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The Religion of Atheism

I just read a news story about an atheistic group in Washington state that has placed a sign in the state capital building promoting atheism. The sign is located adjacent to a nativity scene also paid for by a private organizations, and both organizations obtained permits for their displays. You can read more about the story here.

I am not opposed to either display – we live in a nation that celebrates the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of worship, so either of these groups should be well within their rights to express their views in a public setting, especially seeing that they’ve gone through the appropriate measures to do so. I do, however, think that the action raises an issue about atheism that has to be dealt with by anyone who is wavering between theism (belief in a god) and atheism (belief in no god), and that is that atheism is a religion.

Interestingly, the group that sponsored the atheistic display is called the Freedom From Religion Foundation. What catches my attention, however, is what is written on the display…

At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth that and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves minds.

First, isn’t it interesting that there is the desire to display an anti-religious sign next to a religious display? To me, and I think to much of the public, it becomes obvious that ahteism is a religion in and of itself. The statement above conveys quite a doctrinal statement: no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven, no hell. Those are statements about what someone believes does not exist. Then, there is only the natural world. That’s a statement of what one does believe. So the message competes with other religious messages and affirms an alternative system of beliefs… sounds like a religion.

What baffles me the most is the last line. I get what is being said. Yes, religion can be a very bad thing. anytime religion has been tied together with the state, tyrannical oppression has occurred. Coersion isn’t God’s plan for evangelism and political empericalism is one of the worst excuses in all the world for what the Christian faith is all about – and for all other religions for that matter.

But to say that belief hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds seems blatantly contradictory to the personal experience of millions of people. I’m not arguing on intellectual grounds here that belief accomplishes otherwise – I’m instead pleading from the heart – if only you would trust your Creator. If only you would allow your heart to be softened to the immeasurable love and mercy of God, you would find that Christianity is a religion of freedom, not enslavement.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” – Galatians 5:1 NKJV

Just think of yourself for a moment standing between these two signs. One portrays a baby in a manger that Scripture tells us grew up to die as an atonement for our sins and to rise again from the grave. The other argues that there is no supreme deity, no supernatural realm, and that belief in such results in slavery. But you, like every other human on the planet know the reality of your own sinfulness and helplessness. You can’t deny it. And deep inside, you long and yearn for a restored relationship with your Creator. Which sign requires more faith to believe?

If you should embrace the religion of atheism, you’ll need to acknowledge that all that you know deep down is just an evolutionary flaw, that your subconscious that continually reminds you of the darkness within is simply the result of millions of years of sequential accidents (albeit accidents so precise that the present order is so arranged that life is sustainable and even thrives on this one planet). But there is a Creator, isn’t there? And there is a heaven and a hell. There is life beyond the grave. There is a soul within and you know that there is a Holy Spirit wooing and calling you to a restored relationship with the One who personally crafted you.

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  • Chris

    I think that those who take such a strong stand against religion should be given a name other than atheist. The definition of an atheist is “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings”. That is a very simple definition. I do not beleive there is a god. I do, however, believe that religion is a good thing for those who choose to believe. The overwhelming majority of people in the world believe in a gods or gods, and the majority of them are good people. The church provides people with a positive message and a good set of rules to live by, and I find no fault with that. I simply choose not to believe in a god. Does that make me a bad person? I live by many of the same rules as those people with religion. I try to help my neighbor as much as the next guy. I do not steal. I do not cheat on my wife. I simply choose not to believe in a god. What does that make me?

    • Brandon

      @Chris -

      Chris, I appreciate your thoughts and your question is quite common. I think one thing that must be clarified about my own theology is that I don’t believe all people are “basically good.” Since I believe the Bible in its entirety, I therefore believe that “all have sinned” and that “there is none righteous, no not one.” Scripture speaks of humans as “going about to establish our own righteousness.” This refers to our attempt to justify ourselves by presenting our good works.

      Having said that, it also needs to be noted that most people are not as bad and evil as they could be – every one of us has a conscience and we obey it to one degree or another.

      I say all of that to make this one major point – the playing field is level for all of humanity. Am I better than you because I believe in God? Absolutely not. Are you a “bad person” because you choose not to believe in God? I’m afraid I have to answer that based on my theology which says that all human beings stand before a holy God as sinners. So I would say, you’re a sinner like me, and that God loves you like He loves me, whether you choose to believe in Him or not. He believes in you very strongly.

      I also believe that God wants a restored relationship with every person on earth, no matter how good or bad we may presume to be. God values you so highly He gave His son for you. So even if you choose not to believe in Him, He still loves you deeply.

      I realize that much of this will run counter to your own philosophy and I appreciate so much your acknowledging that religion isn’t all bad. A few years ago Richard Dawkins, a well-known humanist, wrote a book called The God Delusion and his influence has spurred on a generation of “angry atheism” that teaches that religion causes all the bad things that ever happen in society and that it’s basically cruel to teach children about a god. So your opinion of faith is much more lenient than many today and I appreciate that.

      To sum it all up – I’m no better than you at all, I simply believe that I’ve sinned against a holy God who has loved me enough to forgive me completely on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross. Thanks for your honest question Chris and I hope you’ll give thought to all of this.

  • Chris

    You may not have been refering to me directly when you said we “attempt to justify ourselves by presenting our good works”, but I must clarify my intent. When I stated that I help my neighbor, I don’t steal, and I don’t cheat on my wife, I was simply trying to paint a picture that not all atheists are evil doers out to sin every chance they get and put an end to all religion. I was not attempting to toot my own horn. I am in no way perfect nor am I righteous.

    I appreciate your comments regarding a level playing field for all humanity. There are those who would take a “holier than thou” stance and label me as an outcast who does not deserve to be in the company of those whose beliefs I do not share. I have lost friends over these beliefs. It’s unfortunate, but that is their choice.

    I am familiar with Richard Dawkins, but I do not suscribe to his way of thinking. I prefer to live and let live. I find his attitude toward religion to be unreasonable and over the top. I think he’s just in it to make a buck and to see his face on the cover of a book. I could never understand how anyone could harbor so much hate for a group of people that has done so much try to make our world a better place. To each his own, I guess.

    I’m not looking to start a heated debate of Christianity vs. atheism, but I would like to ask you a question so I can better gain a better understanding. According to your beliefs, what happens to a guy who has led a relatively “good” life but does not believe in god when his last day comes?

    Thanks for taking the time to have this discussion. It’s refreshing to have this sort of conversaion with someone who does not seem to pass judgement.

  • Brandon

    @Chris

    Thanks so much for your engaging replies. The issue of passing judgment on people was settle when Jesus said to stop trying to get the speck of dust out of someone else’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own (exaggeration was a form of ancient Hebrew humor, but He made the point well).

    As for the question of what happens to a person who doesn’t believe in God at death, it’s one of the most difficult answers there is to give and requires some explanation going back to the beginning.

    If we assumed for the sake of argument that the Bible’s record of creation was true and that the story of Adam and Eve’s rebellion occurred as written, then what really happened was the entrance of sin into a world of paradise. God made a perfect planet and it was changed by the prideful will of humanity. I realize this raises a lot of other questions, but I’ll try to stay on subject.

    When Adam and Eve sinned, they were suddenly separated from God and made aware of their sin and shamefulness. They suddenly realized they were naked which shows that their innocence was gone and they felt exposed in their sin.

    So what happened in the garden of Eden teaches us what happens to all of us when we sin – we distance ourselves from the Creator by being unlike Him. He is perfectly holy and sinless and we are not. At death, if we remain unrepentant and unbelieving (the Bible refers to it as “still in our sins”) then we are going to be separated from God for all of eternity. Hold that thought for a second…

    The garden also represents the other half of the Christian message. When God realized the separation between Himself and the people whom He had created, He reached out to them. In fact, He made coats of animal skins to cover their shame. This blood sacrifice was a picture of what Jesus would offer on the cross to cover the sin and shame of the entire world.

    The entire Bible is one long story of God’s manhunt for us. Repeatedly, the Bible shows itself to be an unfolding drama of redemption of people who willingly turn to God by faith in His Son, our only perfect sacrifice for sin.

    So God is all about restoration and redemption, which is the reason why He’s going to create a “new heaven and a new earth” someday that will be completely free of the influence and dismal effects of sin. It will be like Eden, minus sin.

    It will also be a place where no unforgiven sinner may come to remain forever. This is the harsh side of God that I cannot fully understand in my humanness, but I accept by faith that because He is holy and sovereign, He wants to redeem us from sin here so that we may be forever free from it there.

    Just as Adam and Eve were banished from the original paradise because they chose to go their own way, the Bible says in Isaiah that “all we, like sheep, have gone away.” We’ve distanced ourselves from God by our sinful choices.

    But just as in the garden of Eden, God is on a manhunt for us. Consider how He wanted to use Israel to tell surrounding nations about His law and to care for “strangers” but Israel failed to tell the good news of God’s love to the rest of the world. Consider how Jesus came to live among us and to love, teach, and touch the untouchable only to be crucified in His innocence. And consider how the Bible, which is the story of His redemption, has been preserved throughout these many centuries though it’s often been beaten, banned, and burned. And also consider the missionaries and martyrs who have gone into all the world to tell the message.

    In other words, God not only loves people and extends grace to all who want it and choose it, but He also goes to great lengths to tell the world about it – not through angels or miracles, but by redeemed people.

    Let me say two other things in this book I’m writing here. One is that God doesn’t force grace upon anyone, but is willing to save anyone who ever calls upon Him. We’ll fail in our efforts to try harder, so God becomes a safety net. At the end of our trying, there is simply trusting.

    Also, God’s judgment is not our judgment, and the Bible is clear that God holds people to different levels of accountability based on the amount of light given. For example, Jesus told Bethsaida and Chorazim, cities of His time, that it would be “more tolerable” in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them. Why? Because they had Jesus walking in front of them while Sodom and Gomorrah had much less evidence of the reality of God.

    So yes, those who reject the grace of God are banished from God’s presence forever because God is holy and is creating an eternity totally without sin.

    Why am I going to spend eternity there? Well, it isn’t because I’m good or better than anyone. There is only one word that can sum it up – grace. I’m just forgiven. Because of Jesus, God has been willing to forgive and cleanse me from sin – that’s my whole story. I’m just an object of grace and anybody else who accepts His offer of grace can have it too.

    I hope this helps explain my own theology, which is the core of all that I believe. My belief about heaven and hell is based strictly on my belief that the Bible is God’s Word and it isn’t up to me one iota who goes where as I would make a terrible judge. I simply trust the judge of all the earth to do what is right.

  • Chris

    Wow! I must have caught you on a not so busy day. Just kidding! What a great response. I respect you immensly for admitting that God has a harsh side that you do not fully understand. I have had similar discussions with many people of religion, and you are the first one I’ve come across that is humble enough to make that kind of statement instead of claiming to have all the answers. I don’t think any of us have all the answers no matter which side of the religious fence we choose. The “harsh side” of God usually seems to come up in these discussions, and it is a hard concept to grasp.

    I truly appreciate you engaging in this conversation without getting defensive, Brandon. Your knowledge of Christianity and the Bible seens to be quite vast. I wish you the best of luck, and I will be following your blog. I hope you don’t mind if I offer up my opinion on occasion.

    • Brandon

      @Chris -

      The more I learn, the more I realize how much I have to learn. You’re always welcome to join in. I publish disagreements and agreements alike. Thanks for joining in!