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Atheism, Poetry, and the Bible

“Take it and read….” But read it as the inspired work of the supreme Poet and Dramatist.

(Image: Pixabay/FotografieLink)

For atheists, the Old Testament is a collection of ancient myths, and the New Testament an inconsistent and plainly fraudulent record presented as objective history, the work of many lying hands shamelessly proffered by the members of an obscure religious sect in Palestine in the first century of the “Common Era,” as contemporary scholarship calls it.

Atheists’ insistence that all religions—especially Christianity—are merely human inventions is usually explained by their determined and inflexible commitment to scientific materialism, and to their equally rigid historiography.

But why cannot the “historical Jesus” also be the Christ of the four apostolic gospels, which present the evidence for His existence as an historical figure and His life on earth that secular historians have been demanding for two millennia? The wider historical setting for the events recorded in the New Testament is quite recognizably Palestine as it was under the Roman Empire in the reign of Caesar Augustus. Why do secular historians and secularists generally refuse to accept the Gospel accounts as being, in the main, accurate?

One reason they give is that the brief histories attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not agree with one another in every detail. Which is only what one would expect in the circumstances and which testifies, if anything, to their honesty, unselfconsciousness, and authenticity. Another reason given is evidence that each Gospel may have been the work of several authors, something that (if true) does nothing to disprove their veracity and sincerity.

A more significant reason has to do with their recounting miraculous deeds and occurrences, which the third President of the United States famously subtracted from the Jefferson Bible. Of course, believers may argue plausibly that the universe itself is miraculous and its creation an actual miracle, as many leading astrophysicists have suggested in recent decades, one of them going so far as to say that the closest thing to the astronomer’s Big Bang is the account given in Genesis. One would expect, indeed, that for men of science, the creation of Something-out-of-Nothing is the most miraculous thing one can imagine. Life is another miracle whose ultimate origins science cannot satisfactorily name, but the Bible can—and it does.

An often-heard claim by atheists and other people who reject Biblical truth is that the authors of New Testament wrote with the express purpose of fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, inventing new materials as they went along while taking care to create references to the old ones by inserting echoes of them into their texts. The continuities between Old and New, such people concede, are real enough, but they insist they are faked in order to establish a credible and convincing narrative line from the Creation to the Ascension. It is a claim that has been proven false innumerable times in the past 2000 years. It is also one that ought to be laid to rest by Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth in two volumes (among other writings), which demonstrates that the feat is humanly impossible: the correlations and references between the Old and New Testaments are so numerous, so often minute, so various, and so frequently veiled as to place such an effort beyond the competency of the human mind to accomplish.

Still, it takes a careful, critical, and receptive reading of the text to perceive and appreciate how perfectly and exquisitely the Bible hangs together across all its books and the four Gospels. Atheists however, including the so-called New Atheists of recent decades and all previous ones from whom we have heard on the subject, have been notably lacking in literary sensibility and a critical faculty. Or, if they did possess these things, they failed to exercise their gifts on Sacred Scripture and hence to appreciate the superhuman artistry, complexity, and integrity of a massive literary work directly inspired by the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Their lack of anything approaching a critical bent, however, is not their principal handicap in confronting and understanding the supreme work of literature in history. That is their total inability to read and understand the thing called “poetry.” If atheists and their skeptical brethren could (or would) bring to their reading of the Bible the intellectual seriousness, attention, rigor, and above all humility that conscientious literary critics (and some college professors) apply to their reading of the monuments of world literature—the epics, the dramas, the double-decker novels—they might be able to form a true impression of the literally Divine Work they dismiss as nothing more than the most elaborate hoax ever perpetrated on the human race.

The fact is that unbelievers, including those who do not wish to believe, read (if they read them at all) the 73 books of the Bible as if it were a vast, assertive, and tendentious catechism, the burden of which is “This is what I believe—and what you too must believe, down to last dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t,’ on pain of eternal Hell-fire.” Needless to say, that is not how anyone should approach the Good Book, whether on the first reading of it, or the hundredth.

“Take it and read….” But read it as the inspired work of the supreme Poet and Dramatist, in the same way (to begin with, at least) that one reads the plays of Shakespeare. To be appreciated at first for its poetic and literary merits, the beauty of its language, its high drama, and its characters who are instantly recognizable and humanly convincing figures, as true to life as their motives and their actions. The fact that poetry has dwindled almost to the vanishing point over the last century as the audience for it has shrunk to a tiny audience of academics and fellow poets (also mostly academics) has made popular poetic appreciation and comprehension a thing of the past, in parallel with the ability to read and understand literature, imaginative and otherwise, as anything more than a political statement and as social or socio-political propaganda.

A sophisticated reader, by contrast, and one who is open moreover to the possibility that the Bible is what it purports to be, should have no trouble perceiving the transcendent truth behind the people and the events recorded in the Gospels, in particular those leading up to the Passion. Christ’s fate is humanly, as well as supernaturally, inevitable from the beginning of His public ministry down to the Crucifixion; it is the way of the world, always has been, and always will be for people who assume the role that He took upon Himself for three years. So are the actions of those who doubt Him and of His persecutors. The Gospels, indeed, amount to one lengthy and overwhelming “shock of recognition,” that of the reality of the human race and the world. With a little help from the Holy Spirit, Faith should follow the literate, sincere, and unprejudiced reader of the Bible as surely as the day follows the night.

T.S. Eliot, with notable egocentricity, once remarked that people should be prepared to devote to understanding and appreciating a poem by him the time and rigorous attention that a barrister spends on preparing a brief. While the meaning of the Bible is humanly inexhaustible, one need not devote to grasping it the degree of technical attention that Eliot claimed for his poetry, the Lord having revealed to His little ones the same message He revealed to the learned and powerful.

That He did so is itself a minor miracle. Who, after all—what human agency—could have made up the Christian religion out of his own head, as G.K. Chesterton asked? The answer is, “No one;” nor could anyone, man or woman including the saints of either sex, have imagined in advance the truths to be discovered there.

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About Chilton Williamson, Jr. 18 Articles
Chilton Williamson, Jr. is the author of several works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and “pure” nonfiction, including After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy and Jerusalem, Jerusalem! A Novel. He has also written hundreds of essays, critical reviews, and short stories for publications including Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Harper’s, The New Republic, National Review, Commonweal, The New Leader, The American Spectator, among others. You can visit him online at


  1. CS Lewis, probably the world’s most accomplished textual critic even after his death, takes on and reduces the atheistic arguments on the authenticity of the Bible to childish nonsense.

  2. A great conspiratorial hoax or divinely inspired truth? Chilton Williamson Jr responds well that the innumerable references, often disguised, at times minute, seems an impossible task.
    His argument has merit if we’re convinced it’s necessary, or perhaps better said, if it is helpful. Although belief in Christ the Son of God prophesied in the Old revealed in the New is not a question of a scientific gathering of proofs. Rather it’s the work of faith, a first principle apprehension the intellect knows intuitively [that is sans scientific exploration and logical diagram]. Intuitive, in that assent to this truth is motored by this initial apprehension of the mind when both subject and predicate are known simultaneously. We believe because God has spoken [to us in his Son]. In that context it’s an interior sense that is both intellectual and sensitive [the latter perhaps relevant to poetic suggestion]. The latter referring to the inner conviction/apprehension that this pure love of the Father revealed by the Son inspired [in us] by the Holy Spirit is Truth that possesses its own verification.
    Nevertheless, Chilton demonstrates our God given reasoning ability naturally seeks its own verification as part of comprehension of the revealed mystery.

  3. One aid for our times could be the writings related to the Divine Will , that can help to bring more cohesiveness to the revelation as a whole –

    The Passion meditations and book on Virgin Mary – simple yet magnifying the profound mysteries …to also bring forth conversions.
    The transforming Love as compassion in The Lord and our Mother for the sufferings and trials of all the children , to thus grow in same , to trust that same can also help beyond time to bring glory unto many … instead of the sense of grief over so much suffering as in wars and weaknesses as narrated in The Word .

    The homilies of the Holy Father also a refreshing source of hearing the good news with a bit more joyful attentivness – like that little boy who ran up the stage during the Papal audience of 8/17 ,standing there so attentively , eliciting a gentle smile in the Holy Father and all …. the date , providentially the 20th anniv. of Consecration of the world to Divine mercy , by St.John Paul 11 .. we too , often may be not seeing the depth of the Word , not much more than that child at the knee of The Father – 🙂

  4. Atheist Stephen Hawking held up a ‘billion year old’ rock and demanded that Pope John Paul II admit that Creation in the bible happened 13.8 billion years ago. In the undisclosed small print of Hawking’s deceptive, atheist, ‘scientific’ mind was the scientific fact that physical time is not a constant in the universe. Billions of years of star formation can occur in six days on earth, if God puts earth at near the speed of light.

    Scientifically, Physical time slows down the closer you get to the speed of light. At the speed of light, physical time stops elapsing. God Created the earth first. Then God said, “Let There Be Light!”, and the mass of one septillion stars popped into existence. What is going to happen to the mass of earth when the mass of one septillion stars pops into existence? Gravity is going to accelerate the mass of earth to near the speed of light. God only puts earth into our solar system on Day Four of Creation. It was the ‘Big Bang’ giving earth day and night cycles until Day Four of Creation.

    Thus, it is perfectly scientifically plausible that our universe was Created by God, in seven, light to dark, days on earth, even 24 hour days. Earth is the clock that both God and scientists use to rate elapsing physical time in the universe. Seeing that scientists have no way of knowing the velocity, and thus the rate of elapsing physical time on earth, during Creation, they are just going to have to take God’s Word on it. Scientific facts have no scientific quarrel with the plausibility of God’s Creation coming into existence on the week Adam was made.

    Atheist Stephen Hawking totally threw out scientific facts, and God’s wording on Creation, in order to attack God.

    Genesis 1:1 The Story of Creation.
    Day One
    In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Evening came, and morning followed—the first day.

    Day Four
    Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the seasons, the days and the years, and serve as lights in the dome of the sky, to illuminate the earth. And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night, and the stars.

    • Good points. Just because people are smart doesn’t mean they’re intelligent. I don’t think Hawking is an atheist now, sad to say.

  5. This article ought not to have been published and it would have been subjected to prior censorship in juster times.

    What atheists think with regards to religion that is consistent with their sin against faith is not something that should be permitted to be publicized. It is at least a remote occasion of the scandalization of the weak.

    While this issue could be remedied with a counterargument later on in the article censorship is likely the better method.

    No person would agree that it ought to be allowed for students to be “taught” (the error) that 2+2=5. Why some person happens to believe that 2+2=5 is irrelevant. In the publication of intellectual matters which touch the virtue of faith it is imperative that readers/listeners/viewers be supported in their faith.

  6. There is nothing new to the proposition that Christianity is ‘passé’. This idea has been around since Herman Samuel Reimarus (German, 1694-1768) methodically demythified Jesus of Nazareth, reducing him to strictly human proportions, thereby discrediting the Christian ‘mythos’. However, Reimarus affirmed a supreme deity, by the light of reason; the Deists of the eighteenth century -and there were some among the ‘founding’ fathers of the US- followed suit, focusing on the Divine not religiously, rather in strictly rational terms. Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (German, 1804-72) tipped the apple cart rejecting not only Christianity and its theandric Jesus, but also theism itself. Max Stirner (German, 1806-56), anticipated him and had gone further, affirming radical, individualist atheism, in ‘Der Einzige und sein Eigentum’ / The Unique and its Property (1844). Over a thousand years before, Euhemerus, a late fourth century, B.C. Greek philosopher, is the first known to have demythified the gods.

    Fyodor Dostoievsky (Russia, 1821-81), an ideological retrograde for whom Rome -i.e., the Catholic Church, was an error, Protestantism the error of the error, and atheism the error of the error of the error, dedicated his life’s work to dramatically expose and contradict West European secular notions infecting Russia. One of them, Nietzsche’s’ conceit of the Obermann’, underlies “Crime and Punishment” (1866). Raskolnikov, the protagonist, judging himself an Obermann, murders two women, for he believes that he transcends traditional morality. The novel traces his ultimate recognition of the monstrosity of his crime, his reconciliation with Orthodoxy, and the justice of his penal sentence in a Gulag. Western liberalism, autarkism, individualism, exceptionalism -which havocs ethics- godlessness, and nihilism, all fashionable intellectual topoi of Western culture, and their sources, French 18th century philosophes, also Stirner, Feuerbach, Nietzsche are traceable in the life, thought, and disastrous resolution of various characters in Dostoievsky’s novel, The Possessed (1872), also known in translation as the Demons / The Devils. Some eighty years before, during the French revolution, Jean Paul (German, 1763-1825) sealed the end of Christianity in an oneiric episode titled “Rede des toten Christus” / Words of dead Christ” (1796). The author depicts dead children asking: “Jesus! haben wir keinen Vater?” / Don’t we have a father? Christ answers, “mit strömenden Tränen / with a torrent of tears: “Es ist keiner / There is no one. “Wir sind alle Waisen, ich und ihr, wir sind ohne Vater.” / We are all orphans, you and I, we are without a father.

    In brief, the secularisation of Western culture has been going on for a long time. Intellectually, since Nova Scientia’s abandonment in the late sixteenth century of the Aristotelian principle of a fourth cause, namely, the ‘final cause’, which confirms ‘telos’. The denial of final cause short-circuits intentionality. Thomas Hardy (English, 1840-1928) capsules the consequence thereof, namely, the ultimate purposeless to it all in pithy verse: “The night blindly runs”. Common man flows with the undertow of the mundane. Piety has been in short supply since at least the Age of Enlightenment. The French Revolution enshrined impiety toward Christianity with the desecration in Paris of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the winter of 1793, and with the affirmation that ‘le citoyen a le droit de blasphemer’ / the citizen has the right to blaspheme. John Henry Newman (English, 1801-90) , when an Anglican clergyman, lamented in one of his sermons of 1830, given at ‘Mary’s Chapel’, Oxford, the lack of piety among his fellow Englishmen. By then, Jean Paul Richter had already written the new confession of the new age more than thirty years before. The modern, non-theist world has been around for a long time.

    The present state of affairs signals the ever wider loss of dread of extinction. This is a key turn,and deadly to Christianity, for it disarms the faith’s main attraction, its base raison d’être, cf.1 Corinthians 15:14-19. At play is bait and switch: the promise of life everlasting, so long as one adores theandric Jesus Christ and keeps to his base principle of love, extended even to those one finds inimical, this last, a requisite near impossible to fulfil. Nowadays, even nation States historically Catholic allow individuals to quicken their death, if terminally ill. The event even becomes something in the manner of a farewell party.

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