Thanks for this question, Bill! How wonderful to hear that you found Christ as an atheist. It would be great to hear your story.
This is a question I get asked a lot here in Spain too. I believe it’s a crucial question not only for Christians but also for everyone else.
We all have beliefs about the big questions of life. When it comes to our own worldview, we all need to ask ourselves: How do I know that what I believe about the nature of reality, my identity, truth, morality, meaning… is true? How can I be sure that I have not arrived at my beliefs out of comfort, tradition or preference…? i.e., How do I know that what I believe is not a psychological crutch?
Our culture puts a lot of pressure on religious people to answer this question. Sadly, as Christians, we fall into believing the slogan that claims atheism or agnosticism is the neutral arena: “I don’t believe in anything; I’m not a religious person” sort of thing. But there isn’t such a thing as a neutral arena, as postmodernism has reminded us so well.
The atheist has to ask himself the same question as the Christian: How do I know that my atheism is not a psychological crutch? Because atheism offers apparent benefits or crutches itself like “freedom from God,” not having to answer to God, being your own god.
We really need to come to terms with the evidence that supports each worldview. Does the evidence lead to a materialistic worldview, or does it actually point to theism? For Christianity, the straightforward path to testing its claims is to look closely at Jesus, His life, His work and His words, and see whether it stands up to the test. For example, many intellectuals have considered the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and concluded that it was absolutely solid.
Let’s consider the phrase, “Christianity is for the weak”. If by that we mean, intellectually weak, nothing could be further from the truth. Many Nobel Prizes and many top scientists from our time call themselves followers of Jesus. Many of them turn to Christ as adults, not conditioned by their upbringing. Take, for example, C. S. Lewis, who was professor at the University of Oxford, an expert in mythological literature who, when he read the gospels, recognised that they were historic narrative genre. As an outspoken atheist he finally gave his life to Christ saying: “ [in] 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
The renowned atheist philosopher Anthony Flew, after a whole academic life fighting against the idea of God, changed his mind. He said: “ I now believe there is a God… we have all the evidence we need in our immediate experience … only a deliberate refusal to ‘look’ is responsible for atheism of any variety .”These were people of the highest academic standing who did not approach Christianity happily, but on the contrary, gave in to the evidence reluctantly. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” In fact, if Christianity is an invention to make us happy, we could have done better…
If we asked the first Christians (and still today, many Christians the world over, outside Western culture) what they thought about this idea that “the faith in Jesus Christ was a psychological crutch,” they would probably laugh in disbelief. Why? Christians of all ages were being tortured and dying for their faith every day. Far from meaning an easy, happy life, trusting Jesus with their lives meant horror, and yet, they would die singing to God. Why? Because the evidence convinced them Jesus was real, and truth is the most powerful weapon in the world. The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset said: “ Life without truth is unliveable […] it is the only thing that man essentially needs, his only unconditional need .”
What truth did the first Christians find? That Jesus was God, that he was “ the Way, the Truth and the Life ” and that he had defeated our two greatest enemies: sin and death.
There’s another angle to think about too. The Bible explains that we are actually all broken because we have declared independence from God. In a world of brokenness, it would follow that all of us would be looking for crutches. Some might think atheism will do, others Islam, and yet others will find their support in drugs, romantic relationships, sex, work, you name it. The reality is that everyone is holding on to a crutch. To think that we are OK is naïve, proof of being poor historians and blind to the needs of our culture. But there is on unavoidable truth: We need a doctor much more than a crutch. The question is not whether we need a crutch or which one to use. The question must be bigger. Can we actually be healed?
Jesus said, “ Those who are healthy do not need a doctor .” The prerequisite for coming to God is recognising our existential and moral need. Jesus throws away the crutches and heals the root of our brokenness. He heals our hearts and transforms us from within. This is real power that has transformed millions. It is not a fantasy, but an undeniable reality. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers real power to change. Far from being a psychological crutch, it is the healing we all need.
So, in a sense, yes, we need to recognise we are weak, not intellectually, but morally and existentially. It starts by recognising that we are not God, but He is. That He is perfect and we are not. We carry the virus of vanity, egocentrism, aggressiveness, lust, and envy… an entire “zoo” of infections within, consuming us every day.
Recognising our problem, our weakness, is the first step toward healing. It shows honesty and willingness to be treated by another. Who to trust? Just like you, Bill, I have found only Jesus.