The liberty of atheism?

“I find being an atheist liberating”, a work colleague recently declared to me. We didn’t get round to finishing the conversation and I was left wondering, “liberating from what?”.
Had he previously believed in God and found religion restrictive?
Or perhaps he had seen others enslaved by the guilt and shame associated with some expressions of a belief in God.
Or maybe, like the people described in the Bible who hate the rule of “God and his messiah”, crying “Let us break their chains and free ourselves from slavery to God” (Psalm 2), he is opposed to the idea of an ultimate authority to answer to.
Before exploring whether atheism or faith in God is liberating or restrictive, my first question would be: “What is true?”.
I first came to faith in Jesus because I discovered it was probably true. A combination of personal experiences and conversations had shaken my atheist worldview and birthed a growing conviction that there was a God, taking care of me, and that Christianity made best sense of the universe. The evidence seemed to stack up.
I wasn’t looking for a higher power to heal me from my dysfunctionality, brokenness and addictions. I wasn’t expecting anything or anyone to change my life.
So when I came to faith in Jesus, all I said – and this was the first genuine prayer I had ever prayed in my entire life – was: “Well, God, I think you’re there. I’m going to give this Christianity thing a try for a year or two and see what happens”!
Not “Lord, I give my life to you, I commit everything I am to you”, as we encourage new Christians to do.
Or even “Lord, please heal me and change me”, as those looking for God’s transformative power might legitimately do.
I hadn’t hit rock bottom. I wasn’t desperate. I wasn’t looking for religion. I wasn’t looking for change. I simply believed that this thing was true. I also had an overwhelming sense that God was not only true but was calling me to follow him.
This ‘thing’ was excitingly irresistible – not in the sense of not having a choice – the decision was mine – but it (he) was overwhelmingly attractive. Like the thrill of having found ‘THE ONE’ person meant for you.
Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! The good book says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. And God often takes us at our word. So the next 2 years were spent half-heartedly living as a Christian, but tasting God’s goodness and slowly being changed by his involvement in my life. Exactly 2 years after that first prayer, I experienced the most wonderful, more dramatic transformation, when my addictions were replaced by an inner love from and for God. I’d given it a try, or God had given me a try, and now it was all for real. Filled wonderfully with liquid love! No going back!
What I hadn’t originally been looking for, I’d found. Healing from my dysfunctionality, brokenness and addictions – a process that continues to this day!
What I’d come to believe was probably true, God had now shown me experientially beyond reasonable doubt through his actions in my life.
The most important question surely has to be “What is true?”. But after that, a valid question is: “What works?”. Surely, if Christianity is true, then it will work. It claims to emancipate, not to enslave. As Jesus famously said, “The truth will set you free”.
So why would anyone find religion enslaving or restrictive? Why would Karl Marx describe religion as “the opium of the masses”?
Because it is! Man-made religion – in which man is striving to please a god or gods who are never satisfied with our efforts – will always leave the religious person unsatisfied and a slave to guilt, fear and shame. Always enslaved to rules no one can keep.
This kind of religion is as much an addiction as alcoholism or heroin addiction.
Many have had this experience with Islam, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of course various expressions of so-called Christianity. Millions have been chained to the shackles of man-made religion. It divides, suppresses, pits man against man, nation against nation, as each declares its own set of rules.
Genuine faith in Jesus is not like that. Grace is not ‘religion’, in that sense.
Grace (the free mercy and love of God) tells us everything has been done for us at the cross. As soon as we come to God with our simple faith, all our sin, shame, guilt, is taken away.
Grace comes to us and sets us free from the power of addiction, because addiction’s psychological power lies in the shame associated with it.
Grace sets us free from the need to please others, and the never-ending quest to please God, because we are already acceptable to him.
Yes, I aim to please God, but only as an expression of loving thanks. Not to prove myself.
Grace sets us free from bitterness and resentment, so we are at peace with ourselves and others.
The truth of grace sets us free. Not only free from….but free to…….
Free to be ourselves. The more I immerse myself in God’s love and truth, the more I am able to be fully ‘me’. He makes me complete.
Free to forgive and love ourselves and others. So that we’re not trapped in a prison of bitterness and guilt.
Am I more or less free now than when I was an atheist?
Before, I was free from anyone else’s morality. In my hedonistic mindset, I could do practically whatever I wanted and enjoyed. Yes, a kind of freedom.
Today’s motto seems to be ‘whatever makes you happy is ok’. Sounds like an attractive philosophy.
But this kind of freedom tends to brings with it an enslavement to addictions, anger, bitterness and other patterns of behaviour that hurt others and ourselves. It’s not hard to see the hatred and bitterness in the books and TV produced by certain prominent atheists of our day.
In giving myself to God, I am freed from countless emotional and behavioural prisons. I am a willing servant of God, free to love and be loved, not shackled by rules or guilt.
I hope to resume that conversation with my colleague some time, but I think I know the answer to this question:
Who is liberated – the atheist or the man/woman under grace?

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10 thoughts on “The liberty of atheism?

  1. Tricia says:

    Interesting blog ….
    I still find religion restrictive ….the arrogance of the faith that says there is only one way to God, and those who practice it are dogmatic in that belief that alienates and divides.
    In my experience , i have found ‘God’ to be more apparant, more real and more compassionate in places that many Christians would condemn as ungodly .
    In all my years in the church , I felt condemned, restricted, troubled and often unloved because I could not reconcile the teaching with a ‘loving God’.
    I witnessed first hand cruel judgement of gay people (imagine telling them that they were sinning because they were gay )… how does that fit that they were made in the image of God ?
    I also saw much cruelty at the hands of ‘loving Christians ‘ in the way that people were treated who somehow ‘fell from grace ‘( in the eyes of the pharisees who led these power houses of control ). I saw pastors who were filthy rich whilst some in their congregations were very poor and yet were giving hugh chunks of their incomes because they were scared into believing that somehow they would not be blessed by God if they did not part with this money that they could least afford.
    And don’t get me onto subject of sexual ‘sin’…. the hyprocisy around this in the church is terrifying and has damaged countless lives…
    So for me, I say that just as our governments are being exposed , so is the church … and I believe that ‘God ‘ is no longer within most of these places … but He/she is definately alive and well on planet earth … but is manifested in the love that I see shown by so many that the church would despise and write off as ‘sinners’
    So for me , I have gone from Religion and have now found God, as well as more love and kindness than I have known all of my church life …
    Bless you Roger for your sharing … but please always keep your heart on God and not on the sham of the church that is so far from an example of grace and love .

  2. Thank you, Tricia. As always, I respect your view. Not all in the church is bad, though – its main problem is that it’s made up of human beings! One of these days we’ll meet up for a natter! Bless you.

  3. Tricia says:

    I am not saying all church is bad …but I have been in a lot and met a lot of christians to know that most hold the views and the judgements that I am talking about … they would be far better to sell their fancy buildings, their expensive p,a, systems and musical instruments etc and feed the poor ….and to really focus on what matters like love , compassion , humility instead of preaching about ‘sin’ and eternal judgement !

    hmmm…. I am not bitter in case any one feels this .. I just feel that if Jesus were to come to earth now , he would rampage through the churches in real rage !!

    With love

    • I’m sorry these have been your experiences, Tricia.

      One of the things that differ about us is that I came to faith in Jesus in a solitary kind of way, not through church, so the two (Jesus and church) have always been separate for me in a way, even if in another sense they are not separable.

      What I mean is that for me it has always been about Jesus, whatever my experience is of church.

      I recognise the need for grace in others’ lives as well as my own. Like others in the church, I aspire to reflect God’s grace and to inspire others to do the same, albeit in my own imperfect way. Church, for me, can be great and it can be difficult, just like in my own family, but we still love each other.

      But my focus is on following Jesus, not the church. Being a strong-minded, independent (i.e. headstrong / wilful!) sort of person has its pros & cons. One of the pluses (I think) is that I don’t always go with the church’s ‘party line’ but tend to think things through for myself and go with what I believe is right – hence my other blog on redefining mariage and a sermon I preached at church a year or so ago about how unbiblical the modern idea of tithing is (a practice you alluded to)!

      Hope that helps. One day we will DEFINITELY meet up for that natter!!!

  4. Wulf says:

    Religion is restrictive but then so is playing in a band and being part of the musical community restrictive for a musician. Some lucky groups stay together happily for years (perhaps by virtue of being very selective) but most have plenty of episodes that make churches look reasonably wholesome and well-balanced in comparison. Very few musicians make much headway though without some band experience and there are sounds they cannot achieve in solo performance.

    As long as churches do not become too diluted by people whose main goal is to belong to that church, and are salted by people overflowing with God’s grace, they can be healthy and liberating places to be and among the more likely places where you discover and grow in God’s grace and truth.

    • Thank you, Wulf. Well put.

      By the way, I’ve had a bit of a look at your blog – I like the way you’ve set it out with different sections etc – one day, when I get time (ha ha), I’ll have a play with my WordPress account and see what I can do with mine.

      Thanks again for reading.

  5. Andrea says:

    I’m currently reading ‘On Retreat: A Lenten Journey’ and I read a passage in it today which made me think about your comments on freedom, so I thought I would share it. Here goes:

    “the Church’s ministry can’t only be one of rescue or curing. For Ignatius Loyola, the sixteenth-century Spanish compiler of ‘The Spiritual Exercises’, healing was more about raising one’s awareness of where one was not whole, so that, with a fuller consciousness of our frailty and wounding, we can be the more fully open to God and more able to choose God freely and fully. Freedom here, then, is not in being healed but in having a changed and transformed relationship with our woundedness. Wounds indeed define us and give us identity and individuality, positively and negatively, and all too often it is our relationship with them or the events or people that caused them that need healing rather than the wounds themselves.”


  6. David Henty says:

    An interesting discussion I’ve now read since recently following your blog Roger. Over my many years’ experience in the C of E. I’ve encountered much of what you describe Tricia and has also put off a lot of my friends of years ago. I could not add any more to Roger’s and Wulf’s good advice and sensible points in the discussion. Focusing on Jesus is the key to the Truth. You’ll find many bad apples in a basket but the good ones are rich in health giving nutriments. If you hold fast to Jesus, ask forgiveness for the elements of you that are ‘bad’ and constantly endeavour to exhibit your Spiritual fruits, then these ‘nutriments’ will steadily improve the bad apples! On the subject of atheism, I always say that if someone doesn’t believe in God, then they must believe He’s there for them not to believe in Him….think about it! All praise to your blog Roger for providing a platform for folk to air their views, express their feelings and receive some comfort, support and advice.

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