Although atheist “churches” have been around for quite some time, various news outlets have been spotlighting them recently, so I thought I’d offer a few observations and comments.
BBC News reports on the atheist Sunday morning service:
The theme of the morning is “wonder” – a reaction, explains Jones, to criticism that atheists lack a sense of it.
So we bow our heads for two minutes of contemplation about the miracle of life and, in his closing sermon, Jones speaks about how the death of his mother influenced his own spiritual journey and determination to get the most out of every second, aware that life is all too brief and nothing comes after it.
The audience – overwhelmingly young, white and middle class – appear excited to be part of something new and speak of the void they felt on a Sunday morning when they decided to abandon their Christian faith. Few actively identify themselves as atheists.
[A]ttendee, Gintare Karalyte, says: “I think people need that sense of connectedness because everyone is so singular right now, and to be part of something, and to feel like you are part of something. That’s what people are craving in the world.”
There is an ironic inconsistency here, and it floors me that the atheist leaders and participants are (apparently) oblivious to it. They are working to manufacture meaning, virtues, and values—but by definition, meaning, virtues, and values cannot exist if God does not exist. Be careful to understand exactly what I’m saying here. To be sure, individuals can have subjective ideas about meaning, virtues, and values, but without an ultimate standard for all, each person can arbitrarily make up their own and no one is in a position to say that ANY of them are real. So, atheists can gather together to celebrate whatever ideas and opinions they wish, but they cannot claim that those ideas and opinions are based on truth. Yet, their behavior implies that they believe in things like objective meaning, virtues and values, despite the fact that they have no grounding for them whatsoever. It can only be about what they like or what they dislike. For example, an atheist in a non-Western country may place a high value on genocide while an American atheist might value total pacifism toward fellow man. Without God, neither view can be called correct, for there is no transcendent law by which to judge. The atheist cannot even support their fundamental value judgment that atheism is better than theism.
Human beings all have a sense that there is something greater than the individual self; that is what drives the “craving” mentioned by the atheist service attendee (above). People are indeed desperate to fill a void in their soul, and everyone attempts to fill it in some way or another. I’ve observed this my entire life, and I’ve personally lived through failed attempts to draw life meaning from people and things that were incapable of providing it to any satisfactory extent. The atheist “church” movement is just one more exercise in futility. They actively deny God in their vain quest for the things only God can provide. They may fool themselves into a sense of satisfaction, but deep down, they will continue to thirst.
I think Dr. William Lane Craig articulates the situation quite well in his monologue, “The Absurdity of Life Without God”:
If death stands with open arms at the end of life’s trail, then what is the goal of life? Is it all for nothing? Is there no reason for life? And what of the universe? Is it utterly pointless? If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space the answer must be, yes—it is pointless. There is no goal no purpose for the universe. The litter of a dead universe will just go on expanding and expanding—forever.
And what of man? Is there no purpose at all for the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday lost in the oblivion of an indifferent universe?
What is true of mankind as a whole is true of each of us individually: we are here to no purpose. If there is no God, then our life is not qualitatively different from that of a dog. As the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes put it: “The fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All come from the dust and all return to the dust” (Eccles 3:19-20). In this book, which reads more like a piece of modern existentialist literature than a book of the Bible, the writer shows the futility of pleasure, wealth, education, political fame, and honor in a life doomed to end in death. His verdict? “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). If life ends at the grave, then we have no ultimate purpose for living.
There are only two logically coherent options here:
1) Acceptance of the utter meaninglessness of the universe and of life, recognizing that there are no such things as objective value, virtues, purpose, or morality. Mankind and the universe are merely cosmic accidents that will eventually cease to exist. The end.
2) Recognition that God exists, therefore there is transcendent meaning in the world, and objective values and morality exist. Our life has purpose and the way we live matters–for eternity.
So, atheists can organize together and rant against religious faith. Their evangelists can gleefully crow about how they escaped religion and how they want to help mankind “break free of the shackles” of theistic belief—but they dwell, tragically, on the wrong side of the dungeon wall.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
—Jesus, John 8:32