Are Atheists & Agnostics Longing for that Old Time Religion?

I can still hear the words of the church song from my youth, “Give me That Old Time Religion.” The sentiments from that song were clear even though the theology was a bit questionable! Of course, the song is an appeal to stand firm in the faith of past generations. I had not thought about that song for years until this past week when two very unlikely people spoke out yearning for what Christianity has lost in our generation. It appears that some atheists and agnostics may even be sharing that sentiment of give me that old time religion. 

The first was Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist, Zoologist, Professor Emeritus of Oxford University.  Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, who loved to debate evolution and creation and who was devoted to undermining the Christian faith, announced this past week that he is a “cultural Christian.” His surprising statement voiced his concerns about the loss of Christian institutions, virtues and influence in Western culture.  Fox News Online reported,

“A famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explained he identifies as a “cultural Christian” in an interview after learning Ramadan lights were hung on a street in the UK as opposed to hanging lights to celebrate Easter. Dawkins was referring to Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, turning on 30,000 lights for Ramadan – the Muslim holy month – on the cusp of Easter weekend on Oxford Street.  “I must say I’m slightly horrified to hear that Ramadan is being promoted instead,” Dawkins said in an interview with Rachel S. Johnson of LBC Sunday. “I feel that we are a Christian country.”

“It’s true that statistically, the number of people who actually believe in Christianity is going down and I’m happy with that, but I would not be happy if, for example, we lost all our cathedrals and our beautiful parish churches. So, I count myself a cultural Christian. I think it would matter if we… substituted any alternative religion, that would be truly dreadful,” 


Dawkins words stunned many who have been aware of his anti-Christian stance over the years. Is Dawkins saying he is a Christian now? Definitely not! It seems as though he wants to claim cultural Christianity as his identity. He wants all the benefits of Christian influence and institutions in society without making a true commitment to the faith. Jesus clearly does not offer this as an alternative in the Gospels. To be fair, many religious people calling themselves Christians have done the same thing for generations. They have professed they are followers of Christ, but they are mere consumers of cultural Christianity, thereby undermining the true faith in Jesus Christ.

Could it be that Dawkins is realizing that Christianity was not so bad and that not all religions are the same? After all Christians who disagreed with Dawkins did not call for his imminent death or loudly clamor to silence him and cancel him from culture. In fact, Christianity is the powerful influence that shaped western culture’s tolerance of true freedom of speech. We would not have had the Bill of Rights without the influence of Christianity. Perhaps Dawkins is realizing that if he and his friends had tried to use the same strategy to undermine the Muslim faith in Muslim dominated countries they would have lost their lives long ago. Or perhaps he is seeing the intolerance and loss of freedom of speech imposed by the new “secular religions” displacing Christianity!

Let me be clear, I don’t believe all of our founders in America were Christian, but I do think that Christianity was one of the primary influencers of our Constitution. This is what enabled the founders to say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” You may say, we have not lived up to that. The answer is, “No we have not!” And as a nation, we have struggled to achieve the ideals set forth by our founders ever since. That does not make the sentiment any less true. I believe that even in the midst of America’s shortcomings and brokenness, the promise and pursuit of these rights is what sets us apart and keeps new immigrants coming to our shores.

Christianity teaches that all people are made in the image of God, not just those who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. All people have value in the eyes of God regardless of their beliefs. As Christians, we should treat all people with integrity and honor, even those who disagree with our faith, be they Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists, Agnostics, Atheists, etc. We are even taught to forgive our enemies and pray for them. Most Christians believe in “Just War Theory” or pacifism and not in holy war. These core beliefs are often not found in other political or religious beliefs! Only now does Richard Dawkins realize that in denigrating and mocking Christianity, he made way for other gods and belief systems to enter that are not to his liking. The UK Telegraph Online in an article about Dawkin’s comments entitled, Christianity’s decline has unleashed terrible new gods had this to say about Dawkins proclamation,

“New Atheism was mistaken in its diagnosis of what would follow religion’s decline. The rational world we were promised hasn’t materialised and a nastier, less reasonable one is supplanting what was there before. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Scotland. By the New Atheist logic, it ought to be the most rational place in the UK since de-Christianisation has occurred there at a faster rate. Membership of the national Church of Scotland has fallen by 35 per cent in 10 years and the Scottish Churches Trust warns that 700 Christian places of worship will probably close in the next few years. A Scottish friend recently explained that every place where he’d come to faith – where he was christened, where his father was buried – had been shut or sold. This is not only a national tragedy, but a personal one. New Atheism assumed that, as people abandoned Christianity they would embrace a sort of enlightened, secular position. The death of Christian Scotland shows this was wrong. Faith there has been replaced by derangement and the birthplace of the Scottish enlightenment – which rose out of Christian principles – now worships intolerant new gods.”

The second amazing statement mirroring Dawkin’s proclamation comes from Derek Thompson writing in The Atlantic. Thompson’s admission is not as dramatic as Dawkins, but noteworthy just the same.

“As an agnostic, I have spent most of my life thinking about the decline of faith in America in mostly positive terms. Organized religion seemed, to me, beset by scandal and entangled in noxious politics. So, I thought, what is there really to mourn? Only in the past few years have I come around to a different view. Maybe religion, for all of its faults, works a bit like a retaining wall to hold back the destabilizing pressure of American hyper-individualism, which threatens to swell and spill over in its absence.

I’m not advocating that every atheist and agnostic in America immediately choose a world religion and commit themselves to weekly church (or synagogue, or mosque) attendance. But I wonder if, in forgoing organized religion, an isolated country has discarded an old and proven source of ritual at a time when we most need it. Making friends as an adult can be hard; it’s especially hard without a scheduled weekly reunion of congregants. Finding meaning in the world is hard too; it’s especially difficult if the oldest systems of meaning-making hold less and less appeal. It took decades for Americans to lose religion. It might take decades to understand the entirety of what we lost.”

Derek Thompson’s concerns are that Christianity as an organized religion had a stabilizing effect on American Life. People leaving churches or synagogues and opting out of their faith is having a negative effect on our culture. He mentions the ability of Christian Worship and belief as a powerful force for connecting people to community and civic life. He also acknowledges that Christian Marriage was part of the important glue holding America together. “This year, the Pew Research Center reported that religiously unaffiliated Americans are less likely to volunteer, less likely to feel satisfied with their community and social life, and more likely to say they feel lonely. “

I can agree with both of these men that the Church in the West has at times been lacking. Unfortunately, the headlines about corrupt operators in the Church that we often see neglect to mention the many faithful believers having a wonderful impact on society every day! It is somewhat gratifying to see a change of heart here, but I would rather see people like Dawkins and Thompson advocate for more tolerance and less cancel culture against anything Christian so often found in western institutions.

A person doesn’t have to be religious to be a hypocrite. These men and others like them rejoiced to see the demise of organized religion in the west. I don’t think I heard much criticism from their tribe of how women are mistreated in most Islamic countries. Would their criticism even be tolerated there? They have also contributed to the new intolerance rising up in the west based on critical race theory, gender theory, intersectionality etc. These new constructs based in Neo-marxism that are replacing Christian and rationalist ethics seek to silence any voice that dares to question them. They are incompatible with the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of religion. There is no redemption, no forgiveness, no open civil discussions on issues or reconciliation in Neo-marxism. Just division, criticism, deconstruction of society and revolution.

My response to these two men and others that may be thinking the same thoughts is threefold:

  • Don’t play taps for Christianity or the Church just yet. While Christianity in the West struggles to find direction, authentic Christian faith is growing around the world. Christianity is growing fastest in places where persecution is the greatest. According to the recent stats the fastest growing churches are in places like Iran, Pakistan, and Africa Countries. These vibrant churches have much to teach us!
  • I believe the Church in the West is at the cusp of a new reformation. There is a new spiritual awakening coming. It will not look the same as past awakenings. It will embrace new organic structures that will connect people to God and one another. History would tell us that destruction of old models among God’s people comes before He does a new thing!
  • Jesus taught a law of sowing and reaping. He said we would reap a spiritual harvest for the actions that we sowed in this life. I believe Jesus is saying to all of us, “Repent (Stop, change your ways and embrace a new reality), for the Kingdom of God is near.” Will you heed His voice?