Holiday prayer for atheists | Angie Vogt

I once heard someone describe his encounter with an atheist. It went something like this:

Atheist: "You wear a cross. Does that mean you're a Christian?"

Christian: "Yes. What about you? Are you a Christian?"

Atheist: "No. I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God."

Christian: "Wow! That takes a lot of faith."

Whenever I tell that story I notice people usually have the same reaction I did. At first they look like they're waiting for a punchline. Then in a delayed reaction, their eyes light up as the irony sets in.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation had its annual "emphatically non-prayer breakfast," as they describe it, last November in Seattle. The president of the foundation, Annie Gaylor, noted at the beginning of the non-prayer breakfast: "You've all been to gatherings where you've been told to bow your heads and have a moment of silence. Well, here's your chance to fight back."

Fight back? So they feel attacked during a moment of silence? Seems a little defensive to me. Starting around Thanksgiving, the Seattle atheists started running ads on the sides of buses that said "Yes, Virginia, there is no God." And of course, last year Olympia made national headlines because of the atheist display in the Capitol building, which instead of offering a message about atheism, was merely a sign that attacked all religion as mere superstition.

If you pay close attention to their language, it seems clear to me that atheism, as a belief system, cannot stand on its own merit, but depends on destroying a pre-existing belief. Herein lies the irony at the heart of the conversation I referenced earlier: Atheism depends on faith for its existence. It's only a viable belief system to the degree that it seeks to deconstruct the human anthropological condition of belief in a supernatural deity. By "anthropological," I mean that faith, the need for faith, is written into the heart of humanity. It has always existed and always will. This is part of how we can evaluate the truth of something.

Religious belief has existed in every human race known since antiquity. Atheism has its roots, at the very earliest, in the 18th century. Another irony is that while atheists contend that religion should be rejected since it is merely superstition created from the imagination of man, people of faith accept their beliefs as divine revelation; that is, truths passed on to humanity from a transcendent source (God). The conflicts that arise between religious people center on which teachings are revealed by God and which ones are merely manmade impositions that should be rejected.

For instance, all Christians and Jews accept the Ten Commandments as revealed by God, but Catholics reject certain Protestant notions as being misinterpretations of divine revelation (which means they are manmade beliefs). The Protestant reformers rejected certain Catholic teachings as being manmade and so attempted to recreate a "purified" form of the faith. The thing that is rejected among believers are beliefs thought to be the result of faulty human reason.

Atheism, though, centers itself on man's rejection of God, thereby making it a creation of modern man, based on rejecting that which is perfect. It defines itself by rejecting something, which explains why their version of evangelism will always involve tearing down the faith of others.

I realize this is a broad generalization, but to date, there is not a proposition about atheism that claims to stand for anything other than a rejection of God.

Christianity spread as a teaching about something wonderful, so much that we refer to it as "good news." It survived massive persecution in its first 300 years of existence, the Dark Ages and the barbarians at the gates of Rome.

Judaism is based on a covenant relationship between God and his people that weathered every imaginable attack from exile and the slaughtering of infants to the Holocaust.

I wonder if atheism would ever survive persecution, given that it's not based on anything transcendent, but rather on merely the power of human reason to rationalize away the existence of God. For their sake, I hope they believe that human reason is always merciful and kind and tolerant.

During these holy days of Christmas and Hanukkah, I pray for their journey and I hope they find what they are looking for. My guess is that they won't. God loves them too much to leave them with nothing.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates