How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]On this 25th anniversary of the classic Christmas film, the Stations of Home Alone are theological meditations on iconic scenes from the story of a boy forgotten by his family and left to survive on his own. They are presented here as a way of reflecting more deeply on the spiritual reality of our shared humanity in the film and holiday season—whether we are left to ourselves or surrounded by those we love.[/su_note]
When the McCallisters make it back home on Christmas morning, the only remnant of Kevin’s slapstick showdown with the Wet Bandits’ evil is a fake gold tooth, glistening on the hardwood floor. Kevin’s father, Peter McCallister, discovers it, wondering what it is doing in his home. A curiosity to Peter, the tooth is a haunting reminder to the movie watcher: though Kevin has triumphed over his goofball assailants and tucked away all evidence of the booby-traps and weaponry the confrontation required, the battle is never over. Even in our most satisfying victories, there often lies a sequel.Just as Marv and Harry are hellbent on Kevin’s demise, so too do we have an adversary seeking our destruction.
We shouldn’t let the haplessness of burglars Marv and Harry overshadow their malice. In between slipping and muttering and being outwitted by a child, the thieves (specifically Harry, of the golden tooth) are driven by a murderous rage, relentlessly pursuing the boy and breathing threats. Before the movie’s final moments, but after Harry poses as a policeman scoping out the neighborhood, the tooth serves as an omen to Kevin, who recognizes the scoundrel upon seeing it shimmer. A tacky hallmark of a seemingly harmless character, the tooth’s reappearance signaled what his parents missed: Kevin was in real danger.
Just as Marv and Harry are hellbent on Kevin’s demise, so too do we have an adversary seeking our destruction. Our Enemy is a fake gold tooth. On the one hand, we mock him as a cartoon—a horned red beast with a silly pitchfork and the temperament of a spoiled child. On the other, we realize that the devil is a sly old fox, prowling around, often in disguise. And frustratingly often, his crass schemes to destroy us are just subtle enough to work. We don’t spot the warning signs when he knocks on our door in a fake cop costume. We don’t heed the sleaziness in his grin as it mouths a bogus promise of safety.
Like Kevin’s encounter, our ongoing battles of good and evil are not as straightforward as we would hope. We don’t have the spiritual vision to spot every evil, and we foster enough wickedness in our hearts to make our defenses vulnerable. While Kevin is innocent—at his best, he counsels a father to reconcile with his estranged son, and feels remorse for accidentally stealing a toothbrush—he is not pure of heart. He’s the one who made Jesus’s teaching about hating and murdering in your heart literal, wishing his family away and—as far as he knew—exulting in the perfect crime the morning after.
We also cannot trust in the external walls of society, church, or family to keep the Enemy out. As Kevin learns, the comfort of locked doors, an affluent family, holiday sentiment, a man in uniform, or a bounty of ice cream is fleeting. Calamity will find us.
When we find ourselves home alone with our troubles, fighting for our spiritual survival, these sobering realities don’t have to overwhelm us. Kevin doesn’t crumble as he realizes a violent force is encroaching the day after he has banished his loved ones from his life. Instead, he leverages his experiences into guile. He faces down the darkness as we are instructed to do: innocent as a dove that can offer compassion to an enigmatic neighbor, wise as a serpent that will blowtorch an intruder’s head.
Kevin’s decisive blow comes when the second paint can dislodges this tooth from Harry’s mouth. There are more antics to be had and an arrest to be made, but the eventual victor is apparent. The cheap trophy lies on the floor, disarmed but haunting. As Kevin’s trial concludes with this reminder, so too do we remember the salve for our ailment. Our condemnation nailed to the cross, our old sinful nature buried in baptism, the defeated Beast, fuming with his back to the sea.
In the already, the Enemy is surely our Hero’s footstool. The Enemy is bumbling, obvious, boorish, his threats empty. But in the not yet, the tooth remains. May we see both its impotence and treachery in its gleam.
For as low as $5/month, you’ll get access to free offerings from creators and authors we love, exclusive access to our member’s only forum, and exclusive content and podcasts — and you’ll help ensure that CAPC keeps getting better and better.