Religion is often blamed for the miseries of the world. An “Imagine No Religion” billboard has just gone up in St. Louis, and most people get the point even if they disagree with it. If it were not for religion, after all, there would have been no Spanish Inquisition, no Taliban, no World Trade Center bombing, no human sacrifices to various and sundry gods. Religious wars would be conspicuously absent from world history and nobody would follow cult leaders in sipping down toxic Kool-Aid. Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion spends the first page of the Preface going through the evils that have been done in the name of religion. Yet, while atheists love to blame zealous believers for the world’s sufferings, they have missed the true problem. Yes, much earthly evil has been done in the name of one deity or another, but religion isn’t the real problem. The real problem is …. human nature.
Religion is a convenient scapegoat for the atheist, who wants to justify himself in a world of believers. The atheist has a serious problem in blaming the evils of the world on religion, though. For every complaint against religious people, there are plenty of complaints to be made against the faithless.
Have people been slaughtered in the name of religion? Certainly. Yet, the Crusades are a drop in the bucket compared to the massive death toll caused by atheistic regimes. The leaders of the French Revolution shoved God out of their social justice crusade, and the result was a blood bath. Stalin is responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million of his own people, and Mao Zedong’s death toll runs upwards of 40-70 million. From Pol Pot in Cambodia to the Kims in North Korea, governments freed of “religion” – those utopias of atheistic communism – have murdered millions upon millions of people. People of various religions continue to fight all around the world, but, anti-God governments streamline human death. Any time people get starry-eyed about imagining “no religion too” they need a little history lesson.
The problem isn’t religion or even lack thereof. The problem is humanity. Human beings have this propensity for violence and greed, for self aggrandizement and selfish laziness. We struggle – and sometimes succeed – to overcome these things, but they are there inside us. As Paul writes in Romans 7:21-24:
“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
We all have that destructive sin nature inside us by birth. It’s there, and we spend our lives fighting it. If we were naturally good, it would be easy to be good and kind, generous and patient. If we were naturally good, it would be a heavy effort to be rotten. But, we find that we are just the opposite, always struggling to do what is right and constantly falling into that corruption that most people want so desperately to avoid.
Even the atheist wants to avoid the corruption, as far as his own conscience dictates. Atheists have consciences too, after all. Paul writes:
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;” (Rom 2:14-15).
Atheists and humanists are quite capable of morality and moral decision making. Yet, in rejecting the True God, atheists and humanists make themselves their own gods, and because they have no greater yardstick to measure by, it often happens that they reject one evil only to turn around and embrace something far worse. The poor in France had good reason for anger against the spoiled aristocracy and opulent church in the late 18th century. But, having only man’s reasoning to depend on, and hearts full of vengeance, thousands of innocent people were murdered. The atheist has nobody but himself and the local legal system to help him do the good he wants to do, and that can lead easily into gross error. Humankind has excellent thinking ability, but we can easily use that brainpower to justify doing the evil we want to do rather than the good we should.
Yet, the atheist is not too far off when he looks at the religions of the world and feels massively unimpressed. Religion is not the salvation of the world. Religion can be useful in that it provides a framework in which to live, and gives people rules of right and wrong outside themselves. Yet, religion itself cannot change the human heart or free humans of their natural destructive tendencies. In fact, some religious sects actually promote violence and destruction.
Paul didn’t find the answer to his dilemma in religion. He found the answer in the person of Jesus Christ. He found his answer in the Spirit of God, working in human lives to cleanse and free and make new. And the Spirit of God is real, and He is powerful, and He continues to change millions of lives today. If more atheists were truly aware of the reality of God’s Spirit to heal and to transform, Richard Dawkins would sell fewer books.
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,22-25).
Life on this planet is hard, and Jesus never promised us anything different. He said we would have many troubles in this world, but he also said he had overcome the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. If we are filled with the Spirit, walking hand-in-hand with our King and Savior, His light is going to shine out of us to the lost and the dying. And if, in the midst of our own struggles and suffering, the reality of Christ is alive and well in us, anybody who is watching will see the difference between the truth and the false religions that have caused so much grief through the years. If people can see Christ in us, they won’t want to imagine a world without him.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:6-10).
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