Like I’ve mentioned before, over the past few years there has been an outpouring of the “New Atheism.” The main proponents of this view, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have taken atheism a few steps further than opponents to Christianity have in the past. Most people who didn’t believe in Christ tried to prove that the claims of the Bible weren’t true, and you shouldn’t believe something that’s not true. The new atheists are adamant that belief in God is not just untrue but harmful and leads to intolerance at best and mass murder at worst. A clever trick of theirs is to lump Evangelical (Bible-believing) Christians along with extremist Muslims who blow themselves up or lead oppressive theocratic regimes.
But once you listen to them for a while, a distinct pattern emerges. These people, every single one I’ve heard anyway, is angry with God. Maybe they’ve had some personal tragedy in life, or maybe some Christian has messed them over, or the God of the Bible is giving them instructions they don’t want to obey, particularly about sex. So then the question immediately arises in my mind: “If this God doesn’t exist, then why are you so upset about him?”
The interesting thing about this is that the Bible doesn’t really address this opposition, at least not directly. There's plenty of material if you want to address someone who doesn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, or that he claimed to be God, or that he performed miracles. But from the first verse of the Bible, it assumes that the reader at least knows that God is. It then proceeds to tell us things about him that we could never have figured out on our own.
So what’s the answer to the question in the title? Can someone really be a sincere atheist? Is it possible for them to look at the world around us and honestly conclude that there’s no God? Look, I don’t claim to know anyone else’s heart and motives, since we all can deceive even ourselves. But Romans chapters one and two are pretty clear: God has revealed himself in some degree to everyone. He's given humanity the outer witness of creation, and the inner witness of our conscience. And what’s the end result? “People are without excuse.” There won’t be a single person, at least not someone who’s had their mental faculties, who will be able to stand before the Lord on Judgment Day and say “You know, God, I just didn’t see enough to be convinced that I needed to follow you.” Again, I don’t claim to know anyone’s heart, but the Bible's pretty clear on this.
So that brings us to today’s passage. Verse one seems to describe an atheist, but check out the footnote in the NIV: “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” Not mentally deficient. Morally deficient. These are not sincere people who look at the evidence and come to the conclusion that there’s no God. No, these are not philosophical atheists. They're practical atheists. No matter what they claim to believe about the Almighty, they're living as if there is no God. And this God whom they’re denying by their lifestyle, is the God who sees and judges. They’re acting as if they’re not ultimately accountable to anyone but themselves, and the rest of the Psalm describes what type of people they really are.
If you look at poll after poll after poll in America, about 95% of respondents claim to believe in some type of God. If you were to actually poll most of the people around the world and throughout history, you’d probably get higher numbers than that. So I’m not really that concerned about the “New Atheist” movement. I’m much more concerned, in my nation as well as in my church, about "practical" atheism. And whatever my lips may say, it’s quite possible for me to live as if there’s no God who holds me accountable. I don’t want that, and I hope you don’t either. There is a God in heaven, and he’s watching.
Father God, how easy it is to forget that you’re always present, and you’re always watching. Please give me a strong sense of that truth.