Atheism and Christianity
Atheism is a transliteration of a Greek word which means “without God.” While there are various categories of “disbelievers” and disbelief, in common parlance, atheism means to have no belief in the existence of God.
Though considered an unpopular belief, Atheists are hardly a small class of people. Atheism is the 6th largest religion on earth and if combined with people who consider themselves ‘non religious’ they equal the entire Islamic world.
There are categories of Atheism as well. “Weak Atheism” is the position of skepticism about the existence of God. “Strong Atheism” is the position of faith that there is no God or gods. In the main, most atheists are not so strongly against religious belief as they simply cannot themselves embrace it with any kind of integrity or honesty. Many have found a path in life that brings them happiness and satisfaction without God and have even embraced some sort of moral code which would not be at odds with Christianity, Judaism, or any other world religion. One thing that many atheists feel strongly about is the issue of proselytizing by people who do have some sort of faith. They have a “live and let live attitude” and expect the favor returned. On the other hand there are some atheists who have a zealous fervor for converting people from religious belief. They see religion as such a colossal waste of time and energy that people must be liberated from its binding and deluding effects.
While most Atheists would resist being categorized (like most people!), there are some broad categories of Atheistic belief. These categories often explain the reasons for Atheism but in truth some do not believe in God just because they do not want to believe.
I. Categories of Atheism
Marxist Atheism: Religion is a manmade institution to ease emotional pain and the fear of dying. It is considered as a threat to social change and equality by numbing people with the hope of reconciliation of their class problems in an afterlife.
Freudian Atheism: God is a childish projection out of a desire to avoid death and have a father who is perfect and immortal.
Philosophical Atheism: Any statement about God or His existence is meaningless because it is impossible to empirically verify it. Generally speaking, the position of atheism is that if something cannot be conclusively proven, it is safer to take the position that it doesn’t exist.
Scientific Atheism: God need not exist because all things in the physical order can be explained by the laws of science or human decision.
Rejection of Religion Atheism: God does not exist on the basis of personal experience and feelings towards religion. These atheists often are people from a religious home or background who once practiced a faith of some kind and later came to reject it because of personal disappointment with God or clergy or out of rebellion towards their parents.
II.Atheism and Agnosticism
Atheism is different from Agnosticism. Agnostics hold to a middle ground between belief and unbelief. They may think the existence of God is improbable but they suspend judgement because know this cannot be conclusively proved. Both Atheists and Theists share in a commonality in the sense that they hold their views of God with certainty.
III. Some General Thoughts about Atheism and Christian Belief (without any pretension that I can prove the existence of God through rational argument!)
A. A Wrong Starting Point?
One of the arguments of atheism against Christianity is that we base our definitions of God and arguments for God based on our own religious writings. If we must rely on a source that is not considered a reality by all people to prove God, how can we say we have a strong argument for His existence? This is a very good point. Perhaps the best starting point in this discussion is to consider that if there is a God would He communicate with us? If God has spoken to man what form would it take? It seems a strong possibility that God would use human language so that we could clearly understand it. If this could be a possibility then it could also be possible that the Bible could be at least one of the modicums of God’s spoken communication to man. The argument about the divine inspiration of the Holy Bible is a lengthy yet solid one. It must be honestly studied because if the Bible is from God then its message has authority for everyone. If the argument of inspiration is disproven then the message is disproven. If inspiration is true then it would be a strong indicator that there is a God who has spoken. Arguments about other “holy writings” should be considered as well. What is their textual history, claims to authority, and consistency of message?
B. The Nature of Faith
Atheism also seems to misunderstand the nature of faith. Faith in the biblical sense does not always mean placing your hope in something that cannot be proven. Sometimes biblical faith calls for embracing and trusting God in a circumstance that is beyond our understanding. But more often than not faith is characterized as believing the evidence we are given. God worked extreme miracles for the Israelites that defied all sorts of natural laws. Jesus Christ is believed upon by Christians based on the resurrection. This is a historical event that if it did not happen makes our faith utterly meaningless. Once again there is good evidence of the truth of this incident. Most world religions can continue to stand apart from historic truth but Christianity cannot and does not. Atheism depends on no evidence whatsoever. It depends on the personal interpretation of “non-evidence”. If the burden of proof rests on the Theist to produce some hard evidence, it would seem the empty rock tomb in Jerusalem would be “hard evidence” enough.
C. A Cogent Picture of Reality
One of the noble purposes of philosophy is to help mankind understand and make sense of the reality he experiences in life. Christianity presents a coherent picture of reality that does fit all people in all places in all times. It presents man as a noble creature endowed with a knowledge of God and conscience that has been severely distorted through an act of rebellion in our primeval history. It explains why man no longer sees God and how God has made provision for our restoration. It also explains that mankind in general has chosen to depart from the original religion and make his own based on that which has been created instead of the Creator. Atheism fits into this category of worship of human reason even as some south sea islander has chosen to worship a tiger or bird-god. It’s a choice based on something. A person’s interpretation of reason to prove God, disprove God , or develop a substitute God is a human choice. As flawed humans it seems a dangerous proposition to lean entirely on my own ability to interpret reason. The doctrine of revelation in Christianity teaches that we are unable to find this path ourselves unless God helps us. It leaves no room for hubris of any kind. Christianity does not teach that “God helps those who help themselves”, but rather “God helps those who really cannot help themselves.” The understanding of our own reality and reality of the world around us seems just about as attainable as being to solve all of our own problems does.
D. Atheism is Progressive?
Gordon H. Smith in his book Atheism: the Case Against God writes: “Although atheism is negative in character, it need not be destructive. When used to eradicate superstition and its detrimental effects, atheism is a benevolent, constructive approach. It clears the air, as it were, leaving the door open for positive principles and philosophies based, not on the supernatural, but on man’s ability to think and comprehend.” Specifically, Smith envisions that through reason and human knowledge, mankind would be able to approach happiness, morals, and love apart devoid of any connection to a supernatural world or God. Atheism is touted not as a fall from grace but a leap forward for mankind. But atheism is hardly a new belief any more than theism is. With all the masses that adhere to atheism, why have they not led us into this great forward leap? Where are the positive philosophies and morals apart from conscience and God that will build the human race? All religions have their low points in history but surely they are not responsible for all the ills of humanity any more than atheists should be blamed for them. Man cannot achieve the leap forward because he will not, not because he knows not. Man has a tremendous capacity to think and reason. But reason and thinking frequently do nothing to effect the will of a man. Standing as witness to this is a world filled with chaos and injustices all with humanity as its root cause. In this way man is not integrated but rather dis-integrated. Religion in general and Christianity in particular lead men towards that integration as humans. We are fallen and in that state we cannot see God or truly comprehend Him. But as God reaches out to man and touches his will and his mind, He is once again able to be comprehended even if imperfectly.
E. Atheism For the Few
One final thought about Atheism concerns its adherents mentality that the “crowd-is-always-wrong”. This is not directly stated but is rather implied. The argument would be that since the large part of humanity has religious belief of some kind and this belief runs counter to what I believe, then they must be wrong as a whole. After all, look at how many other things mankind hasn’t been able to get right in all of its history why should religion be any different? But whatever else can be said, man does seem to have (at least by percentages) a religious nature. And while many of these religions are quite divergent in their belief systems, there are many points of commonality as well. An atheist could look at this and say this suggests the universality of stupidity and poor reasoning. An atheist might also want to look at this and consider the idea that behind all the disagreement there might be truth and light that is being ignored. The crowd isn’t always right but it isn’t always wrong either. Sometimes a crowd means there is something really good happening.
Dictionary of Christianity in America
Religions in America
The Atheism Web. Internet site.
The New York Times World Almanac 1999 edition
George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God”