Weeks ago I published part one of this mini-series. Here’s part two, the final part. Just to re-cap: part one showed the Bible’s claim that, apart from being Christian, we are all atheists. Atheism is not to be brushed off as irrlevant for Christians – it’s a category we should have great interest in, as well as compassion.
If all non-Christians are atheist (without God), that leaves one group to discuss: Christians. Guess what. Christians are atheist, too.
In the second century, a Christian philosopher called Justin wrote to the emperor (and a whole bunch of Roman addressees) to defend Christianity (‘those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them’). The text is here.
Justin mentions the existence of philosophers who taught atheism. Christians are not like these.
Justin then mentions the activity of evil demons who lead people on into wickedness. These were then called gods. Socrates himself decried such divinities, Justin claims. And Christians decry them as well.
in obedience to Him [Jesus], we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.
The accusation then levelled at Christians: you are atheist. And Justin agrees.
Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity.
‘Yes, we are atheists. Not in relation to the one true God – but concerning the abundance of false gods in this world.’
Atheism in practice, then, is not so much believing in no god. It’s not believing in my/our god. The whole world is atheistic, from someone’s point of view. Atheism is being an outsider in regard to core beliefs.
I’ll leave Justin to his appeal for fair and just treatment so I can make one final point. Christians will – should – be seen as atheists, because we do not follow the gods others follow. Any true Christian will hear some form of the following accusation of atheism: ‘You Christians just don’t believe what we believe, nor follow what we follow.’