NATIONAL ATHEIST DAY – A CELEBRATION OF THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

“The fool says in his heart, there is no God!”. Psalm 14:1

This year Easter Sunday falls on April 1st. The last time this happened was in 1956, when only 10% of those alive today were around to experience it. Most of us have therefore never known what it is to have the greatest event of the Christian calendar coincide with a day full of hoaxes.

April 1st has been known as April Fools Day in some places since the Medieval era with possible references in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the work of the French poet Eloy D’Amerval. The first reference in the modern English-speaking world dates from 1686 when the poet John Aubrey referred to Fooles Holy Day. A few years later, on April 1st, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to see the Lions washed.

A practice of playing practical jokes on April 1st has grown in much of the western world during the modern era. Among the most famous hoaxes are the BBC Panorama news segment on April 1st, 1957, concerning the spaghetti trees of Ticino, Switzerland, and the 2008 CGI flying penguin story for the BBC I-Player. In 1977 Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a seven-page travel supplement for the islands of San Serriffe[i]. The islands were apparently situated in the Indian Ocean and consisted of a small archipelago; the largest two being in the shape of a semi-colon. Place names and many other references to the islands were terms from the printing industry, and the capital was named for the font Bodoni. Well known corporations such as Kodak and Texaco placed advertisements referencing their interests in San Serriffe in the article and construction company Costain stated that they were building a new harbor for the nation in an announcement rich with typographical illusions.

National Atheist Day, otherwise known as the Day of Reason was created in 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists, to take place on the first Thursday of May each year and coincide with the National Day of Prayer, an institution that these organizations reject as divisive. Their intent was to provide an opportunity to celebrate reason, a concept all Americans can support—and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.[ii]

However, the idea that National Atheist Day should really be celebrated on April 1st comes from a hoax article about a fictitious Florida court case that was also launched in 2003. An Atheist had decided to sue the government because unlike the major religions there was no recognized day for atheist celebrations. The fictitious judge dismissed the case on the basis that atheists could celebrate on April 1st because the fool says in his heart, there is no God.

The Christian community celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday each year. Christians believe that having been put to death upon a cross of crucifixion, Jesus body was placed in a tomb, from where he arose, three days later. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian believers speaks of this resurrection[iii]. He states that if there had been no resurrection, then the preaching of the gospel message would have been in vain, and so would faith. He goes on to state that the community of believers would be pitiable above all peoples, because of the folly of their belief.

Yet the resurrection is recorded as a true event. Many have sought to debunk the resurrection, lowering it to the level of a myth. However, in doing so, some have come to faith as they got to grips with the evidence.

Albert Ross was an advertising agent and freelance writer, when in 1930 he published Who Moved the Stone?[iv] Intent on proving that the resurrection was just a myth, Ross analyzed the sources and in writing up his notes concluded that the resurrection was a true event. He set out his reasoning in the book. The poet T. S. Eliot was a literary consultant who read the manuscript and recommended it for publication. Passing on complimentary copies to his friends, one reached the hands of the author G. K. Chesterton who wrote a review saying that the case for the resurrection was treated in such a logical and even legal manner.[v]

More recently the atheist Chicago journalist, Lee Strobel, set to applying his legal and investigative training to research the evidence of Christianity after his wife became a Christian. His conclusions led him to faith. He points to the many eyewitnesses of the resurrection, who then went on to endure incredible hardships on behalf of what they believed, as strong evidence for the veracity of their claims to have seen, touched and eaten with the resurrected Jesus. He cites nine ancient sources both inside and outside the New Testament that confirm and corroborate the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus, and seven ancient sources mostly outside the New Testament that confirm that the disciples lived lives of deprivation and suffering for the sake of the gospel[vi]. Why would they do this, he asks, if they simply heard a rumor that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

The Christian may sometimes be called a fool for Christ. Again, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the apostles being put on display like those condemned to die in the Roman arena, as he describes them as fools for Christ, who have become the scum of the world[vii]. In a 2015 episode of the TV program Witness, Stephen Colbert was interviewed by Fr. Thomas Rosica. Colbert, who replaced David Letterman as host of CBS’ Late Show[viii] in 2014, is a devout Catholic and not ashamed of his Christian beliefs. Asked what it means to be a fool for Christ, he responded that it is the willingness to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, as guided by the Holy Spirit.[ix]

While the Christian may be called a fool, Christ encourages us not to be quick to call another a fool, going so far as to say that it puts us in danger of hell. There is a righteous anger, but there is also an anger that is unrighteous and addresses others inappropriately. I would rather the Christian community treat the atheist with the same love that we are commanded to treat our neighbors, not regarding him as an enemy, but as one on the same journey as ourselves – merely at a different place. We would thus not only demonstrate Christian love to the atheist but also the tolerance and respect we would appreciate from him for the beliefs of the Christian.

The word of God does however, have some strong words to say about those who do not believe. Paul, writing this time to the believers in Rome, speaks of those who suppress the truth even though what may be known about God is plain to them. He says: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.[x]

The reality for Christians is that Jesus rose from the dead. The Bible records this event; we believe it. By faith we experience it, and we live in the expectation of the resurrection of the dead in Christ and of life everlasting. The atheist can believe what he wants … or not. But his belief, or lack thereof, does nothing to change the reality of what he does not believe in.

Whether or not the atheist is the fool, the Christian declares by his belief that he is no fool. Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote a biography of his father, the seventeenth century English preacher, Philip Henry. Recalling his father’s acts of charity and kindness, Matthew attributes to him the words: He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose[xi].

This thought was immortalized for the twentieth century church by missionary martyr Jim Elliot who wrote in his journal October 28, 1949: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose[xii].

This April 1st Christians celebrate the Resurrection. Whatever deceives the fool, Christians will celebrate; whatever believes the atheist, Christians will celebrate – no joke, and no hoax!

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/gnmeducationcentre/archive-educational-resource-april-2012 (accessed March 29, 2018)
[ii] National Day of Prayer, National Day of Reason – Richard E. Wackrow – The Missoulian – May 7, 2015 (accessed March 29, 2018)
[iii] I Corinthians 15:12-19 – But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
[iv] Who Moved the Stone? – Frank Morison – pub. Faber & Faber Ltd. 1930
[v] G. K. Chesterton – Our Note Book – The Illustrated London News, April 5 1930
[vi] Lee Strobel – http://www.faithwire.com/2018/03/14/ex-atheist-lee-strobel-breaks-down-4-reasons-why-jesus-death-and-resurrection-are-absolute-fact/ (accessed March 30, 2018)
[vii] 1 Corinthians 4:9-13
[viii] A long-running, and very popular late night talk show
[ix] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/stephen-colbert-on-being-a-fool-for-christ/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF5tudIqN7w (both accessed March 30, 2018)
[x] Romans 1:21-23
[xi] Matthew Henry – The Life of the Rev. Philip Henry A.M. – W. Ball, 1839 – p.35
[xii] Elisabeth Elliot – The Shadow of the Almighty – New York, Harpers, 1958 – p.108
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