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Atheism is a religion, too

For a theist there’s nothing quite like watching an atheist get an intellectual walloping from a preacher. There’s just something apocalyptic about it, and it most easily occurs when the atheist tries to chop up religion to irrelevancy without realizing that he is himself awfully religious.

It happened again recently at the Cambridge Union debating society when former Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams took on the best known name in contemporary atheism, Richard Dawkins. They were debating whether religion has a role in the 21st century. 

Dawkins said it didn’t. 

Williams said it did. 

Everyone needs and everyone has a “God.” That’s why we’re so religious.

In the end, Williams was handed a decidedly strong victory with more than two times as many votes from the audience as the infamous atheist, Dawkins. It was a triumphant day for the faithful and a shameful one for the irreligious.

But actually no one really is irreligious.

This world beats to the rhythm of religion in a thousand ways, and absolutely everyone is religious -- including atheists.

Religion certainly includes an idea of a God under whom man is inherently subservient, but religion also governs the belief system undergirding the way people think about, and live, their lives.

It tells them who their authority is and it informs their values and behavior. It gives them their sense of morality and goodwill, and it guides them in the way they treat themselves and others. Religion does nothing less than construct one’s view of the world.

Atheists are, in fact, some of the most religious people.

First, they have a functioning God under whom they are subservient (normally it’s science or rationality, but mainly themselves), and that idea of God informs the way they live and interpret their lives. It informs their biases and determines their values, and governs any sense of morality or ethics they adhere too, or ignore.

Once that’s all settled all that’s left is the preaching.

And they preach all the time. 

This new breed of atheists is obsessed with the idea of God. They write books, deliver speeches, comment-bomb the evangelical blogosphere and generally rant on ad nauseam about the ills of believing in God.

Honestly – comically – some atheists must type the word “God” on the Internet five times more often than most Christians I know and they do it with the fury of a fire-and-brimstone zealot!

Maybe no one invokes the name of “God” more than they, and they are doing so in more and more virulent ways such as the shocking moment when Dr. Dawkins recently told Al-Jazeera television that he believed being raised Catholic was in itself even more psychologically damaging than being abused by a priest!

Instead of just ignoring God, or the idea of God, atheist preachers feel somehow compelled to rid the Earth of him; so they argue endlessly that theists can’t prove God exists without confessing that they can’t prove he doesn’t either.

Occasionally, some of them discover that they do indeed worship a God, but it is an insufficient one. 

They worship a God that loses his car keys when they are in his hand, or that misplaces the glasses on his face – a God filled with flaws and inadequacies, and a God (themselves) whose probability of helping them supernaturally is absolutely zero.

Everyone needs and everyone has a “God.” That’s why we’re so religious.

It’s a matter of which religion is yours.

One of the nice things about the Christian God is that he seems to be as concerned about those that do not believe as those who do.

Or as one skeptic-turned-believer has said of the Him, “a young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere – God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

He knew it well.

For C.S. Lewis, the iconic British scholar, was himself a convert from the religion of the atheism to the religion of Christianity because, as he later said: “atheism turns out to be too simple.”

Oddly enough, atheists often accuse theists of being the simple ones. We are “anti-intellectual,” they say, and in so doing they become exactly what they accuse us of being.

It must be an unfortunate plight to be both anti-intellectual and religious!

God help them.

Johnnie Moore is the author of a book about Jesus called "Dirty God: Jesus in the Trenches" (Thomas Nelson 2013) (#DirtyGod). He is a Professor of Religion and Vice President of Liberty University, where he, among other things, supervises its Center for Global Engagement. Keep up with him on Twitter (@JohnnieM) or at Facebook.com/JohnnieOnline. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Johnnie Moore.