Why this Pastor Loves Atheists
Yes, I do in fact legitimately love atheists.
In a culture that has produced and promoted many lies in the name or for the sake of love, perhaps the most glaring is that to love someone is to accept all that he or she is, including beliefs and practices. This is the height of absurdity. I love my 2 year old, but I don’t let her walk into the pool, however ardently she may desire to do so, because I know it would most likely produce catastrophic results. We don’t allow an addict to continue in their damaging behavior because we are fully aware that what they crave is harmful not only to themselves but to those who love them.
In fact, genuine love both philosophically and Biblically always seeks what is ultimately best for the one loved, even if that contradicts methods practiced or positions espoused. The love that I have for the unbelieving in no way condones or excuses poor behavior or erroneous beliefs. At the same time, my declaration of love for atheists (as well as agnostics, skeptics and cynics) is in no way an exaggeration or falsehood. While acknowledging our rank differences, here are 5 reasons why I truly love the anti-theistic crowd:
- They are thinkers.
I hate generalizations. Herding massive amounts of individuals into a one-size-fits-all-of-this-type categorization is nauseating. I understand that there are rude atheists and polite atheists, just as there are rude believers and polite believers. I also understand that not all atheists think deeply and not all Christians are emotionally charged, weak-minded flakes (though the list of best selling Christian resources on Amazon might beg to differ). Admittedly, I do not have a natural fondness for those who base their conjectures primarily (or even solely) on feelings, and this would include both the religious and the non-religious crowds. So one of the things I have loved about many agnostic/atheistic writers/debaters/friends is that they are truly attempting to explore and understand the most haunting questions of our existence. They do not fear to wade into deep philosophical waters. They are legitimately on the hunt for truth – if such a winged beast or demi-god even exists – and in this pursuit they have my admiration and my camaraderie.
- They care for those suffering in this world.
The primary gripe of atheists with the God they deny but simultaneously love to hate, is that he is capricious. He is a detached Dictator. The perpetual pain and prolific suffering in the world testify to this reality. While the logical progression behind this argument is, I believe, flawed – which I’ll explore in week three of our upcoming sermon series – it reveals to me that there are many non-believers who are full of compassion for those hurting across our planet. While our motives for caring (myself and the non-believer) are drastically different, I can see and am moved by the expression of their concern nonetheless.
- They have caused me to examine deeply my own beliefs.
Some of the most meaningful conversations of my life have taken place across from a fellow who has postulated positions antithetical to my own. Some of the most mind-jarring, soul-searching books or blogs I have ever read were penned by a devout Divine antagonist. I find myself drawn to the works of Hitch, and feel as though he and I – had we ever met – could have been good friends and I would have seen my faith in Christ deepen through his faithlessness. Though I wouldn’t encourage most Christians to read the works of Hitchens, Dawkins, Singer, or Harris, I have been challenged by their writing and led by the Truth (as arrogant as they would say that sounds) into a deeper and more robust understanding of God’s glory and grace.
- They are unashamed of the doctrine they embrace.
If only this could be truly stated of American evangelicals: “they are unashamed of the doctrine (the Gospel of Jesus) that they embrace.” As I study anti-theism I am baffled by the devotion of its adherents to a hopeless fatalism almost as much as I am baffled by the dearth of devotion within Christianity to a hope-delivering Savior. How can folks who are so wrong in their admittedly dark and maddening worldview be so staunch is declaring and defending it? Theologically and even anthropologically there exist answers to this question; but whatever those answers may be, the depth of their resolve is both admirable and convicting.
- They are image bearers of the Divine.
While denying the very One who gave them the breath and the voice to deny Him, the anti-theists, atheists, agnostics, and cynics are in no way any less bearers of the Divine Image. They were made – mind, soul, and body – in the very likeness of the God they choose to suppress. My worldview, my doctrine, and the work of the Holy Spirit in my soul have convinced me that all of life – even the life of one who would defame or deny the existence of the King – is a precious, irreplaceable gift. As a unique expression of the Creator’s design, who the Lord of life died to save, I truly do love unbelievers and from that love will battle and dialogue to see truth triumph in these beautiful lives.
This Sunday I’ll begin a new sermon series at BLDG 28 entitled “Your God is Too…” I will offer a defense, in kindness and genuine love, of the Hope that lives within me. I look forward to the conversations this series will spawn between believing and non-believing friends and hope that through those conversations, the questions that will be raised, and the answers that will be given, genuine Love will prevail, pushing back darkness and ushering in light.