So, we need to get on the solution side of this problem.
I’ve spent the past two days talking about the appeal of atheism to many young men who have rejected the concept of any ultimate reality, but who are still looking for some philosophy with which to identify. Curiously, their belief in no absolute reality leads them to the very absolutist worldview of atheism.
But as I have shared in my preceding two posts, the attraction of atheism has very little to do with the inarguable evidence against the existence of God, as no such evidence exists. Rather, the appeal for the new atheist is a universe of which they get to be the center.
The new atheism gives angry young men the platform from which rage against all the evils of God and religion without requiring them to face the ugly reality of why they are so angry in the first place. That said, we as Christians have a biblical duty to not only minister, but to love this new brand of rather prickly unbeliever.
Atheists, even the militant kind, are not our enemies, and we would do well to remember that when interacting with them. Thus, I suggest the following four principles for dealing with the new atheists.
Understand the seriousness of their posture before God.
This is not a game.
Too many Christians approach their dealings (or lack thereof) with atheists with a flippancy that borders on irresponsibly. We need to remind ourselves of the perilous posture before God that those who rage against him have placed themselves.
The Bible calls those who reject God “fools.” The word doesn’t mean stupid or unlearned, it means arrogant and irresponsible. Atheists today are the modern day equivalent of the “God-haters” described in Romans 1:30. And friends, no matter how much you may dislike someone and how spiteful they may be to you, you don’t want ANYONE standing before God with the label of “God-hater” attached to them.
Atheists are not some odd phenomenon in our culture that we have to put up with until we get to Heaven. Neither are they a throwaway breed of human that is beyond the reach of God. They are people for whom Jesus died who currently stand under the condemnation of God (John 3:18). And, they are one skipped heartbeat away from spending an eternity in a Hell created only for Satan and his demonic horde.
Humans were never intended for Hell, but it is the unfortunate final place of justice for those who reject God’s repeated overtures in life for them to surrender to his will. That reality terrifies me, and it should you as well.
We need to remind ourselves that atheism isn’t a stage or a cultural trend that some just fall into. It is life without God that can only lead to one horrible outcome–eternity without him as well.
Don’t debate them.
The new atheists love a good debate. They love the attention and being someone’s project, they love playing the role of the contrarian thinker, even if their stance that there is no God is complete lunacy (that’s part of the appeal). And it gives them the chance to look really smart by spouting the latest talking points from their favorite atheist web sites.
My advice to you is don’t debate them. Unless you find a genuinely struggling and open-minded atheist, like the kind I mentioned in Tuesday’s blog who attend my church on occasion, you need to know that the guy you’re arguing with thinks this is all a big game. He has no intention of hearing what you have to say. He’s only thinking of how he can outargue you and thus prove to be the superior intellect.
Beyond that, Jesus established preaching and proclaiming, not debating, as the means by which he would spread his message. We are not called to debate the Gospel with the lost, but rather proclaim it to them.
It will be your steadfastness and strength of your belief in the Gospel that might influence the atheist in your life, not your ability to outargue him.
Pray for their healing.
My overarching thesis for these posts is that there are very few true atheists in the world, just people who are mad at God.
Even a cursory study of the lives of the most outspoken atheists, both past and present, reveals a heartbreaking pattern of suffering and great loss, often at the hands of their own fathers. Bottom line: the God they experienced or the God that was represented to them or the things done to them in the name of God gave them all of God they wanted.
Again, science doesn’t initially woo most atheists. Incongruities with what they expect or hope God to be is what woos them. Science is the place atheists run to, but they are always running from something.
The pain and disappointment atheists have experienced doesn’t give them a pass for the accountability we all have before God or for the venom many of them spew against him and his people. But, it does explain some of what’s behind their anger.
And that anger, by the way, is nothing a good argument can fix. Our friends in the atheist world need healing. Actually, that’s not true, we all need healing.
The way I can best serve the atheist men and women I know is to pray for God to woo them to himself, to heal them and to set them free from what binds them. Because as in the case of any person who needs God, it will eventually be the woo of God that wins them over.
And finally, never stop loving them.
Let me end where I began: atheists are not our enemies. We do not have permission to respond to them with anything less than love. That doesn’t mean that we are silent in the face of the attacks or that we don’t respond to them with passionate and reasonable answers, but we do not get to hate them.
And honestly, no serious Jesus-follower wants to.