Faith of an atheist

A salute to folks who march to a different nondrummer

Ron Vanderwell is lead pastor for The Gathering, a church that meets in the Regal 16 Cinema in Natomas (
Follow Vanderwell at his blog and on Twitter at @ronvwell.

I could never be an atheist. I couldn’t muster that much faith.

But I’ve got to respect people who are committed to that faith. It’s inspiring to watch someone stake everything on something they can’t prove. It’s pretty ballsy, actually.

Most atheists would never brag about it, of course—which I respect—but theirs really is a gutsy kind of faith. After all, how could anybody ever prove that God wasn’t there?

Throughout history, people have always bought into the idea that someone “bigger” was in charge. Granted, we could never quite agree on just who or what that bigger-than-us entity was (think of the Crusades, for instance). But whatever brand name people might choose, everyone agreed that there was someone or something. This works for me. I look up at the night stars at Emigrant Gap, and those galaxies sure don’t look like an accident. Seems like it’d be hard to be an atheist outdoors.

But that’s why I have to salute folks who march to such a different nondrummer. During recent centuries, some academics have concluded that those stars are really just accidents. Evolution, it’s called. The idea is that we’re all somehow mutants, morphed from the first seaweed glops that washed up on some beach. I’ve known a few mutants (hey, I watch cartoons!), and I have trouble seeing how mutants could accidentally produce something like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To me, bass-guitar licks like Flea’s don’t just happen.

Maybe I’m too uptight about the whole science thing. But think about it: The best science of the day produced the flat Earth theory. Then, later, the better science of the day produced the round Earth theory. (Note: At press time, the Earth was still round.) That whole big-bang theory? Something that big, somebody must have heard something!

Granted, any academic discipline can have a bad century periodically. But I struggle with these leaps of faith. Rumor has it some guy in Ohio dumped 10,000 dominoes off his roof and they accidentally formed a perfect Mona Lisa—even got the smile just right. I don’t buy that, either.

I don’t want to sound judgmental. Most atheists are good people who are sincere about their beliefs. But I bristle when atheists get all fundamentalist on me. Maybe I’m not as smart as they are with all their fancy theories, but I still feel judged by their sympathy when I don’t “get it.”

What I would love would be an open dialogue about our different kinds of faith. Not an evangelistic shootout, just a chance to hear faith stories from some atheists who’ve been at it a while. How does it feel to be such a minority? How do you shore up your faith on the days when you suspect that maybe you were put here for a reason?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something here. But whenever I look for a reason to have faith in atheism, all I find is … nothing.