What is more disappointing than a Trump win is the trumpeting of “functional atheists” following the declaration of the winner of the U.S. general election.
I slept early this morning and woke up later this morning, thanks to my earnest following of the November 8 U.S. Presidential election results. I remember having the privilege of walking around in New York City, especially CNN’s booth at Times Square, eight years ago on Election Day and then watching history unfold as Barack Obama became the first ever African-American President. It was exhilarating. This dawn I was eager to see history being made again.
History was made alright but like millions of others around the world I am disappointed; but not quite for the same reasons most are. My disappointment lies not in Trump trumping all odds and becoming the 45th President of the United States of America but in the reaction of many ‘functional atheists.’
It was the astute modern educator, Parker Palmer, who I first read using the term “functional atheism . . . the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.” A “functional atheist” describes Christians who “behave as though they believed what atheists believe.” In other words, people who say they believe in God and follow His Christ but betray this apparent belief by their attitudes, thoughts, words and deeds.
Even a decade ago as a young medical practitioner this phenomenon struck me but I couldn’t quite conjure a picturesque phrase to describe it as “functional atheism.” I used to be baffled, so baffled, at the attitude and reaction of most professing Christians whenever my medical staff and I had the hard job of informing them that their beloved one had passed away. Of course it is, always is, a heartbreaking and heart wrenching fact to soak in but the degree of wailing, blaming and such made me wonder… Actually, in my experience, the Muslims took the death of a loved one much better than most Christians. After a brief moment they would say something like, “Allah knows best” or “His will be done” or something along those lines.
Precisely so that there is no such ‘functional atheism’ surrounding death, the apostle Paul writes to Christ followers: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, NIV) Christians have a hope of a life after death which atheists don’t. So if we are uniformed and grieve like a hopeless atheist would, there is a problem, Paul seems to suggest. “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14, NIV) So why do many Christ followers behave as ‘functional atheists’ when it comes to life and death matters?
Back to Trump. Christ followers believe, or at least claim to believe, that “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” (Romans 13:1, NLT emphasis mine) So why then are Christians who should know better behaving like it is white racists, sexists, and whatever other ‘ists’ who catapulted Donald from Trump Tower to the White House and not God by His authority for whatever purposes (which we will all soon find out as his presidency unfolds)?
Do we really believe this God stuff and Bible verses like Psalm 75?
Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.
No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another. (Psalm 75:5-7 NIV)
“So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (Romans 13:2, NLT) Why are my many Christian family and friends’ social media feeds not reflecting this?
What then should true Christ followers be doing after an election like this? “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:2, NIV)
So, if you are a true Christ follower and not a ‘functional atheist’ then read and obey the rest of Paul’s commands in Romans 13:5-7: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honour.”
If you are a true Christ follower and not a ‘functional atheist,’ then honour God by honouring President-elect Trump.