[This is the latest of my columns, written for the Community Press newspapers here in the Cincinnati area. Some of the items I mention here I've discussed on the blog before. I nonetheless hope people find the column helpful.]
This may surprise some people, but I have a deep respect for what I call “the authentic atheist.”
As a former atheist myself, I’ve seen that most people who don’t believe in God are caring sorts horrified by the suffering of the human race, especially the suffering caused by humanity’s inhumanity. They’re unable to square these realities with notions of an all-powerful and loving God.
I believe that our horror at human pain and injustice point us to a God Who planted in us notions about love and neighborliness. But I do respect atheists and agnostics who hang their beliefs on their horror at suffering. Whatever deficiencies I may see in their arguments against God, I understand the love of neighbor that so often informs them.
More difficult for me to understand is another sort of atheist, the angry kind. They claim that all of the world’s ills have been caused by faith in God.
To some extent, I suppose, this diagnosis makes sense. Islamists hijack one religion to wreak terror in much of the world and some so-called Christians use Jesus to force their political agendas down others’ throats.
But even when I was an atheist, I knew that Christians who adopt an attitude of domineering moral superiority don’t really represent faith, at least not Christian faith.
What I’ve learned is that most Christians admit their faults, but, grateful for the love of God they believe comes to the world through Jesus Christ, commit themselves to serving others. As Christians serve their neighbor, they help solve the world’s problems, not create them.
I have a feeling that the story of the modestly-sized congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church near Amelia, is representative of the stories of most Christian churches in the world. We’ve adopted serving others in the Name of Jesus as a central component of our life together.
Here are some of the service projects in which we’ve been involved over the last several months: volunteering more than 500-hours in various social service agencies and community projects outside of our congregation; collecting coats for the homeless; gathering food and toiletries for the needy; providing healthy snacks for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Clermont County; collecting items for and then assembling duffel bags for children taken into foster care and distributed by CASA for Clermont Kids!; providing care packages for the elderly in our local nursing homes; sending Christmas shoe boxes filled with toys, toiletries, and practical gifts to impoverished children in far-off countries; enabling World Vision to provide clean drinking water, milk cows, farming help, education, and Biblical instruction to the village of Sinankosi Moyo, the Zimbabwean girl we sponsor; sending money to the victims of disasters from New Orleans to Indonesia; collecting and sending money for use by Lutheran World Relief to feed hungry people; helping to secure funding for a new Habitat for Humanity project happening in New Richmond after the first of the year, a project for which we’ll also provide volunteers; and making our building facilities available to all sorts of community groups and agencies.
We don’t do these things because we’re morally superior people. We believe Jesus is right: only God is good. We do them because we’re forgiven people who want to love and serve others as Christ has loved and served us. We do them because we’re grateful to God. And we do them because we want to be authentic Christians, imperfect but forgiven people who roll up our sleeves and love the world God loves.
Maybe if some of today’s angry atheists spent one month in the worship services and service activities of the average Christian church around the corner, they might not change their minds about God, but at least they’d see that faith in God isn’t a bad thing.
[THANKS TO: Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit for linking to this post.]
[THANKS TO: READER_IAM for linking to this post and for making a whole lot of sense in a great piece titled, "On My Oath, This is Nonsense."]
[MY TAKE ON the Keith Ellison-swearing-on-the-Koran dust-up is here.]