Christians: The Cause of Atheism?

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” (Brennan Manning)

This is a fairly popular quote, and one that I’ve been thinking through a lot lately.  Do I, by the way I live my daily life, reflect or reject the Jesus I believe in?  It’s so common for the children of devout Christians to grow up and reject the faith they were raised in, and I’m definitely NOT pointing fingers at anyone, but I wonder how much the parents’ “devoutness” left a stale taste in their children’s mouths.

I firmly believe with all my heart that I am a sinner and have earned only judgment for myself, but that God in his infinite love and grace gave Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice on the cross so that I no longer bear the judgment I deserve.  But if I expect those around me to always be godly and don’t ever give them grace to mess up, then I’m living totally contrary to what I claim to believe.

The reality is, a lot of atheists are really kind people (at least the ones I know are).  And so if we claim to “Love God with all our heart & soul & strength & mind” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but since we look just like them, they think “If he’s just like me, then Jesus really doesn’t make any difference!”

Here are a few Scripture verses I can think of which support what Brennan Manning is saying:

  • Isaiah 29:13 – The Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
  • Matthew 5:44 & 46 – But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
  • James 2:16-17 & 19 – If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. … You believe that there is one God. Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

Now a word of caution: There’s not one, single, definitive reason behind someone completely rejecting the existence of God.  There are usually a number of factors that contribute to that person’s disbelief (hurtful family background; hurtful church experience; suffering or loss; lack of exposure to loving Christians; etc.).

“Therefore let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).

  • Do you receive grace from God while withholding grace from others?
  • Do you fit in and conform to the people who surround you, or do you stand for Jesus?
  • Do you shine for Jesus, or are you content to just talk about him?

12 thoughts on “Christians: The Cause of Atheism?

  1. “hurtful family background; hurtful church experience; suffering or loss; lack of exposure to loving Christians; etc”

    Wow…none of those fit the bill for me. Nor do they apply to the majority of atheists that I know. Granted, that’s only anecdotal evidence of a very limited sample, but it’s still surprising.

    I had no negative experiences that pushed me away from Christianity. I became an atheist for the lack of evidence for the claims religions make. That’s all.

    If your religion makes you treat people well, awesome. I think that’s great. But no matter how good you are (or how bad), your behavior will not convince me of the truth of your beliefs.

  2. “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” (Brennan Manning)

    No. There is no ’cause of atheism’. We are all born atheists, have no belief in any god. Religious people have to be taught and indoctrinated into their religion, which is a cause for religion.

    What you mean is what causes people to revert back to being atheists. As you point out, there is no single biggest reason, but here are a few:

    1. No evidence. Not one shred. In fact, the best that believers can present is extremely flawed theological arguments.
    2. The incredible immorality of the deity described in the Bible, Koran, etc.
    3. The ridiculousness of the propositions put forward by all religions, including Christianity.

    Just because someone professing to be a Christian acts in un-Christianly ways is no reason to reject Christianity (the above reasons are, however). We just call them hypocrites and jerks.

  3. Morsecode & Shamelessly Atheist,

    The overwhelming majority of atheists I have gotten to know have had some experience in the past that they would point to as a “See! If God is real and if God is powerful, there’s no way he’d let that happen!” experience. And there’s no easy answer to those experiences either…

    I have spent significant time studying the evidence and have come to the complete opposite conviction from both of you. I appreciate both of you taking the time to interact with the site and to share your thoughts, though I obviously disagree strongly. I hope and pray that God will reveal himself powerfully to both of you :-).

    • The Argument from Evil, which is what you are referring to, is not a good argument against gods. It is, however, an argument against loving and benevolent gods. It was convincing to Bart Ehrman, but not to me. But even if the Abrahamic god existed, the only moral thing to do would be to spurn it. As Richard Dawkins eloquently wrote,

      The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

      He’s absolutely correct.

      Strangely, I forgot the most important reason (for me at least) in my above list. Science. I’m a scientist by trade, and was always interested in the subject from a very young age. So I leave you with the last reason on my list:

      4. Whenever explanations offerred by science and religion overlap, the answer asserted by religion is always found to be wrong. Just as chemistry supplanted alchemy and philosophy supplanted theology, science has supplanted religion as a means to knowledge.

      • I’d rather not get into a debate in this forum. The point of my original post is to encourage Christians to live in a way that honors Jesus Christ – not to try to open debate on atheism vs. theism. I hope you’re ok with that and that you understand I’m not trying to “silence” you simply because you’re an atheist (if I was trying to do that, I would’ve deleted your comments from this post!).

        However, I would like to respond to one thing: You say that science has supplanted religion as a means to knowledge. I’d say that’s no more true than to say that a tree’s roots are supplanted by its branches – the roots hold and support the tree on which the branches grow. Likewise, many many of prominent scientists throughout history have been Christians who used science to heal the sick (thus, loving their neighbor as themselves) and to understand our bodies and our world better (thus, learning more about God’s good creation). I understand what you’re getting at… but simply because the majority of today’s scientific community ostracize religion from the discussion doesn’t mean that religion ought to be relegated to the sidelines and considered useless.

        As a youth pastor I interact with teenagers and their parents on a regular basis. Evolutionary science tells these precious teenagers that they’re here because of “random selection” – so when they have suicidal thoughts, thinking “We’re here by pure chance anyway… I might as well kill myself since nothing’s meaningful anyway,” what’s to tell them not to go through with it? The science can be debated (and I’m a pastor, not a scientist. That’s not to pass the buck and to say I haven’t studied up a good amount of this, but obviously not to the degree that a professionally trained scientist has!), but I just don’t see how you could live a joyful, meaningful life as an atheist who believes that our world exists by the improbable recipe of circumstance colliding in such a way to create a universe our galaxy could survive in, a galaxy our Earth could be created in with the perfect atmosphere for human life to “happen” in, and all the other “chance” occurrences necessary for sustainable life of all kinds to survive in (pardon the run-on sentence).

        Respectfully,
        Pastor Mike

      • …but I just don’t see how you could live a joyful, meaningful life as an atheist who believes that our world exists by the improbable recipe of circumstance colliding in such a way to create a universe our galaxy could survive in, a galaxy our Earth could be created in with the perfect atmosphere for human life to “happen” in, and all the other “chance” occurrences necessary for sustainable life of all kinds to survive in…

        And yet I do! I have a wonderful life that I am thankful for. Not to any deity, mind you, but I am still thankful. I have a wonderful and beautiful wife, a fabulous career and four cats. I fill my life with all manner of activities and hate it when I’m not on a steep learning curve. For some reason, this confuses and bewilders believers. I find life amazing and this universe full of wonder! Why on earth would I not? Life is an amazing result of a series of accidents. Some take that to be bad. I don’t. I think it’s absolutely amazing! There’s a fabulous book I’ve started reading that lists some of these accidents that evolution hit upon called “The Ten Greatest Inventions of Evolution”. Utterly fascinating reading! Without any one of those ten, humanity would not exist. It’s humbling.

        For some reason, believers tend to think that atheists are morose, hedonistic, nihilistic people who suffer from clinical depression, believe in nothing except taking away freedom of religion. I am hardly morose, hedonistic and nihilistic. It turns out that church goers actually have a greater incidence of deprssion. And I believe a great many things, one being that I can defend my beliefs philosophically and/or empirically.

        The reason I comment on blogs such as this is to introduce people to who we atheists really are, not some caricature of an atheist that is usually presented by someone who has clearly never met one and known it. For instance, until very recently, Webster’s Dictionary associated atheism with immorality and wickedness, yet atheists are amongst the most ethical people I know.

        As a secularist, I do not want to interfere with freedom of religion. But I do want religion (and, yes, atheism too) to remain outside of secular institutions. Religion should be private and it should have nothing to do with politics. You folks down south could learn something in that regard from us Canucks up here in the Great White North. Questions of religion in our politics are verbotten. I’d like to keep it that way.

        The tree analogy was nice, but the problem is the roots have already been removed and the tree is still standing. Science simply ignores religion. Of course, you will see an underlying theological source of origins and phenomena. The problem is that cause-and-effect has never been shown, and if it could be shown I myself would come to believe. But don’t hold your breath. Naturalism is still king of the hill in science and with no contenders.

        I don’t consider religion useless, though I do think that is so for myself. There is no denying that it is a comfort to those that believe. I would say, though, that there is a case that society suffers. (Here I am thinking of ridiculous religion-based public policies like abstinence-only education programs, for instance.) It’s just that we nonbelievers would like to be left alone and not (like George Bush Sr. would have us be) non-citizens. We’d like some respect as fellow human beings and not seen as lepers once were (and still are in some quarters of the world).

      • As I wrote in my original post: a lot of atheists I know are really nice people. I’m not intending to make some straw-man that’s easy to knock down or caricature that’s inaccurate so that people will agree with me… that’s just poor logic and an easy way to discredit what you’re saying.

        I’ve had a fair number of friends who believe differently than me (Buddhists, Atheists, Jewish, Agnostics, etc.), even though my convictions are firm. I hope that could be evidence that I’m not trying to paint everyone who doesn’t believe what I believe as miserable, gloomy people who struggle with depression. I know that’s not the case anymore than to say that everyone who professes to be a Christian will be automatically joyful and happy.

        I think we’ve reached the point in our back-and-forth posts where we both understand where the other’s coming from and can respect that (while still disagreeing with each other completely).

        Finally, my apologies if I have offended you in any way, since that was never my intention.

  4. “Evolutionary science tells these precious teenagers that they’re here because of “random selection””

    You might need to crack open that high school biology book again, sir. It’s actually natural selection, and the natural selection portion of evolution isn’t random.

    Sorry, just wanted to correct that.

    And just because I can’t resist:

    ““We’re here by pure chance anyway… I might as well kill myself since nothing’s meaningful anyway,” what’s to tell them not to go through with it?”

    If you only have a little money stored away in your savings, what’s to stop you from just burning it all? It’s only a little bit and you’re going to run out eventually, so why not spend it all now and then be done with it? Does that make sense? Perhaps saving your money, using it for special occasions that are important to you and your family and friends, is smarter.

    Maybe, just maybe, the fact that we’re here and it’s only for a limited amount of time means that life means more than if we lived forever. If you live forever, 70 years is meaningless, isn’t it?

    • Yes, I understand it’s called “natural” selection.

      I could see how your analogy about the bank account could be helpful for some people, but it just doesn’t answer my bigger questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where is my place in this world?

      My faith in God give me assurance that I am created in God’s image, that He created me on purpose, and that He has a plan for me. I believe that I will live for eternity, but that absolutely does not diminish the significance of my life today… it inspires me to persevere through suffering, and to live in such a way that when I stand before Jesus I can stand with my head held high because I lived well and honored Him.

      • “Who am I?”

        You’re the only person who can tell us that.

        “Why am I here?”

        Why do you assume there’s a why? Besides the fact that presumably your parents loved each other and wanted a child, of course.

        “Where is my place in this world? ”

        Wherever you’re able to make it, given the natural and human-created roadblocks in your way.

        “but that absolutely does not diminish the significance of my life today… it inspires me to persevere through suffering”

        Why?

        Sorry, I’m seriously curious. I don’t see how, if you live forever, 70 to 100 years could be worth more than the blink of an eye. It’s nothing, in comparison.

  5. Saying that 70 years out of eternity are insignificant is like saying that the foundation of a skyscraper doesn’t matter. If the foundation’s not level or is poorly laid, the building won’t stand (unless it’s an anomaly like the Tower of Pisa).

    How I live today really truly effects my future. Because this life is so short (relatively speaking), that’s EXACTLY why it’s so significant! I don’t have time to waste… I need to use every moment I’ve got to make it count.

    Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

    Jesus says it’s about your heart… is your heart’s desire secure or insecure? Living for “Treasure in Heaven” doesn’t make me ignore life today… but it sets it in perspective so that when suffering hurts it still hurts… deeply, in fact – but I know that will not hurt forever and that God gives healing and redemption.

    I hope that helps shed light on where I’m coming from…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s