Why There Are Atheists

Title: Why There Are Atheists

Text: Matthew 4:5-7, 1 Timothy 3:1-3, Psalm 2:1-3

Time: June 13th, 2013

It was just about a week ago that another pastor and myself presented a Christian response to the so-called New Atheism at a public meeting here in town. We were praying that we’d have a good mixture of believers and non-believers, and that’s just what we had – a good mix. But we were really pleased that the meeting turned out to be a good interchange and conversation between the non-believers and us. Because after all, we didn’t really want to hold another meeting where we “preach to the choir,” as they say. Upon reflection, I feel that the public meeting was a positive contribution in preaching Christianity to the non-Christian world, especially because of the extensive radio coverage we had leading up to the actual event. We had the privilege of being on local radio to promote the event twice before the meeting took place, so lots of locals heard and knew we were there and what we were doing. I thank God for the response we got. But after thinking about the meeting afterwards it struck me just how non-rational and non-intellectual atheism really is as a philosophy. The main objections to the truth of Christianity are emotional, as far as atheism goes. And that got me thinking further, and it raised another question, “Just why are there atheists to begin with?” Or in other words, why are there people who profess to not believe in God, or any god of any kind? Based on my experience and observations, I’ve come to believe that it mostly all boils down to psychology. There are deep psychological reasons why some people decide to profess themselves as atheists, but that’s not what an atheist will confess though. Atheists like to tell people they don’t believe in God for intellectual reasons, but it’s more likely that that’s a rationalization for the real reason – it boils down to attitude. Atheists choose to react in a negative emotional manner to God, or the very idea of God, for their own inner or private reasons. They express themselves negatively towards belief in God for non-intellectual, non-rational reasons. What are these emotional motivations for atheism? I can’t cover them all, but let me try to explain a few of them. First, there’s the motivation for attention. It seems to me a few of the atheists I encounter like the attention their atheism gets them from the general population. Second, there’s the motivation of loving to argue, debate or take the contrary opinion. It seems to me many arguments like to dispute, and this motivates them to take the atheist position. They never want for an opponent to argue. Third, there’s the motivation to rebellion and unlimited freedom. Still more atheists I see have an extreme view of what constitutes freedom. Most people enjoy freedom, but atheists seem to want to take freedom to mean freedom from anything and anyone, including God. Let me explain these three points further.

First, there’s the motivation for attention seeking. Matthew 4:5-7, “Then the devil took him (Jesus) to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” In the temptation of Christ in the wilderness by the devil the appeal was attention-seeking. Satan urged Jesus to throw himself down from the temple and then when the angels came to the rescue and save him from perishing he’d get a lot of attention from the people. He’d make a big splash. He’d get publicity and notoriety. And when we look at the world today we notice that one of the biggest motivating factors at work in society today is the desire for fame and attention. Andy Warhol, the late pop artists, said that everyone is looking for their own “fifteen minutes of fame.” We see it in the news all the time, especially in respect to crimes and acts of violence. These criminals are after recognition, attention and fame – even if it takes a violent act to get it. But it’s not just the bad guys who are often motivated by attention-getting stunts; it’s everyday people, everyone to some extent. We all have it within us the desire to be recognized as special, unique and worthy of attention. Nobody likes to be ignored, usually. Well, in respect to atheists and atheism, I’m afraid to say, there are people who use atheism as means of getting attention. And make no mistake, someone professing atheism gets lots of attention. Consider the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, who basically made a living during the later years of his life being a public atheist. He billed himself as a “public intellectual,” but it was really more like “public atheist,” because there’s no question that he wouldn’t have been as well known or as famous if he’d simply been an ordinary guy with ordinary beliefs about God. Yet his atheism drew him almost unlimited attention. Well, for some, maybe for many or most atheists, professing atheism gets them the attention from others that they crave. It makes them stand out in society, in town, in an organization, or even a family. Sure, there are certain negative factors for being an atheist, but despite the drawbacks, it certainly does draw a lot of attention to the professors of disbelief in God. It’s a novelty. It’s unique. Now in some societies, this motivation isn’t as strong – for example in communist or many former communist nations, where every other person is an atheist, this isn’t as strong a factor. But in most Western nations where Christianity has traditionally been the prevailing worldview, atheism is an oddity and gets attention. For some people, this draws them to profess atheism. It has nothing to do with the sophisticated intellectual issues that are nearly always stated as reasons for being an atheist. It often boils down to psychology.

Second, there’s the motivation for loving to argue, debate or take the contrary opinion. 1 Timothy 3:1-3, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” These are just some of the qualifications for church leadership in Christianity. They include a clause that says a church leader must not be “quarrelsome.” Other Bible translations describe it using different words. For example, the old King James Version says church leaders shouldn’t be “brawlers,” the Jerusalem Bible states leaders shouldn’t be “hot-tempered, and so on. The basic idea is a lover of argument, or one who is inclined to disputation, or someone who likes to contend or be a contentious person. A proper Christian leader shouldn’t have a “chip on his shoulder” waiting for someone to knock it off. He shouldn’t be ready, willing and wanting to argue with others. Now in my experience, it seems to me that I run into a greater proportion of disputatious atheists than are found in the general population. In other words, it appears that atheists are more prone to be verbal fighters than the average person. Now we might ask the question, “Are atheists fighters because they always have to defend their radical belief against God, or are they disputatious first and use atheism to engage in argument?” I’d assert that they are atheists mostly because they like to argue, and that their profession of atheism supplies them with plenty of opponents to argue with all day long. We see this especially today with the New Atheists and their followers. Theses guys (and some cases, gals) like to argue, a lot. If you read the books of atheist Richard Dawkins, for example, you can tell he loves to argue, because he goes out of his way to start fights. If a believer in God isn’t upset, Dawkins will make sure he says something, anything, against God that’s sure to upset a believer. The late Christopher Hitchens was famous for his “public blasphemies,” whereby he’d try to say the most awful, disrespectful thing about God, or against belief in God, that would sure to gather an audience ready to argue with him. Now we won’t likely meet the professional atheists, those who make their living being atheists, but we’ll meet plenty of lesser people who follow their lead and draw Christians into argument with them. After witnesses this phenomenon enough, I’ve concluded that a lot of atheists just like to argue – and that’s there motivation for atheism in the first place.

Third, there’s the motivation to rebellion and unlimited freedom. Psalm 2:1-3, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains, ‘they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’” That last phrase is the key point, “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters.” One of atheist Christopher Hitchens’ favorite historical characters was patriot Thomas Paine, he even wrote a book about him. Who was Thomas Paine? He was a figure during the colonial period that wrote and spoke for freedom – and colonial Americans listened to him and it motivated them to rebel against England and win independence during the Revolutionary War. But after the war while most Americans were thanking God for their political freedoms Paine wasn’t satisfied because now that he had won his material freedom, he wanted further liberation – freedom from God, the Bible and church. In short, Paine’s revolt wasn’t over; he wanted to carry freedom to the ultimate and be free of any limiting factor, even if that meant revolting against the God of the Bible. So he wrote a blasphemous book entitled The Age of Reason that basically argued that you don’t need faith in God, just your own human reason to guide you in life. In the book he attacked the Bible, Christianity, and the church – and anything else he felt would or could limit freedom. His idea of radical freedom, unlimited freedom, absolute non-accountability to any external power is really the basis for a lot of atheism. Atheist Hitchens drew inspiration from Paine, and so do many other atheists as well. One of the strongest motivating factors towards atheism is an overly exaggerated conception of freedom. For atheists, the idea of a Higher Authority, the concept of a Moral Lawgiver, or basically a Supreme Being over them is repulsive. A famous atheist of the twentieth century, Aldous Huxley once said, “I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning. . . . The philosopher who find no meaning in the world in not concerned exclusively with a problem on pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. . . For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness (atheism) was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexually and political.” Here is probably the strongest motivation why some people are atheists – it’s an instrument for them of personal liberation. Their concept of freedom doesn’t leave room for any Supreme Being, or any Moral Lawgiver. Just like the spiritual and moral rebels in the Psalm say, “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters,” so too atheists say the same thing to the triune Christian God.

It’s my opinion that the primary motivation to atheism is this sense of radical freedom from all outside constraints. If there’s no God, then there’s no law or Lawgiver. That means that one is absolutely or totally free to do whatever one wants – providing one can get away with it on earth among men. If you listen to the so-called New Atheists it’s all about freedom in this perverse and radical sense. It’s all about them doing whatever they want to do, say whatever they want to say, act in any way they want to act – at any time for whatever reasons. Now as Christians we cherish true freedom, but we also recognize that freedom has its limits. God is God and we are not. We must learn to live by his rules, and not seek to make up our own rules on matters God has already ruled. Of course, the fallen angel Lucifer, or as he’s often called, Satan or the devil, is the original spiritual rebel. He took his freedom to come and go in heaven to the radical point of challenging God for supreme position. He saw his blessed life with God in heaven as a burden, as a limiting factor to absolute freedom. In this sense, Satan or the devil is the inspiration, ultimately, for all atheists. They too want nobody looking over their shoulder or telling them what to do in any way. As a Christian believer it doesn’t bother me at all living by God’s rules. I don’t feel caged or bound or chained because I must yield to the authority of God in my life. I feel safe and secure that God has a will, and that I can follow his directions. But atheists somehow feel burdened by even the slightest feeling that they aren’t totally in charge, or that they might be accountable to a higher authority. They want to be their own god. So this is probably the biggest motivation for atheism today, especially in our modern, contemporary world. We have the greatest political and economic freedom of any people, ever; yet we are discontent with it, because often we want more and more. We not only want to be free politically and economically, but many people want to be absolutely free or atheistically free from God. This is secularism, which is basically leading our society to full-blown atheism. I pray it doesn’t ultimately lead our society to atheism, because this type of perverted freedom is ultimately self-destructive. It will lead to moral and spiritual anarchy. It’s already leading our society into disintegration. The signs of decay are all around, especially in the areas of marriage and family. The fallacy of atheism is that it leads to absolute freedom; it doesn’t. In the end, it leads to bondage. It did in the Soviet Union under an atheist government. But worse of all, it will lead to spiritual bondage, and spiritual destruction, because it leads to spiritual judgment and damnation. Let’s pray for the atheists, that they discover the error of their ways before it’s too late. Let’s pray for our society, that it doesn’t follow the lead of the atheists, but instead follows the way of the Lord.

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