Friday, February 4, 2011

Believers aren’t being duped

American Atheists erected a billboard in Huntsville, Ala., that claims all religions are cons.

The ad pictures religious symbols — including the cross, the Jewish star and the Muslim crescent moon and star — and reads, “You know they’re all scams.”

The billboard further contends that the American Atheists group has been “telling the truth since 1963.” The scam, the group says, is that “all religions … tell you how to live, and then take your money, all in exchange for an afterlife that does not exist.”

It is presumptuous to claim that theists are being bamboozled into their beliefs. Most people of faith have made a conscious choice to trust in a higher power, to believe in an afterlife and to commit their lives and resources to certain religious practices.

It is true that some blindly follow and lack a clear understanding of their faiths’ tenets. They participate out of obligation, not devotion.

But such belief does not qualify as authentic faith. In Christianity, the scriptures teach that true faith stems from the heart. God does not simply judge a person’s actions but their motivation; doing the right things for the wrong reasons does not please God. Likewise anyone who believes in God simply out of fear of the consequences misses the point.

Atheists often argue that theists are weak, needy and irrational, because they believe in God yet cannot prove he exists.

The Bible defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Thus, by definition, faith does not seek to prove God’s existence. This does not mean that people of faith are fideists. When science, archaeology or philosophy supports religious claims, theists can embrace these evidences. But while such sources can strengthen belief, they do not form the basis of one’s faith.

Some argue that if God were visible, everyone would believe in him. But the Old Testament contains many accounts of God revealing himself more visibly to people. In the New Testament, he came to Earth as Jesus. Yet many remained skeptical. Furthermore, people of faith argue God has revealed himself through nature and, for many, through their own experiences.

It takes trust and commitment to believe in an invisible deity. This is God’s desire — a relationship in which we rely on him. But those who hold to their faith do so because it has proven to be fulfilling and unfailing.

The bottom line: There is no scam. Theists understand you cannot prove the existence of God or the afterlife but still choose to believe. Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists.”

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