Beware of Apatheism!
With apologies to Richard Dawkins, the New Atheists are old news. But we’ve got a bigger problem. You remember them, don’t you? Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris? These so-called “New Atheists” drew crowds with their bombastic and occasionally clever attacks on God and theism. For a while their books were best sellers, “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great,” for example. But as atheist and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson recently wrote, “The world appears to be tiring of the New Atheism movement.” However, that’s not necessarily good news. Writing in The Public Discourse, Paul Rowan Brian and Ben Sixsmith warn of something even more insidious than atheism. Apatheism—that is, answering the “God question” with a shoulder shrug and a calm, “Whatever.” Brian and Sixsmith write, “With roots in the practical atheism and deism of the Enlightenment, ‘apatheism’ is embodied in French philosopher Denis Diderot’s famous remark that ‘it is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.’” They cite K. Robert Beshears of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who says the West suffers from an “unholy trinity of apatheism”: a lack of reason to believe, supposedly because of science; a lack of motivation to believe, because someone else will worry about it; and a lack of will to believe, because religion “is just too much drama.” The statistics suggest that they’re onto something. We’ve talked about the troubling “rise of the unaffiliated,” with 33 percent of twenty-somethings identifying as non-religious, or “nones.” If we’re tempted to say, “So what?”—maybe we’re part of the problem! You see, under the New Atheism, people were at least wrestling with the big issues of life and death. Now, too many of us can’t be bothered. All this brings to mind Jesus’ warning to the lukewarm, apatheistic church in Laodicea—that He was about to spit them out of His mouth. So what to do about the New Apatheism? Many people don’t care about God because they don’t find Him compellingly beautiful, the summum bonum of human existence, as our Christian forebears did. They have no idea that this God is actively at work in history, and that we are part of His grand story. Why is that? Perhaps we’re not very good at telling them the Christian story because we don’t know it that well ourselves. John Stonestreet often points this out when he speaks at colleges and churches: We Christians too often fail to see how we ourselves fit into God’s grand narrative of the universe—from its beginning to its fulfillment when Christ returns and establishes a new heaven and a new earth. I can recommend two easy-to-read, compelling books that can help you understand and better articulate that Grand Story. They are “The Story of Reality,” by Greg Koukl, and “God’s Story in 66 Verses,” by my BreakPoint colleague Stan Guthrie. We have them at our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org. Then there’s this: Perhaps because we don’t quite believe God and His amazing plan for our lives, we fail to live it consistently before a watching world. When the prophet Isaiah entered the temple, he was overcome with a vision of the Lord, exalted and seated high on His throne, with the angelic beings calling out, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” And you know what happened to Paul when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Who could be apatheistic after that? How many visitors to our churches encounter the Risen Christ? Let’s face it—maybe they don’t because we’ve lost our first love and our holy fear of God, who promises to judge the living and the dead. May the Lord Jesus give us a fresh, world-changing vision of Himself—and may He give us the grace to lead others to His throne.