Do Atheists Really Believe in God?

I’ve been blogging about my church’s Life Group that I attend.  In this post, I’d like to mention and comment on a discussion that the group had last Thursday morning.  I will refer to people by letter.

The group was talking about family members or acquaintances who are atheists.  S said that two of her children are atheists, yet they are the first to help out people who need help.  I one time heard S say in another setting that parents can teach their children the truth (Christianity), but that it is up to the kids what to do with it.

D was saying that her daughter is disconnected from church, for this daughter does not care for the hypocrisy of Christians.  But D says that she tries to tell her daughter that Christians are not perfect, that they have flaws, just like everyone else.  I remember D saying in the first Life Group that I attended that her daughter is into “liberal stuff,” but her daughter is still under God’s care.  God still knows her daughter’s name.

Another person, M, had an atheist husband years back, but this husband ran off to be with another woman.

The group was getting into the question of whether God reveals himself in some manner to these atheists, and if the problem is that the atheists are rejecting God, which is different from not believing there is a God.  That overlaps with another question: Are these people accountable to God, in any way?  Does God hold them responsible for not accepting and following him?  In short, is their problem that they cannot believe, or that they choose not to believe, even though deep down they know the truth?

Those who spoke in the group seemed to be leaning in the “yes” direction on the first two questions, and in the “they choose not to believe” direction on the third question.  Regarding S’s atheist kids who do good works, people were saying that the fact that they do good works indicates that they know God’s truth, deep down.  They are yielding to the revelation of God, albeit not as much as they should.

M and others were saying that atheists are still responsible before God for how they believe.

I did not say anything.  The discussion went by pretty fast.  Plus, I did not want to come across as a jerk.  But this is a question with which I struggle.

The relevant Bible passage, of course, is Romans 1:18-21:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
(Rom 1:18-21 KJV)

What this passage seems to be saying is that everyone knows there is a God, but they suppress that knowledge.

This is a question with which I struggle.  There are intellectual reasons not to believe in God, I think.  Many testify that they became reluctant atheists: that they wanted Christianity to be true, but that, ultimately, their doubts and their research led them away from the faith.  But there are atheists who will candidly admit that they do not want for there to be a God.  And, to be honest, I cannot blame them.  If God is anything like the portrayals that I have seen within Christianity, then I wouldn’t want that God to exist, either!

Ironically, I was thinking that night before about this question.  What does God think about atheists who simply do not believe that God is real?  What does God think about atheists who do not want God to be real?  An answer came in my head rather fast: “God loves them.”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Do Atheists Really Believe in God?

  1. Peter says:

    Hi James

    I have found your site very interesting and quite refreshing.

    I called myself a Christian for many years but almost a year ago my doubts about the historical reliability of the Bible caused me to ask myself the question, ‘what if all this false’. As I asked the question I found my faith crumbled. In retrospect I see that this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Whether there is a god or not I do not know. But I currently think the god portrayed in the Bible is a human creation. So I suppose you could call me an atheist.

    The irony is that was my efforts to learn more about my faith that ultimately led to my losing that faith.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Yeah, that is a major factor in people deconverting: doubts about the inerrancy/general reliability of the Bible. I’ll be reviewing a book, perhaps tomorrow, by someone who had that sort of experience.


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