Summary: When addressing an atheist, Jesus would go to the Word of God to show that there is ample evidence for believing in God. The problem is that some don't want to believe, not that they can't believe.
What Jesus Would Say to an Atheist
Rev. Brian Bill
Ravi Zacharias tells the story about one-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali: “Ali was flying to one of his engagements and during the flight the aircraft ran into foul weather. The passengers were instructed to fasten their seatbelts immediately, and all complied but Ali. So the flight attendant approached him and requested that he buckle up, only to hear him audaciously respond, ‘Superman don’t need no seatbelt.’ The flight attendant, however, did not miss a beat and quickly replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane either!’”
Unfortunately some people today have assumed that they don’t need the seatbelt of Scripture to navigate through life’s turbulence. I went through a bumpy ride as a new believer at the University of Wisconsin (have I ever mentioned before that I’m from Wisconsin?). I had been a Christian for about a year when I became an R.A. in one of the dorms (we called them “Housefellows” back then). I arrived before the residents to put name tags on all the doors and to familiarize myself with all the rules (there basically were none). I had been praying for each of them by name for a couple weeks before school started and I decided that I would put some verses up outside my door.
I’ll never forget what happened the day the students arrived. I had stepped out for a brat or something like that, and when I came back, someone had written some words in bright red marker right over my favorite Bible verses. Here’s what it said: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” I recognized this as a quote from Karl Marx and found out quickly that the guy right next door to me enjoyed posting quotes from Marxists and atheists to counter the Bible verses I put up. He did this all year. We both learned a lot from each other and I remember how he continuously challenged my faith. It was good for me because I had to keep my seat belt fastened securely on Scripture or he would chew me up and spit me out.
As we come to our topic today, it’s important to point out that there are many good minds coming at this from many different perspectives. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all really smart people are atheists. I read this week that one of the leading proponents of atheism is arguing for a different word because atheism has so much baggage. Instead, he’d like to be called, “bright.” Let’s just admit that there are very bright people who are deeply committed Christians as well. To listen to an example of this, check out the explanation for the existence of God by Dr. William Lane Craig on my blog.
A true atheist actively denies the existence of God. From Time Magazine’s cover story in 1966 that asked the question “Is God Dead?” to some odd atheists like Madalyn Murray O’Hair who were relatively easy to dismiss, it seems that today the playing field has changed with the advent of some really intelligent “scientific” atheists who strike me as angry and abrasive. Also known as the “new atheists,” their attacks have become more prominent and pointed as their books have gone main stream. One could make the argument that in the past 10 years or so, atheism has found its voice in our culture. In 2007, the Lilly Endowment funded a survey by Trinity College that revealed that 15% of Americans now cite “no religion” when asked for their religious preference. Granted, saying you have “no religion” is not the same as being an atheist but one could make a strong case that more and more people are opting out of belief in God.
In preparation for this message, I listened to part of an audio book by atheist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins called, “The God Delusion.” I was struck by his angry diatribe against religion. At one point he declared that to raise a child in one’s faith is “child abuse.” I was going to play a section of the audio recording of chapter two from his book but I decided that I couldn’t do it because it’s filled with blasphemy and other bombastic language that should never be used in referring to our Holy God. It makes me wonder why He’s fighting a God He doesn’t even believe exists. G. K. Chesterton once said, “After meeting an atheist, I became a Christian.” I can see why.
Another book that I skimmed this week is written by Christopher Hitchens with the title, “god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” Like Dawkins, he believes that religion does more harm than good. Listen to what he writes on page 217: “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Check out some of the chapter titles: