Not opting? Is that possible? Of course not. In rejecting all claims, he makes his own claim – there is no true God. Atheism becomes the option left for him. In other words, this becomes his own religious confession – there is no God. Atheism is therefore nor merely the rejection of the religious confession, it is itself an alternative religion. But it is the kind of religious confession that has no control on what to believe and what not to believe, what is right and what is wrong. By rejecting the option of God, the Atheist opens himself to any kind of belief. G.K. Chesterton puts it well, “When men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.
‘I believe in God’ – this is the first confession of almost all religions. But when asked the next questions, it leads to as many answers as there are religions. Which God? How many? How do we know him? To take the stance of non-committal to any religious claim, there are those who assert that there is no way we can answer questions about God. They are known as agnostics – those who forego any claim of certain knowledge of God. As a matter of fact, they are so certain of this! Then, there are others who also make no commitment to any religious confessions who, however, claim certainty in their stance. They believe that there is no God. They are called Atheists. In many ways, Atheism is more consistent than Agnosticism. The Agnostic’s approach is plain cop-out. The Atheist makes a chilling dare to any God who is supposed to be there and he asserts, “You are nothing!”
On the level of conduct, practical Atheists, those who live like there is no God even if they confess to believing in one, always outnumber serious theists (believers in one God). But there was a time when to believe in God – with that upper case G – is the natural thing. An Atheist became one for reasons that probably did not occur to the normal mind. But the last century going into this new one saw the development of Atheism as something acceptably natural. There are now more Atheists as a matter of philosophical conviction. Communism needed the premise of Atheism for its own ideas to flourish. In 1925, the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism was established, later succeeded by the League of Militant Atheists. The avowed intent is to propagate Atheism through literature and influence placements. This writer recently watched a documentary report on TV concerning the active campaign of Atheists in campuses. One leader of an Atheistic organization said flatly, “We are committed to no god but ourselves!”
But why should anyone come to a militant denial of any true God?
- Atheism may simply be one’s despair over the multitude of truth-claims
Should one choose to reject the religious traditions in which he was bred, and really attempt to look at the other options offered, it can really be an exercise in despair. Even if he should choose to look at the options that offer only one God to believe in, which of the three great religions should he consider? Judaism, Islam, or Christianity? And granting that he opts for Christianity, which of the motley groups of churches, denominations, let alone sects and cults? In his despair he comes to the point where he finds not opting for any claim the less confusing.
Not opting? Is that possible? Of course not. In rejecting all claims, he makes his own claim – there is no true God. Atheism becomes the option left for him. In other words, this becomes his own religious confession – there is no God. Atheism is therefore nor merely the rejection of the religious confession, it is itself an alternative religion. But it is the kind of religious confession that has no control on what to believe and what not to believe, what is right and what is wrong. By rejecting the option of God, the Atheist opens himself to any kind of belief. G.K. Chesterton puts it well, “When men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.”
Atheism, as well as Agnosticism, can sit well as partners with polytheism (belief in many gods). Paul found this out in Athens (Acts 17:16ff). As a city given to idols, its populace however had sense enough to dedicate an altar to the unknown God. Is this out of fear that they may have missed one more deity? Probably this is a confession of their own despair – that amidst the open syncretism of religions and idols, there is still one they cannot represent to their own satisfaction. That is what Atheism is – an altar of despair masquerading as a denial of God.
- Atheism often boasts of itself as the scientific choice
This boast is nurtured by the false (and unscientific) premise that all that is true is a matter of scientific observation. And by observation is meant the five human senses and the tools for measurement and other quantification. Conclusions beyond this ability to observe and quantify are deemed unscientific and speculative. That includes religious notions.
But what could be more inconsistent than to limit one’s system to the observable phenomena, and then make pronouncements about the non-observable? For if God is outside the observable and the quantifiable by the scientist’s laboratory, the most that he should say is ‘I cannot tell!’ But to conclude that there is no God because He is unobserved is to intrude beyond science’s set limits.
It is the contention of the Christian that if the evidences of phenomena are given objective investigation, they point to God. Job, even with a severely tried faith, gives expression to this eloquently:
But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you
And the birds of the air and they will tell you;
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;
And the fish of the sea will explain to you.
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind? Job 12:7-10
In the language of Christian theology, this is called General Revelation. God is disclosing Himself to all mankind through the phenomena that we observe. Instead proud claims of science are blind to their own limitation, and make bold claims outside their legitimate field. Atheism is like a man who is facing a high wall that he could not mount. Refusing to admit his smallness, he instead concludes that there is nothing more beyond the high wall. The Atheist, confronted with the issue and claims of God, finds One who is “dwelling in unapproachable light whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). In his pride, he simply declares, “I cannot see God because he does not exist!”
- Atheism is really an attempt at free rein in selfishness and sin
Of course, it is every sinner’s ambition to go on in sin with abandon. Except that there is this thing called Conscience. Assuming that it has not come to the point of hardening, conscience does something we do not wish, but we cannot escape. It accuses us of wrong! (Rom 2:14f). This accusation becomes intensified when it stands on a serious belief in God, specially when recognized as a just Judge of all the earth.
The act of removing God in one’s thoughts is an attempt to quiet conscience. For then wickedness can be indulged with abandon without the discomfort of those moments of solace and silence. Rightly did the Psalmist observe,
The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God;
God is in none of his thoughts. Psalm 10:4
Paul sees this as the negation behind sinful indulgence. “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28). God in one’s knowledge – even in an unchristian society is the guarantee of some decency and civility in human relations. Of course many sorts of baseness have been committed in the name of God; but these are the gods produced by those who change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible men (Rom. 1:23). But so long as some silhouette of God’s character is retained in one’s knowledge there is restraint. God’s justice in one’s knowledge restraints our proneness to be unfair and unjust; His compassion confronts our cruelty; and more.
What General Revelation in creation and that personal imprint of God’s law in human conscience do in combination is to leave man with a sense of God that is inescapable. He breathes with it and moves with it, for God is “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). What then of Atheism? It is the unnatural option. It is a make-believe illusion. That sense of God is still present even in the Atheist, but he kicks it into silence so that he could go on with life without accusation.
Reformed theologian Robert Reymond makes this case, “All this means that there is no actual atheist. There are only theists, some of whom claim to be atheists. But God’s Word declares that these atheists are not real atheists; they only attempt to live as though there is no God. But they know in their hearts that He is ‘there’ and that He will someday judge them for their sin. They are theists who hate, and attempt to do everything they can to suppress, their innate theism. Their ‘intellectual problems’ with Christianity are in reality only masks or rationalizations to cover up their hatred of God and their love of and bondage to sin… Thus their ‘atheism’ is their unproven ‘grand assumption’ – an assumption, by the way, with which they cannot consistently live!” [ A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: p. 143 ]
The Christian Confession
Together with the basic confession of the Israelites, Christians confess “The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4). Paul echoes this with the unambiguous declaration, “there is no other God but One” (1Cor 8:4). This confession clearly belies the common idea that all these religions worship the same God, they are different roads taking different routes but will arrive at the same destination. In effect, the Jews’ Yahweh is the Islam Allah, and so on. The Lord’s being One is not just numerical, it denotes His uniqueness – that there is no other like Him. He is not a formula that one can re-produce by just giving it different names. He is a Living Being. Anyone who will deal with Him must deal with Him on His own terms.
Furthermore, the Christian confesses that this one true God on His own initiative disclosed Himself. For there is no other way that He could be known by mere creatures, much less by sinners, except if He chooses to make Himself known. This He did – that is make Himself known by revelation. There is an inescapable general revelation in creation and conscience rendering all mankind without excuse (Rom 1:19-21). But even this revelation is not adequate to save sinners. God revealed Himself with redemptive intent through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the saving knowledge of God. It is this saving knowledge that we cannot attain by our efforts. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten, He has declared Him” (Jn 1:18). The clearest revelation we have of this God is the Person of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This implies that there is no coming to know God savingly unless the sinner bows to the claims of Christ. This is called special revelation. Now, all of God’s special revelation has been committed into writing. The most complete and sufficient revelation of God for us today is in the Holy Scriptures. It is through them that we get a knowledge of Christ, and through Him of God as our Father.
Salvation is not just about believing in a God. it is coming to know the true God. But that true God is One we can only know savingly in the Lord Jesus Christ, for the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God (is) in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor 4:6). Obviously, Atheism has refused to take even the first step toward this knowledge.
Atheism is the option for the mental sloth who, in despair, refuses to think through the issues of truth-claims. It is also the option of the proud who thinks science is the new omniscience (all-knowing). But over-all this is the option of the selfish sinner who wants to make a free trip of his sinfulness without the cargo of conscience.
Beyond the sophisticated arguments, Atheism is really, in the final analysis, dehumanizing. It is not what a self-respecting man is expected to opt for. It is not surprising that the Bible hardly takes any space for addressing Atheism as a philosophical option. The New Testament has only one place that uses atheios. Paul calls them as those ‘with no hope and without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12). The OT Hebrew has no equivalent at all for Atheist. But in a memorable statement, the Psalmist tells us of how to regard this: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (Psa 14:1; 53:1)!