I did not expect to meet so many atheists when I moved to Utah seven years ago. But I should have known better: America as a whole is secularizing, and Mormonism itself has a “scorched earth policy.” My Mormon girlfriend in high school once essentially said, “If the LDS Church isn’t true, I don’t know that I could ever believe in God.” Mormonism already is a form of atheism: it denies the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, first, most high God, and instead teaches a kind of naturalism or materialism: everything is matter, even spirits, and everything is subject to eternal laws of ultimate nature, even the gods. It feeds its people conspiracy theories about the corruption of the Bible, and it scares the heck out of Mormons over non-Mormon churches: if you don’t stay with the One True Church, you’ll have to settle for an abominable evangelical church with a corrupt pastor who is a minister of Satan.
That is a colorful way of putting it, but you get the point.
It is depressing that so many people leave Mormonism only to become agnostics or atheists. Fortunately, atheists have a hard time staying atheists. Their children are probably much more open to the Biblical gospel than Mormons are. I suspect God is up to something — he has multi-generational plans we’ve never dreamed of. If giving people the truth about Mormonism’s history and the truth about the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ statistically increases the odds of a person becoming a self-confessed agnostic or atheist, then so be it. God is sovereign and I am not here to be a social engineer or to play God. My job as an ambassador of Jesus is to preach the word of truth in love, and let the chips fall where they may. Fortunately, there is the fruit of ex-Mormon Christians to celebrate.
I used to be intimidated to talk to atheists. They are, in my experience, generally confident about their atheism and have tough questions. But over time I discovered that the average atheist hasn’t read a substantive book defending atheism or theism, and gets his intellectual prowess from… image memes and YouTube. Today, I like to start off conversations with atheists by asking, “Have you ever read a good book defending atheism or theism?” Usually they haven’t. “Have you ever heard any good arguments for the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus?” Usually they haven’t. “What are the strongest arguments for theism or Christianity, and what about them do you find lacking?” Blank stare. “What do you think are some of the most difficult questions for atheism to answer?” Ughhh…
These are great introductory teaching moments. “Would you mind if I shared a few good arguments for the existence of God and for the resurrection of Jesus?” What an awesome opportunity, especially when it culminates in a presentation of the most beautiful (and true) story in the world: God, yes, God, became a man, suffered with us and for us, and paid our penalty on the humiliating and shameful cross, and showed us the best display of sacrificial love there has ever been, simultaneously vindicating the righteousness of God, raising three days letter, showing us that the Lord Jesus Christ has all authority under heaven and earth and infinite power to keep his promises.
My favorite argument for the existence of God is the “moral argument for God.” I push it really hard:
1. If there is no God, there are no objective moral values or duties.
2. There are objective moral values and duties.
3. Therefore, God exists.
The really interesting thing about this argument is that atheists disagree with each other and don’t know it. Some affirm both premises and simply haven’t followed them through to the conclusion. Some affirm premise #1 and disaffirm premise #2, others disaffirm premise #1 and affirm premise #2. Call me a rascal, but when I’m being dog-piled by atheists, I love to get them arguing with each other. The argument is a great way to simultaneously engage someone’s intellect, spiritual intuitions, and suppressed presuppositions, all at the same time.
You can hear more about the moral argument for God here. But don’t let YouTube suffice: read a good book. Some of you are, like me, at times utterly sick of reading about, thinking about, and discussing Mormonism. Take the opportunity to read some good literature that both engages atheism and supports the basics of Biblical Christianity. The ironic thing is that you can take what you learn and share it with not only your atheist neighbors, but also your Mormon neighbors. I dare say that all of the evidences, arguments, and Biblical declarations that atheists need to hear are things that Mormons equally need to hear. Mormons are atheists in embryo. As Mormons are, ex-Mormon atheists once were; as ex-Mormon atheists are, Mormons may be. To quote The Dark Knight Rises out of context: “There is a storm coming.” Mormon parents need to stop asking themselves, “Will my children remain in the LDS Church?”, and start asking, “When my children leave the LDS Church, will they believe in Jesus?” Not if, but when. It’s happening in Utah, and it’s happening fast. Mormons have a hard time imagining what being a Christian theist would be like outside of Mormonism. I want to help start this process of imagination.
Addendum: Ten Discussion Questions for Atheists and Agnostics
- Is there anything you reasonably believe to be true, yet can’t empirically demonstrate?
- Are there any objective moral values or duties?
- Is torturing babies for fun morally objectively wrong?
- Does atheism have a ‘problem of evil’?
- Does every effect have a sufficient cause?
- Do you trust your cognitive faculties?
- To what extent and why?
- Is an infinite regress possible?
- Is it possible that God exists?
- Is truth important for its own sake?
- Is the question of God’s existence important?
- Do you feel angst or sorrow over the absurdity of life?
- What do you think of the person of Jesus?
- Have you ever heard of the “trilemma”?
Philosophical discussion important, but secondary and supplemental to direct preaching. People are not only emotional and spiritual beings, but also intellectual beings, so I consider it a respectful and loving thing to engage a person intellectually.
We are all fools for something. I choose to be a fool for Jesus. “If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.” (1 Corinthians 3:18) Be a “fool” with me and preach the ridiculous gospel of Jesus Christ. Self-confessed atheists are no different than the rest of us inadvertent “practical atheists” who sin as though God does not exist. We need to repent of trusting ourselves and cry out to Jesus in brokenhearted, child-like faith.
God is good, and Jesus has risen,