The Immorality of Unbelief

Walter McMillian was a black man found guilty of murder by an all-white jury despite a mountain of obvious evidence and eyewitness testimony of his innocence.[1] The jury had “made up their hearts” about his guilt before they had “made up their minds.” Racial prejudice induced blindness to compelling evidence. 

The arguments, beliefs, and memories that capture our minds are often a matter not of pure reasoning, but of affections and the will. In You Are What You Love James Smith suggests this is because even more deeply than being reasoning creatures, we are worshiping creatures. And we tend to find rational justification for that which we worship. But the love/affection comes first, the reasoning is subsequent.

“Memories are often sadly dependent on our wills.”[2] We believe what we want to believe, and likewise, we don’t believe what we don’t want to believe. Proving the proverb, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

Unbelief and skepticism, two shades of the same thing, are never evidential, but moral. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), the British author of Brave New World, who coincidently died the same day as JFK and C. S. Lewis, within a few hours of each other, was an atheist and said quite transparently, “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. Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know…Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their book that the world should be meaningless.”[3]

Unbelief is not evidential, but moral. Paul says in Romans 1 that God’s “invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…[they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” They rejected plain evidence of God in nature, without excuse, because they chose to worship the creature rather than the creator. An immoral exchange.

Huxley is right, “No philosophy is completely disinterested.” Not to believe in Jesus at its root is a rejection of God, the Creator. So at last we come to it. Unbelief is (im)moral.

[1] The Walter McMillian story is told by his defense lawyer Bryan Stevenson in the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

[2] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, vol. 2, 20.

[3] Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Enquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods employed for their Realization (1937), 270. I first read this quote in Fool’s Talk by Os Guiness, in the chapter, “The Anatomy of Unbelief.” I heard this quote from Tom Mercer in his sermon on Romans 10:14-21 (Feb 24, 2019). Interestingly, J. C. Ryle says the same thing, “They do not believe what they do not like to believe” (Expository Thoughts on John, 21).

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