The Challenge of Atheism: Why or Why Bother?


Have you ever had the experience of engaging in a spiritual discussion with an atheist?

As with any conversation with an adherent of an extreme position, you can count on a few sparks flying.

And if you let slip that you actually believe in God, get ready to get peppered with a number of questions served shotgun style.

Inevitably, when the dust clears, I have discovered that the challenge of atheism can be summed up in one question – “Why?”

As in, “If there is a God, why are there natural disasters in this world?”

Or , “If there is a God, how could an event like the Holocaust take place?”

Or, “If there is a God, why do innocent children suffer and die?”

The essence of their argument goes something like this –

Evil and suffering happen in this world.

If God was good He would want to do something about it.

If God was good and all powerful (as the Bible insists) He would be able to do something about it.

Since evil and suffering continue, either:

-God isn’t good (as Christopher Hitchens would say)

-Or God isn’t all powerful (as Rabbi Harold Kushner would say)

– Or God simply is a delusion (as Richard Dawkins would say)

(If you want to explore the Biblical response to this challenge, I’d encourage you to read Scott Richards Live guest Phillip Yancey’s  excellent and thought provoking book “Disappointment With God” – or Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Faith”.)

But for our purpose today, I’d like to call to your attention the underlying foundation that under girds the atheist’s challenge.

Absolute morality.

Now most atheists would turn pale at the suggestion that they were advocating an ethical standard that was binding on all people, in all times and in all circumstances.

But the moment an atheist uses the terms good or evil, they are assuming that we are talking about something self evident.

Feeding starving children in the slums of Calcutta = good.

Declaring Jews to be sub human and dedicating your entire nation’s resources to their eradication = bad.

But here is where the one who denies the existence of God, who believes that all of reality is the result of a purposeless accident gets “hoist by their own petard”.

Why?

The atheist believes that man is ultimately the measure of all things and that nothing in and of itself is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

So how does an atheist respond when men differ in their views of good and evil?

Generally speaking, the average American wolfing down Cheetos while watching a commercial appeal for the starving in India thinks that helping such unfortunates is a good thing.

But a committed Hindu in India believes that such people suffer because of misdeeds in a past life. To help these children would doom them to return in the next life and go through the same experience again.

If good is only in the eye of the beholder, who is right?

Nowadays most of us believe that racism is wrong. But 70 years ago the notion that certain races were more advanced in their evolutionary development was not only taught in most universities, but was the driving force behind Hitler’s vision of a “Master Race”.

Who was right? Who was wrong?

If there are no absolute truths that exist above and beyond the realm of human opinion, then the prevailing morality is only the result of power games.

And the only difference between our morality and Nazi-ism is that Hitler lost a war.

I saw a story in this morning’s New York Times about an upcoming ad campaign by a group of atheists.

Subways in the Big Apple will carry this poster beginning next week.

An atheist ad will run in dozen subway stations in Manhattan for a month starting on Oct. 26.
A few questions for what bills itself as “The Coalition of Reason” that sponsors the ad:
What do you mean when you use the word “good”?
What gives you the authority to suggest your definition of goodness would be a good thing for anyone else?
And if what you believe is true –
that we are all a big cosmic accident
an accidental co-location of atoms
that ultimately no heroism,
no altruism,
no passion
can prevent everything we have,
everything we have learned,
everything we have achieved
and everything we are
to end up in a dark and lifeless junk heap of a universe that is devoid of energy and life –
Here is the ultimate question every atheist must ask –
“Why bother?”
But there is an alternative to this recipe for confusion and despair.
A man named Asaph who lived nearly 1,000 years before Christ faced a crisis of faith.
Oppressive and immoral people were not only not being punished, but actually turning a profit in their lifestyle.
Asaph wrote:

And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.

Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.

Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works. (Psalm 73:11-28)

Those who know God have a reason not to cave in and join the ranks of the cynical or the self deluded.

Why do what’s right?

Because God is watching.

And sooner than we can imagine, the One Who defines goodness will balance the books.

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