“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” – post made by an old friend to his diocese on Facebook, from facebook.com/StopPlayingChurch
(The sidebar notes “We acknowledge that this is a general statement and that there are not statistics to back up this claim. However, we hear this a lot from our atheist members. It is our hope that we can begin to change this perception – or at least begin the conversation. […] By Christians Tired of being Misrepresented”)
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this afternoon and stumbled upon this post by an old friend. He was not someone I would have pegged to become a priest, but he did. He actually gave me one of the most interesting explanations of anyone I’ve known to the question of “Why did you choose this job?” Although I suppose in his case it’s more of a vocation.
Anyway, I read the little picture and thought little about it. But then I actually did think about it, and it struck me as not a valid logical statement.
I would suggest that very few true atheists are atheist because of one or even many Christians’ hypocrisy. In fact, I suggest that other people have very little to do with someone’s loss of a concept of deity in the world. At least, not in that way.
If anything would happen through the observation of hypocrisy, I think it would be the leaving of a church or community, distancing oneself from that group of people who are silently accepting that hypocrisy and perpetuating it. I find it difficult to believe that someone would up and say, “Oh, Martha is an embezzling, gambling gossip and unChristian – that’s it, I’m giving up on God if He can allow a woman like that not to immediately burn in Hell for her behaviour.” One could consider that kind of a reaction a bit much, and potentially the person wasn’t all that attached to their Christianity anyway. But the real measured response would be to leave that group and seek out a community of more like-minded spiritual folks who one could agree with.
The next step is potentially to become agnostic. This is far more likely to occur in observing the hypocrisy of religious types resulting in some suffering or racism/sexism/etc., or potentially due to watching the news and seeing all the horrible things going on in the world, or personally suffering some great loss or calamity. It sparks questioning, soul-searching, anger against the deity in question. How could a God that is supposed to be all about love allow so much suffering in his children? How can His plan involve the murder of innocents, of loved ones, of the millions of people who die through disease and famine? Even the most steadfast in their faith must question when something bad happens. When, say, a priest is found to have assaulted some children, and the church covers it up. That’s when one could drift not just from the bosom of Mother Church, but from the teachings themselves. Something doesn’t add up, they say. I believe there must be something, but I don’t know that it can be what is described in this book. Or if they just find an essential schism in the philosophy that develops over time, with experience. They still retain a vague concept of deity, but they don’t identify with the Christian teachings any more (or insert any other religion here – I’m simply using Christian as an example because it was the premise of this discussion).
The final step to true atheism comes from inside a person. Atheism is no belief in any form of deity. None. There is the Earth, revolving around the Sun, in a manner that can be described by astrophysicists. There is life continuing due to oxygen inhalation, food consumption, blood pumping and neurons firing. And then, when these processes cease, there is nothing. Nothing mystical, no continuation of the soul (or ego), no ghosts, no spirits, no angels, no Heaven, no Judgment, no Hell. This sort of a change in mindset from Christian has to happen because the person themselves loses or divests themselves of the belief in deity. Somehow they have reached a point where they do not need to believe in a deity, in some guiding force, in order to be able to make sense of the world. This is kind of a big deal, as far as someone’s personal philosophy is concerned. And to belittle it by saying that it comes about because someone observed Christians being hypocritical? Give me a break.
Also, by assuming that someone divests themselves of a concept of deity due to the observation of hypocrisy, one infers that they can regain it by observing good Christian behaviour. And not just regain their belief in deity, but regain their belief in the “One True God”, the Commandments and all that. And frankly, that’s just insulting. And a little egotistical on the Christians’ behalf. Sure, the atheist could be fantastically impressed by someone living by the Christian virtues vaunted in the Bible. But I find it hard to believe that a real atheist, not just someone professing a lack of belief in God because they are currently in a fight with God (hint – if they’re in a fight with God, they still believe that there’s a God to have a fight with), would do anything but applaud someone for being a decent human being and looking out for their fellow human.
So, you know how I would change the statement that began this post? Like this:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is people thinking critically about their religious beliefs and finding that they do not measure up to how they observe the world to work. It’s not the hypocrisy, and it’s not the community of the church or the management of the church. It comes from within the people themselves, and they will be hard-pressed to return to an unquestioning or even a questioning belief simply because you’re a better Christian. And frankly, that’s a terrible reason for someone to practice their religion better anyway.“
And that is what a believer simply finds unbelievable.
(originally posted August 13, 2012)