The Seeking Atheist

Atheists are intellectually honest and consistent, given the confinements of their worldview. Beyond that, they are like all of us, seeking meaning and purpose with a yearning for something more.

atheistlogo3In one of my very first Biblical Viewpoints posted January 2013, I cited a poignant story about the prominent atheist author, Albert Camus (pronounced Camu), Albert Camus – Unlikely Seeker?

You don’t know about Albert Camus?

He wrote The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956). Remember that high school or college literature or philosophy course where you learned lofty and esoteric concepts like existentialism? Camus wrote haunting but cool stories with dark characters struggling with finding purpose and the meaning of life.

They always came up empty.

My nephew in high school recently told me he was reading Camus. I shared that blog post with him. He was stunned and wanted to share the story with his teacher.

The Modern Atheist
Over 60 years ago, Albert Camus embodied the modern-day, angst-filled, non-believer (atheist or agnostic) who also seeks meaning in a self-defined, meaningless, godless world. Like Camus, the modern atheist is frustrated with issues of suffering and evil and cannot believe in an unscientific, fairy-tale God who appears unable, or worse, uninterested in stopping inequities all around. Famously put, “any God like that is not worth believing in.”

And so many non-believers try to create meaning by showing compassion to the suffering and by encouraging others to do so as well.

Here are some recent facts about modern atheists from the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Study:

  1. Atheists are growing – 3.1% of American adults claim to be atheists, up from 1.6% in 2007. 4% say they are Agnostics, up from 2.4%.
  2. Atheists are younger males – 68% are men with 34 being the average age.
  3. Atheists tend to be Democrats and politically liberal – 69% are Democrats; 56% call themselves political liberals. Only 1 in 10 identify as conservative.
  4. Atheists favor same-sex marriage and legal abortions – 92% and 87% respectively.
  5. Atheists believe government aid to the poor does more good than harm – 74%
  6. Some Atheists believe in God or a universal spirit – 8%
  7. Some Atheists feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly – 31%
  8. Some Atheists say they look primarily to science for guidance on questions of right and wrong – 20%

The Honest Atheist
Atheists, for the most part, are at least consistent. Yes, the 8% who believe in God is a bit weird, but atheist do the best they can with a worldview that forces them to rely pretty much on themselves and their fellow man.

What is interesting about Camus, or for that matter, any atheist, even C.S. Lewis before he surrendered to Christ at age 33 after profoundly rejecting God, religion and faith, they are on an honest quest for something. We are all wired longing for meaning and purpose.

Camus secretly revealed to a Christian friend he met in Paris in the late 1950s that he had questions and doubts about his convictions. Camus told him, “I am searching for something I do not have, something I’m not sure I can define.” 

His friend patiently engaged in ongoing conversations and developed a trusting relationship. Camus had sworn his Christian friend, Howard Mumma, a minister, to secrecy at the time. A secret Mumma kept for over 40 years.

Eventually Camus began to read the Bible that Mumma had given him. He inquired what it meant to be born again and asked if his friend could perform baptisms. His friend explained that “baptism is a symbolic commitment to God” and that being born again means “to enter anew into the process of spiritual growth…to receive forgiveness because you have asked God to forgive you of all your sins.”

Camus replied, Howard, I am ready. I want this!”

You Never Know
While Camus wanted a private baptism, Mumma would not agree to that. He suggested that Camus continue to study the Bible and postpone his baptism until the two could agree on how to go about it. They parted for the season with Camus saying “My friend, mon cher, thank you…I am going to keep striving for the Faith!”1

A few months later, on January 4, 1960, Camus was killed in a car accident.

Whether atheist, agnostic, nominal believer or otherwise, are you searching for more?
“I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas.” So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s most brilliant debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save all who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:19-21

1 Where is Camus? in The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, Zondervan Publishing, 2003, pp. 8-9.

Categories: Devotion, Faith, Family, Jesus, Marketplace, Purpose

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