One of the advantages that people like me, who have been on both sides of Christian/atheist fence, have is our ability to understand the arguments that Christians make against atheism. Simply put, been there done that. We are not ignorant of Christian theology. We understand the arguments that are made for faith in Jesus and we understand how atheists are viewed by Christians. We too, when we were Christians, viewed atheists the same way.
The person who grew up in the Christian church or was indifferent to religion before they made a decision to follow Jesus, has a hard time understanding how atheists think and why they think the way they do. After all, they think Jesus is wonderful and Christianity and the church gives them purpose, meaning, and direction. It even gives them a cushy home in the kingdom of heaven in the afterlife. What’s not to like, right? They can not fathom not wanting this. Doesn’t everyone want purpose, meaning, and direction? Doesn’t everyone want to go to heaven when they die? Surely, submitting to the authority and teaching of the Christian church is a small price to pay for what is gained. Who, in their right mind, would ever want to turn down such a wonderful offer, right?
What the Christian fails to see is that they are projecting their own desires and needs on to the atheist. They assume that everyone should want what they want. Because Christian faith meets an emotional need in their life, they assume every human has the same emotional need and, in one size fits all fashion, every human should become a follower of Jesus.
For atheists like me, who spent a lifetime in the Christian church, we tend to view these things differently. While we might still wish there was a heaven we could go to when we die, we know the foundation that this belief is built on is false. We value critical thinking and rational enquiry and because we do we can not accept as true the claims Christians make about life and what gives life meaning, purpose, and direction.
Most atheists I know understand religious belief from a sociological, environmental, cultural, and geographical perspective. We can explain, without appealing to the supernatural, why people embrace a particular religious belief. Why are most people in America Christian? The atheist can answer this question by looking at the sociological, environmental, cultural, and geographical evidence. This same methodology can be used to explain the religious proclivities of every country and people group.
Some scientists are now suggesting that the human need for religion is hardwired. Few could argue the fact that most people in the world, in the history of the human race, are religious. Is this because ,through natural selection, that religious belief gives the human an evolutionary advantage? If this is true, what about atheists? Are we a species doomed to become extinct? Or is the recent atheist/agnostic/humanist revival that is sweeping the globe a sign that we are outgrowing our need for religion?
The committed Christian thinks these kind of arguments and explanations are just a sign of the bankruptcy and depravity of atheists. Gary, a Lutheran who has been lately commenting a good bit on this blog, drug me into a discussion about atheism on a Lutheran blog. Here is what several commenters had to say about atheists:
Joe Krohn: It never ceases to amaze me when I come across atheists/agnostics how true to the mark Luther’s Bondage of the Will is. A man is either ridden by God’s righteousness or his own self righteousness.
Jim Pierce: I think it worthwhile to point out that we should not muddle law and gospel. Following Walther (and our confession), we don’t give gospel to the unrepentant. Rather, we give them the law and pray they are stricken by it and come to repentance. IOW, we don’t want to be derogatory with our remarks, but we also don’t want to pull punches. Bruce is in trouble with God and he needs to hear that. We speak the truth in love. We aren’t Westboro Baptists, but we aren’t Emergent “generous orthodoxy.”
Abby: This will not help the atheist either. But it might be helpful to us in seeing where they are coming from.
“When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” John 4:47-50
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
To these Lutherans, the real problem is, atheists are self-righteous, their hearts are set against the law of God, and we are seeking a sign (evidence) rather than believing by faith. Add these claims to the ones that Evangelicals make, that atheists hate God, secretly want to live an immoral life, or are the agents of Satan, it becomes quickly clear that many Christians can not understand why an atheist is what he is. No matter how succinctly he tells his story, no matter how open and honest he is, there must be some OTHER reason for him choosing atheism over the Christian God.
Yesterday I wrote a note to myself that said, why are so many Christians deaf and blind? Why do they refuse to hear or are unable to hear what I am saying? Why can they not see what is right in front of them?
Take Pastor Ben Boeshaar. Boeshaar is a smart-ass, arrogant man who pastors Central Baptist Church in Stephenson, Michigan. He attended Maranatha Baptist College in Watertown, Wisconsin. He is a young guy, a diehard five point, burn the heretical Arminians at the stake, Calvinist. One of the people who follow this blog via Facebook, mentioned Boeshaar on my post, Christians Hurt My Feelings and This is Why I am an Atheist. Here is our “discussion“:
Pastor B:I think the author is being intellectually dishonest. The author didn’t give the intellectual reasons for his “deconversion” and sounded pretty emotional to me. Look, Christians are imperfect people. I don’t condone some of the dumb things Christians say and do. My opinion would be that a person who reacts like this now was probably never a Christian in the first place.
Bruce: Wow, I am intellectually dishonest. Evidently you missed So, whatever emotional harm may have happened to me during my 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the pastorate, THE reason I am not a Christian is that I no longer believe the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. I no longer believe the claims Christians make for the Bible and I no longer believe the central tenets of the Christian religion. I do not believe Jesus was divine, virgin born, worked miracles, atoned for sin on the cross, or rose again from the dead. Jesus was a man who lived and died, end of story.
Bruce: And I never was a Christian. Never heard that one before. I hope you realize how silly this makes you look. You don’t know me, read 1000 words, and you conclude I am intellectually dishonest and was never a Christian.
Pastor B: Well, nice to meet you Bruce. Jeremy asked my opinion so I gave it. Nothing personal but at the same time, welcome to blogging. Public articles bring public comments. Also, I understand you don’t believe those things any longer but the real reason is why you don’t believe them and that is where the honesty comes in. What happened to cause you to no longer believe those doctrines? An intellectual debate would give reasons why one should not believe in those doctrines. On the other point, Scripture teaches that a TRUE believer will persevere in his faith and are sealed by the Holy Spirit for eternity. They will not turn their back on the Savior. Why are you bothered by that statement if you don’t believe in or follow Christ? I would think a true atheist would have no problem with that statement and would welcome the idea that they were never a Christian. But I digress. I don’t know you and yes, all I had to go on were your written words and statements. Based on those, as a pastor and counselor, I think you have more heart searching to do. Again, my opinion, but you do sound like a hurt individual who has given up.
Bruce: No a true atheist understands what he once was and what he is now. Fundamentalists like you are forced to strain everything through the sieve of their peculiar theological system. Yours says a true believer perseveres so since I am not persevering I never was a true believer. This means that all the years I spent following Jesus were all a delusion. This means all the sermons I preached were preached by a deluded man. This means 50 years in the church was a lie. I find it interesting that out of the thousands of people who heard me preach, and out of the numerous ministerials colleagues I had, not one person ever questioned my Christianity. It is only after I deconverted that they say, oh you never were a Christian. Instead of rationally judging what is right in front of them they are forced by a commitment to a theological system to deny reality. It is only Baptists and Calvinists you have a problem with this. The Arminian can see and understand I once was a Christian and now I am not.
Pastor B: It’s not a theological system alone, Bruce. It’s Scripture. Yes, I’m am Sola Scriptura…Scripture alone. Not sure where else you can find out what God says or expects. I’ve found that “atheists” say they don’t believe the Bible as a way to not have to deal with what it truly says.
Bruce: No I am saying the Bible is internally contradictory, hopelessly convoluted, and outdated. Since it is a fallible human book written by, for the most part, unknown fallible men, it has no more authority over me than any other literary work. Most of the atheists I know were once Christians, many for much of their life. They know the Bible well. It is not their lack of knowledge that is the problem. Their willingness to critically look at the text of the Bible and the claims Christians make for it is why they no longer are a Christian.
Pastor B: And I believe that Arminianism is heresy! But that’s me. Probably best to save that for another time. But yes, let’s consider your years as a pastor. How do you now look back and tell all of those people who looked up to you as a pastor and listened to your words of Faith in the Bible. Your only logical answer has to be I didn’t really believe those things. I’m sorry, but you take people for fools if you want them to think that you woke up one morning and became an atheist.
Bruce: You are not listening. Of course I believed those things. I was believing those things before you were born. And I was believing them until I no longer believed them. It is that simple. You don’t strike me as someone who is really interested in the path I took from Christianity to Atheism, so I am not going to waste my time. Six years of blogging have taught me one thing…many Christians don’t give a shit what I think. They aren’t interested in understanding because they arrogantly think they already know. Their certainty, their theology makes it impossible for them to genuinely understand the differing path others take. So, rather than get into a meaningless tit-for-tat, if you are really interested in the journey, please read my blog.
Pastor B: Well Bruce, a relationship with Christ is a full on heart relationship. Addressing what you just said means quite a long conversation. I’d be fine having it a bit later. It’s late and I have the privilege of heralding the mighty and powerful Word of God in the morning so I must retire for the night. Just remember, none of us is the standard. Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. How unfortunate for you and all those others when you realize it is and it’s too late. I close with 1 Corinthians 1:21-24,”For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
After I read the last comment from Boeshaar, I told Polly, Boy this guy is an arrogant prick. I checked to see exactly how many pages Boeshaar read on this blog and I found out he read a grand total of, drum roll please, ONE page, the post he commented on. He showed no curiosity about who I am, what I was, or anything else. He already knows all he needs to know and this is but another example of what I call the blind and deaf Christian. They lack any sort of curiosity about those who differ from them. Boeshaar already has all the answers and his divine answer books tells him all he needs to know about atheists. In case you don’t know what that is, the fool says in his heart there is no God.
None of this is new. If I have learned anything over the past six years, it is that I am wasting my time trying to thoughtfully engage Christians like Ben Boeshaar and the Lutherans I mentioned above. Ironically, Boeshaar and the Lutherans probably think the other is heretical, yet they both can agree on their condemnation of atheism.
Of course this is not an apologetics site and I am not an evangelist for atheism. I will leave it to others to fight the flame wars and battles of the trolls. My interest lies in helping people who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left. It is for them I wrote this post. I think it is important for them to see how many Christians think (or don’t think) about those who have different beliefs about God, Christianity, and the Bible. While some people sincerely want to think that Christian churches are places of acceptance, kindness, and love, the comments above show that such a belief is a fantasy. If atheists are really as bad as these people say they are, shouldn’t they extend to us the greatest love and compassion? Instead, they attack, demean, and treat us like they would a child molester living next to an elementary school. They show no interest in trying to understand why a -person like me became an atheist. Their actions reveal much about the Christianity they preach.