The teacher asked her class, “Which is a bigger problem in our society, ignorance or apathy?” One smart mouth student replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” I would submit that apathy is the bigger problem facing the Christian church today. A seemingly growing number of people simply “don’t care” about anything “religious.” Author Eric Metaxas notes that more and more people are answering the “God question” with a shoulder shrug and a calm, “Whatever.” Dr. Robert Beshears describes this attitude as “apatheism.” He notes that younger people who reject Christianity are usually not atheists, but “apatheists.” Instead of insisting God does not exist, these folks claim God’s existence is something they are just not interested in exploring. There are at least three factors that contribute to this rise in apatheism.
First, many people think there is insufficient reason to believe in God. A common attitude is this: “Some experts say God exists. Others say he doesn’t. We will never know whether he does or not. Why waste time even thinking about such a question.” Rather than merely claiming they don’t know whether or not there is a God, these folks often adopt a “hard agnosticism” which insists we cannot know whether or not there is a God. Of course, knowing for sure what we can and cannot be known requires a level of knowledge human beings likely do not possess.
Second, many people lack motivation to tackle “the God question.” It is simply not a priority for them. These folks believe there are many better uses for their time and energy. They are content to let other people deal with questions about God and religion. Even the big questions of life (Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?) are seen as too abstract and impractical to merit their attention. They are content to live a pretty much “unexamined life,” the type that Socrates insisted simply wasn’t worth living.
Third, some people do not want to think about the topic of God. Their experiences with religion and religious people have been emotionally painful or full of “drama.” The mere mention of the word “God” makes them feel uncomfortable and they may even break into a nervous sweat. These folks choose to suppress deeper questions about God and life, because they simply don’t desire to go down that path, no matter what treasures may be found at the end of road.
All these folks seem to have adopted the thinking of the 18th century French philosopher, Denis Diderot, who said, “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” The flaw in this thinking seems rather obvious, however. As another French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, pointed out, the question of God is irrelevant only if God does not exist. If there is a God, whether or not we believe in him maybe the most important choice we can make. Hemlock may lead to physical death, but, according to the Bible, a refusal to believe in God and his promises leads to eternal death. If God does indeed exist, a person who does not believe in or chooses to ignore God cannot possibly understand and experience life as it is meant to be lived. The “God question” and the religious questions surrounding it are far too important to ignore. Apatheism is a dangerous ditch. It is one in which we need to make sure we don’t get stuck.
Rev. Dan Erickson, Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church