Some Observations About Atheists I’ve Known

Updated!

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.

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Apologetics Is Not Evangelism, and Evangelism Is Not About Winning the Argument

I’m learning of some situations where some evangelical Christians seem to be treating their witness as winning an argument with someone and establishing the truth of Christianity against someone that rejects the Biblical message in some way. I’m thinking that it may be due to the unfortunate ‘It’s my responsibility to fix other people’ and ‘straightening out’ tendency among many Christians. While I definitely believe in apologetics and indulge quite heavily in it, it needs to be repeated often that apologetics is not evangelism. Rather, it is about establishing the reasonable basis of the Christian faith, and it can be a ministry to the believer as much as it is to the unbeliever. And one should never approach either apologetics or evangelism with an attitude of “I’m going to change them to my way of thinking.”

While the Bible does tell us to give an answer about the hope that is in us, and to persuade men and women in the fear of God, there is a place for simply sharing the complete gospel and trusting in the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit to change hearts. Sometimes it is a good tactic to ask simply to be able to explain the gospel and then work through objections later. It may well be that the other person is rejecting something which isn’t the gospel at all.

Billy Graham eventually worked his explanation of the gospel into four basic questions of life, and the gospel of Jesus Christ has the most sufficient, satisfying and livable answers to these questions. Here are his four questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • Where am I going?
  • Is there any meaning to my life?

I think that we’re all born with wanting the answers to those questions, and presenting clearly how the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ answers those questions can override objections based on my views against yours and refute all rivals.

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The Legacy of Josh McDowell

On Saturday, May 1, 2010, Josh McDowell will be speaking at the church which I’ve been attending. My plans are to be in attendance with the others from this area, and it will be the sixth time that I’ve heard him in person. The last time was several years ago when he travelled to various churches warning about the faulty scholarship lying behind the story in The Da Vinci Code. The first four times were in the fall of 1975, when he came to Miami University, during the first semester of my freshman year.

I would have to say that he was the first speaker that I heard that gave both a strong intellectual and apologetic foundation to the Christian faith, and yet with a real joy and enthusiasm and evangelistic fervor. Though I had both Edwin Yamauchi and Ravi Zacharias for professors, Josh’s apologetic and evangelistic ministry gave me a genuine foundation in the reasonable foundation of faith in Christ. And though I’ve read through a number of other defenses of the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, I have never come across one which did not cover pretty much the same ground and reasons as Josh did. And his ministry communicated to me then, as a college freshman, not much over one year since my conversion, in a way which others may not have done so at the time. He communicated to us where we were, neither talking above our heads nor down to us as anything less than adults.

Josh also spoke several times on marriage, sex and dating to us. For those who later came to know his ministry through the Why Wait? campaign in the 1980s, he had already been ministering to us through the scripture and with the candor of his own life and experiences long before that campaign started. For those of us in the sexual pressure of the modern university, his guidance and candor definitely helped to bolster a desire to honor God in our lives in the areas of marriage, sex and dating during those years.

Though Josh’s ministry did lead to my purchasing his books, I found them to be the gateway to a number of other authors that I would find helpful over the years through his numerous quotations and references: C. S. Lewis, Kenneth Kitchen, Norman Geisler among others. In addition, the inclusion of the experiences of well known believers as corroboration of the life changing power of the gospel introduced me to the lives of believers such as Sadhu Sundar Singh.

In these days of high tech advertisement, the students who were part of Campus Crusade for Christ found a very low tech and very effective way of advertising. Every morning, they would go throughout the classrooms and lecture halls and write on a blackboard off to the side something like, “Josh is coming!” These announcements piqued interest yet were very unobtrusive. I can’t remember a single professor or student who either found them offensive or intrusive upon the learning process. And the campus was very well prepared for his arrival.

I don’t know how many came to Christ through his ministry during those days, but I do know that many believers also were strengthened in their faith and in their desires to live to glorify God in their dating lives during that time. I don’t think that our campus and my fellow believers are alone by any means in having been blessed by his ministry during those days.