Why are Atheists so Angry?

By Robin Schumacher

In a debate that recently occurred between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Alex Rosenberg on the topic "Is Faith in God Reasonable" [1], it took Dr. Rosenberg about ten seconds to start insulting his opponent. In fact, much of his opening monologue contained belittling content that many debate reviewers found unnecessary and out of place at such an event.

By contrast, Dr. Craig used the time given for his initial statements to lay out eight reasons why faith in God was indeed reasonable, using both logical syllogisms and other evidential and historical arguments. Never once did he refer to Dr. Rosenberg in a disdainful way, but rather he quoted directly from his opponent's book multiple times to showcase Rosenberg's extreme positions on scientism and naturalism, which supported Craig's arguments.

Why do such things happen? Why do atheists like Rosenberg choose to not only disagree but be disagreeable in the manner with which they interact with those who believe in God?

In such cases, we see the words of Ravi Zacharias ringing true over and over again: "Is it not odd that whenever it has power [or a platform], liberalism is anything but liberal, both in the area of religion and politics?" [2]

Intolerance in the Age of Tolerance

Let's face it, arguments and disagreements happen every minute of every day, and sometimes those conflicts can get heated. Invite opposing political party spokespersons to a syndicated news program, and it isn't long before tempers flare, insults are traded, and others' ideas get maligned.

Further, we should be honest and admit that Christians are guilty far too many times of being discourteous to non-Christians and committing the error James wrote about long ago: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be" (James 3:9-10). [3]

But still, whether a person is a Christian, member of another faith, or atheist, no one argues that our society today encourages us to respect everyone's beliefs and be "tolerant" of worldviews that may or may not agree with our own.

Strangely enough, though, the spirit of tolerance that is supposedly such an integral part of the philosophical pluralism that pervades our culture hasn't found its way into the new atheist movement. Instead, what we find is a haughty swagger, disappointing misrepresentations, and a snarky vocabulary for any who dare to profess faith in God.

We hear atheist Bill Maher say, "We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. . . . I think that religion stops people from thinking . . . . I think religion is a neurological disorder . . . . I am just embarrassed that it has been taken over by people like evangelicals, by people who do not believe in science and rationality." [4]

The mischaracterization of Christians not being scientific or rational thinkers is also seen in a Huffington Post article where writer Rob Brooks states: "As it becomes clearer that religion is, in some senses, the opposite of rational thinking, we may have to shed the comfort of 'I'm OK, you're OK' ideas". [5] If you're a Christian, then by Brooks standards, you must not be OK.

We see Richard Dawkins tell the world that the difference between Christians and atheists is that, "Well, we're bright." [6] That same spirit of intellectual superiority is highlighted in a 2012 speech Dawkins gave where, speaking of those who believe in God, he encouraged his atheist listeners to "Mock them, ridicule them in public." [7] Dawkins also bemoans the thought that all children are open to "infection" by religion, which is a virus and a "warped reality". [8]

Speaking of reality, new atheist billboards appearing this month in San Diego, CA proclaim how unbelievers have a "personal relationship with reality." [9] The obvious message is that anyone who's not an atheist is out of touch with reality. What do we call people like that? As one atheist I dialoged with last year said when I asked him, "clinically crazy".

It seems we're at a point in society that G. K. Chesterton once described:
"You are free in our time to say that God does not exist. You are free to say that He does exist but He is evil. You are free to say like some poor satirists that He would like to exist if He could. You may talk of God as a mystification or a metaphor. You may boil him down with gallons of long words or boil him to the rags of metaphysics, and it is not merely that no one punishes you for it, but nobody protests. But if you speak of God as a thing like a tiger—as a reason for changing one's conduct—then the modern world will stop you somehow if it can. We are long past talking about whether an unbeliever should be punished for being irreverent; it is now thought irreverent to be a believer." [10]
Why does the atheist feel this way? Is it because they care deeply and passionately for what they believe is the truth? That they mistakenly believe that "religion poisons everything" as Christopher Hitchens is famous for saying, and that religion is responsible for the majority of violence in the world? [11]

Or is it something else?

The Root Cause

Doug Wilson, who debated the late Hitchens on multiple occasions, said that many atheists have two declarations: (1) There is no God; (2) I hate Him. [12]

This attitude, as well as the condescension some atheists show Christians, is nothing new. When the Apostle Paul encountered the atheists of his day in Athens, they threw insults at him and referred to the Apostle literally as a "seed picker" (Acts 17:18), which means a scavenger bird. The Greek term conveys a pejorative imagery of persons whose communication lacks sophistication. What's the root cause of such insulting hostility? In Psalm 2:1-3, we see David reveal the reason why unbelievers have such aggression against God and His people: "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!'" (emphasis added).

The Hebrew term translated "fetters" means "bonds" with the root word meaning "to imprison someone". "Cords" simply refer to ropes, and is synonymous with the previous term where binding and restricting a person is concerned.

The Psalmist says that people rage against God (note that the fury is directed at the Father and the Son) because they think He restricts them and interferes with what they want to do. Thus, God is viewed as oppressive and is rejected as an authority and ruler over their lives.

The same spirit is seen throughout the gospels in the rejection of Jesus.

Trace the coming of Jesus, for example, through the gospel of Matthew. Jesus appears on the scene and immediately offers the kingdom of Heaven (which is God's rule among humankind). God's kingdom continues to be repeatedly offered until its formal rejection in chapter 12.

Jesus then pronounces judgment. Plain teaching is replaced by parables, which are the exact opposite of today's "sermon illustration". Many of these parables speak about Christ's kingdom being rejected by the world (e.g. Matthew 21:33-43), with the end result being: "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits" (Matthew 21:43).

Even at the end the age, the Bible says that humankind opposes Jesus down to the bitter end: "And I saw [the antichrist] and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against [Christ] who was sitting on the horse and against his army" (Revelation 19:19).

We see God being constantly rejected in both the Old and New Testaments, with the clear message delivered to the Creator being: "We do not want this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14). This happens because God threatens people's autonomy.

Atheist philosophers such as Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger have correctly observed that if God is sovereign, then humanity cannot be. Sartre, in particular, believed that only by rejecting God can humankind experience real freedom and true morality. [13]

Today, secularists reject the Bible as being a standard of ethical authority (with misrepresentations galore), consistently calling the God of the Old Testament a moral monster, and replacing the Christian ethical foundation with their own emotive-driven and subjective moral framework. They will determine how they will live and what they will do, and any challenge to that position is met with a strong backlash.

This is the root of the rage we see directed today toward God and Christians. As the world resists Jesus, His moral law, and His rule, it opposes those who follow Him in the same way: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:18-20).

Hope for the "Rageful"

A lot of people don't know that atheist Christopher Hitchens has a brother named Peter, who is an English newsman and author. Brought up in the same environment as his brother, Peter Hitchens describes how he initially felt about God in his book The Rage Against God in a chapter entitled "The Generation Who Were Too Clever to Believe": "I knew that there was no God, that the Old Testament was a gruesome series of atrocity stories and fairy tales, while the gospels where a laughable invention used to defraud the simple." [14]

But today? Hitchens is an outspoken Christian and defender of the faith. How did he change?

The route Hitchens and many others take is very similar. A person must first be intellectually honest with themselves and ask why they have the confrontational spirit they do where God is concerned. Authors Jon Hinkson and Greg Ganssle write that they often say to students, "Let me tell you why, if the biblical story is true, you will hear it threateningly, and why you ought to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to that very reaction." [15]

There's a natural rebellion in all of us that rejects God because all of us are born with sin (Romans 5:12). But as God draws the unbeliever to Himself, one of the incredible truths He reveals is that the supposed freedom we all so desperately seek and the autonomy we desire is actually a slavery to sin.
"If ever there is a genuine paradox to be found in Holy Writ, it is at the point of freedom and bondage. The paradox is this: When one seeks to rebel from God, he gains only bondage. When he becomes a slave to God, he becomes free. Liberty is found in obedience. The Anglican poet John Donne understood this when he wrote in a sonnet, 'Except you enthrall me, never shall I be free.'" — R. C. Sproul [16]
This makes sense when we see that one understands what Jesus says in John 8:32, "The truth shall set you free". The reverse is also true—error binds you.

When you come to Christ and surrender your declaration of autonomy to His will, the fury that was once in your heart, disappears. Afterwards, the freedom you experience from the punishment of sin is the most intoxicating thing you will ever experience.

If you haven't received Christ yet and experienced His truth and liberty, why not do that today? Lose the rage and anger and let something much better fill your heart.

[1] William Lane Craig vs. Alex Rosenberg: Is Faith in God Reasonable? Debate
[2] Ravi Zacharias on "Evicting the Sacred" at Christmas
[3] The examples, sadly, are numerous (e.g. Westboro Baptist church, etc.)
[4] Bill Maher: Christians Have Neurological Disorder
[5] Analytic Thinking Erodes Religious Belief by Rob Brooks
[6] Religion Must Be Destroyed, Atheist Alliance Declares by Matt Purple
[7] Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious by Lillian Kwon
[8] Root of All Evil? Part 2: The Virus of Faith by Richard Dawkins
[9] New Atheist Billboard in San Diego Urges 'Personal Relationship With Reality' by Stoyan Zaimov
[10] Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton: Plays and Chesterton on Shaw by Gilbert Keith Chesterton, p. 474
[11] See my post here that shows how incorrect this thinking is: The Myth of Religion being the #1 Cause of War
[12] Doug Wilson, Sexuality by Design, Lecture 1.
[13] R. C. Sproul, If There's a God, Why Are There Atheists? (Ligonier Ministries, 1997), pg. 137.
[14] Hitchens, The Rage Against God, pg. 18.
[15] Hinkson, J., Ganssle, G. 2000. "Epistemology at the Core of Postmodernism: Rorty, Foucault, and the Gospel" in Telling the Truth, Evangelizing Postmoderns, D. A. Carson, general editor, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pg. 87.
[16] Sproul, 142.

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Published 3-14-13