense (in many ways). Once a theist, Christianity appeals for many reasons, personal and practical. Christianity teaches that we are flawed broken beings in desperate need of help. It doesn’t take much observation to gather evidence for that claim. Christianity is radical and wildly opposed to the easy ways we would love to live. Forgiveness is hard. Loving your enemy is all but impossible. I want a religion that kicks me in the arse to do better, every day. As for why I believe in Jesus, that’s between the two of us.
Jacobsen: What tends to not convince atheists of the Gospel in the United Kingdom?
Mason: People tend to believe what they are raised to believe. While atheists raise this in regards to religion, they often fail to note that the same applies to them. Religious, political and cultural ideas and identities are bestowed upon us as children, without our consent or understanding. Most people in the UK are atheists because they are raised by atheists (I often meet 40- and 50-year old people in church who have never attended before, and are curious about religion, something seen but not heard). I think that one of the reasons that atheists don’t become Christians is that they think that religion is about knowledge, rather than belief. A belief is a choice based on evidence. Knowledge is an obligation based on fact or proof. I know climate change is happening based on the fact of our evidence base around the phenomenon. I believe that it’s probably not a good idea to drink alcohol during pregnancy, but the jury is out on the impacts. With atheism and theism, there’s no proof either way. When I say ‘I believe in God’, I am not making a claim about reality. I’m making a declaration of choice: I have chosen to believe in God, based on the evidence I see. I’m not demanding that everyone make the same choice, or weigh up the evidence in the same way. I think that misunderstandings like this contribute to people not trying to find out more about religion.
Jacobsen: From the perspective of a Christian, what is the state of atheism in the United Kingdom? How do holders of the two belief systems tend to relate to one another?
Mason: Generally, if you’re religious or atheist, Britain is a good place to come. The default British attitude is: ‘do whatever you want, just don’t bother me with it’. For many years, politics and religion were regarded as taboo topics in public, and public evangelism is frowned upon. I think people are becoming more open about discussing religion in public, but our outlook is increasingly individualistic and I think that the vast majority of atheists and theists relate to one another in a sense of ‘this person’s private life is not my business’.
Jacobsen: What do you think is the best argument for atheism? Why aren’t you convinced of it?
Mason: Being a scientist, I think the best argument for atheism is that God can’t be measured by science. Not being able to be sure of something causes a lot of grief for the human mind, and if there is something that can’t captured by an empirical materialistic methodology, it’s very tempting to ignore it. We like to be able to comprehend our world, and discard things that are too complicated or excessive. A lot of atheists treat God as an unnecessary addition to people’s worldviews. I’m not convinced by this because the opinion that it’s simpler God not to exist is just that, an opinion. It’s not obvious how the big bang was imitated, or what evidence we should see if God exists. I don’t see God as an addition; God is the whole worldview, opposing a Godless universe worldview.
Jacobsen: Most New Atheists, as opposed to atheists generally, are white young males. Why is this the case? Christianity tends to attract a broader audience. Also, the corollary, why does Christianity tend to attract a wider audience?
Mason: Well, I’m not sure why the young men are white. However, it’s a general rule that people tend to be radical and liberal in their youth. New Atheism was a movement designed to stir people against religion, and was marketed as a bright sharp revolutionary action to overthrow the oppressive weight of old stodgy regressive tradition. It also was primarily fronted by men, talked about by men, and was about confrontation, argumentation, and aggressive decisive claims: be an atheist and you will be more intelligent than deluded fools; you are on the side of science. These are claims and formats that appeal to men, and young men desire role models. The sheer volume of Hitch fanboys who recite quotes like Bible verses is a testament to that. This is not a unique thing to atheist men – I think something similar happens with fans of charismatic (usually male) Christian speakers. But speaking of New Atheism specifically, I think that many young men left the authority of their family churches to look for a different authority, and found it in Richard Dawkins or someone similar.
I think Christianity has a broad audience because it is fundamentally a religion for broken people, and there is no shortage of those. Comparing it to a crutch is rather apt, because it helps people who wouldn’t normally be able to function in society to do just that. Everyone has times they regret, where they know they could have been better. In an individualistic society, Christianity reminds us that we were made for relationship and community. Many people are drawn to the church because they are starved of love and compassion. I belong to the Anglican tradition, where the term ‘broad church’ comes from: we have people who are more Catholic than the pope, and more protestant than Martin Luther. This broadness allows many people of many theologies to come together and share in one bread.