I Don't Believe in Atheists... or Agnostics
Don't expect here an exposé of non-Christian world-and-life views nor a defense of the Christian faith. I write, instead, of my own impressions and observations gained from two new enterprises that have occupied me over the last year. One is writing on HubPages where I've encountered a variety of declared atheists and agnostics responding to my hubs. The other is my employment at Home Depot where I rub shoulders every day with practical atheists and agnostics, people who seem unaware of God. That's not to say that there are no Christians at Home Depot. I've come across many. But let's face it, I've run into a lot more non-Christians in the past year than in the 40 years I spent as a pastor.
These two endeavors have been life-changing, not with regard to my basic Christian convictions, but concerning the world of people I encounter. Confession: as a pastor I had a basic commitment to the Great Commission, as it's called. I was to lead my people to win the lost and draw them into the community of faith. So I led evangelism training, went on mission trips and preached the gospel; while all the time having few personal contacts with non-Christians. My failure, but God blessed anyway. The three churches I pastored experienced modest conversion growth (as opposed to pirating Christians from other churches).
I have come to regard non-Christians not as the lost to be found, but as fellow-travelers on different roads not all of which lead to present joy and eternal peace. They are not projects to be worked, but persons created in the image of God (though they either deny or don't know it). Most importantly, my prevailing sentiment toward atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians has become not intimidation or fear; but curiosity, respect and love. My goal regarding them is no longer "bring them to Christ", but "let them see Christ in me." If a conversion is to take place God will do it, not me.
Another change I've experienced is an increasing grief over sin and evil, yes in the world within and around me; but also those horrible events reported in the Bible. Instead of blowing off critics who charge God with ordering the slaughter of Amalekite women and children, I too find myself troubled by such events. A cavalier dismissal of them only feeds the cynicism so many entertain about the Christian faith. Yes, I'm troubled, but not shaken. There can be nothing more despicable than the crucifixion of Jesus, yet that "evil" achieved God's just and loving purposes. So, by God's grace, I remain firm in the faith.
No atheists or agnostics?
When atheists say there is no god and agnostics, their humbler cousins, say they just don't know if there's a god they reject what they believe is the Christian or biblical God, not god in the generic sense. Fact is that every human being has a god or gods.
Maybe we'd better define what I mean by god. A god is any person, persons, culture, value system, world and life view, authority, philosophy, or combination thereof, that governs your life and commands your loyalty. A fair summary of a Pascal paragraph is that there is a "god-shaped vacuum in every human being. Whether we admit it or not we all crave an ultimate reference point, authority, reason for being. We instinctively know that without that, human existence is a lonely and baren experience. So the issue becomes not "is there a god or not" but "what god do I follow."
Christians follow a god they believe has revealed himself first in creation (Psalm 19:1), then in the human soul (Romans 2:15) and finally in Scripture (John 20:30,31). He is displayed in all his perfection in the Son who "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." (Hebrews 1:3)
Thus it is God who takes the initiative to show up. Human beings don't conjure him up. A good summary description of the God Christians worship is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism #4. "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth."
Such a god is rejected by most. He's too dangerous. And yet this god-shaped vacuum gnaws away. Many cherry pick the Scriptures to create a god more to their liking. "Mine is the god of love found in the New Testament, not the god of judgment you read about in the Old." Others give lip-service to the biblical God while living life as though he doesn't exist or doesn't care. These are practical atheist. Then there are those who honestly declare there is no god or they don't know if there is a god.
While atheists and agnostics reject this god they still have a god. One cannot live without an ultimate frame of reference. A favorite god seems to be science. Others include the common good, tradition, personal comfort, pleasure, power, a political persuasion, heritage, family, particular loved ones. What all these have in common is that they exist by the will of the individual who honors them. Thus, their ultimate frame of reference is themselves. They are their own god.
Christians also have these interests. To the degree that they shape our lives, fuel our passions and command our loyalty they replace what Christians profess to be the one true God. There's a name for that, idolatry; something clearly forbidden by the first four commandments. Yes, even Christians can be guilty of idolatry.
One god, multiple forms
Christians believe in one God who exists in three person, one in substance, equal in power and glory. WSC#6 The non-Christian's god is far more complicated than this. The non-Christian is, in fact, as much a monotheist as the Christian. His one god is himself.
I don't mean that in a perjorative sense. There are "devout" atheists and agnostics who love others more than themselves, who sacrifice for their country, who give to charity and are noble and moral people. Sometimes they out-perform believers. There are two reasons why non-Christians of all stripes, including atheists and agnostics do noble things. The first is that all human beings bear within themselves the image of God, whether acknowedged or not. The second is that God has endowed all mankind with his common (as opposed to saving) grace. Of course I don't expect an atheist or agnostic to buy this. It feels to him like a put-down; and therein he ultimately reveals his true god. He will not credit another being with the good he is or does. In fact, the atheist's assertion that there is no god requires him to know everything. Like God?
Only two gods
Utimately, there are only two gods. The one revealed in Scripture and in Jesus Christ; the other needs no revelation, just exposure. For unless the sovereign God of creation and redemption breaks though, our default god is ourselves. This leaves Christians with nothing to brag about and everything to wonder about. Why did God break through into my heart? Why does he continue to be patient despite my distraction with false gods? Why does he show up in amazing ways most every day? I have no idea! But I'm thankful.