“After Watching Your Movie I Realized I’m an Atheist”
Since the release of My Week in Atheism (2014) I have received several comments from both the Christian and atheist sides. Most of the comments and reviews have been very positive. The atheists feel the movie is a fair depiction of atheism while the Christian side feels it is beneficial in learning to defend against secular ideology. The movie was never intended to be a slam-dunk-win for Christianity, defeating all atheist arguments in one blow. I wanted to learn about atheism from atheists. I wanted to listen to their arguments and allow myself to be challenged – and I was, very much so. I have always felt that if Christianity were a valid belief system it would hold up to scrutiny. My opinion has always been, if it is the truth then it will survive – it has to because it is true. While I wanted to make a fairly balanced film and explore the differences between Christianity and atheism, I’m not sure I was prepared for some of the repercussions. Among many of the responses I’ve received, there have been a few who spoke my greatest fear into reality. One of those responses from a Christian summed it up this way, “After watching your movie I realized that I’m an atheist”. I don’t know if I can completely express the feeling this comment left me with. My immediate fear was that I had exposed innocent people to a line of thinking that turned them away from truth and straight toward deception. I thought for certain that I was not doing the work of God but in reality now felt I was playing into the hands of the devil. The deceiver had duped me into thinking I was helping the mission of Christ when all along I had delivered my audience to the roaring lion whom he would devour. My motivation had been revealed as pride and I had disgraced Christianity. I realize this may sound dramatic but those were my true feelings whether rational or not. What had I done?
My son felt differently. Chandler was with me during the entire filming process. He was 18 years old during the production of My Week in Atheism and worked as a cameraman. My wife and I prayed, discussed, and contemplated whether or not he should be involved in this journey and how it could potentially effect his faith both in the negative and positive. In fact, at one point in Missouri during the week at Skepticon, David Smalley and I were walking to dinner and David asked if I was concerned about having Chandler around all these atheists and listening to them. I told David that if Chandler’s belief was only because of my belief then he had nothing. I confidently felt that Chandler had to grow in his own faith and struggle through whatever doubts he would have if he was to be a follower of Christ. I would do my best to provide insight or point him in the best direction I could both theologically as well as philosophically but it would be his journey to take. Chandler grew immensely during this time and since then. He is learning to think critically for himself and has become more convinced of the reality of his faith. So I was encouraged by his response to these comments I received – It’s better they deal with their unbelief rather than keep pretending.
The comments from these people were not stating they were swayed to atheism as much as they realized they truly didn’t have faith in Christianity. They were only living as if God was a safety net. They truly didn’t know if they believed in sin or the resurrection so they decided they couldn’t call themselves a Christian any longer. In all my despair this was actually a good thing. It reminded me of the sobering words of Christ to the church in Laodicea,
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15–16, NIV84)
I know that Christianity cannot be faked as some wrongly assume Pascal’s Wager to surmise. In fact on several occasions Jesus made statements that would turn people away from him in order to confront those who would be nominal followers (Mt. 12:30; Lk. 11:23, 14:26; Jn. 12:25). The Christian faith was never intended to be a passive lifestyle but to aggressively infect our lives as citizens of God’s Kingdom turning us from rebellion toward submission to a resurrected King, Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul states in his defense to king Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20, NIV84). Too often it seems as though we slip into Christianity as if a birthright or for its social acceptance yet never live as examples of Christ’s divine grace. Despite claims otherwise, in most parts of this country it is fashionable to be associated with Christianity. We have promoted a culture that entices people by music, lights, fashion, hipster worship leaders, and motivational pastors, while denying the power of Christ to change lives and live as ambassadors of the City of God. Where the early Christians were mocked for their generosity and faithfulness we today are mocked for our arrogance and platitude. Our attempt to be popular in attracting people to our sanctuaries has left our message empty and uninteresting. We are guilty of allowing people to believe they are Christians without ever confronting the Cross.
I am truly saddened by the comments I received from those removing the label of Christian from their chest. However, I truly think they are better off admitting their unbelief and wrestling with it than living in a charade of religiosity. I’m also saddened that our Church, the body of Christ, is comfortable allowing people to live in a lukewarm state without heating up the water. As I am currently in mid-production of a new film, 40 Churches in 40 Weeks, I have come to realize the truth of many of the statements I have made about the Church. I have also seen, admittedly few, pastors who are about making disciples of Christ more than gathering a fan base. Faithful people who understand that Christianity is not about a label we wear but an encounter with the God of the universe that changes a life permanently. People who teach that to be like Christ means to be like him in his humility, suffering, grace, mercy, and resurrection. While the Church may have a bad reputation, we must remember that we are the Church and that reputation is mine. So does it bother me if people realize they think more like an atheist than they do a Christian after watching my movie? My best answer is that I trust in the sovereignty and providence of God. He is good enough to overcome my failures and gracious enough to allow me to make them
 Augustine, City of God, (c. 426 AD).