Some time back, I was involved with in a discussion with an atheist friend who tried to make the point that Christians as a group are some of the most immoral people they knew. Those weren’t the exact words but that’s a good approximation of the gist of what he said. It got me thinking.
Did he really mean that? Or was this a piece of hyperbole thrown out in frustration? Personally, I don’t get it. Yes, I know so-called Christians that do not represent Christ well. (I’m sure that I don’t sometimes.) But does atheism produce Mother Teresa’s? Does atheism produce Rich Mullins’s (who though he could have been filthy rich), was living on $25,000 a year and poured all of his music royalties into an Indian reservation in Arizona? Does Atheism produce Amy Carmichael’s (started dozens of orphanages all over India and served there without furlough for 58 years?) Does atheism produce more admirable, altruistic citizens of the planet than theism and Christianity? I don’t think so.
We become what we worship and the preponderance of evidence is that atheism, with notable exceptions, tends to produce many more, shall we say, less-than-safe citizens of the planet. My friend mentioned the Crusades, an admitted black mark against the Church and Christianity, but I would argue that they happened precisely because the church had lost the Bible and was not being guided by the teachings of Christ. On the other hand, the atheistic societies of China, the Soviet Union, and Cambodia killed millions and millions as a direct application of their godless worldview.
In A.D. 133 Aristeides, a teacher of philosophy presented a defense of Christianity to the emperor, Hadrian. Here’s his record of what the teaching of Christ was producing:
“Now the Christians, O King . . . have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself engraven on their hearts, and they observe, looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. They commit neither adultery nor fornication; nor do they bear false witness. They do not deny a deposit, nor covet other men’s goods; they honor father and mother, and love their neighbors; they give right judgment; and they do not worship idols in the form of man. They do not unto others that which they would not have done unto themselves. They comfort such as wrong them, and make friends of them. They labor to do good to their enemies . . . As for their servants or handmaids, or their children if any of them has any, they persuade them to become Christians for the love that they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them without distinction ‘brethren.’
”They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hath distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as if it were their own brother; for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God. . . .
And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”
cited in John Piper’s A Godward Life, page 303-304.
Does atheism produce such people? Does atheism aim to produce such people? The church does. People who follow the example of Jesus do. Yes, the church fails, sometimes fails miserably. But the point is, she succeeds far more often than does atheism and atheism doesn’t even aim at the target. Christianity and every church that I have helped to plant over the last 20 years (well over 250 that I have worked with) aims to produce exactly what Aristides told Hadrain.
“So,” I said to my young friend, “I will hold on to Christ, even with all the answers I don’t have, because he and the church that he founded is the world’s greatest hope and the best thing that ever happened to the world.”