Richard Dawkins has a new book out recently attempting to persuade young people to jettison belief in God. Dawkins is an evangelist of sorts for the restless sort of atheism which is discontent with widespread belief in God(s) – but mostly the Christian God.

I don’t believe in the things that Dawkins compares with God: unicorns, leprechauns, or fairies – but I’m not publishing books on how or why not to believe in those things. If belief in God is safely far on the right of ridiculousness, then why is Dawkins continually making a career of evangelizing persons into unbelief? I contend Dawkins is what I was as an atheist – haunted by the Christian God. He [God] ever lives in the conscience of unbelievers never allowing them to live in full moral freedom, always reminding their sub-conscience of their rebellion and need for forgiveness. They can never forget the God who empowers their very life.

This isn’t merely a lone hypothesis of an amused believer: psychological studies show atheists, and agnostics often choose unbelief not after a critical examination of the “evidence” for God, but because of psychological disappointment in a God. The thing they accuse believers of is the real determiner for so many: emotion. Further, this emotion often exists in the form of anger toward God.

Some atheists and agnostics reported anger involving God, particularly on measures emphasizing past experiences (Study 2) and images of a hypothetical God (Study 3). Anger toward God was associated with poorer adjustment to bereavement (Study 4) and cancer (Study 5), particularly when anger remained unresolved over a 1-year period (Study 5). Taken together, these studies suggest that anger toward God is an important dimension of religious and spiritual experience, one that is measurable, widespread, and related to adjustment across various contexts and populations.

Exline JJ1, Park CL, Smyth JM, Carey MP; Anger toward God: social-cognitive predictors, prevalence, and links with adjustment to bereavement and cancer. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Jan;100(1):129-48. doi: 10.1037/a0021716.

More evidence follows:

Our interest was piqued by an early study of anger toward God among undergraduates (Exline et al., 1999), which revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward God than believers. At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset (Exline, Fisher, Rose, & Kampani, 2004; Kampani & Exline, 2002) revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation. Further analyses identified a group of conflicted believers (or slipping believers), all of whom had previously believed that God exists (or might exist) but no longer believed at the time of the study. When compared with believers, these individuals reported more anger toward God. These findings raised the question of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea in line with Novotni and Petersen’s (2001) clinical descriptions of emotional atheism.

Worthington, Everett L. Handbook on Forgiveness (Routledge: 2005), p 79.

Other studies show that atheists have cognitive dissonance regarding what they say they believe about God and what they feel toward Him. For instance, one study had religious and unbelievers repeat statements daring God to do something harmful. The atheists who had skin electrodes showed the same stress levels at daring God as religious people.

So atheists: you’re not fooling anyone – and certainly not God. Romans 1:21 states this clearly:

For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened.

I have compassion on atheists. In some sense they have their lives robbed from them by a blinding devil, a straying heart, and a world that cheers them as they follow suit. They can have no moral rest from the God who haunts them until they acknowledge him. If you lived in an atheistic universe, you could have rest. Since you live in God’s universe, you have the huge opportunity to come to the God who answered our disappointments and dejections with an invitation:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30.

One thought on “ Holy Haunting ”

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