That familiar quotation is falsely attributed to Blaise Pascal, but it’s a reasonable paraphrase of what he actually wrote.
It’s true, no matter who put it in those words. Trouble is, sinful man has tried to fill it with something else—anything else—besides God since time immemorial.
What “spiritual” atheists think about God
I recently came across an article that talks about a remarkably high percentage of atheists who nonetheless consider themselves somehow “religious” or “spiritual.” I referred briefly to this article in an earlier post to show that the religious misadventures of a young man named Micah in the book of Judges are still relevant today.
- An atheist in a 12-step program was required to pray to a higher power. So he made up a goddess, gave her a name, and has since gotten great solace from prayer. Her non-existence is one of her comforting attributes.
- Some universities now have secular chaplains
- Some atheist parents have organized something like Sunday school classes for their children.
While no more than a quarter of avowed atheists owned up to any interest in religion to a poll cited in the article, it is not difficult to understand the attraction.
It’s one thing to deny the existence of a supernatural God. It’s something else again to do without the observable effects of prayer, church fellowship, and rituals like Sabbath observance.
The article quotes the director of a secular advocacy group as saying, “That’s a big hole in atheist live. Some atheists are saying, ‘Let’s fill it.’ Others are saying, ‘Let’s not.'”
See the familiar quotation above.
But the article reminds me of a shocking event in 1997. Members of a cult called Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide in order to reach an alien space ship that they supposed was traveling with an approaching comet.
The agnostic colleague in the office next to mine clucked about how some people would fall for any wacky scheme. I answered that advancing secularism had succeeded in marginalizing the “religions of the Book” so much that people who wanted to explore their spiritual side had no where else to turn but falsehood.
He was not persuaded. Then again, he’s Jewish (which is why I didn’t say “Christian”). He can gather all the comfort he wants from participation in rituals that connect him with a tradition that’s thousands of years old. They don’t require him to believe anything.
What God thinks about “spiritual” atheists
In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul wrote,
But you must realise that in the last days the times will be full of danger. Men will become utterly self-centred, greedy for money, full of big words. They will be proud and contemptuous, without any regard for what their parents taught them. They will be utterly lacking in gratitude, purity and normal human affections. They will be men of unscrupulous speech and have no control of themselves. They will be passionate and unprincipled, treacherous, self-willed and conceited, loving all the time what gives them pleasure instead of loving God. They will maintain a facade of “religion”, but their conduct will deny its validity. You must keep clear of people like this. (J.B. Phillips New Testament)
Paul counseled Timothy to keep clear of such people only because his context was keeping false teaching out of the church. Outside of that context, it’s nearly impossible to keep clear of them. They’re everywhere. In church and out.
Look carefully at what kind of times Paul called “full of danger.” Isn’t that what we call normal?
Everyone suffers at the hands of such people, even such people themselves. Society today has the absurd belief that people are basically good. God says no one is good. When confronted with clear evidence that God is correct, society blames society!
Meanwhile, we all have a big hole to fill. A God shaped vacuum. Let’s not kid ourselves: the solace we church people get from our various religious habits do not fill the vacuum. Only God through Jesus can fill it. Giving lip service to God and living like atheists doesn’t work any better than thinking like atheists and trying to cover the hole with a religious facade.
Source: “Some atheists still find solace in prayer” / Michelle Boorstein (Washington Post)
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