The Answer to an Atheist’s Longing
No matter what your atheist friends or relatives tell you, they’ve got deep spiritual longings. And Jesus is the answer to those longings.
Nat Case calls himself an atheist. He says that he doesn’t believe that God, in the sense of a “living presence, with voice and face and will and command,” exists.
Yet, as he recently wrote in the online journal Aeon, he regularly attends Quaker meeting services.
The “why?” behind this contradiction says a lot about how impoverished the modern world’s alternatives to Christian faith are. Case’s contradiction can be traced to his childhood. A “voracious reader,” he was “moved to tears” by magical stories. Even as an adult, those stories and the magic they portrayed stayed in his heart and despite knowing they’re fiction, he still “believes in them.”
Most of all, they didn’t bore him, which atheism does because it tells him what he isn’t, and like all of us he yearns to know what he is.
Fifteen years ago, Case started attending Quaker meetings after being turned off by what he calls the “mushiness [he had] found in the liberal spiritual communities that admit non-believers.”
He says that “[B]inding oneself to specific patterns, habits, and language” provided what he calls a “spine” that was missing in other groups.
Still for all its subjectivity and theological imprecision, a Quaker meeting is still, as Case acknowledges, “a religious service, expectant waiting upon the presence of God.” And to put it mildly, that places someone who doesn’t believe in God in a difficult position: How do you submit, in the way that believers are supposed to, to something you don’t believe exists?
And how does that “submission” produce a “humbling of self” and “laying low of ego” when you can’t even muster a “vague” and “inwardly detected sense of the divine?”
Case’s “solution” is to treat the whole experience as a kind of shared “bubble of fiction,” in which “prayer” is addressed to “whom it may concern.” It’s all his materialistic—or as he puts it, “stuff is all there is”—worldview will permit.
What that worldview definitely will not permit is to contemplate the possibility that the stories he loves—or as C.S. Lewis puts it, “The Great Story” –really are true. His materialism causes him to reject the idea of God “as a living presence, with voice and face and will.”
Thus, he’s left feeling something akin to the “stab, the pain, the inconsolable longing” that Lewis described in “Surprised by Joy,” with no real prospect of having that yearning satisfied.
The sad irony is that when he suggests that what people like him need is a god they can “plausibly imagine,” he is apparently unaware that such a god actually exists: His name is Jesus. As John 1:18 says,
“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
When Case yearns for a god “that we talk to, and who [talks] back,” he is describing the God—Father , Son and Holy Spirit—who Christians profess and worship.
This was the God who satisfied Lewis’s yearning and can satisfy Case’s. He is the one towards whom the stories Case loves ultimately point. He both models and empowers the humility Case speaks of.
His name is Jesus. It’s our job to proclaim Him—both in word and deed—and to pray that people’s worldviews don’t keep them from finding what they desperately long for.
What Turned Them off Christianity
By Eric Metaxas via BreakPoint.org
Have you ever asked a young atheist why he or she doesn’t believe? Well, one researcher did. And the answers may surprise you.
It’s something most Christian parents worry about: You send your kids off to college and when they come back, you find they’ve lost their faith. The prospect of this happening is why many parents nudge their kids towards Christian colleges, or at least schools with a strong Christian presence on campus.
But in many ways, the damage has been done long before our children set foot on campus. That’s the message from a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly.
My friend Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation set out to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by employing a method I don’t recall being used before: He asked them.
The Fixed Point Foundation asked members of the Secular Students Associations on campuses around the nation to tell them about their “journey to unbelief.” Taunton was not only surprised by the level of response but, more importantly, about the stories he and his colleagues heard.
Instead of would-be Richard Dawkins’, the typical respondent was more like Phil, a student Taunton interviewed.. Phil had grown up in church; he had even been the president of his youth group. What drove Phil away wasn’t the lure of secular materialism or even Christian moral teaching. And he was specifically upset when his church changed youth pastors.
Whereas his old youth pastor “knew the Bible” and made Phil “feel smart” about his faith even when he didn’t have all the answers, the new youth pastor taught less and played more.
Phil’s loss of faith coincided with his church’s attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil’s story “was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country.”
These kids had attended church but “the mission and message of their churches was vague,” and manifested itself in offering “superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.” The ministers they respected were those “who took the Bible seriously,” not those who sought to entertain them or be their “buddy.”
Taunton also learned that, for many kids, their journey to unbelief was an emotional, not just an intellectual one.
Taunton’s findings are counter-intuitive. Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them.
The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But as Taunton found, young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction—provided they know what they’re talking about.
Taunton talks about his experiences with the late Christopher Hitchens, who, in their debates, refrained from attacking him. When asked why, Hitchens replied, “Because you believe it.”
I don’t know what that says about Hitchens’ other Christian debate partners, but it is a potent reminder that playing down the truth claims of the Christian faith doesn’t work. People don’t believe those they don’t respect.
Here’s something that one of the students told Larry Taunton; he said,
“Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”
Folks, that’s pretty sobering. This puts the ball in our court. Are we living lives that show our children that we actually believe what we say we believe? And here’s another question—do we actually believe it? I have to say, as a parent I’m taking this very seriously. If possible, join me in reading Taunton’s excellent article here…