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“Ricky, Don't Lose His Number"

Tom Flannery
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Tom Flannery writes for a newspaper in Pennsylvania.  His opinion pieces have appeared in publications such as Newsday, The Los Angeles Times, MovieGuide, and WorldNetDaily.  He has won numerous awards, including the Eric Breindel Award for Outstanding Opinion Journalism from News Corp/The New York Post and past Amy Awards.  He is author of the book “1939: The Year in Movies,” and an essay he wrote on Hollywood was included in the book “The Culture-Wise Family” by Ted Baehr and Pat Boone.  He has also hosted television and radio programs, and he teaches a weekly Bible Study.

“And thank you to God for making me an atheist.”


With those words, Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais closed the program last Sunday night.  No surprise there.  Gervais is what might be called an evangelical atheist, someone who not only embraces atheism for himself but works to convert the noncommitted and compel the recantation of those who claim to be believers.  In this, he is no different than most other prominent atheists of our time.


Which raises a simple question —  Why?


If God doesn’t exist, and you truly believe that, why spend so much of your life trying to convince everyone else of it?  If you don’t believe in unicorns, you don’t spend your life trying to prove unicorns don’t exist.  In fact, you don’t waste even a few seconds on it.


This is especially true when you realize that it’s impossible to prove a universal negative — a little understood fact (at least by atheists) which makes atheism an irrational viewpoint.  It is perfectly plausible for someone to say he is an agnostic, that he does not believe that God exists;  it is not the least bit plausible for someone to say definitively that God does not exist.  To legitimately be able to make such a claim, a person would have to actually be God and to know all things.


So why do they do it?  Well, the Bible says it’s because there are no atheists.  Not really, anyway.  Yes, many profess atheism and always have, but deep down inside they know that God exists.  Yet they want no part of Him.  Their “unbelief” is really a willful rejection of God and all that affirming His existence would mean to their lives.


In this regard, contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel spoke for most unbelievers (at least the honest ones) when he said:  “I want atheism to be true....I don’t want there to be a God.  I don’t want the universe to be like that.”


God tells us in His Word that He has clearly revealed Himself to all mankind.  Psalm 19:1 states that “the heavens declare the glory of God.”  We can look up into the sky and see His handiwork — the extraordinary beauty, synchronized order, and mind-boggling complexity of the universe itself proclaims it incontrovertibly.


Romans 1 says much the same thing, and also instructs us that atheists “suppress the known truth of God by their wickedness” (verse 18).   The fact that they choose to profess atheism isn’t enough for them;  they want everyone else to do the same, to banish God as far from their thoughts as possible.


But Ecclesiastes says God has put eternity in the hearts of man, and it cannot be stamped out.  Mankind has a sensus divinitatis, an innate sense of the divine, as human history has borne out.


Therefore, to try to explain away enduring worldwide religious faith, professed atheists have come up with two primary responses.  The first is that believers are just stupid.  Richard Dawkins has proposed that atheists be addressed as “The Brights” because they are so intellectually superior to believers in their reverence (showing awe and wonder) for the creatures of the world as our supposed ancestors (Darwinian evolution).


Scripture answered this arrogant assault some 2,000 years ago:  “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1).


Secondly, atheists claim that believers are motivated by emotional and psychological factors to adopt a theistic worldview while they follow science and reason.


Dawkins has said believers are delusional; Bill Maher has posited that religious belief is a mental disorder.  Yet Jim Spiegel, a philosophy professor at Taylor University and author of The Making of an Atheist (subtitle:  “How Immorality Leads to Unbelief”) argues they have it backward.


He cites historian Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals which details that some of the most celebrated thinkers in the modern period (Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, Sartre) were moral wrecks in their private and often their public lives.


Spiegel writes:  “We all suffer from intellectual blind spots created by personal vices and immoral desires.  To the extent that we succumb to these, we may be tempted to adopt perspectives that enable us to rationalize perverse behavior.”


All believers struggle with sin.  Atheists unconditionally surrender to it, and the resulting persistent rejection of Christ over time darkens their minds and sears their consciences (Eph. 4; 1 Tim. 4).  So what they had known, and certainly could know of God, is lost.


Spiegel also cites the research of New York University psychologist Paul Vitz, a onetime atheist.  In his book Faith of the Fatherless (subtitle:  “The Psychology of Atheism”), Vitz documents how the major atheists of the modern period all had a broken relationship with their father.  Conversely, for the great theists during the same period it was precisely the opposite.


Spiegel points out that “at the least, this shows that there are moral and psychological dimensions to atheism, ones we cannot ignore.  At most, it strongly suggests that atheists can be self-deceived, driven by a motivated bias to disbelieve in God.”


So as for Ricky Gervais’ remark about God making him an atheist, it’s not at all true.  Gervais did that all by himself.  The good news is that many atheists have not only converted to Christianity through the centuries, but have then gone on to become some of the greatest champions of the faith —C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, etc..  In his new book The Rage Against God (subtitle:  “How Atheism Led Me to Faith”), Peter Hitchens recounts his own journey from burning a Bible on his school campus as a teenager to defending the faith today from attacks by his brother Christopher and all of the other New Atheists.


Gervais should hang on to God’s phone number for future reference.  It’s 9-1-1 — Psalm 91:1, that is:  “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  It might come in handy someday.


Printed January 26, 2011; The Carbondale News; Carbondale, PA.

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