The Atheist in the Next Pew

The June 2012 edition of Psychology Today contains an article titled “The Atheist at the Breakfast Table” by Bruce Grierson.

Grierson chronicles and advocates a quiet segment of the new atheist movement.  While aggressively confrontational atheists such as Hitchens and Dawkins have been snatching up headlines, the more important story on the rise of atheism in American culture is being played out in churches and religious families. Grierson documents how many atheists in America actively practice religion and argues that more should at least be apathetic towards religion.

Grierson doesn’t discover any groundbreaking reasons for maintaining religious involvement despite not believing in God. The quiet atheists practice religion because they appreciate the moral causes, parenting helps, family involvement, and traditions that they cannot find anywhere else. They dress up, sing hymns, contribute money, volunteer, and even make use of religious language. However, this growing population doesn’t believe that God exists; they just don’t care enough to cause a fuss.

Christians should not imagine that their conservative churches are filled exclusively with fellow believers. The thought of quiet atheists in our midst should not spark witch hunts. Quiet atheists don’t care enough about God to voice their disbelief. Pastors need not go on the war path with sermon series on apologetics. Quiet atheists don’t care enough about God to engage in philosophical debates. Rather than accusing and lecturing one another, Christians must kindle a convictingly apparent passion for God. Quiet atheists need to be confronted by a genuine and passionate love for God.

People are attracted to others who are like them. Perhaps quiet atheists are increasingly feeling comfortable in church because Christians are increasingly caring less and less about God. How much of our time is spent in practical atheism? Are we living as though God did not exist? If we want to reach the atheist in the next pew, we need to become consumed by our passion for God. Our love must be apparent to all and affect every part of our lives.

3 thoughts on “The Atheist in the Next Pew

  1. This is an eye opening blog. I went to church for a while but not believing but I wanted to regain my belief. This a very different phenomenon. I agree that it exists because so many Cristians are functional atheists. On examination their lives reveal no change in behaviors due to their supposed beliefs. Good blog!

  2. I suspect many of the “quiet atheists” would more accurately be described as “polite agnostics.” Others might best be categorized as deists, in the Jeffersonian / Age of Enlightenment tradition. I attend and support a church with an inspirational traditional music program, a scholarly pastor who is an adjunct professor of homiletics, a congregation of wonderful people I might not otherwise have met, and a significant call to service at home and abroad. The fact that I do not believe in the virgin birth, original sin, final judgment, or various other elements of the Apostles’ Creed should not bother my fellow parishioners one way or the other. I appreciate and live our motto of “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors.”

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