Angry At A God Who Isn’t There

January 20, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


God - MichelangeloThe other day I heard the story of a distressed parent.  Their son had gone away to college as a Christian and had returned as an atheist.  They wanted to know what they could do to bring their son back into the fold.

Honestly, hearing this boy’s story distressed me.  After all, nothing less than this young man’s very salvation is at stake.  I was tempted to break out into a rant about how far too many colleges and universities deliberately and relentlessly undermine faith while uncritically peddling a deluded vision of a far-flung utopian secular humanistic paradise, but I stopped myself and instead asked a simple question:  “Why?  Why did your son become an atheist?  Was it because of something he heard in some class from a professor, or was it because of something else – something deeper?”

Many atheists like to present themselves as cool and collected, calmly examining empirically verifiable data and coming to the inevitable and emotionally detached conclusion that there is no God.  But the reality of atheism is far less viscerally clean.

A couple of years ago, Joe Carter penned an article for First Things titled, “When Atheists Are Angry At God.”  In it, he notes a strange phenomenon: many people who do not believe in God find themselves angry at God:

I’ve shaken my fist in anger at stalled cars, storm clouds, and incompetent meterologists. I’ve even, on one terrible day that included a dead alternator, a blaring blaring tornado-warning siren, and a horrifically wrong weather forecast, cursed all three at once. I’ve fumed at furniture, cussed at crossing guards, and held a grudge against Gun Barrel City, Texas. I’ve been mad at just about anything you can imagine.

Except unicorns. I’ve never been angry at unicorns.

It’s unlikely you’ve ever been angry at unicorns either. We can become incensed by objects and creatures both animate and inanimate. We can even, in a limited sense, be bothered by the fanciful characters in books and dreams. But creatures like unicorns that don’t exist – that we truly believe not to exist – tend not to raise our ire. We certainly don’t blame the one-horned creatures for our problems.

The one social group that takes exception to this rule is atheists. They claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, tend to be the people most angry at Him.[1]

But why is this?  Why would people who don’t believe in God become angry at God?  Carter goes on to cite Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University:

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

In other words, atheism is not as viscerally clean as many atheists would like to have you believe.  Atheism is not always the product of cool, clean, detached observation of empirically verifiable date.  Instead, atheism is often the product of not disbelief in God, but rebellion against God because a person feels slighted by God in some way.  Atheism, although it may hide between a veneer of intellectualism, is also heavily emotional.  It’s hardly a wonder that the Psalmists says of the atheist:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).  Atheism is not just a matter of the head.  It’s also a matter of the heart.

I never quite did get to the root of the atheism of my friend’s son.  But I suspect it was more than just some smooth-talking college professor that led him down the road to unbelief.  That’s why, when sharing my faith, I not only try to speak to a person’s head; I try to minister to his heart.


[1] Joe Carter, “When Atheists Are Angry At God,” First Things (1.12.2011).

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Entry filed under: Common Questions. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

It’s Not Tricky … It’s Really Not Explaining Our Existence

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. irene  |  January 20, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Thinking about a couple of people I know who claim to be atheists, I see what you’re saying. They don’t just say, “I can’t see where God exists.” Period. No, they get angry and insist “If God exists, why are there so many bad things going on in the world?” They post comments and cartoons that mock faith. They do what they can to tear down Christianity. Why all the anger and personal attacks on something they don’t believe is real? Interesting that they feel so threatened.

    Reply

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