Thursday, August 1, 2013

Idolatry and Atheism: Kissing Cousins

 Idolatry was never an option for Israel. Moses had warned Israel:

  • You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars--all the heavenly array--do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. (Deut. 4:15-19)
False worship is corrupting! We might find it odd that Israel would have to be warned against bowing down before objects. After all, they had God with them! However, Israel continually resorted to idols.

We also worship idols. We might regard the idols of wood and stone as laughable, but we have grown complacent to our own idols and think nothing odd about them. However, instead of idolatrous objects, many educated people do obeisance before an equally laughable idol. The creator and sustainer for the “educated” is an idol of the mind -“naturalism” – the idea that everything was created “naturally,” out of nothing.

Moses scorned the fact that Israel would worship idols:

  • The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. (Deut. 4:27-28)
Moses ridiculed idolatrous worship. These gods could not even “see or hear or eat or smell,” let alone create and sustain the cosmos. Such worship represented the hardening of mind and heart caused by the willful rejection of their own God.

Can idolatrous worship be rationally explained? Only with great difficulty! However, the creator god of naturalism is even less substantial than an idol of wood. Here’s some reasons why:

  1. It’s oxymoronic. It presents natural forces as the creator even before they existed.
  1. Naturalism can’t account for the origin, immutability, uniformity, elegance, and universality of these laws. Nor can it account for life, DNA and the fine-tuning of the universe.
  1. Naturalism suggests that everything – time, space, matter, energy - came into existence uncaused and out of nothing – a real science-stopper!
  1. Naturalism cannot account for the appearance of design. All of our experience with natural forces reveals that they can’t create new information and functional complexity. The atheistic physicist Fred Hoyle appropriately compared naturalism creating with a tornado passing through a junk-yard and creating a Boeing 747.
It can be argued that naturalism – whatever people have in mind by it – is less substantial than the sun or moon. Yet, for many, naturalism is the creator! The Apostle Paul wrote about how people would adopt such a creator:

  • For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. (Romans 1:21-25)
They knew God but rejected Him and received the just and natural consequences of their rejection:

  • Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. (Proverbs 1:29-32)
Rejection of God will kill by itself. God doesn’t have to thunder out of heaven against the rebellious. Atheist Jacques Monod (Goodreads) wrote:

  • “The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe's unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.” 
Rejecting God, Monod was left with darkness. That was his choice and darkness was its consequence.

The brilliant atheist and mathematician Bertrand Russell had talked in terms of a inventing a naturalistic gospel of his choosing. However, the glow was only temporary:

  • "I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel [creating his own meaning]. Now I am cynical about the gospel because it won’t stand the test of life." (Os Guinness, The Journey, 106)
The test of life is crucial, but, all too often, life’s verdict isn’t declared until near the end. Russell’s gospel was eventually overcome by the insipient, unbearable darkness.

The lawyer, Clarence Darrow, expressed the darkness in another way:

  • “The purpose of man is like the purpose of a pollywog—two wiggle along as far as he can without dying; or, to hang to life until death takes him.” 
Eventually, we will experience life in the way we understand it. If our purpose is merely “to hang to life until death takes” us, the darkness is suffocating. Can we imagine/create for ourselves our own gospel – both meaningful and fulfilling? Well, if we can meaningfully imagine for ourselves a family and a six-figure income when, in reality, they don’t exist, then we can also create our own gospel!

Idolatry reaps it’s just consequences. But is this justice? Moses had repeatedly warned Israel about the harsh consequences of idolatry. Did Israel sin out of ignorance? No! God’s tangible presence accompanied Israel, and when it didn’t, their corporate memory was never far away.

Is God unjust to the atheist? Paul explained that they too are without excuse:

  • Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
It is morally inexcusable to believe in the creator god of naturalism. Let us pray for and love those seduced by such a god.

Meanwhile, many have escaped the darkness. A former lesbian commented:

  • I was gay for 20 years until I invited Jesus Christ into my life and completely surrendered to Him. I didn't stop being gay and then accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I CAME JUST LIKE I was and received Jesus and He changed the desires of my heart.

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