Recently, I was contemplating the various accusations that are thrown at Christians by atheists. Without knowing a single thing about me, online atheists have assumed that my arguments are biased by my church upbringing. I read the Bible for the first time in my life when I was in graduate school studying chemical engineering at UCLA, but that inconvenient fact doesn’t deter people from claiming that I cannot see past what I was taught in Sunday School. As I have thought it over, I have concluded that atheists have just as much of a basis for bias as Christians do. In order to see this, let us consider some of the accusations of bias that I have seen made against Christians.
Faith is a Crutch
Atheists will often say something like, “Your faith is just a crutch because you are too weak to face the world.”
My favorite response to this argument was given by my first pastor at a small church in Los Angeles. “Faith is not at all like a crutch”, he said, “it is more like an iron lung.” The point he was making is that as Christians we are entirely dependent on the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We cannot make it on our own.
“Aha!”, says an unobservant atheist, “You agree that Christians need the crutch of the Holy Spirit in order to pursue a life of purity from drugs, alcohol, fornication and other sins.” Of course I agree, but how does this make sense from an atheist perspective? If the Holy Spirit is non-existent, then how do I prefer that fake crutch to the very real crutches of alcohol, drugs and extra-marital sex?
Pie in the Sky
Let us imagine that Hugh Hefner came to me and said, “You are so biased Rob. You want to believe in the Christian God because you want pie in the sky.” Now the answer to this ridiculous accusation is so obvious that I don’t even need to make it, but I will anyway. A Christian who does his best to give up extra-marital sex, drugs and alcohol is biased in believing in Christianity because he wants a heavenly reward? At the same time, an unbeliever who freely indulges in extra-marital sex, drugs and alcohol is unbiased in his belief? Does that seem right to you?
Now, of course, Hugh Hefner is a rather extreme example. On the other hand, the point is still a valid one even if the atheist making the accusation of bias is not guilty of any obvious sins. Why? Because Christians believe in giving a sacrificial amount of their income to the church and an additional amount over and above that to help other people. Add up all the ways that I donate of my livelihood to the church and to others because I believe in Jesus Christ and over the last twenty years that is quite a substantial amount of money. Before I became a Christian, I gave a small amount to others but nowhere near on the same scale. For this reason, I have a very strong and immediate financial motivation to abandon my faith in Jesus Christ. It seems to me that an immediate and tangible financial gain would be just as bias inducing as “pie in the sky” that is invisible and is only realized after death.
The Fear of Death
Atheists will sometimes say, “You just believe in God because you have a fear of death and you want to escape it.”
Honestly, trying to escape the idea of death by going to church is like trying to get away from the Kardashians by reading a tabloid. Go to a Bible believing church on any given Sunday and you will hear about “dying to yourself”, you will hear about the crucifixion, you will hear about how the things of this world are going to “pass away”. You will be told to “take up your cross and follow Jesus”, you will be asked to pray for persecuted believers in some foreign land and for those who are sick and dying in the hospital. You will even be told that it is your duty to get the gospel to those who are perishing without hope. The concept of death is so pervasive in the Christian church that one atheist correspondent recently accused me of being a member of a fanatical death cult!
On the other hand, the method that non-Christians use to avoid the fact of our mortality described by Paul remains popular to this day:
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)
Now I think I have made a compelling case that atheists have reasons for bias that are just as powerful as those that Christians have, if not more powerful. But who cares? Why play the “You are more biased than me!”, “No you are more biased than me!” game? Can we not just agree that we are all fallible human beings doing the best we can in a tough world? Can we not consider one another’s point of view without calling each other names? Or is this too much to ask?
Having said all of that, there is one accusation of bias that I do think is valid. Some Christians do accept what their parents believed without questioning it, without seeking God for themselves. As I shared in my essay “False Parental Teaching“, parents can easily mislead their children by teaching them simplistic “truths” that are “unquestionable”. I urge every Christian to obey the commands of the Lord and seek to know him more by studying his word and attempting to understand it:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. (Luke 10:27)
But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. (Proverbs 8:17)
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 29:12)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)