The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
These words, spoken by Brennan Manning, have been a staple of criticism leveled against Christianity by Christians. The lifestyle he speaks of, that is the supposed cause atheism, is a lifestyle that is judgmental and without compassion. It is a lack of Christians being good people that is said to drive the modern surge of atheism.
This reveals that Christians are defining themselves not by an objective standard given by God, but by the expectations of an unbelieving culture. Being Christian is not about what a man professes, but how good or kind or noble he is. C.S. Lewis, in his introduction to Mere Christianity, rejects this use of the word “Christian.”
Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say “deepening,” the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. … As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good.
When the secular culture uses the term “Christian,” it is referring to someone who is approachable, caring, kind, and charitable. The problem is that a man does not need to be a “Christian” to display these traits. Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists all act in this way in some fashion or other and philanthropy is found among skeptics, agnostics, and pagans.
In this frame, “Christian” has nothing to do with objective truth and reality or professing the atoning sacrifice and bodily resurrection of Jesus. It has everything to do with adhering to a certain pattern of speech and behavior meant to satisfy secular humanist expectations of civility.
Manning’s statement, in this sense, contradicts itself. If Christians acknowledged Jesus with their lips and with their lifestyle to the satisfaction of atheists, what motivation would an atheist have to become a “Christian”? It is the standards of atheism and not Christianity that have set the tone of the culture and made atheism the preferred belief system, since its standards emphasize a common humanity worthy of compassion.
Even if Christians were to live the pious life of charity that is said to be the priority of the faith, there still remains Christian belief in ideas like the authority of scripture, the resurrection of Christ, and marriage as ordained by God. These ideas openly challenge the purely material focus that is the foundation of atheist philosophy.
Also, it is impossible for an atheist to lay claim to the title of Christian. The title “Christian” is based off of the word “Christ,” which essentially means “Son of God” or “anointed.” It is the idea that Jesus was sent from God, or anointed by God, or at very least touched by someone beyond the natural. There is a blatant contradiction in a man denying the existence of God and then claiming to be loyal to a God-sent messiah.
And judging the truth claims of a belief system by the behavior of its adherents is a sure way to believe the wrong things. If a group believes that drinking lemon juice makes people immune to the effects of gravity, being the nicest and most charitable lemon juice drinkers around does not make their belief any more tangible. Christians may not always behave according to some standard of civility, but that does not mean that Christianity should be automatically dismissed as a lie.
The leading cause of atheism is atheism. Using the behavior of Christians, measured by secular standards, is merely an excuse, and a means of manipulation. Guilt has proven to be a powerful tool to convince Christians to lay down or at least pacify their fundamental beliefs until Christianity looks more like a religion conjured from the imagination of man than the truth as revealed from God.