Are atheists ‘sons of devil’?

Are atheists ‘sons of devil’?

One of Turkey’s answers to American “televangelists,” Islamic theologian Nihat Hatipoğlu, initiated a debate last week with his reckless remarks about atheists. Speaking on his popular TV show, he first said: “I do not believe that any atheist is negating God. Those who say so are lying. Because all of them say ‘Allah’ when they are in trouble.”

This was, of course, factually untrue. Because there are many consistent atheists in the world who do not say “Allah” even when they are in trouble. Had Hatipoğlu said this for lax theists who do believe in God but hardly think of Him unless they are in trouble, then maybe he would have a point.

But the real gibberish was in the second part of Hatipoğlu’s tirade. He said: “The atheists’ greatest father is the devil... [But] even the devil does not deny God... So the devil is purer than the atheists.”
In return, Turkey’s nascent Atheism Association issued a press release, saying that they believed in neither God nor the devil, so Hatipoğlu’s words were nonsense. They had a point.

(To be fair, we should note that Hatipoğlu tried to correct his words later. Speaking to Today’s Zaman, he said: “We love and respect atheists. My words have been distorted.”)

So, perhaps we should have forgotten about this incident. But I rather think such controversies should be scrutinized, in order to move beyond the childish arguments we sometime hear against atheism in the Muslim world — and perhaps the whole world of religious faith.

One point I would note is that when the Quran renounces the devil, in its allegorical language, it does not depict him as an atheist. The devil, as Hatipoğlu rightly noted, is very much aware of the existence of God. The devil’s sin is not a lack of faith, but an abundance of arrogance: He arrogantly insists that he is superior to Adam, or mankind itself, and disobeys God’s order to honor Adam.

Therefore, if there is something devilish in our world, from a Quranic point of view, it must be, first and foremost, arrogance. As we all know, this is a trait that can be found among atheists, theists, Muslims, non-Muslims — in other words, in every group in our world.

My second point is that associating atheism with “immorality,” which is very common in Turkey and elsewhere, is also wrong. In fact, some societies on Earth with the highest levels of atheism, such as Sweden, are pretty admirable regarding their ethical values. 

So, then, what is the right answer to atheism from a religious point of view — a view that I share and defend?

This is a long story, but two quick points: First, atheism is not pure reason, as it often claims, but it is a “faith” as well. Because asserting the non-existence of God is as faith-based as asserting the existence of God. (Only agnostics can claim to be following pure reason.)

Secondly, reason may in fact lead us to theism, rather than atheism. The findings of modern science about the origin of the universe, the “fine-tuning” in the cosmos, or the enormous complexity in the very origin of life make it very compelling to believe in a Creator and Designer. That is why figures such as Anthony Flew, who was once “one of the world’s most notorious atheists,” changed his mind and concluded, “There is a God.”

Muslims will serve Islam much better if they object to atheism with such rational, reasonable arguments, rather than crude and unfair depictions. Similarly, they will serve Islam much better by showing wisdom and virtue in its name — and not ignorance, arrogance, or authoritarianism.