Before we can discuss atheism, we need to define it. According to an official atheism website, atheists define themselves this way: “Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.” Those who identify as atheists prefer to emphasize their lack of belief rather than the refusal to believe. They consider atheism to be intellectually superior to faith in God. However, this definition clashes with the biblical worldview, which states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Since atheists can agree with people of faith that every human being has the freedom to choose what he or she thinks or believes, we will define atheism here as the choice to disbelieve in any kind of Supreme Being to which mankind is accountable.
Statistics show that atheism is on the rise in countries that have historically had a strong Christian influence. These statistics include those raised in godless homes, but they also show an alarming increase among those who once held to some form of religious faith. When we hear of a prominent figure in Christianity renouncing the faith he or she used to claim, we are left wondering, “Why?” Why would so many people stop believing in God when His handiwork is everywhere (Psalm 19:1; 97:6; Romans 1:20)? Every culture on earth recognizes some form of deity, so why are so many people claiming they do not believe in any god at all?
There are several reasons people may define themselves as atheists. The first is ignorance. Due to lack of correct information, a person may conclude that nothing exists beyond this universe and man’s experience of it. Since there remains a great deal we do not know, ignorance often invents ideas to fill in the blanks. This often results in either false religions or atheism. Sketchy information about God is often tainted by mythology or religious superstition to the extent that anything supernatural sounds like a fairy tale. Exposed to a mishmash of confusing claims, some people decide there is no truth to any of it and throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Disillusionment is another reason some people become atheists. Due to negative experiences, such as having a prayer go unanswered or seeing hypocritical behavior in others, a person may conclude that God does not exist. This response is often fueled by anger or hurt. These people reason that, if God existed, He would behave in ways they could comprehend or agree with. Since He did not respond the way they wanted Him to, they conclude that He must not exist at all. They may stumble over complicated concepts such as hell, Old Testament genocide, or eternity and conclude the God of the Bible is too confusing to be real. Disillusionment propels people to find comfort in what is seen and known, rather than an invisible deity. To avoid the possibility of more disappointment, they abandon any attempt at faith and find a measure of comfort in deciding that God simply does not exist.
Closely linked to the disillusioned are those who call themselves “atheists” when, in fact, they are anti-God. Atheist is a label some hide behind to mask a deep hatred toward God. Often due to childhood trauma or abuse in the name of religion, these people are consumed by an antipathy toward all things religious. The only way they can retaliate against a God they consider cruel is to deny Him vehemently. Events of the past have left wounds so deep that it is easier to deny the reality of God than admit that they hate Him. True atheists would not include this group in their numbers, as they recognize that to be angry with God is to acknowledge His existence. But many people do, in fact, call themselves atheists while simultaneously expressing outrage toward a God whose existence they deny.
Still others reject the idea of God because they want Him to be easier to find. When well-known atheist Richard Dawkins was asked, “What would you say if you faced God after death?” he responded, “I would say to Him, ‘Why did you take such great pains to conceal yourself?’” Some people frown at the fact that God is Spirit, invisible, and found only through faith (Hebrews 11:6; Jeremiah 29:13). They adopt the attitude that the Creator of the universe owes them evidence of His existence beyond what He has already lavishly given (Psalm 19:1; 102:25; Romans 1:20). Jesus dealt with this mindset when He walked the earth. In Mark 8, Jesus had just fed four thousand people with a sack lunch, but the intellectual elites came to Him demanding that He perform a sign to “prove” He was the Messiah (verse11). Jesus illustrated this hardness of heart in His parable about the rich man in hell who longed to warn his brothers about what awaited them after death (Luke 16:19–31). From heaven, Abraham answered, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
The most likely explanation for the continuing rise of atheism has not changed since the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6; Romans 3:23). The very essence of all sin is self-determination. By denying the existence of a Creator, atheists can do whatever they please without concern for future judgment or eternal consequences (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 4:5; Hebrews 4:13). In the twenty-first century, self-worship has become culturally acceptable. Atheism appeals to a generation raised on evolutionary theory and moral relativism. John 3:19 says, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” If human beings are self-created, self-determined, and self-centered, then there is no moral law or lawgiver to whom they must submit. There are no absolutes and no one to whom they are ultimately accountable. By adopting such a mindset, atheists can focus on seeking pleasure in this life alone.
As long as scientists, professors, and philosophers peddle their atheistic viewpoints as truth and wisdom, people will continue to buy it because the idea of self-determination appeals to our rebellious natures. The attitude is nothing new, but the changing cultural norms are making it more openly acceptable. Romans 1:18–31 details the results of this rejection of God’s authority. Verse 28 says, “God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” Our world is seeing the results of that depravity. What atheists call “enlightenment,” God calls foolishness. Verses 22–23 say, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10), then the denial of the Lord (atheism) is the beginning of foolishness.