Those Sinful Atheists

A common criticism of atheism is that we atheists “just want to sin.” Dinesh D’Souza, for example, said that “the perennial appeal of atheism” is that it “liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity,” while Lee Strobel claimed that prior to becoming a Christian, he had a strong motivation for remaining an atheist — namely, a “self-serving and immoral lifestyle” that he would have to give up if he ever became a follower of Jesus.

Of course, if we are nonbelievers just so we can sin, then this fact should be reflected in our behavior — and as we all know, that’s simply not the case. Moreover, if our desire to sin is the reason we fail to accept Jesus, then what about members of other faiths? Presumably, people like D’Souza and Strobel would agree that religious non-Christians have reasons other than a desire to sin for not following Jesus. But if so, then why can’t the reasons atheists give — such as lack of evidence, the incoherence of the Christian doctrine, or a scientific worldview — also be accepted as sincere?

Another problem with the “atheists just want to sin” claim is that, even if it were true, it wouldn’t show that atheists are wrong! The claim that there is no god, or that there is no reason to believe in a god, is separate from whatever motivates someone to accept it. One therefore cannot be justified in dismissing atheism this way.

And there’s at least one additional problem with the claim: an argument can be made that if one wants to sin, then one should actually be a Christian — and many believers accept this, at least implicitly. As Koseighty put it in the comments section a few days ago, “Some of the wildest girls I knew in college were Christians. They were quite comfortable doing the things they did because they'd been saved.”

One can see the Christian logic here by means of a Pascal-style argument:

If I want to sin and God doesn’t exist, then it makes no difference whether or not I believe: either way, I won’t get punished. But if God does exist, then it matters: I will only be punished if I don’t believe. Therefore, if I want to sin, I should become a Christian.

Maybe we should start claiming that Christians just want to sin?