Religious people are part of a vast majority. Statistically, 93% of the world’s population believe in some kind of religious reality. Only 7% of the people in the world are atheists, or people who believe in no god, gods, or any divine entity.
In the United States, the figure is higher with 10% of the population describing themselves as atheists. An atheist has a perfect right to be such.
Among the atheists, there’s a particular subculture that I would describe as “evangelical atheists.” An evangelist is one who is committed to spreading the word about one’s beliefs and, in many cases, attempts to win people over to their way of thinking and doing.
In 2 Timothy 4:5 the Apostle Paul instructed young Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist,” that is, to spread the news about being reconciled to God through Christ and to establish gatherings of like-minded believers. There is a point and a purpose to Christian evangelism.
I’m still trying to grasp why an atheist would care what I do or do not believe. And most atheists that I have engaged over the years do not care. They are perfectly happy for me to believe (or not believe) whatever I want as long as I show the same courtesy to them if they are left alone.
But there’s that other type of atheist — the evangelical atheist who has the mission of convincing religious people that there is no higher being than mankind, that there is no one listening to prayers, and that there is no life beyond the present one. Why do they care what I think and believe, especially if I do not try to win them over to my way of thinking?
I have some understanding why Communists are historically evangelical atheists. They insist that the state is that which should rule one’s life and thoughts, so no competing ideology is allowed. Nazism came to a similar conclusion and God and religion were cast aside and Hitler and Nazism were to take their place. In North Korea, the present “Dear Leader,” his father, and grandfather, are held up as near to deity as one can get. No room for religion there either.
But in a free society, it is not that way. In a free society, people are free to believe, or to not believe, in any religion or in none at all. In my encounters with evangelical atheists, which occurs mostly on social media, I have found near total intolerance for religious beliefs and for those who hold them. And while most atheists I know are kind people who believe that I am mistaken in my personal beliefs, the evangelical atheists are rude, intolerant, mocking, and often very denigrating.
These folks remind me of the kid in school who, not believing in Santa Claus, got a wicked pleasure in telling the other kids that Santa didn’t exist. It was as though they couldn’t stand the excitement and hope that the Santa-believing children exhibited during the Christmas season.
I somewhat understand that child who chooses to be cruel to others about their beliefs — he’s a child, after all — but why do evangelical atheists even care what others believe? If someone thinks that I am deluded, deceived, deranged, or just plain dumb, what is that to them?
Christians believe that they are under a mandate to share the “Good News,” the “Evangel.” The evangelical Christians (and I am not talking about political beliefs or political party affiliations) believe that when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life — no one comes to the Father except through me,” he literally meant it.
Thus, other religions are untrue and lead people astray. So, the motivation is to help, not to harm, to bring hope and peace — it is to rescue, if you will. And, yes, some people can be pushy and obnoxious.
But again, why does an evangelical atheist give one whit what religions people believe? If the atheists are correct and there is no God, no heaven, no hell, no reuniting with lost loved ones — if they are correct that when you’re dead, you’re dead and that we simply cease to exist, then why try to cajole or shame me into becoming “more enlightened?”
If they are right, then when I die, then it doesn’t matter. But I have still lived a life of faith, of hope, of community with other believers, and I have, hopefully, been a better person because of those beliefs and relationships. I have lived a life where misdeeds, mistakes, and sins can be forgiven and even redeemed for good, and I have lived a life believing that a caring and loving Father never let me out of his sight and declared me to be in right-standing with him. And if all the answers to prayer that I have seen and experienced in my lifetime are merely “coincidences,” then that has enriched, not robbed me, of a life well lived. I have lost nothing, and I have gained tremendously by being a person of faith.
On the other hand, if I am not wrong — if I am not deluded, deceived, deranged, or dumb — if God is real, if Jesus is who he claimed to be, then my life does have ultimate meaning, all things have worked together for good, and life does not end at the grave but, in truth, is the beginning of a future beyond my comprehension. And, if I am not wrong, then the evangelical atheist is in for a big surprise.
I have been fortunate in that I have always believed in God. I have not had to struggle with whether God is or isn’t. Oh, I have had arguments with God, have complained to him about how he has allowed some unhappy events to occur — but even when my faith has been at a very low ebb and my actions were less than honorable, I have always believed.
When I came to a place when I no longer believed in Santa, I chose not to rob my brother, who is nine years younger, of that childhood pleasure. Besides, there really is a Saint Nicholas. He was the Christian Bishop of Myra during the time of the Roman Empire. He died at the age of 73 in 343 AD. Because of the many answers to his prayers of intercession, he was also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker.
So, believe or disbelieve what you will. A passage in the Bible says, “I have set before you life and death … choose life and live.” My choice is made. I choose life.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but the church is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]