I was attending a women’s retreat a few years ago. While we popped M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses, women from our church spoke on various topics, and one of my (now) dearest friends spoke on the topic of “practical atheism”. I had never heard the term before, and it intrigued me.
I had heard of atheism before, of course. But practical atheism? Did they all save for rainy days and carry handkerchiefs in case, No One forbid, something happened or someone had a cold? I had no idea what practical atheism could mean. The actual definition made me stop and examine my own life, with more than a little fear.
You see, a practical atheist doesn’t go by the label “atheist”. They actually would identify as Christian. Doubtless, practical atheism occurs religion-wide, but for today I’ll stick with what I know.
A practical atheist accepts God in theory but rejects him in..you guessed it..practice.
This is the church-goer who screws people over in day to day business dealings without a smidgen of remorse.
This is the woman blasting Gospel music on her way to meet her married boyfriend.
This is the person who asks God to bless them but never invites God into any other area of their life.
The practical atheist would say they believe in the God of the Bible. However, if they ever read the Bible, they would see that God actually expects us to submit ourselves to him and live within the boundaries he has created for our protection.
Most people have heard of the ten commandments, and the fact that God isn’t a big fan of sin. That’s why Jesus came to die . For our sin. But not so that we could get a free ticket to heaven and go on living any way we choose. He wants us to let go of sin and live in a way that makes the world a more beautiful place. He wants us to reflect his good, holy, loving character.
God knows the difference between his real children and those who have missed the boat.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”-John 14:21
“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” -1 John 1:6
Christians understand that God is real and therefore, try to live in a way that is pleasing to God. They also pray, and have faith that God is with them through the good and the bad, so they don’t have to resort to sin to find happiness, help, or meaning. If they do fall into sin, their conscience won’t let them stay there long.
Practical atheists say God is real but live as though he is not. The may love a good sermon or song, but reject God’s direction in their journey. Their lives don’t look different from their unbelieving friends.
Let me put it another way. Anyone who has encountered the living God comes away from that experience a different person.
If you were hit by a Mack Truck, people would be able to see the evidence. If you claimed to be hit by a Mack Truck, but your car was fine and you didn’t have a scratch on you, people might have a hard time believing you’d really been in an accident.
So it is with God. There will be a difference between those who truly know him and those who do not.
What you call yourself is only a name. How you respond to the reality of God is quite a different matter. It is crucial to examine your heart and your life to see which side you fall on.
So, back to the conference. This dear friend said she’d been a “Christian” for a long time, but a few years ago, looking back, she’d never really seen the evidence of it in her life. This scared her, and she knew something needed to change. So, she asked God’s forgiveness, and set out to actually live in relationship and obedience to Jesus, and found at last the peace and joy she’d been missing.
That is the good news of Christ. No matter how badly you’ve screwed it up, God’s grace is bigger. Practical atheists (and actual atheists, for that matter), God loves you so very much. While you are still breathing, you can turn to him and ask for a legit relationship, for forgiveness, and salvation. He doesn’t hold grudges and he will help you walk through what it means to actually follow him.
**Edited** Because of some pushback, I would like to emphatically state that I do not use the term “athiest” as synonymous for bad or immoral, only as one who operates in the mindset of unbelief in God.
40 Comments Add yours
Thanks, I had not heard that convicting term before though I have heard Christians going through the motions called “cultural Christians” because they seek the trappings and not the heart of faith. Thanks for the post.
Thanks, Charles. I felt the same when I first heard the term..makes it really black and white!
I think “insincere Christian” would be a better term than “practical atheist”. For one thing, you say that “practical atheism” is religion-wide. But did you know that there are atheistic religions? Most Buddhists, for example, do not believe in any gods.
For another thing, the term implies that these insincere Christians are living their lives as if they were atheists. But what you are describing does not sound like the way most atheists I know live their lives. Being an atheist does not automatically make someone an uncaring jerk. Most of the atheists I know are good, kind people. Heck, there’s even atheist charities (e.g. https://foundationbeyondbelief.org/).
I agree, many atheists are wonderful people..atheist was only meant to describe an unbelief in God. The term “atheist” is definitely not synonymous with unkind or amoral.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Well it’s great that you didn’t intend to call atheists amoral, but I sure wasn’t the only one to read that into your article. And, frankly, there are a lot of people who do mean to call atheists amoral. We are constantly asked “How can you have any morals without God?” or “What’s stopping you from raping and murdering people if you don’t believe in God?” or other ridiculous questions by the many people who do assume that atheists must be bad people.
It’s precisely because of that context that I dislike the term “practical atheist” when used to describe scummy, insincere Christians. It comes across as just another attempt to call atheists bad people, because lots of people do that, all the time. If you don’t want to inadvertently call atheists bad people… maybe don’t use that term?
I added a caveat to the blog to clarify. I’m sorry people are so mean and callous. I am not one of those who think I get to be a jerk to others just because we disagree. I can tell you’re not, either. Thanks for your comments and I will definitely take them to heart. I am not out to offend anyone, and honestly, it’s only because of semantics that this blog ruffled feathers..the intent was never to do so.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks. I can tell it wasn’t your intent to offend, and I’m glad about that. If it wasn’t for all the other people who do mean to offend, it probably wouldn’t ruffle so many feathers.
But even if you specify that you are not using atheist as a synonym for “bad person”, people are still going to make inferences from the term “practical atheist” being used to describe scummy, insincere Christians. For one thing, the term is being used to describe what people are doing wrong. That is, to describe people who say they believe something, and then act as if they don’t. Furthermore, most of the actions you describe these insincere Christians taking are bad ones. Using the term “practical atheist” implies these people are acting like atheists would act. People are going to infer from this that atheists are bad people, or reinforce their prior belief that atheists are bad people, even if that’s not what you are trying to say.
It would be better not to use the term “practical atheist” at all. I know you didn’t come up with that term, and you came to an interesting realization when you heard it. It’s perfectly fine to talk about what you realized when you were introduced to that term. But do you really need to keep using it after that in order to talk about insincere Christians?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Why would you use ‘athiest’ as a derogatory stick to beat your fellow Christians? Not very gracious. Seems your grace isn’t nearly as big or open as the god’s you serve. I’m sure you have issues that others would find incongruent with the Christian faith also… Say…. Pride, arrogance and lack of grace?
Definitely not using it as a negative term..only using it to represent unbelief.
So… If it’s not a negative term, why use it to shame Christians as if it is? I’m either not sure you understand the implications, or your not willing to admit a poorly worded and phrased article.
Humility is also admitting when you’ve erred
I actually did not come up with the term, but I think it accurately describes a person who says they believe in God but in practice do not act as if they do. This is not an attack or a slander of atheists. Atheists are people who have made a rational, logical decision as to what they believe. It is also not a slam on Christians who fit in this category, but a call to examine what lies behind their behavior.
When you write unbelief in God, which god do you refer to, please?
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 🙂 In other words, the God from the Judeo-Christian faith.
You are, I presume, referring to Yahweh, yes?
Are you aware that this god was merely part of a pantheon and was originally a Canaanite god?
There have been many, many “gods” worshiped throughout history..maybe the true one got thrown in from time to time? 🙂 What I do know is that the truth of intelligent design in inescapable, that the historical Jesus rose from the dead, that Paul left everything against all good reason to give his life in spreading the Gospel, and that I have had real, personal interaction with God, have heard his voice (literally ) and have seen him answer prayers so specifically it could only be him..as have my friends and countless Christians (Brother Andrew’s stories of God’s providence behind the Iron Curtain are absolutely amazing, pick up a copy of ”God’s Smuggler ”). I have also felt the very real presence of evil and talked to people (regular, sane people ) who have had encounters with angels and demons. There is too much proof, in my own experience, to do anything but worship Him and give thanks that He is good and loves me.
This is all good and well, but the archaeological evidence refutes the notion that Yahweh is the creator deity you worship.
This is why I ask the question and wonder why you are unaware of the Ugarit tablets? ( and also, other archaeological evidence)
I recommend you investigate the history, it is truly fascinating)
Furthermore, are you aware that the entire Pentateuch is now regarded as historical fiction by all but fundamentalists?
Again, archaeology and science support this and the evidence backs this up.
Have you not conducted any historical research into the Old Testament?
Is was, after all, composed by Jews for Jews and was never intended for a gentile audience. And these days the Jews recognise that is largely geopolitical myth and most acknowledge this.
As we now know that the god you worship is simply a lessor Canaanite deity, how can you be so sure you have interacted with this god, especially as he is nothing but a fictional Bronze Age Canaanite character?
So what of Jesus? This brings us a little closer to present age, and as the God he claims to represent is, in fact, Yahweh, and he backs up his claim of deity with miracles and rising from the dead? The fact that his closest friends perpetuated his message until all except John were killed for it? And the fact that miracles, in the name of Jesus, still happen today? The sightings of angels and demons? There must be fire, because there sure is a lot of smoke..
This brings into question exactly who recorded that the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth said and did these things?
Unfortunately, we simply do not know.
There are no verifiable accounts of angels or demons either, I am afraid.
For example, Christian apologist, Mike Licona does not believe the raising of the saints at the Crucifixion is anything but a myth inserted by the writer of Matthew – whoever this was -and should not be read or understood as a literal event.
There is no verifiable evidence to suggest any of his ”closest friends” were killed.
Well, I am unaware f any, but please if you have then I would be very interested in reading your source. Thanks.
Such things I realise are a whole different barrel of fish but should not detract from the very real truth that Yahweh was simply a lessor Canaanite god who was elevated by the Israelites, initially as the premier god, surpassing El, then later as the only god ( denying all others)
Jesus was a Jew so naturally he was familiar with the Torah and Jewish/Mosaic Law which he taught and claimed he had come to fulfill, yes? Therefore, he would identify Yahweh as the god of Israel, which he was, but certainly no more than this.
And evidence shows he was not the original creator god as (originally) claimed by Jews and still claimed by Christians.
I have always known El and Yahweh to be two names for the same God? The angels and demons stories, if we are not looking to the Bible (wink, wink) are accounts I’ve heard first hand from trusted people. Whoever spoke to me, and I do believe it was God, was there, even though I couldn’t see him. He spoke directly to my circumstance, giving me affirmation to go through with a move that would allow me to follow him (this was early on in my Christian walk, when I was 25). What are your thoughts on intelligent design?
No, El and Yahweh were two separate deities.
Yahweh was one of El’s ”sons of god”.
You should read up on the Ugaritic tablets and/or Canaanite gods. Fascinating stuff, I assure you.
Start with Wiki if you like?
ID? I have no truck with this. It is simply creationism in a different dress.
And I am not one for cross-dressing, to be honest. 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is a Christian blog. I’m sure if you want to read about someone who doesn’t believe in God or talk about her Christian walk or other Christians in general you can find that easily.
Emily, thanks. I don’t mind a good conversation, so long as it is civil and doesn’t drag into endless circles 🙂
The topic of the post included atheists, and although not intentionally, portrayed them in an unfavorable light.
I came across the post frm another blog and asked a few straightforward questions.
It is an open forum. I am being polite and respectful so why may I ask, Emily, are you being hostile?
Whoa…wish I had time today to join in this discussion. Being articulate wins…whether what a person says is well-founded or not. I have never experienced your blog as being a battleground for debate…but if it becomes that, you are a worthy opponent. Can’t join in presently but just remember there are many others in your readership who “haven’t bowed the knee to Baal” who are also articulate, have done research, and are also convinced what they know to be true is true…no matter the detractor before them. Lively repartee. There is truth. Gotta get back to work.
Were you aware that Baal was a Canaanite storm god? You should research the history; fascinating stuff. 🙂
You presume that I haven’t done research. Wrong.
Okay, no problem. Would you please supply a link for me so’s I can read?
I am always open to learn new stuff, this is how we grow.
I also dislike this “practical atheist” term. As an actual atheist for over 30 years, here’s what living as an atheist is for me:
Treasuring each day, because this life is all we get.
Taking care of our planet, because it’s the only one we have.
Creating my own meaning and purpose in my life, because nobody is going to dictate that for me.
Treating my fellow humans with kindness and fairness, because I have to fix my own mistakes and live with the ones I can’t fix. There’s no “divine forgiveness” if I screw up, so I have to try really hard not to screw up.
Striving to create a just society, because there’s no justice coming from anywhere else.
What you described in your post was not a “practical atheist”, but a “christian hypocrite”. Or maybe a “christian poser”. When someone loudly proclaims they follow a specific set of moral guidelines, but then doesn’t actually follow them, that’s horrible behavior that needs to be called out, and I’m glad to see you doing that. I just don’t like being lumped in with hypocrites, liars and cheaters.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t believe in God and I like really comfortable shoes. I am a practical atheist. Those other people are just crappy Christians.
Ok this made me laugh 🙂
If Yahweh was real I imagine him to be a hob-nail boot sort of guy, singing Nancy Sinatra’s theme song all day long.
Or maybe this really is Yahweh?
Who knew he was this hot, right?
Ark, have you heard of Lee Strobel? He was an atheist journalist who set out to disprove God and Jesus and through his research became a believer. His books, Case for Christ, Case for Faith, and Case for a Creator might interest you.
*Smile* Take as given I have read or researched pretty much all of the ‘Converts’ of this ilk. And yes, ”Cold case Crispyanity” too…
But thanks for the heads up.
Strobel is a very silly person ( I am being extremely polite, here) and although he sells lots and lots of books to credulous individuals who seem to cite him on a regular basis as evidence that Yahweh must exist if he convinced a real live journalist …cor wow, right? – he has about as much credibility with genuine scholars as WWF has with genuine sports people.
And Strobel has less muscle than WWF and probably less in his trunks.
I would have thought you more savvy than to fall for his nonsense?
Why not read and research genuine historians, scholars and the like?
Maybe start with Ehrman as a gentle intro and graduate to archaeologists such as William Devers or Israel Finkelstein?
If all you are looking for are people to reassure your faith then fine, but people like Strobel are somewhat like Benny Hinn.
”Praise the Lawd… now gimme all your money.”
Sad, but so very true.
Just a thought 🙂 I read his books years ago and enjoyed them. I tend to read biographies of missionaries (Richard Wurmbrand, Corrie Ten Boom, Brother Andrew, Imaculee Ilibigaza, Sam James, (a friend of a friend) and find my faith strengthened by their recounting of God’s presence, provision, and intervention. I am shocked that you don’t find Benny Hinn credible!! Kidding! 🙂
Actually I prefer John Travolta in his white suit. Benny just looks like a walking advert for proof that some people really do check their brains at the door.
You like missionaries? Listen to this chap.
I will have to watch it when I get back home. I am up visiting my parents and their Internet is sloooowww. That said, have a great weekend! I’m off for some family bonding. 🙂
Excellent! My folks live in the UK … such bonding is a tad difficult on a regular basis!
Have a great weekend.