SOME YEARS AGO, I had occasion to speak at length with an atheist.

He was also the attending psychiatrist for one of my family members in the hospital.

It was one of those bizzaro-world-where-am-I-and-how-did-I-get-here-anyway conversations.

Maybe you’ve had one of these experiences, or something like it.

It’s one of those conversations, when we think we’re speaking the same language; we might even be using some of the same words. But at some point, we realize that we’re talking past each other, through each other, and over each other.

Despite our many words, the one thing we are not doing is communicating.

After about twenty minutes in this non-communication-repeating-loop, it became clear to me why:

     Doctor-I-know-everything-and-you-know-nothing-worth-knowing thought that I was as delusional as the family member I was trying to help … maybe even more so.

Literally. He literally thought that I needed help, and here’s why: I’m a person of faith in God.

The decisive moment came, when the good doctor asked me if I thought my family member should be in the hospital and, if so, why.

I shared my own observations, including that my family member had manifested ‘religious ideations’ – that is, attaching spiritual meaning to everything and using heavily religious language, inappropriate to the situation.

     “You mean like you?” said Doctor-I-know-everything-and-you-know-nothing-worth-knowing.

What are you talking about?” said I, in utterly sincere shock ….

     “Well, aren’t you a priest?” said the expert.

Almost breathless in unbelief of another kind, I responded, ”No, I’m not a priest. I am a pastor.

     “Same thing,” said the knower of all knowledge worth knowing – except, of course, that priests and pastors are not the same. He continued, stunningly, “Religious belief is a delusion; people who believe are delusional. The only difference is one of degrees.

I’m sure he thought he was being helpful – being the doctor, but I was about to come unglued.

I simply could not believe that this person was a medical doctor, and especially that this “doctor” was “caring” for my family member. How could this be?

But I said as calmly as I could, “Doctor-such-and-such, doesn’t the standard of care require that healthcare professionals work with loved ones for the benefit and well-being of their patients?

     “Yes, it does,” he responded – resisting, I’m quite sure, the urge to lecture me (again) on my use of the technical terminology ‘standard of care,’ because I couldn’t know what I’m talking about, because … I’m not a psychiatrist.

Could you tell me how lecturing me about my lack of knowledge of my own family member’s situation – apparently, on the single basis that I am not you – and calling me delusional, for no other reason than that I’m a person of faith, achieve the standard of care in this case?

     ”You’re right; I apologize.” A glimmer of humility and compassion! Oddly and unexpectedly, we were able to have a productive conversation after that. (I promise; I am not making this up!)

This remarkably memorable event was brought right back to mind this afternoon, when I read an outstanding article by Jim Spiegel in the latest e-edition of Christianity Today (CTDirect).

His article, ”Unreasonable Doubt,” draws from his recent book The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief (Moody, 2010), which surely will make it to my bookshelf soon.

The basic premise of Spiegel’s article – supported by surprisingly strong evidence – is this:

     Moral and psychological factors may contribute as decisively in the faithlessness of atheists as their acceptance of rational argument and “proofs” – maybe even more so.

Here’s how he gets to the point, early, in his second paragraph (with my emphasis added):

     “Most atheists would have us think they arrived at their view through cool, rational inquiry. But are other factors involved? Consider the candid remarks of contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel: ‘I want atheism to be true …. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right about my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.‘ Could Nagel’s attitude—albeit in a more subtle form—actually be common among atheists?

After that, Spiegel’s article only gets better, more challenging, more helpful, and more hopeful – hopeful in the God who Is and His gospel and helpful insight into the forensics of unbelief.

Here’s another gem (my emphasis added):

     “The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it ‘would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person.‘”

The Bible is consistent in its insistence that God exists; that there is One and only One True and Living God; that He created and sustains all that there is by the power of His Word; and that He is a good, gracious, and loving God – despite our unbelief.

The Bible is also clear about another thing:

     “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ – Psalm 14:1

But let’s not get carried away with the foolish faithlessness of atheism and atheists. I have seen and practiced something possibly more foolish, and if I might say, more delusional even than the subborn and relentless refusal to believe in or admit or acknowledge the God Who Is:

     A functional or practical atheism.

How many ‘Christians’ or ‘churches’ say that we believe in the God Who Is and have doctrinal statements loaded with Bible verses to support our contention that we believe in the God Who Is. But practically speaking, we live and think and speak and behave … as if we are on our own?

     Mannnny of us and mannnny of our churches, I would venture to say, including me and my own church from time-to-time.

Our Elder Brother James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, got right to this point, and he was speaking to ‘Christians’ when he wrote: You believe that God is One; you do well! The demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?“ – James 2:19-20

Do yourself a favor and read Spiegel’s article. You may even consider getting his book. As for the article, you can find it at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/january/35.48.html.

God’s grace and peace to you and yours from me and mine!

Pastor Mark

Share