Atheism and Freedom

Jean-Paul Sartre the famous French atheist and novelist wrote a lot about freedom. As an existentialist philosopher, he celebrated raw freedom, and the ability to choose, regardless of what is chosen. Indeed, he once wrote that we are “condemned to be free”.

My intention is not to write about Sartre here, but about a 21-year-old girl. And even with her, she simply serves as a foil to my larger concerns about the issue of atheism and freedom. And the only reason this young woman is being highlighted here is because another person asked me for my thoughts on her.

I will not spend much time on the gal – I know nothing about her except for her confessional piece about her rejection of her Christian upbringing and her embrace of atheism. The article makes it all rather sensational: “The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist Shares Her Story”.

Well, to be honest, I am not sure if I ever heard of this noted apologist. And her story is not particularly notable either. My first response was: “So what?” Kids rejecting the faith of their fathers is nothing new. And just as many kids could likely be found rejecting their parent’s atheism and embracing Christianity. Happens all the time.

So let me briefly speak to Rachael Slick and her story, and then move on to the bigger picture. She grew up in a strong Christian family, but eventually turned on that upbringing. She rounds off her story with these words of defiance:

“Eventually I worked up the courage to announce my choice on Facebook — which generated its own share of controversy. I’m fairly certain I broke my mother’s heart. Many people accused me of simply going through a rebellious stage and that I would come around soon. Countless people prayed for me. I don’t know how my dad reacted to my deconversion; I haven’t spoken to him since I left home.

“There was no miracle to cure me of the fear and pain, no God to turn to for comfort. But it did heal. Eventually. I only barely fear Hell now, and my instinct to pray only turns up on rare occasions. For a while now, I’ve been educating myself in science, a world far more uncertain than the one I left, but also far more honest.

“Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything. My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is — freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful. Freedom is my God now, and I love this one a thousand times more than I ever loved the last one.”

Hey, she is 21. She may think she has fully figured out life, the universe, God and all the rest, but she actually has a bit of a way to go to comprehend everything, and be in a position to rule out with certainty the existence of God. But I would agree with one thing here – there is no question she is primarily acting in rebellion.

She is rebelling against her Christian upbringing. Again, I know nothing about her family, and we only have her account to go on here. But it seems clear from what she has written that she is now rebelling against her upbringing. And that means she must also rebel against God as well.

She is young, and hopefully if she is genuinely seeking, she may learn more about life, reality and truth. If she is indeed on a search she may one day return to a God she now too cavalierly and without proper warrant rejects.

And notice what she especially relishes, what her new god is: freedom. As she says, “freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure.”

In other words, she is relishing the fact that she has cast off all restraints, rejected all boundaries, spat upon all restrictions, and embraced radical freedom. The sad truth is however, she is living a life of illusion. There is no such thing as perfect freedom.

Indeed, to seek to cast off all yokes and contemptuously reject all limitations simply puts one in new and even far worse bondage. We in fact live in a moral universe which has built-in limitations. Seeking to pretend those boundaries do not exist does not mean they are not there.

And a life full of such rejection of absolutes (for that is what she is in fact rejecting here) means she will not be able to properly enjoy life at all. No one can enjoy a game of chess in a rule-free world. It is exactly because there are rules, boundaries, and restrictions that a game like chess is so enjoyable.

Cast off the boundaries and you no longer have chess. That is true for all of life. We are designed to live in a world full of boundaries and restrictions, and our real freedom comes in acknowledging and fitting in with those restrictions. Rejecting them does not mean freedom – it means greater bondage.

Biblically speaking there was only one person who thought he was completely free: the prodigal son. Yet all his freedom in the end meant was that he had the whole pigsty to himself. You are welcome to it bud – that does not sound like real life to me.

God has designed us to flourish, to be truly free, and to be fully alive, when we are in relationship with him. To reject our creatureliness means we are rejecting everything that is for our own good. We are rejecting our king, and thus relegating ourselves to a life of poverty, distress and despair.

Indeed, life becomes nothing more than gross absurdity – the very thing the atheist existentialists kept speaking about and writing about. Life becomes a mega-prison, an horrific bondage. No wonder Sartre entitled another one of his novels, No Exit.

C. S. Lewis was one long-time atheist who slowly but finally woke up to these realities. As he put it in Mere Christianity, “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves…invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

The desire to be happy and to be free apart from God is simply a pipedream. It is an illusion and a fantasy. It simply cannot happen that way. Lewis again: “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

The freedom of atheism is nothing but the prison of a man who thinks he is somehow the centre of the universe. But he can never be, so his longings and movements to this end must forever be frustrated. It is the story of Sisyphus all over again.

No wonder fellow atheist and existentialist Albert Camus could pen a novel with the title, The Myth of Sisyphus. Seeking real freedom, purpose and joy apart from God means to try to push the boulder up the mountain over and over and over again.

This is simply man in rebellion against God. Instead of finding a way out of the dilemma of human existence, the atheist simply digs himself ever further into the pit. The futility of Sisyphus is the futility of the atheist. Lewis again nails it: “A creature revolting against a creator is revolting against the source of his own powers–including even his power to revolt…It is like the scent of a flower trying to destroy the flower.”

We are all rebels in revolt against God. Some are more blatant in their admission of this than others. Whether the elderly Sartre shaking his fist at God, or the young 21-year-old relishing her new-found but illusory freedom, every one of us must come back down to earth – or up to heaven really – and face our maker.

Fallen and rebellious mankind does not need mere reformation. He does not need self-improvement. As Lewis says, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” Our choice is to submit to God, and find real freedom, or seek to be free from God, and find real bondage.

There are no other options available to us. God will still be God, regardless of our choices. And he will still be glorified, despite our rebellion. Says Lewis: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

So we can pray for young Rachael. She thinks she is so free now. She is instead living in utter darkness and utter bondage. But when you are blind, you often do not know you are blind. When you are in bondage, you often do not know you are in bondage.

Pray that the scales from her eyes will fall away, and that she will see the truth that right now all she has is the entire pigsty all to herself.

[1628 words]

18 Replies to “Atheism and Freedom”

  1. It’s similar to D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ comment, “The back-slidden Christian is of all people most miserable.”

    Mick Koster.

  2. She said “I only barely fear Hell now”. Can an atheist believe in Hell? I’m not sure she is totally gone.

    John Bennett

  3. Wonderful post Bill. As you mentioned, Rachael is young in life. God willing, her choices will give her ample opportunity to contemplate the results of her rebel freedom down the track. Sometimes those who are so strident in the ‘wisdom’ of their youth are the most passionate for God once they experience the ‘fruit of their folly’. We certainly pray that is the case for her.

    Your post made me dig out some notes I have kept from a favourite book. A Canadian pastor Brian Watt penned it called, “Treasure in the Field”. Although I know Brian would not claim these as his own thoughts but borrowed from elsewhere. Shared below:-

    “Irrespective of whether we rebel or submit, God’s laws are universally applicable and cannot be broken. Man cannot break God’s laws; those laws always break the man who tries to defy them.

    Jumping off a high building does not break the law of gravity. It merely illustrates it. The principle applies in the spiritual realm too. The very sins that we commit have a built in breaking mechanism designed to show the folly of our ways, and push us back to God.

    Jesus was not proscribing a set of laws but describing how life is and how it works. The punishment for not heeding is not imposed, but exposed. Break these laws, principles and attitudes and you get broken. If the way of the kingdom is difficult, the way of the opposite is impossible.

    Human nature is basically allergic to sin. Evil is an attempt to ‘live life against itself’, and it cannot be done. So evil is not only bad – it’s stupid. Sin is slow or fast suicide, but it is suicide.”

    Jamie Bowman

  4. Jamie Bowman, you are so on the money here. I grew up in outrageous rebellion against my father, because I thought he hated me. I discovered later he didn’t. So I joined the hippie scene and directly stood against everything my father stood for. When I was 25 Jesus showed up with His love, and I couldn’t resist, as I was imploding, as all must who shake their fist in God’s face, even though I didn’t realise I was doing this. I am now 64 and a grandfather, and every year I live I see things so much clearer. Our beautiful 3yr old granddaughter can lie. She is so sweet and loving and innocent, but she has this problem we all share – sin. Father God has the medicine for this problem, but it ain’t going to always go down sweet. It will cost me my all, as purchasing release from my sin cost Jesus His all. But where else can I go to find this incredible love? Who am I, that the God of all the earth, should look at me with love? But He does. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully comprehend this. Praise God for His inestimable gift!

    Ian Brearley

  5. The story made me think of Augustine. Augustine had a very checkered youth despite being raised by a devoutly Christian mother. He eventually returned to Christianity and became very influential in the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy – who knows what may still happen to this girl?

    Freedom is not freedom if the devil has you in his clutches….

    “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

    Jo Deller

  6. Freedom is only a concept, a gift, not a person who can love and save you, and then give you that gift. The truth will set us free, the truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Himself. I pray she will see that, but know I am only adding my prayers to those of her family. God is faithful, he will answer those.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  7. The ten commandments and the loving of God with all your heart can hardly be considered as Bondage. Live a normal life under these rules and having regard for the well being of others under these advices is simply the way to a good and satisfying life. Observing none of these is simply a way to disaster and an empty life. “Sleeping around” a misnomer if ever their was one is gratification of the body, possibly the brain but definitely not the spirit. Murder of the unborn is merely an illusionary expedient based on some perceived loss of freedom. Robbing someone else is in real life simply cheating on your fellow human and given time will certainly place you in Bondage.
    Not loving God in the spirit “for he is in the spirit so you have to talk the same language” will certainly place you under Bondage to what Satan has to offer in this world and that is only for a very short time. Atheists to me are people that cannot see the truth yet search every which way they can trying to disprove what they don’t understand. Like termites in a mound only those that venture beyond its confines know the beauty of a greater existence whereas Inside those that are trapped by it’s illusionary safety and self made construction rely on a science that only discovers what already exists then denies all else they can’t understand.
    Dennis Newland

  8. We do not know how much bondage she was under by a Pharisaic spirit which is present in many Christian churches. If there is no heart to love God and obey out of love then the load of laws can be unbearable. Even the unseen little rules like: you must stand up to sing, you must not kneel even though the hymn says ‘we kneel’, you must tithe even though the NT does not push it, you cannot play sport on Sundays, you must hang around and wait for Mum after the service – even if you have no friends. All these things can be a real burden for the teenager.
    Jesus had a real battle with the Pharisees part of which we now see as micromanagement. Christian institutions and churches can often put Mammon ahead of God, the institution ahead of the individual, and performance ahead of participation in worship. So much time is spent getting the lights right and the sound loud and the computer organised that the person with the broken and contrite heart is ignored.
    Yes, she has made the wrong choice but we should listen to this girl and wake up.
    Rob Merrells

  9. Thanks Rob

    Yes there are plenty of churches and parents which could have done a better job. And you are right to say we just don’t know what her actual background was. Yet you seem to assume she was raised in some Pharisaical hellhole. Why do you assume that? We only have her side of the story after all.

    I find it odd that we should defend sinners and justify atheism. The truth is, Jesus never told anyone: “Well, poor you, you had a rough childhood, therefore you do not need to repent and be saved”. And when we stand before the judgment seat we will not have one lousy excuse to offer, be it ‘science and the Bible conflict’ or whatever.\

    So as I said, we must certainly pray for her. But she is an adult and she has freely chosen to reject God, embrace atheism and sexual promiscuity. There is no reason for any Christian to defend that or make excuses for it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Hello Bill
    Good article. I agree with your views and like you I say So What? God has laid out the choices: narrow gate or wide gate, you choose. People turn away from the gospel everyday and plenty more discover God’s grace as well. Just because Ms Slick was brought up in a Christian household it doesn’t guarantee her salvation. She is young and rebellious but I pray she and many more others will come back to Christ while there is time. Prayers for you Bill.
    Pita Lino

  11. Rachel’s words describing her childhood give the reasons behind her rebellion. Words like Hell, ‘obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure’, would indicate an upbringing heavy on Law and short on Grace. Learning the rules of the ‘Good Christian Life’ and dealing with the constant condemnation, rather than developing a love relationship with Jesus appears to be what she is rebelling against.
    Having just read the full story it is no wonder she has rebelled.
    Pray that she meets Aslan by the name that He is known in this world.
    John Churchward

  12. Thanks John

    Sorry but I am not quite with you here. The very words and concepts she seems to hate so much (and for some strange reason you too) are the very ones Jesus used over and over again. He talked about hell more than anyone else; he emphasised the need for repentance constantly; he always spoke about obedience, with love of Him measured in how we obey Him; he spoke frequently of submitting to the Father’s will; etc. Of course the world hates those things.

    To reject Jesus and his clear teachings, shaking one’s fist at God, is just not something a believer can defend. But I speak to this more fully here:

    Plus she also told us her real reason for her rebellion – so she could fornicate freely without remorse. Why would any Christian want to justify that?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Isn’t having to continually indulge in fornication of any sort the real Bondage? Will you find the real you through this pursuit? If you live within the two commandments given by Jesus to Love your God with all your heart believe me he will love you more. And if you care for your neighbour (others in this world) as you would your-self then you will never fail against any other commandment.
    Is this what you call submission? Is this condemnation? Jesus did not condemn albeit he spoke openly against the Hypocrisy of those perceiving themselves to be righteous and above the crowd, Just as Obama rails against the killings in Syria yet refuses to remove the beam in his own eye when he commits billions to the abortion industry. Does his continual freedom to say and do what he likes with blatant hypocrisy make him a better person? Only in the mind of a fool.
    This girl is living in a body wherein is housed the holy spirit. The things of this world are not the things of the spirit. Consider this. If your spirit remains silenced and trapped in that physical realm for five hundred or a thousand years or even more what satisfaction will you get year after year trapped in the very limited pursuits of this physical world never to see or be part of the true glory of Gods infinite creation?
    I believe this is why our God changed the Longevity of the human race from almost a thousand years to a maximum of one hundred and twenty.
    And when Satan offered all the powers of the world to Jesus in a moment of time, seriously what did he have to offer except extreme long term boredom in his very limited realm?
    Jesus also said man cannot live by bread alone and being condemned to an eternity of fornication and so called freedom under Satan’s laws is exactly that. Why would you not follow Gods ways when there is so much more to come?
    Saint Augustine once said Faith is to believe what we cannot see. And the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.
    Dennis Newland

  14. From reading her story I sense that she has rebelled against the ‘god of the winning argument’ or ‘god of the correct apologetic’. (J.B. Phillips – Your God is too Small’) This god was her father’s god who sounds like he loved her most when she won the theological argument. This was never going to be adequate for the real world on her own. This is not to justify her rebellion but to recognise it’s source.
    The Prodigal’s journey did not end in the pigsty, but was the point where he realised what he had lost in his rebellion. We are not told how long the journey took or how long the Father had waited. But the Father welcomed him with open arms and kissed him.
    The real tragedy of that story is the older brother who did not call him ‘my brother’ but ‘this fornicating son of yours…’. Both sons failed in their realtionship and understanding of their father.
    Nicodemus after 60 years in the system of the temple cultus was told ‘You must be born again’ Why? Because for all his years in the system he had missed the point. He failed to recognise that it was not ‘sacrifice and offerings’ but ‘a broken and contrite heart’ that was required. That requires a love relationship with the Father. This is foundational and demonstrated in the life we then live.
    John Churchward

  15. Thanks again John

    Yes but… You say, “This is not to justify her rebellion but to recognise it’s source”. Sorry, I still disagree. You think a lousy home and church life was the ‘source’ of her turning away from God. No, the actual ‘source’ was her sin, rebellion and selfishness. She simply blames these other factors for her rejection of God. As Christians we must always affirm the biblical truth that we are morally responsible for our own actions, and we freely choose to sin.

    While there may be extenuating circumstances that can be raised, and which we may want to blame our choices on, the buck still always ends with us. Making excuses for our sin will never allow us to be restored to a love relationship with the Father – that is, be forgiven and cleansed by the work of Christ on our behalf. It is only when the sinner acknowledges his or her sin, and stops trying to justify it, that they can avail themselves of God’s grace and salvation.

    And as I said several times now, we have only her version of events to go on here. She might be lying about all this, or distorting the facts considerably. So I fail to see why some believers want to keep leaping to her defence. She has freely chosen to reject God, and she even tells us it was in part to make her fornication more guilt-free. Why in the world should any believer seek to defend all that?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Bill, you’re absolutely right. If you know something to be absolutely right and true, then circumstances don’t change that. Even if the world were to end tomorrow, it wouldn’t change the fact of what Jesus did on the cross for this girl.

    Even out of her own mouth it can be seen that she wanted her sin if she objected to the biblical principle of thinking righteous thoughts (Philippians 4:8) amongst other things.

    When a person makes the decision to want to ponder upon evil, they will then follow those thoughts with actions eventually. For this reason God calls us to love him with our whole being, including our mind. If we try to just do the “do”s whilst sinning in our minds and hearts, we truly do become nothing more than white-washed tombs.

    Mario Del Giudice

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