“I Have No Interest in God”June 15, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Here’s Billy Graham responding to an anonymous atheist who writes to tell him, “I Have No Interest in God.”
Q: I want to make myself clear: I have no interest in God or religion, and I don’t care who knows it. As far as I’m concerned, God doesn’t exist, and this life is all there is. Don’t even bother to write me back, because I’m not interested. – G.P.
Billy’s answer? He confronts the issue head on by denying that it’s really true that the atheist has no interest or belief in God.
A: To be frank, it sounds to me as if down inside you actually do know that God exists; otherwise, why would you be fighting so strenuously against Him and trying to keep Him out of your life? Or why would you even bother to write me?
After all, why fight against something (or Someone) that doesn’t even exist (as you claim)? If you were really convinced God didn’t exist, the logical thing for you to do would be to ignore Him. But you aren’t ignoring Him – and the more you fight against God, the more you are in danger of persuading yourself that He actually does exist.
Have you ever honestly asked yourself why you don’t believe in God? I’m sure you could list many “reasons” why you’ve rejected Him; most professed atheists can. But are they the real reason? I doubt it. I suspect the real reason you’ve rejected God is because you want to be free to run your own life – and you know that won’t be possible once you admit God exists.
Notice the interesting twist on the Emperor’s New Clothes there at the end: the reason you can’t see God is because you lack the humility and submissiveness that would enable you to see this fine material we’re cutting and sewing for you. But let’s take this back a step at a time.
First of all, why would it be impossible to live your own life if you know that God exists? Does the mere knowledge of God’s existence enslave you? One would think that, since Billy Graham claims to admit that God exists, he must not run his own life. And frankly, chances are he would claim that this is true, that God is running his life now. But what does that mean in practical terms? Does he not get to make his own decisions any more? Is his free will atrophied or absent from neglect and non-use? Is being a famous, admired, and wealthy evangelist really so different from what he would have wanted for himself if God hadn’t forced him to be so successful?
The idea that God runs your life is little more than superstitious lip-service. You can choose to give God the credit for the way things work out, but at no point are you ever really running the show. You’re not “free” to decide to be as famous, respected, and wealthy as Billy Graham; no one is. You work hard and make the most of the opportunities that are available to you, just like everyone else, and in some cases things turn out better than you had hoped (though often it’s not even as good as you wished). But no matter how things turn out or who you give the credit to, you live your life by making the best decisions you can from the alternatives available to you at the moment.
What Billy is really putting into practice, and what evangelists often try to sell, is the idea that God is going to give you greater control over achieving your goals, both by providing you with sage advice as to which goals are best and by providing you with a little supernatural luck to improve your odds of getting what you want. It’s not like you used to have free will and the right to make your own decisions, and now God has turned you into a robot. No indeed: if you go to church on a regular basis, you’ll often hear the preacher reminding you that God won’t make your choices for you, He’ll just show you which choices are most likely to bring you the greatest blessing, and leave the rest up to you. You’re still free to run your own life, and even to ignore God’s wise and helpful recommendations if you so choose.
So the idea that an atheist would reject God out of a desire to be “free to run his own life” really boils down to claiming that atheists, for some reason, don’t want to improve their odds of achieving success and happiness. Pretty strange argument, eh? So let’s back up to the argument that came before this one. “Why fight against something (or Someone) who doesn’t exist? The more you fight against God, the more you are in danger of convincing yourself that He does exist.” In other words, by opposing God, you’re supposedly admitting, indirectly, that God is actually real enough to fight against.
Billy is overlooking one very important point: the Christian God does not exist but Christian people do. Notice, the atheist didn’t write to God to say “I have no interest in You.” He wrote to a real person, Billy Graham. And likewise, it’s not God that’s the problem; the problem is real people, like Billy Graham, going around telling people “You agree that I’m right even though you think you don’t.” This anonymous atheist is under no delusions at all: he directed his complaint exactly where it belonged.
Is Billy Graham in danger of convincing himself that Thor really does exist? Does his lack of interest in Thorian theology really betray a secret belief in Thor, and a willful reluctance to acknowledge Him out of fear that doing so will impede his freedom to live his own life? Of course not, that’s silly. It’s not even an issue, because Billy doesn’t have hordes of Thor worshipers haranguing him with Thorian apologetics, and trying to get laws passed opening up schools to teach the Edda as “literature”, or declaring that the US is “one nation under gods,” and so on. Of course, that begs the question of whether Billy has to choose between opposing Muslims (and thus proving that he secretly believes that Allah is the One True God), or failing to confront them (thus proving that he secretly knows they are correct).
All in all, Billy’s answers here are remarkably shallow and irrelevant. If an atheist has no interest in God, the correct response is to say, “You should mention that to Him the next time you see Him.” Of course, that only works out to be an evangelistic answer if God actually shows up in the real world. And if He doesn’t, then perhaps we should ask ourselves whether the atheist’s perspective might not be more appropriate.