Everyday Atheism

How are you living like an atheist?

How are you living like an atheist?

Psalms 10

10 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. 3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. 4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” 5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. 6 He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” 7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. 8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. 10 The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. 11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” 12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. 13 Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? 14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. 15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. 16 The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. 17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

This summer Tim Udouj, an elder at the church where I’m a member, preached an excellent sermon on Psalms 10. He made a point which caused the wheels to turn in my heart. Near the end, he said that most people in Ancient near-Eastern culture believed in a god—even if it wasn’t the true God. Yet The Psalmist reports their thoughts, “There is no God” (v. 4). The point was that their belief in a god didn’t change the way they lived. They were practical atheists.

In May, Eric Metaxas reported on a recent study by ChristianMingle.com (one the largest Christian dating sites). In this study, Christian singles were asked, “‘Would you have sex before marriage?’ sixty-three percent of single Christian respondents answered ‘yes.’”

Metaxs goes on,

That means that the majority of self-professed followers of Jesus looking for love on ChristianMingle and many other websites are, as Luck puts it, practical atheists.

“God,” he writes, “has nothing to say to them on that subject of any consequence, or at least anything meaningful enough to dissuade them from following their own course.”

How easy it is to fall into that trap—to live life practically as if God were irrelevant. That is the  issue of the day Christians must face. We face pressure from the government to divorce our faith from our work. We face pressure from the world to reject God’s norm for sexuality (divorce, homosexuality, fornication, pornography, etc.).

Notice the tell-tale signs of everyday atheism according to the Psalmists. The everday atheist “hotly pursue[s] the poor” (v. 2), “boasts of the desires of his soul . . . greedy for gain” (v. 3), and “in pride” rejects God by not pursuing his will for living (v. 4). We could go on, but the take away is the everyday atheists pursues opportunities for this kind of willful living, encourages others to do the same, and takes advantage of anyone in their path. I want to point out two areas where I see this kind of everyday atheism thrive in our current culture.

First, Christians have rejected God’s revealed will on sexual ethics.

Over the last century, the church has lost its prophetic voice on the issue of sexuality (we could trace this back to other sins of our country like our treatment of the Native Americans or slavery, but we don’t have time).

The result is the crumbling of the surrounding culture. When the church doesn’t speak winsomely on issues like fornication, divorce, marriage, or homosexuality, the families that make up the church suffer and when the families in the church suffer, the surrounding culture suffers. Ryan T. Anderson tackles these results head on in a recent lecture at Standford University (see video below). He answers the question, “What is Marriage?” using natural law, and points out many of the negative consequences of America’s vanishing sexual ethic.

How many Christians disregard God’s revealed will on these topics and compound these societal sins? If the ChristianMingle.com study is an indicator, then the number may be high.

Let’s look at one area—pornography. How many Christians are everyday atheists in this area? More than we care to admit—partly because the church has failed to adequately address the root cause and we aren’t pursuing the heart, as James K. A. Smith argues in Desiring the Kingdom,

I suggest that, on one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry—which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination—is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the (evangelical) church. In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures whose being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they “get it”: they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures—creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret. But meanwhile, the church has been duped by modernity and has bought into a kind of Cartesian model of the human person, wrongly assuming that the heady realm of ideas and beliefs is the core of our being. These are certainly part of being human, but I think they come second to embodied desire. And because of this, the church has been trying to counter the consumer formation of the heart by focusing on the head and missing the target: it’s as if the church is pouring water to put out a fire in our heart.

Pornography isn’t just a private sin. It ruins marriages and families. It deforms our views of women and men. It perverts our sexual expectations for marriage and it plays a role in the sex trafficking industry (supply meet demand).

Also, I should note that part of approaching the topic of sexuality correctly is not sending the dirty rose message. We must not treat sin as if it’s out there, and not in our hearts. We must not treat the church like grandma’s home covered in plastic, instead of a place where sinners can come and eat. But only sinners enter for mercy, not the culturally-OK.

Second, Christians have rejected God’s revealed will in business.

The Psalmists reports the activity of the everyday atheists has a negative impact on the poor, weak, and downtrodden. “The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might” (v. 10). Many are satisfied to pursue their own desires, make money, and step on those who get in the way. Ah, the American Dream.

Many have given little thought to what our business practices says about God and the pressure from the surrounding culture will only make doing this more difficult. How do our business practices help or hurt the poor? Does my business enhance the lives of my workers? Am I treating them with dignity and respect as image bearers of God?

In What’s Best Next, Matt Perman has some excellent guidance in this regard for the business owner and employee. He encourages business owners to treat their employees as people (236-49). He also urges Christians to see the big picture in how we view productivity in that space. For instance, in one chapter, he asks how productive can relieve global hunger. Our business isn’t something we can divorce our faith from. God demands we do business righteously and justly.

On the employee side, Perman says,

“Or at your job, if you haven’t mastered the skills of your job or aren’t seeking to do so, you aren’t serving your employer and coworkers as well as you should . . . . Mediocre work is not Christian! We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We do not serve ourselves incompetently. We should not treat our neighbors—which include our coworkers and employers—this way either. The help we offer has to actually help” (92 see also 99).

These are symptoms of much larger issues in many of the business practices I’ve seen in the workplace. I’ve worked several jobs where employees were encouraged to fudge the truth or save the company money by telling white lies. In my experience, these practices can be all too common and some Christians don’t seriously consider them. You also have much larger issues like fair wages globally and how our greed damages lives for our global partners downplaying the imago dei. And along the way we keep the poor poor. This perpetual poverty allows the Western church to satiate her Savior complex. We do missionary trips, take pictures, give money, but things never change. How is that helping?

An Every Square Inch Faith

Ultimately, Christians I urge you to think long and hard about your faith and the implication for everyday living. Christianity is an every square inch faith—because we serve a King who will settle for nothing less. Don’t be an everyday atheist. Don’t divorce your faith from your sexuality, workplace, family, and friends. Don’t separate faith and critical thinking. Christopher Wright says in Old Testament Ethics for the People of God that how we live shows the God we worship, so a rejection of a Christian ethic is a rejection of God himself. Your daily religion cannot be everyday atheism, while paying lip service to King Jesus. How you live in front of the world matters. How you live is who you actually worship.

11 [The everyday atheist] says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
    he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

12 [But the Church cries out,] “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.”

Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.