For the first time in my life, I observe people doubting the goodness, or even the relevance, of Christianity. Many are becoming agnostics and atheists. This seems to be due to evangelicals, or at least the fundamentalist branch of them, taking the religion’s reputation into uncharted territory. Their obsession with political power, dominance of our society, and the unloving and disrespectful means to their ends have caused millions of Americans to reevaluate what Christianity really stands for. Anyone who is inspired by the Gospel teachings of Jesus might well see this modern version of Christianity as diametrically opposed to them.
Today, many dissatisfied Christians are following a continuum from evangelical to liberal, or progressive Christian, or even onto agnosticism and atheism. This migration stems from the irrepressible desire of people needing to rediscover love in their lives. Some are even finding the peace and tolerance they’ve lost in Christianity in other religions.
What exactly are Agnostics and Atheists?
In this post I want to zero in on the words “agnostic” and “atheist”. Both originated in the Greek language. “Agnostic” simply means “one who doesn’t know”. So, agnostics would say that it’s impossible to know for certain that a god or anything beyond the material world exists. They are open to the possibility of a god if they are ever provided irrefutable evidence that one exists. They don’t base their beliefs on faith in what someone tells them, but need proof, or at least a high percentage of probability, that what they believe is true. So basically, they are skeptical until they have rational proof, not just hearsay.
The term “atheist” means someone who lacks believe in the existence of a God or gods. You can see that there’s a very fine distinction between the two ways of thinking. “Knowledge” versus “belief”.
There are some atheists who say they “know” there are is no God. Those are a small minority and they’re being completely illogical. There is no way they can be certain that there’s no God unless they’ve peered into the supernatural world. But, since they don’t believe in the supernatural, that’s impossible.
I think most atheists are the same as agnostics—they would believe in a god if they were provided sufficient evidence that one exists. I’ve even heard Richard Dawkins, the poster boy for atheism, say that.
Agnosticism In Practice
Something to keep in mind is that every human being, including Christians, are agnostics and atheists. No one is born a Christian or Hindu or Buddhist. Children must be taught to believe in a religion and the existence of gods. They must be made to believe that they can break through the boundaries of our material existence and see into the supernatural world. Many extremely intelligent philosophers throughout history have said that’s impossible, but people who have been taught to believe in gods think otherwise. They are taught to distrust anyone who says something that conflicts with their ideology.
Once someone believes they can glimpse into the supernatural world, they must then be taught what exists in that realm. They must also be taught about what spiritual vestiges of that realm might be lurking in the material world. As a Christian, children trainees and seekers must be convinced that there’s an entire realm of spiritual beings—angels, demons, cherubs, spirits, talking animals, hosts, and ghosts—not only God. They also must be taught to reject all other gods except for the God they inherited from the Jews. In other words, they are taught to be atheistic to all gods except Jehovah.
I’ve heard people say that the main difference between Christians and atheists is that Christians believe in one more god than atheists. Atheists reject all gods because they either haven’t been taught how to peer into the supernatural world, or someone tried to teach them, but they rejected that idea as impossible.
In my experience, most atheists in European-influenced countries are former Christians who know the Bible extremely well. Better than most Christians. They’ve tried Christianity on for size and it didn’t fit.
Why believe in a god?
The idea of a god stems from the fact that our universe exists. If it exists, and it does, it must have been created. If it was created, there must have been a creator. People in many religions assume the creator is a spiritual being who still exists somewhere out in the cosmos. That certainly is one possibility. Another possibility is that we live in a universe and a world in which the origins are completely beyond our understanding. So, a god is only one theory, not a definite conclusion.
If a god, or many gods exist, they also must have been created. That throws the whole debate into an endless spiral. One monumental stumbling block is that if a god exists, and has existed for all eternity (which would be assumed to be the case), why after multi-trillions of years did this god decide to create a universe only six thousand years ago? That’s what fundamentalist Young Earth Creationists believe.
That is one of the mysteries pointing to an unknown cause for the universe, our solar system, life on Earth, and the process of evolution.
Those who don’t accept the Christian way of viewing this colossal dilemma are not wrong, misguided, or evil. They just haven’t been persuaded into seeing this entire process as an “act of God”. Since there really is no absolute proof that a god created the universe, people are justified in having alternative beliefs, or just total amazement. They don’t have to try to figure out how it all happened. It’s actually liberating to realize that you don’t know all the answers, even though you’d like to.
Carrot and Stick
Those who’ve been taught to believe in a creator god were usually brought up in a system where they weren’t allowed to think otherwise. In their closed society, if they showed the proper signs that they were conforming, they received praise and were made to feel valued. If they didn’t conform to their culture’s expectations, they were rejected or corrected.
That indoctrination process is still the norm in most societies. But this doesn’t allow for individual thinking. It doesn’t permit people to exercise their brains to their potential. Forcing someone to unquestioningly believe certain ideas puts a straitjacket on their brains and handicaps them for life. They develop tunnel vision and feel they can’t question things they don’t understand. They believe a god designed their brains but wants to limit their use.
Empathy for agnostics and atheists
Evangelicals, if you are reading this, please remember this. Agnostics and atheists are not evil people just because they see the world differently than you. And, atheists aren’t your enemies, trying to undermine your religion. Most atheists are perfectly content that someone is a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist as long that religion doesn’t spill over into their lives.
Most agnostics and atheists have not rejected God. They may have rejected attempts to coerce them into believing in a god. It’s possible they simply just don’t know if any gods exist. They still carry that childish wonder about the universe with which they were born. They haven’t found a religion that suits their soul and they may never find it. And, it’s not a requirement that all humans have a religion!
Injecting religion into someone is nothing more than a cultural standard operating procedure. If someone is raised in a certain region of the world, they will be taught the religion of that culture. All the myths and legends that stem from that culture are nothing more than attempts to understand their existence and origins. We all seek that knowledge. We may also assume, or been taught that there’s an intelligent maker behind everything, but assuming that doesn’t make it true.
Religions out of a sense of wonder
If you go back far enough, to the teacher of the teacher of the teacher of the teacher who taught you, you’ll find someone whose religious ideas may have been inspired by a perceived revelation from a god. Or maybe they just pieced bits of evidence together into a world view that explained the things that confused them. That’s how philosophies and religions are born. It doesn’t make the religion right since it’s all based on assumptions. And it certainly doesn’t justify forcing a religion on anyone else who may not agree with it. The height of absurdity and arrogance is threatening non-believers with eternal punishment.
The two-thousand-year-old writings that convinced ignorant people to believe important concepts don’t have to be embraced today. We know so much more now than they did then. There’s nothing mystical or magical about writings just because they’re old. Now, thanks to thousands of modern discoveries, we can tell a much better story about our creation and our origins.
If you’re a Christian who has been taught to distrust, fear, or even hate agnostics and atheists, please try to reevaluate your programming. Have some empathy for them instead. They are just fellow humans trying to figure out their place in the universe, live the truest lives they can, and try to explain the unexplainable in their own words.