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Feedback archive Feedback 2011

Are Christians ‘atheists’ with respect to other religions?

Published: 10 September 2011 (GMT+10)
evangelising

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This week’s feedback features two correspondents, asking how we would respond to an informed atheist when evangelizing, and whether Christians are ‘atheists’ with respect to other religions. CMI’s Dr Don Batten and Dr Carl Wieland respond.

Brian M. from the United States wrote in response to our article on Atheism:

But aren’t we all atheists in regards to every religion and every god claim ever proposed except for one particular religion’s god claim, Christianity’s Yahweh? Aren’t we all atheists in regards to Islam’s Allah and Mohammad, Mormon claims of Joseph Smith, Hindu claims of Shiva and Ganesh, Shinto’s claims, Wicca’s claims? What does the Quran say about atheism? What does the book of Mormon say? Why not believe the Quran and stop being atheists!! To not be an atheist you will have to believe every single thing you are told by everyone!! Funny how we use atheism to refer to the particular Christianity religion, but there is a broader sense of the word and you are all atheists if you don’t believe in Allah or Shiva!

CMI’s Dr Don Batten responds:

Dear Brian,

Thanks for your comment, which I have passed on to the author in case he wants to add something.

Indeed the early Christians were called atheists by the Romans because they did not believe in the Roman gods. However, the word “atheism” derives from the Greek that literally means “no God belief”. Dictionary.com defines the English meaning thus:

So believing in any god would disqualify someone from being called an atheist.

  1. the doctrine or belief that there is no god.
  2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

So believing in any god would disqualify someone from being called an atheist. So, as a Christian I do not qualify as an atheist because I believe that there is one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

While such word games (this particular one seems to be a bit of fashion amongst atheists at present) might be a mildly amusing pastime, they get us nowhere. You are an atheist with regard to Christianity, or even the very idea of their being any supernatural Creator, and the real question is, “Is that a rational position to take in the light of the evidence?” I would submit that it is not. See, for example, Who created God? and Can we believe the gospels?

OK, I don’t believe in other gods, true. But is that a rational position to take? I would submit that it is. For a start, Jesus said He was the only way to God (John 14:6I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me”), so if Christianity is true, the other ways are false (law of the excluded middle in logic). I daresay that few atheists would regard Mormonism or Jainism or the pantheon of gods in Hinduism or Shintoism worth a second thought; only Christianity is seen as a viable threat and hence the enormous energy expended by atheists in trying to argue against the propositions of Christianity (witness the writings of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. in recent times). And in spite of the serious threat of Islam to the freedom of all people, few atheists seem to have the courage to criticize it. “Love your enemies” and “love your neighbour as yourself” are part and parcel of Christianity, but such radical ideas are of course foreign to Islam, which enjoins its adherents to wage war against infidels who won’t submit to Allah (Islam only encourages Muslims to be kind to other Muslims). The “freedom of conscience” that has prevailed in the West in recent centuries is a product of biblical Christianity (following the Reformation). Your very freedom to be an atheist is because of Christianity (just try it in an Islamic country). See: A review of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark

With kind regards,

Don Batten


Angelina M. from the United States writes in response to Why not? And Why?:

I realize for a Christian evangelist this may be difficult to understand but to be honest as an atheist if someone came to me and asked me these questions I would be prepared … as would most of the atheists I know. Perhaps the atheists you ran into were slightly less informed than your usual atheist. Either way it may be bad advice if you are dealing with the educated public. Just a suggestion.

Carl Wieland responds:

Dear Angelina

Many thanks for your email, it is appreciated. I gather from your wording that your “as an atheist” is not just hypothetical, and that you really are an atheist. The proof of the pudding in such questions is of course what actually happens.

So a person using the approach in that article would occasionally meet someone armed with smart repartee, but then they would usually be people who had already erected massive barricades against belief anyway, for whatever reason.

The average person, while not a Christian or often not a believer in any sort of personal God, is not an ‘atheist’ in the sense that I think you mean it, shall we say, ‘professional atheist’, or maybe ‘village atheist’ sense. Not meaning to be offensive, just talking about those who see the need to not only defend their position, but to proselytize, seek out what Christians are saying, etc. I won’t speculate as to whatever deep-seated factors could be driving those in that particular position, but my point is that they are definitely a tiny subset of the ‘non-believing’ population.

So a person using the approach in that article would occasionally meet someone armed with smart repartee, but then they would usually be people who had already erected massive barricades against belief anyway, for whatever reason. Whereas the average person often assumes that the Bible can’t be trusted because of doubts about the validity of its (Genesis) history, and by giving folk the chance to voice their reasons, not only does it mean that one can see where the problem lies, but also point them to the potential answers. It is not shoving anything down their throat, simply making them aware that there are intellectually satisfying answers if they will but seek them out.

Of course, it is God who saves anyway, but by making people aware of the information that our culture often keeps from them, our experience is that He is frequently gracious enough to use it to overcome obstacles to saving faith. If someone has already irreversibly hardened their heart, ‘evidence’ will not suffice anyway.

Thank you once again.

Kind regards,

Carl W.

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Readers’ comments
Scott S., New Zealand, 10 September 2011

It is encouraging to see so many atheists writing to you with ideas and opinions. Clearly that shows you have many atheists reading your articles. Keep up the great work.

Gary E., New Zealand, 16 September 2011

During my own journey of discovery and reflection before becoming a Christian, I debated much with others I came across’ and came to realize that a high majority of the so called Informed atheists were acting out of fear and aggression. Because deep down they feel unworthy (but would never admit this—not even to their spouses!). Often statements get made that are 2nd or 3rd hand from someone else, with the person not having actually studied the material much themselves. Hence a lot of conjecture and little actual fact. As I progressed myself I came to understand the value of doing your own study and the soul searching that results. It really is far too easy to profess to have been “taught by a great minister when I was young who could speak 8 languages (so must be much smarter than you!—unsaid) and he told me this and that” (and I quoted that off a work colleague). As a result this person has spent his whole life preaching stuff he hasn’t even seriously considered or researched himself, as the minister concerned didn’t believe the Bible himself! And that’s typical of a lot of people and their approach. Give it lip service and live to a fair moral code and you’ll be OK. But will you? Will you have done enough to please God? Are you sure? Study the Bible to find out.

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