For the Love of God, Volume 2/August 11

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 223 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 2


1 Samuel 1; Romans 1; Jeremiah 39; Psalm 13—14

A FRIEND OF MINE ONCE GAVE a university evangelistic address under the title, “Atheists Are Fools and Agnostics Are Cowards.” Needless to say, he drew a considerable crowd, even if the crowd was pretty hostile. Whether or not this was the tactically wise thing to do in that setting may, I suppose, be debated. What should not be debated is that my friend was being faithful to Scripture: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). Indeed, if anything, the text of Scripture is stronger than the English suggests. The word rendered “fool” is in Hebrew a term of moral opprobrium suggesting perversity, churlish and aggressive perversity. Paul certainly understood the point: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). After all, “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Rom. 1:19); and “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28). The Bible’s view is that in the last analysis atheism is less the product of misguided searching, a kind of intellectual mistake, than a defiant and stubborn rebellion.

The fact that atheism is not widely seen that way is itself an index of our depravity. In fact, the best-informed atheists commonly acknowledge the connection between morality and belief, between immorality and unbelief. There is a famous passage in Huxley that acknowledges that one of the driving forces behind atheistic naturalism is the desire to tear away any sort of moral condemnation of otherwise condemned behavior. In a passage scarcely less famous, Michel Foucault, one of the theoreticians behind postmodernism, frankly acknowledges that it became important for him to destroy traditional notions of truth and morality because he wished to justify his own sexual conduct. A few years ago, Foucault died of AIDS.

We must not misapply this text. Within the framework of their own presuppositions, there are many honest atheists. But the framework itself is wrong. That framework is never established by a single individual. It is built up piece by piece until certain beliefs are culturally possible, then probable, then almost inevitable—and each generation, each individual, has contributed to this massive rebellion, this lust for autonomy that refuses to recognize the rights of our Maker and our obligations to him. Atheism becomes not simply an individual choice but a social degeneracy. The ultimate result is the sweeping condemnation of Psalm 14:2-3. Compare Romans 3:10-18: sin is not merely ubiquitous but universal, and results in massive social damage (Psalm 14:4-6). At the end of the day, there is no help but in the Lord (14:7).

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