Dear Atheist

“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.” — Hunter S. Thompson

“Don’t you love Jesus?’ Well, I thought an’ I thought an’ finally I says, ‘No, I don’t know nobody name’ Jesus. I know a bunch of stories, but I only love people.”  — John Steinbeck

There is something really appealing about discarding religion. What, after all, is the point of orienting your life, limiting your choices, around a fairy tale? And what could it be but a fairy tale, all this talk of gods and heaven? Haven’t people spun a thousand deities to explain the inexplicable? A god for blazing comets, for the rare and creepy eclipse, a god for messy birth and haunting death and crack of lightning? You could sit up late night after night, drive yourself mad with The Big Questions, prod into suffering and origins and eternal destiny, and not answer any of it to your satisfaction.

Or you could flip a switch, turn it off. Live, instead, for today, for pleasures that can be physically felt and successes that can be financially measured. Love the people you love and be done with the ones you don’t. Be practical. Be down to earth. Be free.

But the questions still nag, if you are a thinking sort of person. How did we get here and where are we going? What tripped the trigger that ignited the Big Bang, and how can biology explain laughter, or love? So once in a while, maybe after a few glasses of wine or when the power goes out, you ponder. You pull out the biographies of great people and consider what pushed them, what claims they made of Truth and Beauty.

Maybe, like Holden Caulfield, you wish, just sometimes, that you could pray.

“I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it. I can’t always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.”  — J.D. Salinger

It’s tough to pray when you’re pretty sure nobody’s listening. But if nobody is listening, if we’re floating in the void? Then it’s hard to sleep at all.

So maybe your thoughts turn to that rare handful of people who claimed a corner on truth, claimed to know the ways of God. What did they really know? There’s Buddha, Mohammed, Moses with his burning bush. There’s even a handful of nutjobs who thought they were God. Take Jesus. What can you make of him?

“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.” — Napoléon Bonaparte

“If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?” — Kurt Vonnegut

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” — C.S. Lewis

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 8.49.31 PMYou’d like to say with Vonnegut that it doesn’t really matter whether he was divine, but  if he wasn’t, then he’s nuts, and if he was, well, then you’d have to deal with that. So you play with the idea. If God did come down to walk among us, what would that look like? What would you expect? Probably some pomp and circumstance, right? Some bling, mind-bending miracles? And you’d look for wisdom, of course, for justice, for kindness. The world wouldn’t just keep spinning, oblivious, would it? Wouldn’t there be judgment and power and Kingdom Come?

Jesus? Well, you can see the wisdom, the kindness, and if tales are true, a sprinkling of miracles. But no power to speak of. No grand entrance. Kind of a lowly fellow for a god.

“The world takes us to a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, “This is love.” God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.”  — Joshua Harris

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery.” — Brennan Manning

If Jesus was a god, if he was God Himself, he certainly had a strange way of showing it. No big shazam. No thunderbolts of doom. And you have to admit, that kind of love, if that’s what it was, is almost incomprehensible. From creator to crucified? From all-powerful to penniless? The whole story is epic and haunting and strange.

In point of fact, you don’t like to think about it, and if the power would just come back on, you’d watch Netflix instead. But sometimes you wonder.

einstein-albert-classroom-blackboard-professor“I couldn’t get Him out of my head. Still can’t. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him.” — Yann Martel

“I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus.” — Albert Einstein

There’s something appealing about that man, something that all the other morally upright and mystical people just don’t have. You don’t get the sense that he’d rather hang out on a mountaintop all day, unhinged from reality. You don’t get the sense that if he could he’d smite his enemies and laugh like a lunatic. If there is a God, holding power that loosely? Inviting worship without compelling it? Well, that’s the kind of god you’d like to have.

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” — Francis Chan

And so you swill that last bit of cabernet and stare into the fireplace. The godless life works fine, mostly, and no doubt you can do what you want when you want to. But it surely would be something to know real love. It would be nice to grapple with a truth that’s big enough for all of the questions you throw at it. And if there is an answer to all the hows and whys, it would be better to know than not to… wouldn’t it?

“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny. I came amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has 330 million deities. I remain with Him knowing that truth cannot be all-inclusive.” — Ravi Zacharias

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” — Timothy J. Keller

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life…” — John Paul II

“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come Lord Jesus.” — Frederick Buechner

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3 thoughts on “Dear Atheist”

  1. Excellent discussion…I guess most of us know people who might find your ideas food for thought, but many of them are so busy running from God that they’ll never see this. Sad. Thanks, Ms. Morgan!

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