Polls tell us that the number of self-described atheists in the United States is growing. The writings and teachings of leaders in a movement known as New Atheism have had an enormous impact, especially among the young. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris are a few of these leaders.
When some of these men speak, they will occasionally refer to themselves as Christian atheists. Douglas Murray, a British political commentator, refers to himself in that way.
For many, this is a confusing term. It seems self-contradictory. How can a person be a Christian and an atheist at the same time?
It is important to understand what somebody like Murray means by the phrase. He says that he does not believe God exists, and is, therefore, an atheist. But he is a “Christian” in the sense that he recognizes that the teachings of Christianity are beneficial. Such teachings can have a positive impact on an individual’s life. A country will prosper and be freer if its laws are based on Christian principles.
The New Atheists maintain that if the man Jesus did exist, He was a wise man who taught these moral principles. He was not God and did not rise from the dead. He was a religious philosopher. His followers expounded on His teachings, modifying them over the years.
The Christian atheist holds that this morality is self-evident. We do not need a god who is a moral lawgiver in order for us to see the wisdom of such teachings. Man, in his own wisdom, can come to the same conclusions. Hitchens, for example, issued a challenge to Christians. He offered to pay any believer 25,000 dollars if they could come up with any beneficial Biblical command that could not be derived from human reason. In other words, the concept of right and wrong is not something God has placed in our conscience. An atheist can look at his life and by experience (and history) see that certain things are good for himself, his family, and his community. Other things are self-evidently destructive. We don’t need a god or religious writings to tell us things we can figure out on our own.
I find this view fascinating. Christian atheists are saying that they acknowledge that some actions bring chaos and destruction, while other actions result in good. They say, for example, that certain lifestyles lead to death. Our minds have evolved through millions of years to understand what is obvious.
The reason this fascinates me is that Paul says this very thing in Romans. He describes the unbelieving world and its rejection of God. Even though people do not believe in the God of the Bible, they know that certain actions bring destruction. They know that certain things are good, and others are bad.
After describing their unbelief, Paul explains their view of morality. He lists several immoral practices, then says that such men know “the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, [yet they] not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom 1:32).
Paul maintains that a darkened mind of unbelief is still able to recognize what is good and what is not. That is exactly what the New Atheists teach! Their arrogance leads them to say that they came up with this wisdom on their own. Their teachings about morality are a further demonstration of their rejection of the One who created them. They do not give God any credit. They do not recognize their dependence upon Him.
Paul says that such people realize that certain immoral practices bring destruction yet do them anyway. That is what we see in the teachings of the New Atheists. Paul deals with sexual sins that can destroy lives (Rom 1:26-28). The New Atheists claim to know what is good and beneficial and what is not. They should recognize that these sexual perversions are not beneficial, and in fact, some of them do. Yet they engage in such practices and encourage others to do the same.
The New Atheists are having an enormous impact on many in our society. They boldly proclaim that the Scriptures are the invention of either charlatans or deluded people. The existence of God is nothing but a fairy tale. How ironic and sad that those who call themselves Christian Atheists prove the truths taught in the Bible and are living illustrations of the very things they reject.