April 20, 2012
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” – Psalm 14:1
A Christian brother emailed me recently about a conversation that he had with his atheist cousin. Apparently, he was told that he should keep his Christian convictions to himself. After responding to him, I realized that some of my thoughts might be post-worthy, if for no other reason than to serve as food for thought concerning the Christian/atheist dialogue.
First, it is curious that many atheists are so adamant about Christians not sharing their faith. If they really were atheists to their core, they shouldn’t care. I mean, if you know deep down that there is no God, why should you care if people want to believe in him anyway? What would it really matter? If there is no God, there is no ultimate consequence for believing in him or not. I don’t see many atheists adamant against kids believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. The reason is that they know it doesn’t really matter. If God is just a cosmic myth, like Santa, I suggest that they should not care about that either. And the argument that religion is responsible for all the hate in the world is ridiculous. Surely any reasonable atheist can admit that there are nice people who believe in God and ugly people who believe in God, just like there are nice atheists and ugly atheists. So why all the censorship? It is inconsistent.
Second, I don’t buy for a second that anyone is truly an atheist. In fact, the more adamant an atheist is, the more I believe his or her divine conscience is being revealed. The more someone has to say, “God’s not real,” the more they sound to me like they are fighting their nature which keeps telling them, “God is real.” Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.” What David is saying is that a person really has to fight everything within himself or herself to be an atheist. An atheist might reply that Christians are always saying that “God is real,” so maybe they are fighting their tendency to believe he isn’t real. I would simply respond, “Exactly, sin inside our hearts is at war with our consciences. Deep inside we know God is real, but we have to preach to our hearts, and others, to fight our sinful tendency to reject him.” Giving in by becoming an atheist, is not admirable, it is weak. . . . which leads to the next point.
Third, I don’t buy either that atheism is an intellectual issue. It is a moral issue. In other words, the only real reason that people want to be atheists is that they don’t want to be accountable for their actions. They want to be god instead of allowing the living God to reign over their lives. That is why the rest of Psalm 14 is about how immoral people are who say that there is no God. The logic goes like this: “If God is real then I will have to give an account. But I want to live how I want. Therefore, I am going to attempt to convince my heart that God isn’t real.” The atheist doesn’t see it that way of course. But if he really is thinking so foolishly, he is not in a good position to judge, is he? That’s why the Bible uses the metaphor of blindness to describe those who reject God.
Fourth, and this one applies more to Christians than to non-believers. Because of the relationship that I explained above, Christians need to see that all sin is practical atheism. In other words, whenever a Christian decides to do things his own way instead of God’s way, he is in action affirming what the atheist affirms in word. When we sin, we are essentially saying to God, “I wish you were dead.”
Fifth, a Christian should never fall into the trap of thinking that he needs to prove God’s existence to an atheist. The burden of proof falls back on them. According to Psalm 14, Psalm 19, and Romans 1, God existence is a self-evident truth. It is just as reliable a starting point as 2+2=4. After all, who created the laws of mathematics but the designer? God’s existence is completely obvious. Only sinfulness clouds the picture. They are the ones attempting to disprove what is slapping all of us in the face.
Sixth, related to all of the above comments, I would encourage Christians to remember that atheism, secularism, and naturalism are all religions. When an atheist attempts to censor Christians, he is really just operating with a double standard: “You can’t promote your religion, but I can promote mine.” Just like Christians, they have to base their whole system of thought on propositions that they hold completely on the basis of faith. For example, their insistence that the physical realm is all that exists is unverifiable. If there was a spiritual realm that could only be comprehended through the work of God’s Spirit, the fact that science hasn’t found it yet is irrelevant. We would never expect science to verify it. Further, the notion that science must verify everything is scientifically unverifiable. Also, just like Christians, their system of faith has moral consequences. To this point I might ask, “Which is more likely to secure a faithful husband and father, the person who believes that there are no moral absolutes because there is no created purpose and no accountability or the person who genuinely loves and fears God?” Of course, the word “genuinely” is extremely important here. There are many who claim to love God who reveal otherwise when life gets tough, but I suggest that true piety is the greatest force for morality that this world could ever know. So the question is not to have a religion or not. The question is, “Whose religion resonates with truth?” For that answer, all we need to do is open our Bibles along with our hearts and read the words of Christ. When we are done, we will say with Peter, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Seventh, once a conversation turns ugly with an atheist, I would encourage Christians to drop it. Like I said above, the issue is not intellectual, so trying to argue with someone misses the point. Instead show them love and respect and how much more powerful submission to Christ is than submission to ourselves.