"The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind ... Despite dynamic success at a popular level, evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life."
Historian Mark Noll's quote from his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, came to mind when the group American Atheists introduced new billboards lampooning the religious beliefs of both current president Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. According to CNN, American Atheists also plan on protesting at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
As a religious believer, I am not offended by the ads. I am bothered, however, by the Christian culture that the ads are responding to. What was true when Noll was writing is true now: Many American Christians neglect the life of the mind, and billboards such as the ones produced by American Atheists are a natural result.
There has been, however, something of a theistic renaissance within the American philosophical scene. Beginning with the work of Alvin Plantinga in the 1960s, the classical arguments for the existence of God have been defended and revised by a growing number of professional philosophers and theologians. Moreover, the intellectual vigor of Christianity has been renewed by a number of books aimed at defending the authenticity of the resurrection of Christ. Books such as N.T. Wright's massive The Resurrection of the Son of God, Gary Habermas’ The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, or William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith contain erudite, detailed defenses of classic Christianity within a developed philosophical framework. These works demonstrate that theism is every bit as vital and relevant as any of the natural sciences. Indeed, theism properly understood does not clash with a robust natural science but rather enhances it.
The American Atheists, for their part, remain blissfully ignorant of the actual content of theism, and instead spend their money attacking canards and straw men. While it's true there is only so much one can say with a billboard, I get the feeling that the Christianity attacked by American Atheists is of the Ned Flanders variety. It certainly isn't very rigorous or articulate.
At any rate, I expect these kinds of phenomena to continue, if for no other reason than American Christians continue to embrace faith that is experience-driven. They feel and understand God on an intuitive level, while failing to ever translate that experience in a way that is accessible to outsiders. The lesson here is that reason is the duty of all, both for believers and non-believers.