Why Atheism is Better
Sometimes... atheism is better. Not a better belief. I find the whole business bankrupt and absurd. But sometimes atheism offers a better ear to Christian beliefs. Often those who protest the loudest against God are able to have clearer and more honest discussions about him. And sometimes... committed atheists end up making the best Christians. There's a reason why C.S. Lewis quipped, "A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading." Lewis read Christian works and dialogued with Christians (Tolkien, for example). The rest is history. Sometimes atheism is better.
That might sound surprising. Especially if you've ever spent more than five minutes trying to dialogue with an avid atheist. There are some very congenial, open-minded atheists out there. But some are fundamentalists - especially on Twitter. If I end up posting this on Twitter, I'm sure my point here will prove true. I always find it interesting that many who claim no belief in God spend so much time and energy protesting against him. One would think if you only get one shot at existence before the lights go out forever, you'd use those moments a little more constructively... I mean, YOLO, right?
Those Who Care and Those Who Don't
Back to my point - many atheists make great dialogue partners. In fact, I really wish I had more atheist friends. I find that they ask better questions. They see the thorny intellectual questions that are worth talking about. And very often I get the impression that behind all the intellectual hangups, some atheists are just really, really pissed at God. That is often a great place to start.
Atheists often lack a quality that the other a-prefix forms of unbelief lack - they actually care. When someone says, "I'm an agnostic," it often means, "I'm not really sure if there is a God because I don't have the time or energy to seek him," or, "When I say I'm not sure if there's a God, what I mean is that looking deeper into the question may prove inconvenient to the way I'm living my life right now."
You can argue with ideas. You can't argue with apathy. I do think there are honest agnostics out there who are searching, thinking, and perhaps even praying, regardless of the cost. I have yet to find any.
You Can't Argue with Apathy
The other form of unbelief - apatheism - approaches the question of God not so much claiming an inability to know, but rather an inability to care. Apatheism is an attitude in which the question of God isn't all that important. I suspect that apatheism is often what's behind agnosticism, however to make matters worse, many apatheists may identify as religious, or even regularly attend worship. People who claim to know God end up thinking and living apathetically toward his reality. Self-avowed apatheist Jonathan Rauch explains:
Many apatheists are believers... Most of these people believe in God (professed atheists are very rare in the United States); they just don't care much about him. They do care a bit; but apatheism is an attitude, not a belief system, and the over-riding fact is that these people are relaxed about religion.
Maybe this is why preaching, making disciples, and evangelism are so daunting? Perhaps. But that would be an entirely different post. As Rauch goes on to compare atheism with apatheism, it becomes obvious why atheists are often the preferred conversation partners:
Atheism, for instance, is not at all like apatheism; the hot-blooded atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction."Secularism" can refer to a simple absence of devoutness, but it more accurately refers to an ACLU-style disapproval of any profession of religion in public life.
Richard Dakwins' Twitter feed comes to mind... I wouldn't want to dialogue with Richard Dawkins about God anymore than I'd want to converse with an apocalyptic street preacher about the end of the world. Nobody enjoys one-sided conversations. With that said, I enjoy listening and engaging in honest conversations in which the question of God is debated, but nevertheless very important. Larry Taunton's recent book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens is an example of how friendship and deep conversation can exist between a Christian and an atheist. Debates between thinkers like Gary Habermas and Antony Flew on the question of the resurrection are full of fruitful banter from people who deeply care about the question. And I can't help but mention Thomas Nagel - an atheist for whom the question of God is deeply important, and who, much to the ire of his fellow atheists, it willing to poke at the foundations of the materialist worldview. Take, for instance, his book Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. That's a title worth one hundred conversations between Christians and atheists.
I am not saying that atheism is better as a belief. I would rather live in a society where the majority of citizens are unwittingly agnostic or apathetic, and yet still hold to some form of a Christian moral structure - even if that moral structure is more of a memory taken for granted than a reality defended intellectually (The Christian minority will have to bear the burden here). While many atheists are moral people - perhaps even more moral than some Christians - the thought of morality, ethics, and public policy built entirely upon atheistic intellectual foundations makes me shudder. In this sense, atheism is not better. However, when it comes to Christians engaging in conversation with unbelievers, atheism often is better. And as atheism is apparently on the rise in the Western world, Christians will need to learn how to winsomely listen and respond to those who, through their strong commitment to unbelief, show that they are at the same time very concerned about God. That concern may even morph into eventual belief. Christopher Hitchens' brother Peter Hitchens comes to mind. His book The Rage Against God is an excellent example of how impassioned anger against God may burn out and become something far better.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT