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3 "symptoms" of atheism, as described by a Christian minister

Do you get worried or angry? Ever forget to tithe? One minister has bad news for you.

Jesus Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife, by John Bridges
Painting by John Bridges via Wikimedia Commons
  • A recently published article claims to identify the symptoms of "low-level atheism."
  • Among these symptoms are worrying, cursing, and not tithing.
  • There is a solution to all of this though, not being an atheist. Sending in money is also involved.

Alaskan minister Tad Lindley recently published an essay pointing out the symptoms of low-level atheism. This groundbreaking work, destined to be the foundation of further theological study for decades to come, identifies three major symptoms of the condition that can manifest in anybody.

Are you worried about literally anything? You're an atheist now!

The essay begins by focusing on worrying, an all too common problem and gateway emotion to atheism:

"Every time we take a thought break and begin to wonder about how we will pay the stove oil bill, or the light bill, or what we are going to do if we get laid off from work in six months, we are worrying. We are actually telling the Lord, 'Jesus, you know all that stuff you said in Matthew chapter six about how you will take care of us? I don't believe it. I don't believe that you can do what you promised, so I am taking matters into my own hands; I'm going to worry about it until the situation is taken care of.'"

As it turns out, God plans his days around your dilemmas and will get to them in due course. So, if you are bothered about not being sure where your rent is coming form this month, you're doubting the Lord. Concerned about things like climate change? You're practically an iconoclast. Anxious at the thought that you aren't a good enough Christian? According to this, that exact worry is a sign that you aren't!

Are you feeling even more worried now? Oh, that isn't a good sign at all. You ought to be worried about that.

Swearing and occasionally being angry, now signs of metaphysical distress!

According to Lindley:

"I have only sworn two times since receiving the Holy Ghost. The Lord has the power to change our attitudes and habits. I wish I could say that I never get angry anymore either, but that is not the case. Just like you, I struggle with atheistic tendencies.

"Every time something doesn't go the way we want it to and we get angry, we are telling the world, 'I am losing my temper, because this problem is so messed up that not even God can sort it out.' When we slam doors, swear, yell, break dishes, speed, or shake our fist at somebody we are in the grip of an atheism attack.

"You see the Bible very clearly states that there is nothing too hard for God to fix. 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 NKJV) This is why a person who has been born again can hit their thumb with a hammer and not swear. This is why the sincere Christian can look at a flat tire and say, 'I guess God needs to slow me down, because he has someone he needs me to cross paths with today.' Swearing and getting angry only says, 'There is absolutely no way that God can turn this flat tire into a blessing!'"

Well, shit. It seems that being angry with things, including things that might seem to be perfectly reasonable things to be mad at, is admitting that you think God is useless.

How exactly this reconciles with Jesus getting pissed off at the moneylenders in the temple and healers that refused to save lives on Sunday is unclear. Neither of these incidents seem to be the things that happen to somebody without bursts of anger, though I do suppose it is possible Christ had fits of atheism multiple times in his life.

Sometimes I don't believe in myself either.

Stinginess, now coming to a den of heathens near you!

Lindley points out the final, most advanced symptom of atheism last: Not sending God money. He writes:

"Some people are so greedy that they actually rob God. '…In what way have we robbed God? In tithes and offerings.' (Malachi 3:8 NKJV)) To those who would hold back the tithe the Lord has a challenge: 'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this' says the Lord of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.' (3:10 NKJV)"

While the God of Abraham is well known not to need money on account of his transcendental nature, it seems that he is still owed ten percent of everybody's earnings. This is not paid to him, of course, but to his helpers. In exchange for this, God will make good things happen. If you don't send money in addition to swearing or occasionally being grouchy, the minister assures us that "you are at extreme risk for very serious complications from your atheism."

While this may look remarkably similar to a concept used by the mafia, the protection racket, it is an utterly different operation. In the case of the mob, the threat of punishment is used as a way to force people into paying part of their earnings to a larger organization. In return, they are promised the protection of that organization from vague threats, often including that organization.

In this holy case, vague are threats used to show people the wisdom of paying part of their earnings to the church. In exchange for their payments, they are offered kickbacks from God and protection from vague threats made by the people telling them they need to send in money.

Luckily, Lindley suggests a solution for all three problems, especially the last one: Don't be an atheist! In particular, start praying and sending God money. This will resolve the third symptom automatically and the first two eventually.

It's an offer you can't refuse.

And now, the serious part.

While it is fun to mock the often-ludicrous positions of those who misunderstand atheism, that very misunderstanding is an all too common and all too real issue for the millions of Americans who are not religious. Atheists in the United States face discrimination, are not trusted, and are barred from running for office in several states.

In my experience, many of these tend to come from a fundamental misunderstanding of what atheism is. I, at various times, have been accused of being a Satanist, a pagan, or an amoralist, among other things. It is little wonder why a person who doesn't understand what atheism is would find a variety of issues arising from it.

The minister in this case makes a similar mistake: He begins by thinking that atheism is something other than the proposition that there are no gods and then works forward. In this case, he seems to presume it is some kind of psychological condition which manifests as a hybrid of anxiety, Tourette's syndrome, and kleptomania. His use of the word "symptoms" is revealing.

While it is true that atheism can be anxiety-inducing, this falls more under the category of "existential dread" than psychosis. John-Paul Sartre, the atheistic philosopher who made Existentialism popular, wrote on this extensively. In his essay "Existentialism is a Humanism," he explains:

"What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world—and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist see him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of himself … what do we mean by anguish? The existentialist frankly states that man is in anguish. His meaning is as follows: When a man commits himself to anything, fully realizing that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind—in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility."

If choosing what you are and what meaning your life will have doesn't give you anxiety, Sartre would suggest you're doing something wrong.

However, this anxiety isn't necessarily cured by belief. Soren Kierkegaard, the founder of Existentialism, wrote extensively on the topics of angst, dread, anxiety, and regretting all of your life choices while being a thoroughly devoted Christian. While he argues that the leap of faith can help, he also argues that we are still fundamentally alone and responsible for our choices when it comes to making that anxiety-inducing leap.

The minister's point about swearing as a result of lacking faith is bizarre enough to be left alone. Ten minutes in any bar in the middle section of the country on a Friday night should be enough to convince anybody that any sincere believer can swear while remaining a believer.

Furthermore, the minister presumes that a believer is going to be of the kind that thinks God is very engaged in human life. While he may suppose God was involved in his tire going flat, many other approaches to the divine reject that idea. Deists, who tend to think that there is a God who created the cosmos but leaves it alone, would be an example.

All in all, the essay described above is an unintentionally hilarious look at what some people think being an atheist is like. It is hardly the first, and it won't be the last. Anxiety about atheism has a history going back to ancient Greece—studies demonstrate the continued existence of Christian anxiety about atheists—and this essay is another example of people being unduly concerned about it.

I'd accuse the minister of worrying too much about atheism, but then he'd be one of us.

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