Editor’s note: The following article was an editorial in Gospel Herald, published in Toronto, Canada. We thought the message was important and Wayne Turner gave us permission to share it with you.
According to the old story, a teacher asked his class, “What is apathy?” A bored, disinterested student replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” That pretty much sums it up. Apathy, from the Greek, identifies someone as being without feeling or emotion — indifferent. In the past, we have seen the results from various surveys of the religious landscape of North America. They have shown the relative decline of many of the “mainstream” denominations, the rise in other religions, and more recently, the increasing numbers who identify themselves religiously as “nothing” or “none.” Over the past several years we have seen the arrival of a new, very outspoken and aggressive atheism which has been advanced by very articulate exponents. More recently, a new grouping has been identified. Technically, these people might be included under the umbrella of atheism. However, while many atheists have consciously rejected belief in God or religion, this group does not even want to think about whether or not there is a God, an afterlife, or any real meaning to existence. They are spiritually apathetic. Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today, in “For many, ‘Losing My Religion” isn’t just a song: it’s life” (12/25/2011), sums up their attitude as “So what?” and observes that the “So Whats appear to be a growing secular subset.” These people are being called “apatheists.”
No one really seems to know for sure where the term originated other than that it came into use sometime after 2000. Obviously, people with these views (or rather lack of views) are not a new development. What is new is that they are now being identified as a separate grouping. As Grossman observed, “Researchers have begun asking the kind of nuanced questions that reveal just how big the So What set might be … .” She mentions a 2011 Baylor University religion survey that reported 44% of their respondents do not spend any time seeking “eternal wisdom.” Nineteen percent said, “It’s useless to search for meaning.” She also noted a LifeWay Research survey where 46% do not wonder whether they will go to heaven.
Hermant Mehta is an active atheist rather than apatheist. In his blog, “Friendly Atheist,” he wrote, “as much as I’d love to see more people take on the cause of many atheists … I don’t mind people who don’t care at all. With one caveat: as long as the Apatheists appreciate that many of us (i.e. atheists — WT) take the issue very seriously … and don’t go out of their way to stop us from advocating our own positions.” Later he says, “It’s weird for me to support ignorance (or active avoidance) of the issue … but the Apatheists aren’t the ones who give us trouble. It’s the vocal believers … who are the problem. They’re the ones we need to go after.”
The growth of apatheism represents a significant challenge for Christians. In the past, we could at least try to engage atheists in discussion and debate about the evidence for the existence of God. They approach their beliefs with similar conviction and passion as believers. How can we approach people who are not willing to discuss or even think about the deeper, more important questions of life? Apatheists do not care whether God exists or not. The typical “whatever” attitude of postmodernism appears to have become the “so what?” of apatheism.
Grossman presents the conclusions of David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me. Young people today are part of a culture that “celebrates an idea that all truths are equally valid” and are not interested in following or “trying to talk a diverse set of friends into a shared viewpoint.” Then he adds, “personal experience, personal authority matter most. Hence Scripture and tradition are quaint, irrelevant artifacts.” Instead of following Jesus, they want to follow their “friends” on Facebook.
We might wonder, if at least in part, at the root of apatheism is that many people have never been exposed to anything spiritually worth caring about. How many are reacting to religious stereotypes? How many have tried various churches only to find them as apathetic and empty as the secular world? Obviously an apathetic church has nothing to offer an apathetic world.
While there are many questions about how we can effectively respond to apatheism that we need to answer, it seems evident that the clear demonstration of practical Christianity must be an important part of it. For many years we have repeated, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” Non-Christians should see in us, as individuals and congregations, the consistent practice of Christ and God’s Word. Jesus described his kingdom as a pearl and a treasure — something of such great value and beauty, that when a person sees them, he or she will give up everything to acquire them.
The apatheists may resist hearing about Christ but can they avoid seeing him?
© soupstock. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© louleah. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© OSTILL. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© oscarcwilliams. Image from BigStockPhoto.com