Atheisms poor theology

Militant Atheism.  Those calling themselves by this title not only refuse, but also openly attack religion – specifically Christianity.  However, when we examine the arguments they use to reject submission to God and vilify Christianity we find their understanding about the God they seek to refute is a straw man. The atheist understanding of God is contrary to Scripture and this makes their opposition to Christianity fallacious.  It is prudent for Christians to be aware of these theological shortcomings in order to be able to proclaim a God-exalting gospel when we have discussions with these people.

To examine and understand these shortcomings, it is useful to compare some of the common arguments used by atheists with a theological understanding of what the Bible says and what thinking Christians actually believe.  When we understand the greatness of God and the reductionist view of God that characterizes the atheist understanding of Him, we can see that in evangelism the primary goal is to present the greatness of God in a coherent way.

John Loftus, an atheist author, recently asked two questions of Christian believers regarding God and earthquakes.  The first is “could God have averted the [earthquakes] in the past and continue doing so in the future?” (Loftus). He intends to elicit an obvious “yes.”  He follows this by requesting that we “also agree that the more power a person has then the more he is morally obliged to help avert suffering.”  This statement is one that we might be able to agree with if we were discussing human beings who have moral obligations to “love their neighbour as themselves,” but when it is applied to God, it must be balanced with the roles the Bible attributes to Him.Loftus puts these aside, however, and assumes that man can judge God by the same standards as a human.  However, the God of the Bible is beyond human judgment

The Bible presents God as the creator and judge.  It is critical to ask why God allows things like earthquakes to happen in context of all of the attributes and roles God holds. Regarding God as subject to human judgment is to ignore the Biblical view of God and build a straw man.

The Bible reveals that God created the world and mankind for His glory and mankind rebelled against this purpose.  So, if God were a good God (as atheists tend to argue) then would it be right for Him to overlook this rebellion?  If God is creator, He has the right to create for His purpose.  The greater rights must overrule the lesser rights – the rights of the creator are greater than the rights of the creation to rebel – if indeed, the creation has any right to rebel.  The Bible strongly affirms God’s rights to create for His own purposes (Rom 9:21).

God is also the judge.  That is to say, He determines what He will do with his creation – particularly with those who rebel. Scripture states that God stores judgment for individuals until after their earthly lives are over (Heb 9:27).  However, God has also declared judgments in the form of curses, including immediately after Adam and Eve committed the first sin.  These judgments are experienced today and reveal the wrath of God upon mankind, taking the lives of these rebellious creations seemingly indiscriminately through natural causes including earthquakes.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – and therefore these general judgments affect all mankind as a consequence mans introduction of sin into God’s creation.

Regarding God as we would a human – even a super human (Loftus) – is wrong.  For an atheist to use this flawed concept of God is to reject a God that the Bible doesn’t say exists.  In contrast, the Biblical God is man’s creator and judge and therefore possesses rights and motives for His actions that human beings do not.  By these rights and motives, earthquakes and other natural disasters remind us of our sin as nations and as a race and should drive us to repentance.

Another assertion used by atheists against God that reveals a similar problem is rejection of God because of genocide.  The assertion normally states, “I cannot follow a God who tells people to commit genocide.”  It is simply wrong to annihilate men, women, and children, the atheist will state.Furthermore, modern rules of war inform us that targeting civilians by military personnel is an offense.  The rules of war regard civilians as innocent bystanders who are unarmed and neutral in the conflict.  For God to contravene these rules demonstrates that His morality is less than the common sense morality of an average man.

Most people will agree that for a human to commit genocide is wrong, but as we have already seen, God is not a human, but is creator and judge and has rights over His creation to do with it as He desires. We have also seen that God institutes judgment upon earth as a result of the presence of sin on which came about because of man’s rebellion against his creator. 

When Isaiah saw a vision of God, the most obvious thing about what he saw was that God was holy.  The holiness of God “means that He is separated from sin and devoted to seeking His own honor” (Grudem, p201). This one feature of God in Isaiah’s vision gripped him, shaking him to his core.  When Isaiah saw this vision of the perfectly holy God, he didn’t gaze in wonder, or stop to ask questions or accuse God of injustice, rather he instantly declared his own comprehensive ruin and condemnation by crying “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”

The holiness of God revealed to Isaiah showed Isaiah that his standing before God was as one who had devoted himself to that which God considered detestable and had lived among others who had loved that which was detestable to God.  From this there was no escape, and only one suitable punishment – all this became shatteringly clear to Isaiah in the instant he saw God as He is – holy and perfect.

Isaiah’s understanding of God’s holiness helps us put the command to wipe out entire nations into context – each person of those nations had done exactly the same as Isaiah, they too had lived their lives devoted to that which God held to be detestable.  They did this to express their rebellion against God.  Their death and subsequent punishment is therefore justified
To declare God unjust because he incited Israel to commit genocide is to grossly misunderstand the character of God in addition to the rights and motives of God, and to miscalculate the evil of man’s sin and how this affects the relationship between God and man.

Unfortunately, this growing breed of atheist resists argumentation as though gripped by a religious fervour.  For this reason, it is pointless to refute their scientific and philosophical arguments.  However, we should directly attack the straw man that they reject, and by doing so help them to see the greatness of the God who created them and who will judge them.

When we present a high view of God, we portray Him more accurately and introduce other concerns into the mind of the hearer such as their own moral culpability and redemptive need.

This provides us with an opportunity to declare to them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His suffering and punishment and the purpose of God to bring many, including atheists into the kingdom of his Father through the redemption available in Christ.

References

Loftus: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/03/is-god-omnipotent-or-not.html
Grudem, Wayne and John Hughes. Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 2004. Electronic Edition

2 Comments Atheisms poor theology

  1. Darryl Burling

    Hey Guil,

    I don’t think what I did above is that unusual – but what you see circulated among atheists and picked apart is fodder for picking apart – it often comes with a surface level understanding of scripture. If we dig deeper we find answers, that’s what I try to do.

    Re Christianity rather than other religions: Most of what I’ve seen is Dawkins, and he doesn’t seem to have other religions on his target list.

    Regarding God being above human morals: The arguments I used above in a nutshell are a) God exists independently of humans and created us for His purposes b) we rebelled against Him therefore c) He has every right to judge us according to our deeds.

    When an atheist accuses God of genocide, the accusation comes loaded with the presupposition that human beings are ultimately valuable – which to a humanist is true. A Christian holds that God is ultimately valuable, and worthy of to be ultimately valued, and while humans are valuable in the Christian view – humans are not as valuable as God.

    The difference here is not that we value humans or not – we both do. The key is that Christians view God as being more valuable than humans.

    For this reason, someone following Christ will regard humans as Christ regarded humans – worth sacrificing ourselves for. Unfortunately we are self centered people (unlike Christ) and generally fail to do this.

    You will note that this position is the polar opposite to someone who takes a gun and starts shooting people because “God said so”. That is because this latter behaviour is contrary to the character of God and therefore contrary to the true believer. The same cannot be said for manny cultists who ignore or minimize large swarths of scripture.

    God judges justly but not gratuitously. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11).

  2. Guilherme Magalhães

    My first comment would be to congratulate you not to manipulate the words of the book you believe in. That’s brave, honest and hugely respectful. Something rarely seen today.

    There are two main points I think must be made.

    One is that militant atheists “openly attack religion – specifically Christianity”.
    From what I’ve seen, atheists tend to attack the extraordinary claims many religious make about how the world should work; imposing their view on others and on science. This has to be fought.

    For a Christian it may look like they’re the primary target, but in fact they aren’t. The target is all illogical, damaging and segregating cults. The more damaging, more they’re targeted. Islam is the top on the list of craziness/damage per person. Christians tend to be publicised more since they’re majority in the USA. If I could be granted the entire Muslim world to be converted to Christianity, I would go for it. Christians are less harmful and more tolerant when compared to Muslims.

    Second (and hugely concerning to me) is your concept that God is above human morals and can commit genocide without being tagged as a criminal sick being.

    With that mind-set, a true believer in God only needs one spec of schizophrenia to go on a killing spree. This state of mind is dangerous, and cannot possibly be healthy.

    Please watch this 6min TED talk to exemplify what I’m saying: http://www.ted.com/talks/ex_moonie_diane_benscoter_how_cults_think.html

    A more cartoonish version of this serious issue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHGEELdSHHc

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