When I first read about atheist “megachurches,” my reaction wasn’t skepticism or irritation. There was no eye rolling or shaking of the head. Instead, I gave a knowing nod. Though some atheists like to mock Christians for believing in a “sky god,” there is something compelling about faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
These fellowships of unbelievers even conduct a service. They sing songs and listen to “sermons.” Why would an unbeliever engage in church-like things? Jim Eliason, an organizer of a “Sunday Assembly,” told 10News in San Diego that atheists aren’t “trying to emulate [churches]. We’re trying to provide some of the same universal needs provided by a house of worship.”
What exactly are those needs? They go beyond the physical. Humans are made not only for relationship and fellowship; we’re also made for worship, to seek and to revere that which is higher than ourselves. Christians call Him Christ, and through Him we gain the ultimate relationship—a personal one with a God who loves us and knows the number of hairs on our heads.
News stories about “evangelical” atheists and atheist “churches” remind me of unbelievers’ quests to erect monuments to nothing alongside monuments that declare the existence of the living God, the Creator of all things. Like the apostle Paul in Acts 17, I perceive that these naysayers are religious. Paul preached against the idolatry of the philosophers of Athens. At the Areopagus, he spoke about an altar with the inscription, “To the unknown god,” and named the One they sought.
When you read such atheist slogans as “Relax, hell does not exist”; “Enjoy life, there is no afterlife”; “Freethinkers”; and “Thank God I’m an atheist,” ask yourself who they’re trying to convince. We know the target of their mockery, but why take up the cause of nothingness or the unknown? They put so much effort in trying to eradicate the Christian faith from the public square (not just from the government) that they’re blind to their own yearning to believe.
The God that the Athenian philosophers sought—the God we all seek—has a name, and He’s made Himself known. Clever atheist “preaching” does nothing more than reveal the longing and expose the empty space that will be filled by either the true God or a false god. It lays bare what Christian philosopher and apologist Blaise Pascal called a God-shaped vacuum that exists “in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
The god of this age has blinded those who’re perishing. But there is still a spark of recognition, of need, inside the atheist and the agnostic. Among unbelievers presently perishing are those Christ came to save. Let’s pray that these atheist fellowships and outreach efforts will have unintended consequences. Perhaps some will grow eager for more and find the Bread that satiates their hunger and Water that slakes their thirst.