If God indeed exists and has made us in his image, then it should be not in the least surprising that we have an incurable longing for eternity in our hearts, that we find a search for transcendence everywhere, and that everyone appears to have a religious side to them.
As C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
So even those who scream that there is no God also have the need to discover something more than a life of mere materialism. Even they seek to transcend the mundane world they find themselves in. While shaking their fists at God, they give the game away by imitating religion.
I have already written about atheists who just can’t get enough of religion, so they are now holding their own atheist Sunday services. I kid you not. See here for an Australian example of this silliness: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/04/the-first-church-of-atheism/
But such pagan worship services seem to be spreading. Now we even hear about “atheist megachurches” spreading throughout the West. With just a hundred people or so, I am not sure that “megachurch” is an accurate title, but it does reflect this growing trend of pagans meeting together on Sundays to celebrate their non-belief.
Of course they are in fact believers: they believe in themselves, and see self as the centre of the universe, and worth worshipping. In a world in which God really does exist, all men are worshippers, as all men must have a god to latch on to. So if it is not the living God of the Bible, any number of fake gods are generated instead, including self.
As Chesterton is said to have written (but the exact source remains elusive), “When Man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.” Or a variation thereof: “When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.”
So to find atheists holding counterfeit church services is not all that surprising, at least from a biblical point of view. Here is how one write-up goes about this:
“It looks like a typical Sunday morning at any megachurch, except there’s one thing missing – God. Sunday Assembly, Britain’s atheist church, is a gathering for the non-believers and it’s making its way to Australia. Nearly three dozen gatherings nicknamed ‘atheist mega-churches’ by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the US and Australia – with more to come – after finding success in Great Britain at the beginning of the year.
“And the movement, fueled by social media and led by prominent British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, is no joke. ‘The Sunday Assembly has been called the atheist church, but we prefer to think of it as all the best bits of church but with no religion and awesome songs,’ Jones told ABC. ‘Our motto is “live better, help often and wonder more”, and our mission is to help everyone live this one life as fully as possible. I am at the moment doing this phone call from Nashville, Tennessee, and we are launching a Sunday Assembly in the buckle of the Bible Belt.’
“The faithless faith doesn’t have a doctrine to rely on, instead taking reference from the arts and nature. About 100 people turn up for each assembly. A typical service includes inspirational talks, readings and sing-alongs and always finishes with tea and cake. Melbourne has already hosted five Sunday Assemblies.”
Obviously all these fake church services do is make it clear just how untenable the atheist position is. We all know that there is more to life than the material or physical. We have a sense of needing something more, and we are all on a search for meaning and purpose – including beyond the grave.
These universal longings make perfect sense in the Judeo-Christian worldview, but make no sense whatsoever in the atheist worldview. Recently Jerry Newcombe had a piece on this matter as well. He begins: “There’s an old joke that says: How do you describe an atheist at his funeral? ‘All dressed up with no place to go.’ Now, all jokes aside, there is a place atheists can go on Sundays. There’s a new type of ‘atheist church’ that has been founded by a couple from England, and apparently it’s taking off.”
He continues, “The services consist of singing secular songs, inspirational talks, and times of reflection. Basically, it’s religion without God. It’s a free country, because of our Judeo-Christian base (and that of England), so the atheists are free to assemble or not, just as anyone else is. Only in nations tied to a Christian base does that freedom exist. (It certainly didn’t exist in the Soviet Union, which was based on atheism.)
“But why accept a cheap imitation when you can get the real thing, possibly down the street? . . . The idea of atheists going to church brings home to me the notion that we are all hard-wired by the Creator to worship. We all worship something. According to the Bible, we’ll ultimately either worship Jesus, or we’ll worship something less; we’ll worship the creature rather than the Creator.
“The 17th century French mathematician and Christian apologist, Blaise Pascal, said there’s a God-shaped vacuum in every heart, just waiting to be filled. The Bible says God created us, and we will give an account before Him one day. In the fourth century, St. Augustine wrote in his classic book, Confessions, ‘You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You’.”
Of course our theologically liberal and/or theologically vacuous Christian churches are little different to the atheist variety: “I remember years ago when an atheist acquaintance told me he loved to watch a certain preacher on TV every week. He loved his sermons because they were filled with motivation, goal-setting, uplifting stories. If the preacher mentioned God, the atheist would just edit that out, in his mind.
“Unfortunately, many Christian churches have unwittingly done the same, removing essential tenets of the Christian faith. It’s sad to think that in some of our Sunday assemblies of professing Christians, there is no longer an emphasis on Christ’s atoning death for sinners and His resurrection from the dead. But that is the heart of the Christian message—from Day One to the present. Note the ancient creed, still repeated in many churches to this day: ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’ In one sense, a ‘cross-less Christianity’ makes just as much sense as an ‘atheist church’.”
It is likely the TV preacher mentioned above was Robert Schuller, but of course it could equally be somebody like Joel Osteen. Both have watered down the gospel message into a mushy, therapeutic, feel-good bit of humanist porridge. No wonder atheists are comfortable with it. And when atheists even like your stuff, then you know the real gospel is not being proclaimed.
But let the atheists do their thing. However it is all rather silly, sad, and pointless. It is a bit like holding weekly fake feasts, comprised of sticks and rocks, while just down the road the real deal is taking place, full of sumptuous fare with plenty to go around.
As Lewis put it: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
And far too easily deceived as well it seems.