Excerpt from Romans 2:12-16

“When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves.  They show what the law requires is written on their hearts. . . “

Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell

I like atheists.  They tend to have considered the issues.  They tend to have asked themselves the holy questions about the origins of the universe, about happiness, about what constitutes the good life, about good and evil, injustice and mercy, about how to live.

Of course they and I disagree on at least one fundamental point.  Of course many are grumpy, judgmental, and dogmatic (certain public intellectuals come to mind).  Of course many have chosen atheism out of laziness.  Then again, those things are true of many Christians, as well.

By and large, my experience has been that the average atheist has arrived at her position through careful thinking at some cost to herself, and lives a life marked by kindness and generosity.  Which is saying something in a world where many people’s vision of the good life is spending half their time watching TV and the other half shopping—precisely so they don’t have to think about big questions or make sacrifices.

Paul wanted to convince his co-religionists that God is at work everywhere, even in those with religious convictions different from Paul’s.  So it is, I believe, with atheists—though most would not thank me for saying so.

If what Paul says is true, then God is shown forth more fully in the life of a careful-thinking, good-living atheist than a lukewarm Christian-by-default.  If what Paul says is true, God might even prefer the latter to the former.


God, thank you for working through all kinds of strange people—even me.  Amen.

About the Author
Quinn G. Caldwell is Associate Minister of Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and co-editor, with Curtis J. Preston, of the just-published Unofficial Handbook of the United Church of Christ.

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