The Prejudice of Unbelief

Written by Drew on January 26th, 2006

Of all the causes of unbelief, the most prevalent—and probably the most overlooked—is the problem of a bias against faith in God. In his book Optimism in an Age of Peril, Stanley Sayers wrote of this “prejudice of unbelief,” saying, “One of the significant and obvious reasons the unbeliever remains an unbeliever is that he likes it that way. In fact, any evidence of any source or to any degree fails to move him from his position if his heart is strongly bent against evidence and toward unbelief.” Some people, whether they like to admit it or not, simply do not want to believe in God.

Bias has a tremendous impact on how a person views the circumstances of his life, especially the crueler elements.

A case in point is George Bernard Shaw, the irreverent and immoral Irish poet, who once said there was enough suffering on a London street on any given day to negate the existence of God. Because of the prejudice against God that was ingrained in his mind, he could look at this problem in only one way. From his skewed perspective, poverty and hunger were harsh realities that came as a result of there being no God.

By contrast, consider the example of Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Shaftesbury), who was a renowned member of the British Parliament living in London at about the same time. Early in life Cooper developed a faith in God, and this affected the way he viewed his surroundings. At one pivotal moment in his life, at the age of sixteen, he saw a group of drunken men drop a poor man’s coffin in the street, cursing and laughing as they did so. He was so sickened and disturbed by this incident, later calling it “the origin of my public career,” for then and there he resolved to dedicate his life to the cause of the poor and the weak.

In his book, The Incomparable Christ, John Stott writes of some of Cooper’s magnificent accomplishments:

In 1842 The Coal Mines Act prohibited underground work in mines and collieries by women and girls, and reduced the hours worked by boys. In 1845 The Lunacy Act secured the humane treatment of the insane…In 1847, 1850 and 1859 he piloted The Ten Hours Factory Acts through Parliament, which regulated working hours for women and children. He was the acknowledged leader of all this factory reform. In 1851 The Common Lodging House Act sought to end the insanitary and overcrowded conditions of these lodging houses, laid down acceptable standards and permitted local authorities to inspect and supervise them…Ashley Cooper also founded the Ragged School Union and busied himself on behalf of boy chimney-sweeps, flower girls, orphans, prostitutes, prisoners, handicapped people and crippled children (pp. 158-159).

Why did Cooper work so hard? The thing that drove him was his conviction that God exists and that His Son, Jesus, was coming back to deliver His people from all the pain and suffering they experience on this earth. One biographer writes of him, “There is no real remedy, he often said, for all this mass of misery, but in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we not plead for it every time we hear the clock strike?” (Stott, 159).

Two men, living at roughly the same time in the same city, appraised the same problem and arrived at two different conclusions. Their opinions were not formed from the London streets but from something more subjective and philosophical—the predispositions of their hearts. Along with the fool, Shaw said in his heart, “there is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Cooper, on the other hand, had made up his mind that God existed and decided that it was his Christian responsibility to act in His Name to do something about the suffering in his world. Leaving reason and evidence for the moment, I ask, “Whose predispositions were more helpful?” Did the atheistic approach help the poor? Or was the Christian spirit more helpful? (cf. Mt. 25:34-40).

Some cold hearts will never be penetrated by the gospel because they are predisposed in a different direction. Still, Christians must continue to persuade, rouse, and inspire with the saving message of the gospel of Christ. We never know who will respond, so we must try to reach every person. In doing so, we might just save a soul from death (Jas. 5:20).


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