The 20th-Century Denial of God
“People are resigned to the absence of God and are organizing their lives independently, for good or for ill, and without any reference to God.”—One Hundred Years of Debate Over God—The Sources of Modern Atheism.
THOUGH it is at first impressive, a towering tree is eventually regarded as commonplace. Its presence is familiar; its height is no longer awe-inspiring.
It is similar with atheism. Though it provoked much debate during the 19th century, the denial of God’s existence is neither shocking nor disturbing today. An era of tolerance has allowed atheism to settle into peaceful coexistence with belief in God.
Not that most people deny God outright; on the contrary, poll results from 11 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia reveal that, on the average, little more than 2 percent claim to be atheists. Nevertheless, an atheistic spirit is prevalent—even among many who believe that God exists. How can this be?
Denying God’s Authority
“Sometimes atheism refers simply to the practical rejection or ignoring of God,” notes The Encyclopedia Americana. For this reason, The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the following second definition of “atheist”: “A person who denies God morally; a godless person.”—Italics ours.
Yes, atheism may entail a denial either of God’s existence or of his authority or of both. The Bible alludes to this atheistic spirit at Titus 1:16: “They profess to acknowledge God, but deny him by their actions.”—The New English Bible; compare Psalm 14:1.
Such rejection of God’s authority can be traced back to the first human pair. Eve acknowledged God’s existence; yet, she wanted “to be like God, knowing good and bad.” The implication was that she could ‘be her own boss’ and create her own moral code. Adam later joined Eve in this denial of God’s authority.—Genesis 3:5, 6.
Is this attitude prevalent today? Yes. A subtle atheism is manifested in a quest for independence. “People today are tired of living under the eye of God,” observes the book One Hundred Years of Debate Over God—The Sources of Modern Atheism. “They . . . prefer to live in freedom.” The Bible’s moral code is renounced as impractical, unrealistic. The thinking of many is much like that of the Egyptian Pharaoh who defiantly declared: “Who is Jehovah, so that I should obey his voice . . . ? I do not know Jehovah at all.” He rejected Jehovah’s authority.—Exodus 5:2.
Christendom’s Denial of God
The most shocking denial of God’s authority comes from Christendom’s clergy, who have substituted man-made traditions for pure Bible truths. (Compare Matthew 15:9.) Additionally, they have backed the bloodiest wars of the 20th century, thus rejecting the Biblical command to display genuine love.—John 13:35.
The clergy have also denied God by turning their backs on his moral standards—as evidenced, for example, by a steady stream of lawsuits against pedophile priests. The situation of Christendom resembles that of ancient Israel and Judah. “The land is filled with bloodshed and the city is full of crookedness,” the prophet Ezekiel was told, “for they have said, ‘Jehovah has left the land, and Jehovah is not seeing.’” (Ezekiel 9:9; compare Isaiah 29:15.) Little wonder that many have abandoned Christendom’s churches altogether! But must they abandon belief in God?
Valid Reasons for Atheism?
Whether they have observed the hypocrisy of religion or not, many atheists simply cannot reconcile belief in God with the suffering in the world. Simone de Beauvoir once said: “It was easier for me to think of a world without a creator than of a creator loaded with all the contradictions of the world.”
Do the world’s injustices—including those instigated by hypocritical religionists—prove that there is no God? Consider: If a knife is used to threaten, injure, or even murder an innocent person, does this prove that the knife had no designer? Does it not rather show that the object was put to a wrong use? Likewise, much of human grief gives evidence that humans are misusing their God-given abilities as well as the earth itself.
Some, however, feel that it is illogical to believe in God, since we cannot see him. But what about air, sound waves, and odors? We cannot see any of these things, yet we know they exist. Our lungs, ears, and noses tell us so. Surely, we believe in what cannot be seen if we have evidence.
After contemplating the physical evidence—including electrons, protons, atoms, amino acids, and the complex brain—natural scientist Irving William Knobloch was moved to say: “I believe in God because to me His Divine existence is the only logical explanation for things as they are.” (Compare Psalm 104:24.) Similarly, physiologist Marlin Books Kreider states: “Both as an ordinary human being, and also as a man devoting his life to scientific study and research, I have no doubt at all about the existence of God.”
These men are not alone. According to physics professor Henry Margenau, “if you take the top-notch scientists, you find very few atheists among them.” Neither the advances of science nor the failure of religion need force us to abandon belief in a Creator. Let us examine why.
The Contrast of True Religion
In 1803, United States president Thomas Jefferson wrote: “To the corruptions of Christianity, I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.” Yes, there is a difference between Christendom and Christianity. Many of Christendom’s tenets are founded upon the traditions of men. In contrast, true Christianity bases its beliefs solely upon the Bible. Thus, Paul wrote to the first-century Colossians that they should acquire “accurate knowledge,” “wisdom,” and “spiritual comprehension.”—Colossians 1:9, 10.
This is what we should expect of genuine Christians, for Jesus commanded his followers: “Make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them . . . , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are carrying out this command in 231 lands around the world. They have translated the Bible into 12 languages and have printed well over 74,000,000 copies. Moreover, through a home Bible study program, they are presently helping over 4,500,000 persons to ‘observe all the things Jesus commanded.’
This educational program is having far-reaching results. It brings true enlightenment, for it is based, not on man’s thoughts, but on God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 4:18) Furthermore, it is helping people from all nations and races to do something that man’s “Enlightenment” could never accomplish—to put on a “new personality” that enables them to develop genuine love for one another.—Colossians 3:9, 10.
True religion is triumphing in our 20th century. It does not deny God—neither his existence nor his authority. We invite you to see this for yourself by visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses at one of their Kingdom Halls.
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STRENGTHENING THE ROOTS OF ATHEISM
In the middle of the 18th century, philosopher Denis Diderot was commissioned to translate a single-volume encyclopedia from English into French. However, he far exceeded his employer’s expectations. Diderot spent about three decades compiling his Encyclopédie, a 28-volume work that captured the spirit of the age.
Although the Encyclopédie contained much practical information, its focus was on human wisdom. According to the set Great Ages of Man, it “dared to preach the [philosophers’] radical credo that man could improve his lot if he replaced faith with reason as his guiding principle.” Mention of God was conspicuously absent. “By their choice of subjects,” says the book The Modern Heritage, “the editors made it clear that religion was not one of the things men needed to know.” Not surprisingly, the church tried to suppress the Encyclopédie. The attorney general denounced it as subversive to politics, morals, and religion.
Despite its enemies, Diderot’s Encyclopédie was requested by some 4,000 persons—an astounding number, considering its exorbitant price. It was simply a matter of time before this atheistic undercurrent would blossom into full-fledged denial of God.