Atheism is a Healthy Part of Faith in God

Atheism is a Healthy Part of Faith in God

Over a century ago, Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is dead.”  If anything, this line is more true today, for are at least three reasons:

  1. The violence of the 20th Century swallowed the loving God who was supposedly steering our world with or without human cooperation.  If such a God existed, something as unspeakably evil as the Holocaust could never have happened.
  2. The success of modern science replaced the God who supernaturally intervenes.  If God was constantly interrupting natural processes, science wouldn’t be able to function without accounting for divine action.  Yet scientists still assign no variable to the free agency of God, and that hasn’t stopped them from giving us an astonishing degree of understanding and control over our world.
  3. Modern history and immigration has trampled the God confined to Christianity.  Historians show us that the Bible is thoroughly bathed in its cultural context.  Historians also force us to face the dark side of our Tradition: its crusades, its participation in oppression.  Further, in today’s pluralistic world we have the opportunity to meet people of other religions who live more honest, moral lives than most Christians.

It has become harder and harder to protect the familiar box in which Christians used to keep God.  Many young people experience this in college; when their faith in God shatters upon contact with the realities of our modern world.  For me, it came during the cold, dreary month of December when I poured myself into atheism.

What if this is a healthy step of faith – not necessarily the end?

Through scripture, worship, and preaching, Christians proclaim that we believe in an infinite God, a God beyond human understanding.  We say that God is uncontainable, yet we attempt to contain God in a conceptual box, a religious text, a creed, a past event.  This is idolatry, and John Calvin was right when he wrote that the human mind is a factory of idols.

Much of “Christian apologetics” (including the arguments for the existence of God) are devoted to protecting this precious idol – the one we name “God.”  These thinkers try continuously to fit a more-than-rational God into a rational universe.  And who can blame them?  As the ancients knew, life is less threatening when you have a reasonably-sized god to fit neatly into your back pocket.

Atheism is in the business of smashing these idols.  It reveals that the tiny gods we cling to probably don’t exist anyway.

Atheism is a crucial ally to anyone interested in the infinite because any box for God can only be a casket.

Christians should not be afraid of the modern death of God.  We must pass through the darkness of Good Friday to reach the light of Easter Sunday.  According to Christian theologian Paul Tillich, atheism frees us from the idols of theism.  Now – finally – we can transcend them both towards a truly infinite God who is engaged through (but not contained in) our finite world.

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