Does God pose an authority problem for you?

I’m going to steal this entire post from Tough Questions Answered to get a conversation started:

Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority.  They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.

For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.

Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God.  This God gives them what they want when they want it.  He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.  He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead.  C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren.  You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  No problem!

Is this the Christian God?  Philosopher Paul Moser answers the question:

It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans.  Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans.  Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.

If you are “worshiping” a God who makes no demands on you, you’re worshiping no God at all.  You’re just trying to find a deity to make you feel good about your selfish choices.  What’s the point?

I’m posting this because I’m looking for comments. Do you know anyone like this? I’ll help by getting you started with some sample atheists.

Famous atheists agree: God is not the boss of them

Consider the words of Thomas Nagel, a famous atheist philosopher:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

He is a widely respected atheist. He once named Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell as one of the Times Literary Supplement’s best books of the year.

And what about atheist Richard Lewontin: (and by “science” he means “naturalistic science”)

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our own a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, not matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” (Richard Lewontin in New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28)

Interesting. He’s willing to tell people lies to keep the Divine Foot outside the door.

And one last one from Aldous Huxley:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantegous to themselves… For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” — Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937

So this is pretty widespread among famous atheists. How about among ordinary atheists?

Survey says

Additionally, atheists are not as charitable as religious people:

Arthur Brooks’ survey showed that atheists certainly give less in charity and do less community service as religious people on the right and left.


Drawing on some ten data sets, Brooks finds that religiosity is among the best predictors of charitable giving. Religious Americans are not only much more likely to give money and volunteer their time to religious and secular institutions, they are also more likely to provide aid to family members, return incorrect change, help a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, despite expecting to find just the opposite, Brooks concluded: “I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people.”

Consider some examples. Religious citizens who make $49,000 gave away about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income. They also volunteered twice as often, are 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons, and two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace. Meanwhile, those who insist that “beliefs don’t matter as long as you’re a good person” are not as good as those who do think beliefs matter. The former group gave and volunteered at much lower rates.

Yet even these findings tend to obscure the impact of religion on charity. This is because some of the survey respondents that Brooks classified as secular are indirectly affected by religion if they were raised in a religious household.

Atheists also divorce more than committed Christians:


It’s a number that is trumpeted from the rooftops — and the pulpit: Half of marriages among Christians and non-Christians alike end in divorce.

But the reality is that Christians who attend church regularly get divorced at a much lower rate.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found that among people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, 60 percent have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, found a nearly identical spread between “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church and people with no religious affiliation.

Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, who is working on the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, said couples with a vibrant religious faith have more and higher levels of the qualities that marriages need to avoid divorce.

“Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction,” he said. “These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education and age at first marriage.”

My survey of atheists

I like to find out what atheists are really thinking. So a while back, I did this massive survey of the atheists in my life, and this fear of authority (and morality) seemed to be the central belief animating atheism.

Here’s Question 11:

What is your purpose in life, and why did you choose that purpose? Is it just yours, or for everyone else too?

And these were the responses:

  • Mine is to feel good about myself and to feel respected by others.
  • Mine is to enjoy it. I’d hope that I go about it in a way that doesn’t interfere with others enjoyment and that when it does we can compromise.
  • Mine is to relieve inordinate suffering, while leaving room for constructive suffering that lead to creativity and progress. Based on empathy.
  • Mine is to help the species survive by having lots of children, because that lasts after you die
  • Each person decides for themselves. My purpose is to have happy feelings
  • My purpose is to have happy feelings by doing what most of the other people are doing and avoiding social disapproval
  • I have no “objective” purpose. I do what I can to be happy, all things considered.
  • To live as contented as possible. To find answers to big questions. To prepare my children for adulthood. I chose these things because that’s what I like. I don’t care what another’s purpose is as long as they don’t harm anyone.
  • My purpose is to seek happiness while doing no harm (or as little harm as is it may be possible to do) for as long as I’m alive. Of course it’s just my own purpose – I can’t presume to choose another’s purpose. That being said, I do presume everyone has more or less the same goal of happiness and fulfillment, but the precise methods of going about it are always going to vary from person to person.
  • I want to be happy. I generally like other people, and I want them to be happy too.

Here’s Question 12:

Suppose Jesus appeared to us right now and addressed you directly with the following words: “I’m really here and you need to follow me in order to flourish and achieve the goal for which I created you”. He then glares suspiciously at me, snatches a few fries from my plate, eats them, and then disappears. Later on, the Ghostbusters show up and confirm that Jesus was no ghost, but really God stepping into history. And everyone in the restaurant saw and heard exactly what you and I saw and heard. How would you proceed? How would you find out what to do? (i.e. – the atheist now knows Christianity is true, and I want to see what they think they should do in order to act like a Christian)

And these were the responses:

  • I have no idea
  • I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me
  • I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do
  • I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
  • If I found there was no trickery? I’d have to change my mind wouldn’t I! Not really likely though is it?
  • I would keep doing what I am doing now, acting morally. That’s what all religions want anyway. (In response to my triumphant scribbling, he realized he had fallen into a trap and changed his answer to the right answer) Oh, wait. I would try to try to find out what Jesus wanted and then try to do that.
  • I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
  • I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values.  I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
  • He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.

Here’s Question 13:

What would be the most difficult thing about becoming a Christian for you? Would it be the moral demands? The demands on your time? The unpopularity, humiliation and persecution that you would face? How would you feel about publicly declaring your allegiance for Christ and facing the consequences? (i.e. – they have become a Christian, what is the most difficult adjustment from your current life?)

And these were the responses:

  • I don’t know
  • It would not be that big of a change for me. I already act morally, I’m already public about my beliefs, and I don’t care what people think about what I believe. I don’t mind disagreeing with people and being unpopular for it. I think the 10 commandments are good. I could find out what to do and start doing those things.
  • I would not be able to believe in miracles, so there would be cognitive dissonance
  • Sacrificing my personal moral standards to take up a standard from a book that is very old and outdated
  • The most difficult would be the fact that I believe something without good evidence.
  • I work many hours a week for institutions and organizations that are charitable. I’m certainly not going to swap those for hours for “prayer time” and waste them.
  • I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran. Obviously, it is possible that if I became a Christian, then I would have different values then I have now.
  • The most difficult thing would be trying to believe the ridiculous claims of Christianity. As for what a Christian finds difficult, how would I know?
  • I could never obey God from gratitude and love, only from servility inspired by fear and cowardice. I do not see myself as servile, fearful or cowardly, and to behave in such a manner would injure my self-esteem and self-image.

So you might be surprised to know that even if Christianity were true, atheists have no intention of changing the way they live. That’s the real issue – and that should be scary for any atheist to realize. If they just cracked open a Bible and read Romans 1, that should be enough to scare the crap out of them – because it’s pretty obvious what is going on with humans – all of us have an authority problem. And a lot of the learning and striving that atheists do is just an effort to get people to think that they are so great and successful after they’ve dumped their relationship with God.

I hope that more atheists look in the mirror and are honest with themselves about what’s really going on. Is it really such a terrible thing to have a relationship with the person who cares the most about you and wants the best for you? Is fun really that important that people have to push away a real, significant, eternal relationship just because it requires self-denial? If I didn’t embrace chastity, as God wishes, where would I get to time to do the really heroic things I do – and how could I concern myself with a woman’s real moral and spiritual needs if I got into the habit of using them selfishly? You can’t experience imitating God when you shut him out. And that’s what we are all here to do – to know him, to be his friend, to act in a way that allows us to feel what he feels, and to have sympathy with him.

14 thoughts on “Does God pose an authority problem for you?”

  1. Interesting post.
    However, to seekers genuinely seeking answers I wouldn’t be so harsh as to say, “You only don’t believe right now because God poses an authority threat to you!”
    For a hard-nosed atheist, though, I often just ask straight up, “If I could prove to you that the God of the Bible is true, would you worship Him?” and they almost ALWAYS say no! I then point out to them that their rejection of God surely rests on a personal dislike/hatred for the person of God rather than intellectual doubts. I then try to show that God is worthy of worship just briefly before either moving on to another topic of conversation, knowing that any further apologetics on them will be futile.
    Actually, I’ve found presuppositional apologetics can be effective with those kinds of people, interestingly enough!


  2. It has been said that atheism is a rejection of God’s laws on morality in general and sexual morality specifically. From my personal observation in communications with many atheists, I have to agree that is the primary reason they don’t want a God.


    1. And the more I think about it, I think that it’s just a general resentment of having a relationship with someone who has any expectations or demands at all. I.e. – you know how Jennifer Roback Morse makes that point about people retreating from the demands of commitment and relationship? I think that this is what’s really going on here. The thing about God is that we have to trust that he is leading us to a good place, and not resent that he has a different character from ours. So long as God wants what is best for us, and I think that the cross of Christ demonstrates that, then we should not be so resentful of him. The project of “working on our relationship with God” is a better project – a more moral, and more lasting project – than any project we could invent for ourselves. I am not talking about singing and reading the Bible for personal enjoyment. I am talking about listening to God through the Bible, as a real person, and then looking out at the world to see what we could be working on – like little engineers – in order to make ourselves, our friends and the world more reflecting of his character.


  3. This is where the great deception of Christianity has gone astray – submitting to authority. No American churches really explain Christian discipleship – the demands, the sacrifice of self will, repentance, denying oneself ( the more you give – the more Christ you get – its a good deal imo). It has been turned into a “ticket to heaven to escape hell” which is not scriptural and was never preached in the NT ( I am not denying there is a hell and the wicked will go there after being judged). The book of Jude, James, 1 John, 1 Tim, 2 Tim, Gal, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter and the writings of Christ are full of warnings to Gods elect ( ie Christians ) about the seriousness of the calling of Christ and the demands of discipleship. The rewards aren’t mentioned accurately either (which are staggering that they are difficult to comprehend).

    Living a Christian life in a culture that is rich, entertaining, and sin is a minefield ( not to get caught up in it see 2 Timothy 4:10) vs. a disciplined life that is viewed as boring by those on the outside . This is view is worsened if you are given the opportunity to suffer for a higher place in the Kingdom ( ie closer to Christ) then your life takes on a whole new direction as the Apostle Paul ( he was a young man who should have gotten married, had children, and be a lawyer).

    The original sin was “self will” and mentioned in Is 14. Many will accept Christ as Savior but not as Lord and that is where the rub is.


  4. WK, I used to have much more exposure to atheists in years past, but the ones I encountered weren’t card carriers. Some were more scholarly about it than others. Most weren’t; they appeared to claim it as a default affiliation. Their main qualification as atheists was that they rejected their own concept of who God is–not who God really is.

    A lot of them were former Catholics who appeared not so much to be rejecting God as much as rejecting priesthood and its claim to be the only conduit to God. No priest, no God. Give up one, you lose the other.

    Certainly, there are hardline atheists, but I don’t think most of them are. Which ones are you referring to here?


      1. So do you have an opinion on how many are hardcore vs. just using the label? Whether or not you can lump them all into a formal group or whether there are differences and does it matter? That’s all I’m asking.


        1. Ooops, sorry I thought you were asking me something else. Well, I think that atheists basically act as good as the people around them. If you put them in a society that is filled with Christians, they act pretty good. Put them in an atheistic state like Communist Russia, North Korea, etc. and the killing starts. Just look at abortion – which is very often supported by atheists (although some are pro-life and quite good at being pro-life). The problem with atheism is that it is survival of fittest, might makes right. Everyone is busy trying to make themselves happy, and if anyone weaker (e.g. – unborn babies) gets in their way, they have no reason not to kill them.

          Take a look at this article:


  5. God as an authority figure is a major obstacle for many folks! That is why the command of repentance is so important.

    Many times at work, or wrestling clubs, or school I will talk about God and the evidence for Him. And surprisingly enough many people see the evidence and His existence as reasonable, others even admit they think He is there, but will not change their lifestyle one bit.

    In particular, one of my managers, who is really into physics, I gave a copy of Paul Davis’ Goldilocks Enigma to and we discussed the seven or eight arguments Davis gives for why things are the way they are. He decided the best explanation was God… but no change in behavior.



  6. Really think about this – It is very difficult to convince atheist about repentance and live like Disciples of Christ when there is no testimony /good works that bears a true witness of God of the Christian Church in America.

    History shows The church thrives under persecution and bears a “true witness” vs. prosperity ( acceptance).


  7. Two points. Well, three actually:

    1. What a cool topic! Nice play!

    2. The adamant refusal of atheists to follow Christ even if He appeared to them in the flesh (assuming they wouldn’t punk out if it actually happened) is probably the best argument for the Calvinist position of election than any I’ve seen thus far.

    3. This problem with authority is, I feel certain, is rampant amongst “liberal/progressive/leftist/socialist” Christians. I knew a lady from my church who, when in a discussion regarding certain behaviors, stated that she didn’t want anyone telling her how to think. She didn’t respond when I asked, “What if that someone was Jesus, or Paul, or any of the NT authors?” Indeed, the authority of Scripture is often dismissed by some “modern” Christians.

    And really, God’s authority does put pressure on me. I am still pulled at by those natural urges and desires that His Law addresses. So yes, there is what can be called a problem with His authority. But then, I’m willing to deal with it.


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