Some people would think that I would not encounter much rejection of God while teaching at a Christian school, but those people tend to believe that atheism is only an overt spurning of belief, a specific and active form of rejection. However, if we are true to ourselves, we might recognize how much of our lives are marked by disbelief rather than belief, both in supernatural and corporeal realities. I’m not calling professed believers atheists, but I will be bold enough to say that atheism exists within us like a lump in a bowl of mashed potatoes – we can’t see it, no one can be certain it is there, and everything looks fine; however, once we begin to dig around inside ourselves, we find that our capacity for belief is not wholly dominant.
I’m not referring to doubt. Doubt is an element of faith. Without doubt, faith cannot flourish.
I’m speaking of a posturing of our lives in a manner that aligns itself against belief. This is the covert nature of atheism – people of faith certainly would not profess unbelief, but they may very well go on living like there is nothing beyond their own dreams, their own desires, their own bodies. They believe in God as a concept, but there are days (or weeks or months or years) where that concept is disconnected from actual living and breathing reality. They may testify to the reality of God, but day by day they show allegiance solely to the law of man. Thus, there seems to be no point to this recognition of God, at least in the sense of altering one’s life. Instead, it’s more like citing a documented source in a research paper – an acknowledgement of God in a deistic sense.
I see this kind of hypocrisy in myself every once in a while. I can claim and speak about my faith, but, in the drudgery of the day, all I’m really thinking about is myself. Awareness of a greater reality is the furthest thing from my mind. As the writer Frederick Buechner has written, some people who claim there is no God may be living as if there is, and some who claim that there most certainly is a God may still live as if there is not.
I think that our shortcomings often stem from this particular problem. It is no easy thing to cultivate an awareness of the Other – one that remains powerful and persuasive throughout our days. However, until we can do this – until we can truly practice this presence of God in the here and now of our spinning world – we will find that the words of our mouths and even the work of our hands do not always match the inclinations of our hearts.