Bible Gateway interviewed Anthony DeStefano (@a_destefano) about his book, Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There Is No God (Thomas Nelson, 2018).
[See the Barna study: Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z]
Why is it important to understand the thinking of the atheist mind?
Anthony DeStefano: It’s important to understand the thinking of atheists today because they’re at war with us, plain and simple. For the last 20 years the so-called “new” atheists have been waging an all-out, media driven attack on believers—especially Christians. This attack—in the form of anti-Christian books, movies, TV shows, articles, speeches, billboard campaigns, blogs, court rulings, and government legislation—has been relentless. In order for us to fight back effectively, we simply have to understand why atheists are in such a rage.
In my opinion, too many books written in response to these pseudo-intellectual blowhards have been altogether too nice. Many authors try to be kind and amiable in an effort to demonstrate that believers don’t have to sink into the mud in order to defend the faith. That tact is very charitable, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work with bullies. And that’s exactly what modern-day atheists are—bullies. They’re arrogant, ignorant, deceitful, cowardly, hateful, and extraordinarily zealous. They love trying to intimidate believers into silence. Well, that can’t be allowed to happen.
As I say in Inside the Atheist Mind, there’s only one way to deal with bullies, even in this politically correct world—and that’s to crush them.
Yes, the Bible demands that we must always love our enemies and pray for them, but we must never allow them to stop us from carrying out the command Christ gave us: to make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:19)
What do atheists think about the Bible?
Anthony DeStefano: I’m afraid that most “new” atheists have an incredibly condescending, ignorant, and offensive view of the Bible. They don’t just “disagree” with it or think it’s a misguided book. They think it’s nothing but a fictional fairytale—and an evil fairytale at that. They think that believing in the Bible is tantamount to insanity—the same as believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.
The reason why so many people throughout history have accepted the Bible as true, they smugly assert, is because these poor ancient folk were ignorant of scientific facts. If they had only known what we know, they never would have believed in something so “absurd” as the “myths” contained in the Bible. As for those of us today who still believe in the Bible despite the marvels of science, we’ve obviously been “brainwashed” by our Christian upbringing, or have some kind of grave psychological problem or weakness.
They surmise that our dependence on the Word of God comes from three primary sources: a fear of death, an unwillingness to accept the permanent loss of loved ones, and an inability to cope with life itself. In other words, modern atheists think that those who believe the Bible fall into one of two general categories: we’re either imbeciles or cowards! And this is why we have to fight back.
How should a Christian respond to an atheist who doesn’t believe the Bible is reliable or authoritative?
Anthony DeStefano: It all depends on how the question is asked. Most atheists have such a warped and infantile understanding of the Bible that when they ask Christians to defend their belief in the Word, their only objective is to try to get us to look silly—by singling out passages in the Bible that they naively think are absurd (like Jonah being swallowed by the big fish).
There are no fast, sound-bite answers to teach an atheist the deeper meaning of these scriptures, and since most of them are not interested in serious discussion anyway, my advice is to avoid such traps and instead put them on the defensive—by asking them why they believe the nonsense they do: for example, their assertion that this universe of ours, with its incomparable beauty, order, harmony, and life, came about all on its own!
If, however, an atheist is sincerely searching for the truth and wants to sincerely understand why you believe the Bible is reliable, then of course you should take the time to answer him seriously—starting from the simple premise that you believe there is a God who created everything (because something can’t come from nothing), and that this God wouldn’t just create everything without also communicating with his creation in some way. You might say that after deep and reflective reading of the Bible, you have come to believe that it is indeed the primary way that God has chosen to communicate with his creation.
In other words, when dealing with a sincere but skeptical unbeliever, start by explaining your very rational belief in God, and then move to the Bible.
Why do you say atheism is death-centric?
Anthony DeStefano: The book of Proverbs says: “All who hate me [God] love death.” And that’s very true. There’s a profound and frightening connection between atheism and death. Atheists don’t believe in God, so they don’t believe in any transcendent, objective, moral law; nor do they believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and so they don’t believe humans possess infinite value and dignity.
When you put these two beliefs together, you have a deadly recipe that makes killing “problematic” human beings quite easy and defensible. And indeed, that’s been bourn out by history: At the very same time western society has become secular and functionally atheistic, it’s also become a “culture of death.”
Atheist leaders bear the blame for the vast majority of deaths caused by war and mass murder in history. Indeed, between the years 1900 and 2017, approximately 150 million people were killed by atheistic political regimes. Beyond this one has only to look at the truly horrifying statistics regarding the growing numbers of abortions, suicides, homicides, cases of euthanasia, and infanticide, to see the atheist-death connection. As a thoroughly secular and functionally atheistic culture, we’ve now become accustomed to “killing” our problems rather than dealing with them with love.
How is atheism itself a faith?
Anthony DeStefano: Atheists believe that everything in life has a purely material basis. They completely deny the existence of anything spiritual. They believe that all our thoughts, dreams, passions, loves, hates, hopes, ambitions, virtues, sins, and sufferings are driven solely by atomic activity. They believe that all our philosophies, politics, cultures, art, literature, music, history, as well as our deepest desire for eternal life and all that is transcendent in the world—that is, the good, the true, and the beautiful—that all of this is purely the result of biochemical reactions and the random movement of molecules in an empty and lifeless ether. This is not science—it’s faith.
What’s more, it’s an irrational faith that serves as the foundation for all superstition. Indeed, atheism is a whole system of beliefs—a system that has its own philosophy (materialism), morality (relativism), politics (social Darwinism), and culture (secularism). It even has its own sacraments (abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia). And this system of beliefs has been responsible for more death, carnage, persecution, and misery than any system of beliefs the world has ever known.
You write that atheism is malevolent because it destroys the very possibility of repentance. Explain that.
Anthony DeStefano: At the very center of the Christian religion is the concept of repentance. Repentance simply means being “sorry” for sin; and being sorry for sin entails turning away from evil and back to God. It’s an “undoing” of our rebellious nature, and a sign of true faith. As Christians we believe that this “turning back to God in faith” is an absolute prerequisite to entering Heaven and achieving full union with God. We also believe that, by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God has made repentance very easy for us. In fact, if you turn away from God by sinning, all you have to do is say sincerely that you’re “sorry” and God will forgive you, no matter what the sin and no matter how many times you’ve committed it. And this is where atheism comes in.
Atheism destroys the possibility of repentance in two ways. First, if you don’t believe in God, there isn’t anyone for you to apologize to, is there? Second, atheism fosters an attitude of moral relativism. This is the ethical system that says because God doesn’t exist, there’s no such thing as objective truth. Human beings are therefore free to make their own rules and dispense with all biblical commandments. When human beings adopt moral relativism, there isn’t ever a need for them to repent of their sins, because they don’t think they’ve committed any sins to begin with. They don’t believe there is such a thing as sin.
How do Christian believers “make atheism possible”?
Anthony DeStefano: In the final analysis, the only reason atheism exists today and is thriving in the US and Europe is because believers allow it to. Not the true believers—not the ones who walk the walk and make the necessary sacrifices; not the ones whose belief is reflected in their behavior—but rather, the ones who just “play” at believing; the ones for whom God has little or no relevance in life. These are the so-called “Cafeteria Christians,” who pick and choose the tenets of faith that are easiest to follow and most pleasing to them personally; the ones who end up promoting values just as secular as the secular culture in which they live. In other words—they’re essentially “functional atheists,” and it’s because of them that the new atheism has flourished in recent decades, and its hopeless, death-centered agenda has been able to advance so far.
Today’s functional atheists have been the great “enablers of unbelief.” They’ve given unbelievers so much breathing space and nourishment that it’s been possible for them to increase their ranks to an unprecedented degree, and spread like a plague to every segment of western society. If these “Christians” actually practiced what they professed to believe, the fruits of their faith would be so abundant that atheism could never gain any kind of foothold in society. It simply wouldn’t be able to take root and grow. It would be crowded out and suffocated—just as it has at other times in history. In the presence of truth, error always flees. In the presence of good, evil always dies—eventually.
How is atheism on a collision course with itself?
Anthony DeStefano: There is something called the “Dead End Rule” which states that if you go down a road that’s a dead end but don’t pay attention to the signs warning that it’s a dead end, you’ll soon learn by personal experience that the road comes to an end.
All through its history, Christianity has been putting up dead end signs along the road to atheism. Many people have chosen to ignore those signs, especially in recent times. But that doesn’t change the truth of the message. Individuals who proclaim themselves to be atheists, or who lead functionally atheistic lives, eventually learn by painful experience that atheism is a dead end.
Whether they know it or not, atheists, too, are searching for “living water” that Christ promised in the Gospels (John 4:11-14). When they delete God from their lives, a dry, arid vacuum is left in their soul that needs to be filled. Atheists do their best to fill it with many things—money, power, and pleasure. Mostly they try to fill the void up with themselves. Instead of worshipping God, they become their own deity; their own idol. Only none of these things work. In the end, atheism just doesn’t have the “stuff” that happiness is made of.
Human beings simply cannot survive without hope—and atheism is the philosophy of hopelessness. That’s why atheism, as a belief system, is shrinking, globally. Yes, it’s on the rise in Europe and North America, but in Asia, Africa, and Russia, Christianity is expanding rapidly.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Anthony DeStefano: In times of trouble, suffering, and stress, I take greatest comfort in the many Bible passages commanding us not to be afraid. The Bible says in over 100 places either to “fear not” or “be not afraid.” Scripture doesn’t ever say “Try to be brave,” or “Try not to be stressed.” It always gives us a command not to be fearful.
This is very comforting to me because God doesn’t give us a command to do anything unless he also gives us the power to carry out that command. With that in mind, one of my very favorite passages is Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Another translation of this text reads: “Dismiss all anxiety from your mind.” That always makes me think of a judge in a courtroom. When he hits the gavel it means no more witnesses, no more cross examinations, no more questions, no more going round and round, no more thinking—Case DISMISSED! And that’s exactly what we have to do when worry, stress, and anxiety start to overwhelm us.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Anthony DeStefano: Bible Gateway is quite simply the most important and effective tool there is to read, study, access, and understand the Bible. I’ve used it every day for almost a decade. It’s my primary “go-to” site when researching Scripture for my books. Indeed, I’ve used it in writing all 15 of my Christian books for adults and children, and in the creation of hundreds of my social media posts. I love how quick and easy it is to navigate the site, and how extraordinarily effective the search engine is. Because I travel frequently, the Bible Gateway App has been very helpful to me, too. I use it for my daily Bible reading, as well as for fast access to Scripture references when I am on the go, at meetings, waiting for people, etc. Besides all these practical uses, it’s just so tremendously comforting to me to have all the wisdom and grace of the whole Bible, right in my pocket, all the time.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Anthony DeStefano: I sincerely believe that too many Christians today are sleeping. They live a very comfortable Christianity. In the meantime Rome is burning. They just don’t realize that there’s a real spiritual war being waged right now. All our deepest beliefs and values are under attack. We’re under attack. And in many ways we’re losing. So with all due respect, I think many Christians need to wake up and get into the battle. The time for being nice and amiable is done. We have to mobilize and engage those who are opposing us in a very bold, aggressive, and fearless way—now. I hope Inside the Atheist Mind helps inspire and equip Christians to do just that.
Inside the Atheist Mind is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Anthony DeStefano is the bestselling author of four Christian, non-fiction books for adults: A Travel Guide to Heaven, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, Angels All Around Us, and A Travel Guide To Life: Transforming Yourself From Head To Soul.
Anthony has also written several bestselling children’s books, including: Little Star (winner of the 2011 Mom’s Choice Award), The Donkey That No One Could Ride, The Puppy That No One Wanted, Roxy the Ritzy Camel, This Little Prayer of Mine, A Travel Guide to Heaven for Kids, and The Sheep that No One Could Find.
Anthony has received many awards and honors from religious communities throughout the world. In 2002, he was given an honorary Doctorate from the Joint Academic Commission of the National Clergy Council and the Methodist Episcopal Church for “the advancement of Christian beliefs in modern culture.” The commission is made up of outstanding Evangelical, Orthodox, and Protestant theologians and educators.
Anthony is a Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He is an avid pilot, a successful businessman, and a longtime pro-life activist. He has appeared on many national television and radio programs, including Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox and Friends, CNN, The 700 Club, Focus on the Family, and Janet Parshall’s In the Market. His books have been endorsed by Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Renato Martino, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Regis Philbin, Quincy Jones, Delilah, Pat Boone, Mark Taylor, William Bennett, Lee Iacocca, Dr. Paul Cedar, Dr. Dick Eastman, Bernice King—daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others.
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