A common tactic used by Evangelicals to discredit atheism is their belief that a person who says they are an atheist is not r-e-a-l-l-y an atheist. Evangelical Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, uses this very argument in a recent blog post. Ham writes:
Now, I’ve said before that the reason these atheists feel the need to establish some sort of church-like gathering is because they know there is a God and they want a system that copies Christian worship.
Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:19)
Romans 1–3 makes it plain that the knowledge of God is written on our hearts—every human being knows there is a God and every human being is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). So there are no true atheists. So why are atheists so active in the pursuit of the religion and in opposing Christianity? Well, to try to squelch the voice crying out within them, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). God’s Word tells us that those who reject God “suppress the truth”—they actively suppress what they know to be true. Because they know there is a God, they have to work hard to try to actively suppress the truth.
As many readers of this blog know, some atheists are starting what is commonly called atheist churches. Ham sees this as PROOF that atheists really, really, really, know…deep down in the depths of their heart, that there is a God. And let me be clear, Ham is not talking about some form of generic spirituality or god; he is talking about the Evangelical Christian God, the God revealed in the Christian Bible. Since there is only one, true living God, when atheists have corporate gatherings it because they want a system that “copies Christian worship.”
Ham is right that the atheist church movement is using some techniques and practices similar to Christian churches, but then so are many religions and societies. These techniques and practices are common to any group where humans gather together for fellowship, social interaction, and edification. I doubt there is very little in the atheist churches that remotely resemble what takes place in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches Ken Ham considers THE pillar of true orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
Personally, I am not a big fan of the atheist churches. Their methodology and promotion will lead to confusion and unwarranted scrutiny by keepers of the flame like Ken Ham. I recognize that atheists/agnostics/humanists/secularists have social needs just like the religious. One of the things that many of us miss is the sense of connection and community we had when we were Christians. However, this need can be met by establishing institutions and groups that do not call themselves a church. Calling yourself a church, meeting on Sunday, and using some of the lingo found in the Christian church, is only going to lead to Evangelical Christians thinking that atheists/agnostics/humanists/secularists still have, whether they want to admit it not, a belief in the God they “supposedly” deny exists.
Now that the atheist church issue is out of the way, let me address Ham’s ignorant assertion that there is no such thing as an atheist. Ham believes, according to Romans 1-3, that EVERY human being has an innate knowledge of God (remember, God in Ham-speak, is the CHRISTIAN God) “written on their hearts.” Since this knowledge is imprinted on our hearts, every human is without excuse when it comes to acknowledging and worshiping the one true, living God, the Christian God. Remember Evangelicals are atheists too. They reject all other gods but the Christian God. The only difference between Ken Ham and Bruce Gerencser is the number of gods we think are no god at all. That, and our checkbook balance.
Key to Ham’s assertion that the knowledge of God written on every human’s heart is Romans 2:12-16:
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;(for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
This passage of Scriptures juxtaposes the Old Testament law of Jewish God and the law of the Christian God that is written in the heart of all non-Jews. Lest some Evangelical object…should we not let the text speak for itself? Where does this text say the law was written on the heart of the Jews? They have the written law, Paul is saying. The non-Jews have the law of God written in their heart and this law, when it is practiced by the non-Jew is the same as the Jew keeping the Old Testament law. It is assumed, at least from this text, by Evangelicals that the law of God is written on the heart of all humans. Again, shouldn’t we follow the Evangelical mantra to let the literal word of God speak for itself?
Another problem with this text is that Paul states that DOERS of the law are justified (made right) before the Christian God. This contradicts other verses where Paul says humans are justified apart from the law, apart from works. (keeping the law IS a work) Now, James is saying AMEN to what Paul says here because he wrote that faith without works is dead.
It is quite clear, to anyone who is not required to filter the Biblical text through the Evangelical sieve of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, that there are multiple salvations taught in the Bible. Justification, how a sinner gains right standing with God, is a foundational doctrine of the Evangelical church, yet Paul says humans are justified apart from the law and justified by the law. Which is it? And don’t give me the standard…humans are justified before God apart from the law but they are justified before humans by the law. It is clear from Romans 2 that Paul is using keeping the law, be it written or implanted, as the standard by which all humans will be judged on Judgment Day.
Romans 2 states that the Christian God’s law is written in the heart of all humans. Ham in his commentary misstates what the text says, as do many Christians. It does not say this law is written ON the heart. Instead it is says it is written IN the heart. On implies on top of and in implies a part of. According to the Biblical text, the law of God, which is either the Ten Commandments or all 613 Old Testament laws, is part of who we are as humans. It is not a feature add-on. Why is this important? Simple. If the Old Testament law is written in the heart of EVERY past, present, and future human, then Christian morality and belief should be universal, should it not? While Evangelicals like Ham might be able to argue that people who aren’t “saved” have a distorted morality or have suppressed their knowledge of this God, why is it no two Christians agree exactly on what this law of God written in the heart is? They can’t even agree on what the word HEART means! (Greek word kardia, Strong’s # G2588) One says, it the conscience, the seat of human will, but another says it is the mind, as a man THINKETH in his heart so is he. (I am stretching my argument a bit at this point. Some translations translate the Greek word EN as IN, others as ON. Just having some KJV literalism fun)
Another problem is that the Bible says that humans are born into this world dead in trespasses and sins. We don’t become sinners, we ARE, by nature, sinners. We are completely and absolutely alienated from God. We, from birth, are the enemy of God. There is none that doeth good, no not one, the Bible says. Yet, according to Ken Ham, Paul and countless Evangelicals, we have God’s law written in our heart, we have the power to obey this law, yet we willingly repress this law and refuse to obey it. What a contradictory, confusing mess, yes? (and I am sure some Evangelical will surely straighten me out) This should be a reminder to readers that the Bible is a contradictory book that teaches doctrines that are diametrically opposed to one another. As I have said many times before, the Bible can be used to prove most anything. Proof? The internet.
Ken Ham, and other Christians like him, are deliberately ignorant of how humans come to have morals and religion. Blinded by a literalist interpretation of the inspired, inerrant Word of God, they are incapable of seeing things as they are. Humans are not born with an innate sense of morality. While there may be some evidence that some moral traits are genetically inherited (and I find the evidence quite underwhelming), it is clear that morality is taught by parents, siblings, extended family, and culture. Children learn the morality of those who are in their tribe. This is so readily evident that only an entrenched Fundamentalist would deny it. Even the writer of Deuteronomy 6 understood this:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
There’s that word heart again. (the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word kardia) If, as Ken Ham asserts, the law of God is written in the heart of every human, why then do they need to be TAUGHT this very same law? If a human KNOWS something they shouldn’t have to be taught what they already know, right? Yet, Evangelical pastors and church leaders go over and over the law of God with church members who seemingly can’t get it. So much for it being in a human’s heart. Even the heart of a born-again, bought by the blood, sanctified, church going, Holy Ghost filled, Christian has a hard time with retention.
Here’s the bottom line. Christians are made just like atheists are. When it comes to morality and religion, all of us are a blank slate. Our parents, siblings, extended family, and culture write morals and religion on that slate. Those of us who were Christians FIRST before becoming an atheist/agnostic/humanist are doubly blessed (yes, I said blessed on purpose just to rile up Evangelicals) because we wrote on the slate of our mind as adults. We can’t totally erase what our parents, siblings, extended family, and culture wrote on the slate prior to our deconversion, but we can, through study and engagement with the diverse cultures of the world, gain a better understanding of why we think like we do.
Evangelicalism is inherently anti-intellectual. Their commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and faith keeps them from exploring, engaging, and accepting the broader, complex intellectual world that is around them. True Evangelical scholars don’t remain Evangelical, as the story of Bart Ehrman clearly shows. Thinking beyond the parameters of the inerrant Word of God and faith always leads to liberalism.
This post will convince not convince Evangelicals like Ken Ham. He is convinced that atheists/agnostics/humanists/secularists know that the Christian God is the one, true living God and that we deliberately suppress and deny this knowledge. Many Evangelicals also think that atheists have a secret desire to be immoral. (again the Evangelical gets to define what moral and immoral is) If this is so, then surely it is right for atheists to ask…so the only thing keeping Evangelical Christians from becoming murderers, rapists, thieves, and child molesters is their Christianity? And what do Evangelical Christians say to the fact that many murderers, rapists, thieves, and child molesters are Christians? (rhetorical question…I know what Evangelicals say)
‘round and ‘round the Evangelical merry-go-round goes.