Romans 1:18-23: Concerning Foolish Atheists

Earlier today, I was struck by a large amount of views of one of my posts on an obscure biblical law involving jealous husbands [1] that presented the biblical law in a more praiseworthy light than is generally the case among critics of God’s law, or of biblical religion in general. To my surprise, many of the views came from a thread in an atheist forum (not a place that I tend to go) where some of the people there suggested surprise than an obvious believer in the Bible such as myself could be capable of rational thought in the first place [2]. It seems striking that atheists, who often (falsely) pride themselves on the greatness of their capacity for reason and intellect can fail to distinguish between punishment for sin (which God handles in both a corporate and individual fashion, as the Torah makes plain) and the hostility of believers towards the murder of innocents on a massive and industrial scale as occurs in our debased modern world, where even infants are considered by some as undeveloped and not fully human and therefore not possessing of the right to life.

It is striking that the situation of bio-ethicists today concerning the right to life of the newly born, to say nothing of the unborn, resembles the moral worldview of the ancient Romans [3]. In the Roman world, the pater familias of a clan had the right to determine if he wanted to claim a son or daughter as his own or not as an infant. A child that was claimed was brought into the house, given a name, and taken care of. A child that was not claimed was left for the shepherds or for slave dealers to take, or to die of exposure with no care or concern shown to its life by its birth parents at all. In our modern society, it is generally the birth mother as opposed to the birth father that tends to be given the jurisdiction over determining whether a child lives or dies (though a father, who tends to be burdened, such as it is, with the responsibility for providing child support for the little one, may exercise considerable pressure if he wishes to avoid the responsibility for caring for a child he may have foolishly or unintentionally conceived). Whether we view this regression to heathen Roman family morality as a gain in rationality or as a decline in moral sensibility depends in large part on the enlightened nature of our own moral worldview.

Perhaps a great deal of the confusion on the part of the atheists who sought to use my own pronomian blog entry for their own partisan interests comes from a distinct difference in the biblical worldview (even in the form in which it is understood by many) and the worldview of the atheists. For a believer in the Bible, dead human beings (even the unborn or those who die as infants) go to the grave until their time of resurrection and judgment. Therefore the penalty of death against the Canaanites or the punishment of a womb drying up for an unfaithful wife, as painful and unpleasant as it is, is not the end of the story. There will be a chance for such peoples whose cultural sins were so abhorrent to God’s ways as to require extermination to repent of their sins upon facing their Lord and God in judgment. The same is also true of our culture, should we refuse to take advantage of the opportunity we now have to repent of our own wickedness while there is time, and face our own temporal judgment as a society. Those of us who are futurists in reading Revelation, for example (and this is true of preterist Theonomists as well) expect a massive and very deadly physical period of judgment that will result in the establishment of God’s ways throughout the whole earth. A belief that death is not the end, but is preliminary to a final judgment of a person’s eternal destiny, is what makes the belief in physical judgment (as a result of sin, even collectively) not contradictory with an ethos that is ultimately pro-life not merely in matters of abortion but also in terms of personal violence as well as euthenasia. Since God is judge, those who violate God’s law are worthy of death, but since we are not God ourselves, we do not have the right to terminate life for our own convenience. The view of Bible believers is possibly too enlightened and too nuanced for atheists to grasp.

The Bible is, notably, very clear about God’s view of the moral worldview of the Romans that has been restored by bio-ethicists and their atheist supporters, most notably in Romans 1:18-23, which reads: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal nature and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

Similar to our own time, in the time of the Hellenistic monarchs as well as the Roman Empire there was a sort of sophisticated paganism that at times blended into outright atheism in its skepticism over the spiritual realm as well as its denigration of the physical world and a lack of appreciation for the creation of the physical world. Whether this hostility to the material world and its Creator was expressed in a Platonic love of the ideal and a corresponding denigration of the real, or whether it was in a gnostic sort of hostility to the flesh and its demands either through a rigid and stoic asceticism or through an immoral and pleasure-seeking epicurianism, at no point in the dominant culture of the time was there a genuine love and appreciation for God and for His graciousness in creation. Rather, there was snobbery and elitism or superstition or hedonism or some other corruption of a modest and moderate life that was full of joy for what God had created and full of love and respect for fellow man, and full of honor and obedience for the God who made the universe and everything in it.

Of course, this problem was not new to the Greeks or Romans, but was commented on as early as the ancient psalmists, who themselves pointed out the folly [4] of those who denied the existence of God or (more commonly) lived as practical atheists, giving lip service to God but not honoring Him in their hearts or through their behavior. Nevertheless, a part of the ultimate problem that Paul was dealing with in Romans was the refusal of people to honor God through their behavior and to look instead to the creation as the source of inspiration. From this we might note that humanism as an intellectual tendency is condemned because of its ultimate refusal to show proper honor and respect for our Creator. All of the reason and intellect that we justly appreciate and celebrate, all of the works of creation that humankind is responsible for, our art and music and literature which we also greatly enjoy, all of the natural creation as well as monuments to human engineering and technology and the mastery of the laws of physics and chemistry and biology that we celebrate and appreciate, are all the gifts of Almighty God to His children created in His image. Those who appreciate gifts have a responsibility to show appreciation for the giver of those gifts.

In our day and time, not too much unlike that of the time when Jesus Christ first walked the earth, we have a wide variety of competing corruptions of biblical truth and competing worldviews that demonstrate the folly and corruption that Paul spoke so harshly against. There is an intellectual tendency to celebrate reason and to use reason to reason away any sort of respect for a creator, and to suppress the knowledge of the tinkering of the universe and its laws and fundamental constants for life as well as the immense complexity and information that is involved in life, information that requires a being outside of the physical universe to provide that information and to tinker with the universe so that life is possible. Due to the implications that a being capable of creating the physical universe and the life that is in it would also have the credibility to tell us how to use that life and what is and what is not permissible, that truth is suppressed despite the irrationality of competing explanations for the existence of reason and information within the genetic code as well as for the unique fitness of this universe for life. Just like the philosophes of ancient Greece and their imitators in Rome, those who did not want to accept the truths offered to them through a free and fair inquiry into the universe suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and refused to give glory and credit and honor where it was due.

Nor was and is this the only error. Those who wished not to deny the purpose or meaning of life but who did not wish to honor God properly had other options for their worship and devotion besides their own intellectual and rational capacity. Among the more popular of these alternatives is a rise in pantheism, a belief either in the lifeforce of the world itself or a belief that the value of animal life is equal to the value of human life. On such grounds many people call their pets children, not recognizing the gulf between human and animal life (or the fact that human beings were created in the image of God while animals were created in the image of God’s servants). Others refuse to eat animals, seeking to increase their intake of plant life (which they do not seem to value as highly) in order to reduce or eliminate their intake of animal life, which they view as somehow more significant and valuable. Others believe in the transmigration of souls and the existence of past and future lives for a spirit, in the manner of the Eastern religions, which also were vogue in the Mediterranean world during the time of Christ and the early Church.

We ought not to think of the failure of our contemporary civilization and society to show a proper respect for God or for His creation as anything unusual. The 20th century demonstrated that a decline in belief in God and in the value of the life of humanity would have pernicious effects on the humanity of behavior, whether that was in atheistic regimes slaughtering their own citizens by the tens of millions or in the genocidal violence shown by many would-be parents towards their own unborn. A decline in morality carries with it very real and very serious consequences, that we all have to wrestle with. However, we ought to at least understand, somewhere in the dark recesses of our conscience, that the Creator who endowed us with reason and with the inalienable right to life and of free choice will hold us all accountable for the choices we have made, and for the truths that we have lived, that we have rejected, and the truths that we have deliberately suppressed in unrighteousness. It is no surprise at all that those who believe in an intelligent and loving creator should show evidence of love and concern for others as well as the capacity for reason and intellect. It is more curious that those who possess reason and intellect that they are proud of should think themselves unique in its supposedly accidental possession. That is, however, a subject for another day.





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Romans 1:18-23: Concerning Foolish Atheists

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