There are some observations about atheists that I’ve known that I will share below. It’s not a philosophical or apologetic counter argument to any form of atheism as a philosophical system or construct. Rather, they are observations about the atheists themselves. Many times their atheism is an overdramatized and over-intellectualized facade, and I think that many Christians fail to recognize this. Many times they also seem to think that Christians are more aware of their sins and moral transgressions than they really are.
First, I’ve noticed that many atheists I’ve known are marijuana users – potheads in fact. They seem to fear that Christians are out to take their marijuana away from them. My take is that many Christians are totally unaware of this possibility when dealing with atheists.
Second, I’ve noticed that many atheists have deep problems with Biblical sexual morality, to put it delicately. They seem to fear moral condemnation from Christians for many of the ways in which they have violated Biblical sexual standards. Again, many Christians may be unaware of the loud self condemnation of the atheist’s conscience in this regard. There is in fact a quotation I’ve found from Bertrand Russell (which I’m unable to locate at this moment – check Paul Johnson’s biographical sketch of Bertrand Russell in his book Intellectuals) that his ethic and practice of ‘sexual freedom’ was the personal rationale behind his atheism.
Third, they’ve often had some flirtation with Christianity, perhaps in their teenage years, and may in fact be rejecting a childish or adolescent perception of Christianity. They may not have in fact read the Bible at all, though they may try to refer to what the Bible says as if they were really knowledgeable about it. They may in fact be referring to what someone else told them at some time what the Bible said, and are at a loss if they are asked to find it, so that you can make sure that they are not taking it out of context and misinterpreting it.
Fourth, their flirtation with Christianity may include some kind of deep disappointment with God in some way. It may have been the loss of someone to death, or the failure to get an expected answer to prayer. These are the situations which many Christians find great comfort from God and the vindication of their faith through hard times. This should point out to the Christian that the atheist may be an example of the professed believers who are like the seed sown on hard ground in the Parable of the Sower, who fall away because of affliction (Mark 4:17 – Greek thlipsis).
Fifth, though they claim to reject God and the Bible, they are often quite superstitious, and open to and actively engaging in all sorts of New Age and occult practices and beliefs. Moreover, they are often gullible and fall for pseudoscientific beliefs such as aliens building the pyramids and being the source of ancient myths, despite their claiming to stand against Christianity in the name of science. This shows that their scientific stance is a facade that they only bring up against Christians. They may also have very little knowledge of the actual claims and methods of science, and hold to a quasi religious view of science best called scientism.
Sixth, they may have strong Marxist leanings, and be avid readers of authors such as Karl Marx, Mao Tse-Tung and Saul Alinsky. They may claim not to be Communists, but this may simply be a claim not to be official members of the Communist Party. I’m not sure that this is because they actually find Marxism credible, but that it forms a kind of escape from their own problems into romanticized revolutionary politics. I’ve noticed that in the past few years there has been little critique of Marxism, especially governmental wealth redistribution and dependence, class conflict and revolutionary politics from Christians over the past twenty or so years, and Jay Richard’s book Money, Greed and God or Anthony Bradley’s Liberating Black Theology would form a good starting point. Unfortunately, too many Christian leaders and seminaries have fallen into the trap of seeing scriptural calls for justice in terms of the Marxist calls for social justice in recent years (Marxist eisegesis), and this may account for a soft pedaling of a strong scriptural critique of Marxism when it can be critiqued in the course of a normal cycle of preaching and teaching of the Bible.
Finally, though they may claim moral superiority over Christians, they are often astoundingly ignorant on the tremendous personal and intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy, greed and financial irresponsibility of many of the leading atheist spokesmen. For example, the material garnered in Anne Row Seaman’s (herself an agnostic) biography of Madalyn Murray O’Hair outdoes the worst of any fallen evangelical preacher that an atheist may claim to find offensive and hypocritical. Furthermore, Charles Finney’s tactic of turning this back on the detractor by showing that this criticism of Christians does not come from any concern for the cause of Christ but out of a hypercritical and hypocritical heart can be tremendously convicting if pursued with kindness, calmness and boldness.
Quite frankly, what we evangelicals have neglected in our preaching and teaching over the years may in fact speak to the heart concerns of atheists as people. What we need to do is always present Jesus as a Savior from real, deep and intractable sins which none of us could ever overcome on our own, and ourselves not as the judges of others but as ambassadors of his grace and mercy. I think that too often the gospel is not presented in the power of God, as the gospel of an almighty Savior and more as a possible change of opinion which Jesus wants someone to consider.
When was the last time any of us heard the testimony of someone who was enslaved to drugs in any of our churches? Yet Jesus has freed countless thousands from the chains of addiction. When was the last time you heard the gospel presented which mentioned subjection to drugs as something that Jesus could and would save someone from? Maybe we need to show the film The Cross and the Switchblade from time to time again, and share David Wilkerson’s book The Cross and the Switchblade and Nicky Cruz’s Run, Baby, Run within our churches.
When was the last time that any of us heard occult sins and occult bondage being addressed in our evangelism, preaching and teaching? These practices can and often do lead to oppression by malicious spiritual influences (demons), and I can well believe that many atheists experience night terrors, miserable oppression and bitterness, terrifying and horrible images momentarily flashed into their minds and deep hatred of God and Christians inflicted by these wicked spirit beings. They may well find themselves utterly astonished to know that the Lord Jesus can free them from all these things. One scripture that is good to memorize for personal evangelism on this regard is, “For this Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8 – Dale’s sight translation of the original Greek). Another one is Colossians 1:13-14: “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Dale’s sight translation of the original Greek).
When was the last time that any of us heard about how Jesus provides forgiveness and healing and conquering grace for sexual transgressions as regular part of our evangelism, preaching and teaching – in a direct, plainspoken and compassionate manner?
Was it the 1970’s when we last heard regularly about Jesus freeing drug addicts, occult slaves and sexual captives? Wasn’t that what happened a lot during the spiritual awakening among baby boomers that was called the Jesus Revolution by some? And wasn’t that because Jesus Christ was clearly presented in his glory as a Savior who could do exactly as he did in the lives of so many? Did the gospel or the Savior change, or did the emphasis in our message change?
One last utterly amazing thing that I’ve observed about the atheism of atheists: it often vanishes like a puff of smoke when they hear the gospel of Christ in the power of God, and they experience the power of Jesus Christ to free someone from the guilt and power of their transgressions.