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Christ and the Contention of the Atheist

by Joel Smith

Psalms 14:1-1

Part of Series: Jesus Among Other Gods
Wellspring Community Church 03.24.02

[Sermons in this series: Christ and the Sword of Muhammad; Christ and the Empty Mirror of Buddha; Christ and the Karma of the Hindu; Christ and the Contention of the Atheist; Christ and Me]

Big Idea: There’s no basis for morality, no purpose in pain, no reason for existence, and no hope for the future if there’s no God.

Much of this sermon is based on points found in Ravi Zacharias’ book, Can Man Live Without God.
If you’ve been paying attention you might ask why today’s message is even a part of this series,
“Jesus Among Other Gods.” After all, how can you compare Jesus to an absence of God?
Atheism isn’t a religion, is it? You might be surprise to see how closely it fits within the framework of religion.
Let’s start by defining terms first. What is atheism?
Atheism is the active denial of the existence of God.
The definition hints at the religious nature of atheism. Atheism is a denial of God. It is the denial of the Absolute. In making the statement “There is no God,” however, you’ve just spoken an absolute claim of there being no God. In essence, the contention of the atheist becomes his or her God. The active denial of God’s existence is the operating principle of that person’s life. Their absolute affirmation of “No God” is the faith system upon which they make their choices. You could argue that atheism is a religion without a god. It is based on an absolute claim that there is “no God” and that contention brings its own life philosophy to the atheist.

Still, you may ask, “So what?” “We’re sitting in a church on a Sunday morning.” “Surely no one here is an atheist.” I think you’re wrong.
We probably do have one or two. I bet we’ve got a number who are struggling with issues of faith. I hope that today’s message will lead you to abolish forever the thought that there’s no God.

But I do want to press the issue a bit further. My guess is that most everyone here has some belief in God, yet more and more people who profess faith are living and thinking as if they’re “practical atheists.” A practical atheist is one who may confess the existence of God, but lives in such a way as to deny his existence. Both confessed atheism and practical atheism have terrible consequences for the individual and the societies that uphold them.

Before we look at those consequences, I want to demonstrate the logical fallacy of atheism. If you assert that there is no God, you are saying “I conclude that there is no infinite God and I’ve arrived at this conclusion out of my infinite knowledge.” You may say, “Wait, humans don’t have infinite knowledge!” True, but to actively deny the existence of an infinite God implies that you have infinite knowledge. How else could you know? Surely a finite creature, limited in its knowledge wouldn’t claim there’s no infinite God. But that’s exactly what happens. Human beings with limited knowledge of the universe make the claim that there’s no God. You cannot logically make that claim unless you have all knowledge. The contention of the atheist is self-defeating, in and of itself. Maybe that’s why the Bible declares:

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

It is utter foolishness for a finite creature to claim infinite knowledge about lack of existence of an infinite God. What’s even more foolish is trying to live out atheism. If you take the belief system to its inevitable conclusions, it is unlivable.


Because atheism denies the existence of an Absolute God, it hand in hand denies absolute truth. “No God” means …
1. No basis for morality!

Where do we get our standards of right and wrong? For that matter, why do we even sense a need for justice? Let me suggest that an Absolute God, who is himself absolute truth, created us in his image. We have an innate sense of justice even if we only want it for ourselves.

Atheism destroys the very foundation of justice. Morality is up for grabs when the belief in an absolute standard from and Absolute standard-giver is undermined. This is why the Psalmist wrote:

“The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3 (NLT)

It’s impossible to live in a world with no definitive right and wrong. How can you be righteous if there is no right? You can’t. So how do atheists determine right and wrong? Let’s look at some of the more prominent atheistic thinkers:

… Darwin, who reduced morals to an extension of animal instincts; Freud, who regarded repression of impulses as the source of neurosis; Marx, who disdained morality as an expression of self-interest.
Charles Colson, Christianity Today, March 7, 1994, p. 80

I think Ernest Hemingway was more honest in his evaluation of morality. He said: “What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” Hemingway could say it but he couldn’t live it. He ended his own life with a shotgun blast to the head. Atheism provides no basis for a moral foundation.

Although most Americans claim to be religious, that is they claim to believe in an absolute God of some kind, most live and believe as practical atheists. A recent survey by George Barna disclose some shocking results. Barna wanted to see how American’s opinions had changed after 9/11. He surmised that Americans would finally begin differentiating between right and wrong because the terrorist actions of the preceding months could only be described as evil. Reason no longer works in our culture.

At the start of 2000, almost four out of ten adults (38%) said that there are absolute moral truths that do not change according to the circumstances. When the same question was asked in the just-completed survey, the result was that just two out of ten adults (22%) claimed to believe in the existence of absolute moral truth.
Interestingly, when people were further queried as to the source of the principles or standards on which they base their moral and ethical decisions, the post-attack survey discovered that only one out of eight adults - just 13% - cited the Bible. The most common sources of guidance regarding moral decisions trusted by Americans are feelings (25%) and the lessons and values they remember from their parents (14%).

Quote taken from “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11” found at

This practical atheism that has taken root in America is dangerous ground. The Bible makes this observation:

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy. Proverbs 29:18 (NLT)

Wouldn’t you agree that we live in a nation of dissatisfied people who are running wild? Incidents of the coming chaos are popping up more and more frequently.

… fourteen-year-old Rod Matthews represents the most horrible extreme. Uninterested in baseball or books, Rod found one thing that did stimulate him: death. His curiosity was intensely aroused by a rental video, Faces of Death, a collage of film clips of people dying violently. He wanted to see death happen in real life. So one winter day Rod lured a young friend into the woods and hammered him to death with a baseball bat. At Matthews’s trial a child psychiatrist testified that the boy was not conventionally insane. He just “doesn’t know right from wrong...He is morally handicapped.”

Against the Night, Charles Colson, pp. 21-22

This is serious business because a nation in moral decay is also a nation in disintegration.

In Charles Swindoll’s book, The Quest for Character (Multnomah), “sociologist and historian Carle Zimmerman, in his 1947 book Family and Civilization, recorded his keen observations as he compared the disintegration of various cultures with the parallel decline of family life in those cultures. Eight specific patterns of domestic behavior typified the downward spiral of each culture Zimmerman studied: Marriage loses its frequently broken by divorce; traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost; feminist movements abound; there is increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general; an acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity and rebellion occurs; there is refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities; a growing desire for, and acceptance of, adultery is evident; there is increasing interest in, and spread of, sexual perversions and sex-related crimes.”

Confident Living, November 1987, p. 34

Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has attributed the fall of the Empire to:1. The rapid increase of divorce; the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society. 2. Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace. 3. The mad craze for pleasure; sports becoming every year more exciting and more brutal. 4. The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within, the decadence of the people. 5. The decay of religion—faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.

The declaration “no God” promises freedom from God’s standards. In the end it leads to injustice, cruelty and greater bondage. Several nations tried the contention of the atheist. When the idea of “no God” took root in their political systems the results were Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao. Democracy has preserved us to some extent, but we’re on the same path as those nations. The practical atheism of America is producing Hitler’s dream. At the Auschwitz death camp there is a plaque on the containing these words from the Fuhrer himself:

I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality. …We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.

Adolph Hitler posted at Auschwitz quoted in Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias, p. 23

The contention of the atheist also fails in point number two:

2. No purpose for pain!

One of the great struggles of humanity has been to address the issue of pain. Atheism does not and cannot answer this question. Pain has no purpose because there is no sovereign God controlling the events of human history. Rather than look for an answer, look for an anesthetic. Don’t spend your time searching for purpose. Instead reach for the painkiller.

When all is said and done neither atheism nor practical atheism can answer the issue of pain and suffering. Professor Wilfred McClay of Tulane University attended the funeral of a young woman officiated by a pastor who failed at the same point as atheism. He writes:

Where the rest of us had been stunned into reflective silence, awed and chastened by this reminder of the slender thread by which our lives hang, the minister had other things in mind … He did not try to comfort her family and friends. Nor did he challenge us to remember the hard words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.” Instead, he smoothly launched into a well-oiled tirade against the misplaced priorities of our society, in which millions of dollars were being poured into “Star Wars” research while young women such as this one were being allowed to die on the operating table.
That was all this minister had to say. His eulogy was, in effect, a pitch for less federal spending on defense and more spending on the development of medical technology … The only thing omitted was an injunction that we write our Congressman, or Ralph Nader, about this outrage.

I could hardly believe my ears … Leave aside the eulogy’s unspeakable vulgarity and its unintentional cruelty to the woman’s family. Leave aside the flabby and cliché quality of language and speech. Leave aside the self-satisfied tone of easy moral outrage … Leave aside the fashionable opinions … I am willing to concede, for the sake of argument, that the minister may have been right in everything he said. All of these considerations are beside the point. Nothing can alter the fact that he failed us, failed her, and failed his calling by squandering a precious moment for the sake of a second-rate stump speech, and by forcing us to hold our sorrows back in the privacy of our hearts, at the very moment it needed common expression.
That moment can never be recovered.
Nothing that religion does is more important than equipping us to endure life’s passages by helping us find meaning in pain and loss. With meaning, many things are bearable, but our eulogist did not know how to give it to us. All he had to offer were his political desiderata.
For my own part, I left that funeral more shaken and unsteady than before. Part of my distress arose from frustration that my deepest thoughts (and those of many around me, as I later discovered) were so completely unechoed in this ceremony and in these words. But another part of my distress must have stemmed from a dark foreboding that I was witnessing another kind of malpractice, and another kind of death.
Dr. Wilfred McClay quoted in “Can Man Live Without God” by Ravi Zacharias, pp. 46-47

Because of the nature of today’s message, I don’t have time to expound on the purpose of pain except to tell you that it has a purpose. Actually it has various purposes under God’s control. I’ll suffice it to share with you the opinion of one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, a man who experienced tremendous personal lose and pain: he wrote

We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Closely related to atheism’s inability to answer the problem of pain, it also gives …

3. No reason for existence!

If there is no God and the evolutionists are right, you and I are the products of blind chance. We are cosmic flukes of the Big Bang. We are no more than the complex evolution of those single-celled organisms that emerged out of the primordial soup billions and billions of years ago. Our existence has no significance at all. Our accomplishments will be food for worms one day just like us. Even if some trace of our life does survive it’ll be burned up when our sun expand into a super nova. If humanity is lucky enough to escape this solar system the whole universe will eventually collapse in on itself into a space the size of a period on a page. So what’s the point? We’d do just as well to concur with the pessimistic author of Ecclesiastes who moaned:

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “utterly meaningless!” …Generations come and go, but nothing really changes. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. We don’t remember what happened in those former times. And in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now. Ecclesiastes 1:2, 4, 9, 11 (NLT)

This is where you must arrive without God. Life is meaningless.

Mark Twain expressed similar thoughts about the meaningless of life in view of man’s inevitable death. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;...they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; ...those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,...a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

George Bernard Shaw is perhaps most renowned as a free thinker and liberal philosopher. In his last writings we read, “The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, led, instead, directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

He lost his faith in atheism because it leads to the inevitable conclusion that existence is meaningless.

Finally, the contention of the atheist offers …

4. No hope for the future!

Can you live with the prospect that this life is it? Many people can, but I really don’t see how an theist with integrity could avoid suicide. If life is just this painful, meaningless existence without hope, why not put yourself out of misery?

Instead, atheist and practical atheists do the next best thing:

If there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and get drunk, for tomorrow we die!” 1 Corinthians 15:32 (NLT)

There’s no basis for morality, no purpose in pain, no reason for existence, and no hope for the future if there’s no God.

The contention of the atheist is logically unsustainable and realistically unlivable. English journalist Steve Turner, in a work entitled, “Creed” sums it up pretty well:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and
after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes,
UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same –
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s
compulsory heaven for all
except perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians are sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

Postscript, “Chance”:

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb blasts school!

It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

Steve Turner, “Creed” and “Chance”
quoted in Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias, pp. 42-44

by Joel Smith

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