Why It Stinks to Be an Atheist

A man recently told me that what he dislikes about religion is all the absolutes.  “There are no absolutes; that’s just a fact.” 

I try to tamp down the baffled look on my face.  But I wonder what would happen if he ever listened to the sound it makes when his lung-air strums his vocal chords.  One atheist described laughter as diaphragm spasms.  Apparently, our brain sparks occasionally produce an arch, resulting in what some might describe as “rational thought,” though the ration is illusory and ultimately meaningless.  If you know what I mean.

Welcome to the hollow world of atheist thought.  Not that I question an atheist’s ability to be rational.  They manage quite well in certain areas.  I have even had conversations with atheists which they insisted were meaningful and coherent.  I don’t dispute it.  I just want to know how they explain it. 

Because if, as the atheist claims, all the world is a product of impersonal forces – the collision of matter and energy – or perhaps, lightning striking mud, then what we really have going on is this gigantic chemical reaction which members of the press somberly describe as “breaking news.”  Sometimes the chemicals fizz; sometimes they pop; sometimes they experience diaphragm spasms; sometimes they debate.  But the chemical activity from one beaker to the next really doesn’t matter because it isn’t really anything anyway.  Some brains spark rationally, and some quite irrationally, and that is what chemicals do given certain temperatures and atmospheric pressures. 

Ideas have consequences.  The atheist imagines a world without God – a world of impersonal causes.  In the ultimate order of things, there can be no wit, no will, no wisdom, no personality, no design, no intention, no purpose.  Thus, Christian apologists have pointed out that nihilism is the only consistent atheism. 

In an especially rational moment, Bertrand Russell followed his atheism to its ultimate conclusion, celebrating the impotent glories of hopelessness and despair.

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.And if that doesn’t make you want to be an atheist, I don’t know what will. 


If we could get our atheist friends to be honest with their own worldview and to follow their premises to their logical conclusions, this is what we would get.  And that’s why it stinks to be an atheist.  Because once in a while, as someone else has pointed out, the atheist looks around him at all the beauty and all the splendor and all the delights of this world, and feels a strange and alien sensation creep into his heart that for a moment makes him want to contradict his own premises and feel what the Christians describe as “gratitude.”  But in that moment of insanity, he stumbles over two roadblocks.  First, his atheism leaves him with no way of accounting for the sensation of gratitude, aside from an exalted notion that his feelings are actually things and that they mean something.  How irrational in a world of impersonal cause!  And then, if those irrational sensations persist, he looks around for someone to thank and finds nobody.  Unless, of course, he stretches all reason and embraces the “Mother” Nature myth – ascribing personality to atomic collisions. 

Men have flattered themselves that existence is possible without God.  But this is a terrible conceit.  Even so, a man might eke out an existence in a cave deep in the bowels of the earth.  And over time, he might convince himself that this is all there is.  There are no trees, no birds, no sun, no clouds, no light.  Just darkness and coldness and low rock ceilings.  He might scoff at the notion of light and sun and moon and stars.  He might sound very sophisticated in his rantings against the sun, against light, against plant life and vegetation.  As any rational human being can see, the cave has infiltrated his mind and made him his prisoner.  

It brings to mind the eloquence of Puddleglum:

One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

So say I.  I would rather worship the Triune God in all His glory and majesty and infinite, loving power and goodness, even if He was make-believe. Yes, I prefer an imaginary God to “the unyielding despair” required by the premises of atheism. 

Puddleglum, The Silver Chair, Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis | Narnia,  Chronicles of narnia, Narnia quotes

But of course, the Triune God is no more make-believe than the sun in the sky.  Man could not invent such a God any more than a man could invent himself.  If the Triune God Who has revealed Himself in Scripture doesn’t exist, then we cannot explain the world we live in.  Morality goes away.  Beauty is meaningless.  Reason dies.  All is meaningless, purposeless.  It stinks to be an atheist.

But since God exists and has made Himself known, we can make sense of the world. 

Dear Atheist Friend,

If you’ve read this far, you may very well be disputing the premise of this article.  Perhaps you would argue that, of course, atheists care about things like morality, the well-being of the planet, and human flourishing.  And I don’t doubt that at all.  I have had enough conversations with atheists to know this to be a fact.  To care about things like human flourishing, you have to lay aside your atheism.  Atheism cannot account for the desire to do good to others.  Atheism can’t justify any sort of moral “ought.”  Russell’s nihilism is much more consistent with atheist principles than any form of pragmatism or utilitarianism could ever be.  You have to borrow from something else to come to those kinds of conclusions about the world.

Let me invite you to a thought experiment for a moment.  Think of this as a spin on Paschal’s wager.  If atheism is right, it doesn’t matter whether I believe in God or not.  We all die like dogs, and then the skin worms get down to business.  But if Christianity is right, we can make sense of the world.  If God created the world, then that explains everything – reason, morality, goodness, truth, ice cream flavors, heat and cold, dreams and ideals and disappointments and satisfaction – it all makes sense.  If God made the world, then we can justify our innate desires for the good of humanity. 

God that made the world …hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

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