I’ve been reading Victor Stenger’s new book, The New Atheism, and found his eschatology to be interesting if not exactly inspiring. He writes:
“Atheism offers no promise of salvation or eternal life. This life is all we have. Most people consider that depressing and unappealing…If you accept atheist materialism, then you have to learn to live with the conclusion that human consciousness and self-awareness reside in a purely material brain and nervous system. They may even be a trick the brain plays on us anyway, without having much to do with reality at all…In any case, all thoughts will cease when the brain and nervous system stop operating and begin the process of rejoining the dust of Earth from which they arose. This is a terrifying prospect for many and I am not offering it as an attractive substitute to eternal life. I don’t expect to convert a single believer to atheism by this argument. Here I am talking to those who have already recognized the undoubted fact that there is no eternal life and I am suggesting a possible way to cope with it” (p. 221-22).
Stenger then advocates Buddhism, an atheistic religion which teaches its followers to stop caring about their personal selves and lose their individuality in the oneness of the impersonal universe. Stenger concedes that this is difficult for him to accept, because he is happily married, in good health, with a fulfilling career, and has two children and four grand children who “are beautiful and intelligent…What else can a man want? I wouldn’t mind continuing it forever. But I can’t.”
Stenger concludes his chapter with the most unsatisfying advice you’re ever going to read. “So, it is going to be very difficult for me to practice what I preach, which is directed to other atheists as they approach the end of their lives: take up the Way of Nature and achieve a state of mind where the self does not matter and nothingness is approached with peace of mind. But don’t do it too soon! Live life first” (p. 222).
Theological observation: the new atheists, including Stenger and Sam Harris, note the similarity between their position and Buddhism. Even Richard Dawkins calls pantheism nothing more than “sexed-up atheism.” This is a point we must not forget, especially considering that certain forms of pantheism may becoming increasingly popular in some evangelical circles.
Pastoral observation: doesn’t your heart break for Stenger? Romans 1 teaches that Stenger has suppressed his knowledge of God, and he’s been doing it for so long that now he truly believes it. How sad to be this lost! His example reminds us that regeneration requires an act of God—for all of us.