Looking at atheism and religious diversity from a Christian perspective.
Why does God allow atheism and false religions to exist? As Christians, we believe in providence. That is to say for all that is, there is a purpose or permission for each. As finite beings with a limited intellect, we may very frequently stumble upon things, that don’t quite fit the divine plan as we understand it. Especially when we are emotionally invested in the issue. It is important to remember that we only see and only care about a part of the whole picture. This is most common in situations involving pain, suffering and love. This is commonly referred to as the problem of evil which is a tough emotional problem but it doesn’t hold much water intellectually. There are other problems of this sort like the problem of Divine hiddenness that carries about just as much water. There are attempts to formulate these concerns as arguments against the existence of God. These are not arguments against a God in the general sense. This sort of assault can only work if you are targeting a caring and interactive God as postulated in theism. This leaves a huge number of targets that are eliminated quite well, but the Christian God is not among them. This argument now serves as evidence in favor of the Judeo-Christian God over the other theistic conceptions of God which fail to deal the assault justice. I may not be able to tell you the divine plan and unmask the grand scheme of all things. I do not claim to have all the answers in my finite nature but I can show possible versions which these observations fit into a Judeo-Christian Theistic model. Theologians have diligently beaten the issues mentioned above to a frazzle. I will not be commenting on the problem of evil or the issue of divine hiddenness. I am going to comment on why God allows atheism and false religions to be. You could ask me how can I know why God would allow such and such or do so and so. The truth is that my account may very well be lacking. That is to say that there is more good that results from Gods allowing such things to be which I will not be exploring. I am providing a minimal account for the good that comes from God allowing the things in question. So that anyone who wonders about it seriously can see that there are sufficiently good reasons for God allowing these things. Granted that I am making it clear that there is even more good which emerges from them than that which I am going to point out. For example, I will not be exploring the negative implications on human freedom, if God prohibited our freedom trapping us all into the correct religion quite regardless of our will. This issue has been written about countless times and that is the only reason why I shall leave it aside even though I think that is a huge part and even the single major reason, why God permits such happenings.
The purpose of an atheist is to shoot down poor conceptions of God. I do not think any of us are vocationally called to this task as it does not belong uniquely to the atheist but as they are free to choose there is still some good to be salvaged from their personally acquired spiritual detriment. A natural theologian also meets this same end. Most people don’t realize this but the atheist has been contributing to the distribution of quality theology. Make no mistake, do not confuse the production of good theological work with its distribution. They celebrate that science has been destroying belief in “god” and some of the radical ones even condemn religion as dangerous. Christians celebrate with them despite our disagreements because science has only been disproving pagan gods. Dethroning some of the majestic entities in nature and recognizing that they are not divine like the sun, the seas and the trees in cases of nature worship. This is something you could have known all along if you only read Genesis one seriously. The atheist makes their disbelief clear and we stand with them in that we don’t believe in those notions of God either. They are destroying the false gods and idols that man has conjured. While the theologians teach us about what and who God really is, the atheist teaches us what and who God is not. It seems very plausible that we both serve as means and play an essential role in the ultimate scheme of things.
We run into problems when the skeptic begins to get ahead of themselves and carelessly dismisses all conceptions of God. Simply learning Christian theology allows for a clearer more brilliant picture of God which you could not have thought of on your own. It is very counter-intuitive and it is capable of withstanding the scrutiny that the simplistic human conception of Him could not. For an example consider the doctrine of the Trinity. It is so counter-intuitive that is it often thought to be contradictory by those who just flirt with theology and do not properly understand it. This is precisely why to the person who is ignorant of theology these arguments seem to dispose of general theism ruling out the idea of God as a possibility but when you learn to understand him through His own revelation as opposed to just a rendered image of what a theistic God should be, you realize the argument didn’t even tackle the notion of the real God. They only destroyed all of the theistic Gods which you could have dreamt of on your own. My advice to anyone who is struggling with their faith for intellectual reasons is that they should recognize the difference between something actually not making sense and their inability to understand something which is making sense. I see this all the time with math students. They tirelessly insist that math does not make sense and they hate the subject. Their dislike for the subject on a whole seems to be preventing them from learning it. I am afraid that the same phenomenon is going on for many atheists too. Of course, one could be an atheist for reasons other than intellectual ones but this is addressing only the people who struggle in faith for intellectual reasons. Many times, their reasons for disbelief and arguments really just take the form of an unanswered question. The Christian apologist is not someone whose goal is to convince you that Christianity is true as many would think. That is the job of the evangelist and missionaries. The word Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means to explain and that is precisely what an apologist does. Every objection to the real expression of God is really just based on the misunderstanding of who God really is. This is why evangelist so frequently turns into an apologist. Take for example the problem of evil or the issue of Divine hiddenness. They are certainly frustrating questions indeed but they are nonetheless just that, questions and not unanswerable ones either. My advice to you the sincere seeker of truth is to treat these questions like any other. You ought to pursue answers to these questions but there is something that I should warn you of. It would be unwise to ask for help from people who are in the same situation as yourself but have intentionally found a way to embrace their theological ignorance. People who have no interest what so ever in actually having these issues clarified and seek to prevent you from coming to the truth also. They are every bit as real as God and the devil. One man has a thousand reasons why a certain question cannot be answered and the other claims to have the answer. Your best bet is to initially investigate the man who claims to have found it because if he has, then you don’t need to go through the thousand reasons why not because you already know that the other was wrong. If, however you find yourself unsatisfied with the answer then you are free to go ahead and read the one thousand reasons why not which you would have done anyway. But make sure that the man who offered the reasons in favor of the phenomenon in question is credible and actually knows what he is talking about as there is a danger there also.
Consequently, This is why we must take theology very seriously! A very poor theology is just as dangerous as no theology. Fortunately for the world’s religions, there are gradations in that some are closer to the truth than others. In the rejection of the theological enterprise, there is only darkness and no graduation of luminosity what so ever. As a religious particularist I do not defend the notion that the institution of religion is a good thing on its own. The scorn of religion seems to be one of the main tenants of new atheist propaganda. A religion does not derive its merit as a treatment of some kind; similar to giving a pill to a savage man hoping it will domesticate him into a civilized one. It is not that simple. Religion operates very poorly as a control system because it is quite the opposite. We have numerous examples of people not doing what they ought not to do and Christians are every bit as guilty of this as anyone else. This is precisely why we believe in redemption. The real religion is liberating. The religion shows you the way to go but it is up to you to get up and follow it. We are free to lay in our shackles and abandon it, rejecting the only way to true freedom. True freedom comes from self-mastery and virtues which are the keys to get there. How can we master ourselves if we do not even know who we are? If we are made in Gods image then we can only know ourselves by learning who God is.
The point of a religion is to unite man and God. If you accept that not all religions are absolutely true then you would expect to see that some of them can be potentially harmful as you are following the wrong path. Man is effectively terminally ill and if you must view religion as a treatment of some sort then you should acknowledge that the wrong medication is every bit as problematic as taking no medication at all. Certain dark ideologies which may or may not take the form of a religion are every bit as destructive and in some cases worse than atheism. On atheism, there is no medication and no spiritual aid. We ought not to choose between not taking some random medication and drinking poison while the prescribed medication is there somewhere within reach. According to Christianity, the correct medication is offered in Christ with no negative side effects. There are bits of the truth scattered in the other religions and they are like other medication which are not quite yours. Against no medication what so ever the random ones may be better or even worse.
By Marc Mollenthiel.