How should we respond when atheists claim that Christians are atheists with regard to every other god except for one. They just take it one step further. We’ll stay tuned to find out. An unapologetic.
There’s a popular argument (or at least assertion) that atheists like to make. And it goes something like this.
“Well Christians are actually atheists with respect to every other god except for one.”
So for every possible god out there Christians are atheists for that god except for one and the atheist is basically saying we’re not so different. We actually just take it one step further. And the person might say “well you don’t believe in Zeus. I don’t believe in Zeus. You don’t believe in RA (the Egyptian sun god), I don’t believe in Ra. See, we basically are kind of the same. It’s just you have one more god you need to get rid of to actually see things the right way.” At least that’s how the claim goes. And the question is how should we respond to this. And I think there are kind of two broad things we can say. First saying that Christians deny all other gods except for one (which is very close at least numerically and that point is important) to the atheist position doesn’t actually mean that Christians are wrong.
It could so happen (and I believe it certainly is the case) that none of these other supposed gods exist. However the one God of christianity does exist so we can’t just make a numerical argument actually to say that Christians are almost atheists. That’s not true. OK just because there is a difference in one God between them doesn’t mean they’re basically the same thing. So Hinduism might have millions of gods. Christianity has one God and atheism has zero gods And so the thinking is is that when Christians are really close to atheists at least on this continuum of number of gods and purely from a numeric standpoint that’s true but they’re not actually close at all. The Christian is no closer to the atheist than he is to the Hindu and the Hindu is no closer to the Christian than he is to the atheist and we’ll tease this apart in a minute.
So I just first off what to make the point that simply saying there’s only one God different between the two doesn’t mean Christians are incorrect. Now let’s also talk about this this idea of polytheism, meaning that there are multiple gods like in Hinduism and then atheism, the idea that there is no God and then theism, which Christians are theists. We believe there is one God. These worldviews are incredibly different and they’re not just different in degree they’re actually fundamentally different. And so let’s talk about that some. When the atheist brings up all of these other gods throughout history (like I mentioned Zeus and Ra and in the list could go on and on and on) there’s something fundamentally different between these supposed gods and the God of Christianity and how people related to these gods and thought of them and how they think of and have written of and conceive of the God of Christianity.
Different Types of Gods
The first difference is that these ancient gods of let’s say Greek mythology or Egyptian religion are almost more faddish in how people approach them. Like they didn’t totally take them seriously. Now this varies by culture and this varies by time but nonetheless especially like Greek and Roman civilizations you would kind of tip your hat to the gods. You might go through some rituals but the gods weren’t affirmed as as nearly important as the God of Christianity was. It’s also just interesting as an aside that Christians were actually considered to be atheists in the first century and second century because the Romans just couldn’t conceive of people who denied all of their gods and only worshiped one.
So they were basically seen as God deniers. They didn’t totally understand Christianity back then. But I think this actually points out something interesting which is the Christian belief in one god was so fundamentally different from the polytheism and kind of nominal polytheism that was in Roman culture in Greek culture and things like that. The culture struggled to understand Christianity. They didn’t have a category for it. It’s not that it was simply less God’s it’s that it was actually fundamentally different. And some of these gods throughout history that people would would worship or tip their hat to or acknowledge or offer a sacrifice to might be like a god of rain or sun or of crops or of war or Fertility. These gods actually are a fundamentally different type of god because often in these mythological accounts the gods would have the same type of struggles that humans had.
They weren’t that different they didn’t get along with each other they had parental problems they had fights between them. They had their authority challenged and they were overthrown and all of these sorts of things. They’re fundamentally different types of gods. And so the atheist when he makes the claim that Christians are atheist with regard to all of these other gods except for one. Yes we’re using the word God there but the word isn’t functioning in the same way. We’re comparing fundamentally different types of gods with the one God of Christianity.
God is Necessary
And I think that’s really important. It is not an apples to apples type of comparison. And here is what is it totally different about the Christian worldview that says there is one God compared to the polytheistic worldview of Hinduism or the worldview of ancient Greek mythology or things like that. On the Christian worldview God is what we would call a necessary being. He cannot not exist. It is not possible for God not to have existed or we would not exist. In fact there’s no possible way for us to exist if God does not exist. God is necessary for everything we see, for all that is and exists and that we know of and we don’t know of it. God is necessary for that and that’s totally different from how these other gods existed. They weren’t necessary beings. They were what you would call contingent beings. They depended on something else.
I live in Florida, so if you make plans in the summer you need to have contingency plans. These are plans that depend on something else going a certain way. They’re dependent on something else. Well in the same way you and I are what we would call contingent beings. We depend on something else for our existence. But God is not a dependent being he’s not a contingent type of being he is a necessary being. Nothing can exist if God does not exist. In fact for anything to exist God must exist. So I could exist or not exist in the world would be pretty much the same. That is not the case with God. That’s not the case with a necessary type of being.
If that being doesn’t exist nothing else exists necessarily. So why do I say God is a necessary being? Why is it necessary that God exists for everything else to exist. Well this is exactly what Paul is getting at in Colossians 1 when he says “for by Jesus all things were created both in heaven and on earth visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things have been created through Him and for him, he is before all things and all things hold together in him.” There’s so much there. Let’s briefly tease this apart and kind of go in order. He says that all things were created both in heaven and earth by Jesus. So Jesus actually created everything. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, they were created by Jesus which is kind of an awesome thought when you think about it.
Jesus’s first act in the Bible is not seen in the Gospels; it’s seen in the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible. Jesus created everything. These gods in ancient mythology weren’t the type of necessary being that God is in Christianity because they were created. Oftentimes they had parents who created them, but the God in Christianity is not that way. He is eternal. He exists in and of himself. He is not created. There’s never been a time when he did not exist and he brought everything else into existence. When there was nothing he created everything. Everything depends on him. Paul actually begins his argument here saying that Jesus created everything so we owe our existence to the fact that God created us, that Jesus created us.
These other gods and ancient religions don’t fulfill that same type of necessary being requirement. They can’t explain why everything is here but Paul continues. He says “all things visible, invisible, Thrones or dominions rulers or authorities all things have been created through Him and for him.” And I think this speaks to the fact that as Christians we often find peace in the idea that we’ve been created for God, that there is a sense of purpose, that we find there that resonates at the core of who we are that we were created to be loved by our Creator and to love Him back and worship him. So Christianity actually satisfies one of the deep desires that many people have because it actually acknowledges and teaches that we were created for a purpose. It tells us what that purpose is and equips us to fulfill that purpose.
But more than that it’s interesting that Paul says in verse 17 here that Jesus is “before all things and in Him all things hold together.” It’s not just that, as Thomas Jefferson and some of the founding fathers thought, God created the world and then stepped back and left it alone. He he wound up the clock so to speak and then was hands off. And it’s basically a naturalistic materialistic game of pool after that—billiards, where balls are just bouncing off of each other and some type of preprogramed way. No. That’s not what creation is. At every point God is sustaining his creation. If he withdrew his sustaining support everything would cease to exist and now maybe you’re starting to understand what I was saying earlier about how God is a necessary being.
If he doesn’t sustain creation, it doesn’t continue to exist. The very fact that I can sit here and talk to you and have breath in my lungs is because God chooses to sustain my existence. And this is what the writer of the Hebrew says in Hebrews Chapter One that the Son is “the radiance of the Father’s glory and the representation of his essence and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” God is actively involved in creation. Wfe see this in the Bible so many times that God enters into creation does miraculous things shows and speaks of who he is. But more than that we’re kind of told a little what’s going on behind the scenes here that he’s actually sustaining the world in its very existence. So there’s not a molecule that is out of place in the whole universe.
There is nothing that is not where God wants it to be or how he wants it to be for his ultimate purposes. Now I think we have to be careful when we say something like that because the question might come well: what about evil? Is evil what God wants? And that’s a really complicated question. And sadly we don’t have time to get into that today. (Here’s a link to a podcast where we tease that out a little and talk about how God has two wills, and that God wills things that will be good for him to accomplish but are bad for man to do it.) I know that sounds kind of odd. But in order to be faithful to the totality of what Scripture says, we actually have to arrive at a view like that. And sadly we don’t have time to dive into that today.
But I think it’s sufficient to point out just clearly as Paul and the writer of the Hebrew say that God created everything. He is necessary. The Christian worldview affirms that everything came from nothing with a cause. The non-Christian worldview, that atheistic worldview we started out talking about, says that everything came from nothing with no cause for no purpose. That makes much less sense than the Christian worldview. So when the atheist gets rid of God, when he says “Hey Christian just be an atheist with regard to one more god” he actually gets rid of the solution to so many of his problems. He can now no longer explain why he is here. He can now no longer explain why the universe is here.
He can’t actually explain where morality comes from any more if he gets rid of God. If there’s no God if there’s no moral law giver there is no moral law so there’s no morality if God doesn’t exist either. And we’ve talked about that a little before. I hope what you’re starting to see is that these descriptions of God from scripture paint a fundamentally different picture than these ancient gods in mythological accounts. We’re not comparing apples and apples here. And in fact, like I mentioned, when the atheist gets rid of God, when he says “well you’re so numerically close it’s just one less god” he gets rid of the very thing that makes so much more sense out of the world. He’s left having to affirm silly things, honestly, that everything came from nothing with no purpose, that he has things he knows so intimately in his soul like the fact that rape is wrong and genocide is wrong and white supremacists should be condemned, but he can’t explain why. And in fact if he’s consistent he actually has to say “those things aren’t really wrong. I just don’t like them.”
But the Christian worldview makes sense of the fact that racism is wrong. It makes sense of the fact that we’re here. It makes sense of the fact that the world is knowable and that we can actually use reason to analyze the world around us because it’s consistent because it’s sustained by a consistent God. And this could go on and on. What I want to convey to you is that the difference between atheism and Christianity is not just numerically one. It’s not that they’re that close. They could not be more different. And the Christian worldview of one God compared to a polytheistic worldview of many gods could not be more different either. There is far away from each other as the Christian worldview is from the atheistic worldview.
So, we talked about a lot. I hope it’s been helpful. On the face of it this objection doesn’t actually prove anything. The atheist saying “well I’m just a atheist with regards to one more god than you” that doesn’t actually prove Christianity is wrong. More than that, they’re not comparing apples to apples. And finally God is actually a necessary being. If we get rid of God from our worldview, we are left without any explanation for the things we are most sure of in reality.