Friends, today’s Gospel tells of the passion of John the Baptist, and it suggests to me “the Herod principle” that I like to apply to contemporary atheists. The Gospels tell us that Herod Antipas arrested John the Baptist because the prophet had publicly challenged the king. Herod threw John into prison, but then, we are told, the king loved secretly to listen to the prophet, who continued to preach from his cell.
A basic assumption of biblical people is that everyone is hardwired for God. As the Psalmist prayed, “My soul rests in God alone.” My wager is that everyone—and that includes Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins—implicitly wants God and hence remains permanently fascinated by the things of God.
Though the fierce atheists of today profess that they would like to eliminate religious speech and religious ideas, secretly they love to listen as people speak of God. So I say to Christians and other believers: be ready for a good fight, and get some spiritual weapons in your hands. And I say to the atheists: I’ll keep talking—because I know, despite your protestations, that your hearts are listening.