Does faith alone a.k.a. "sola fide" lead to atheism?

I was wondering if you guys had ever considered how the protestant revolt led to atheism in how the protestant rebels said that we don’t really have to do anything, or that the works we do are unimportant, just believe in Jesus and be set. Faith alone as they called it.

It seems it’s just one small step from believing in Jesus and leaving it at that to not believing in Jesus and leaving it at that. It’s like flipping a light switch rather than undoing years worth of works in charity, volunteering, etc.

I think imputed righteousness might also lead to atheism as well. If you think that God doesn’t really change your being, just imputes righteousness to you but still knows in the back of His mind that you’re nothing but a filthy sinner, don’t you think it’s not a big step to thinking that “I’ll just remain a filthy sinner since I really am one anyway in the eyes of God”?


Not sure I can help you here, since the Lutheran reformers never said “we don’t really have to do anything, or that the works we do are unimportant, just believe in Jesus and be set.”

It seems it’s just one small step from believing in Jesus and leaving it at that to not believing in Jesus and leaving it at that. It’s like flipping a light switch rather than undoing years worth of works in charity, volunteering, etc.

I think imputed righteousness might also lead to atheism as well. If you think that God doesn’t really change your being, just imputes righteousness to you but still knows in the back of His mind that you’re nothing but a filthy sinner, don’t you think it’s not a big step to thinking that “I’ll just remain a filthy sinner since I really am one anyway in the eyes of God”?


Why would you think that there is no internal change? Faith works change in us, even though we remain sinners.

Thus faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men in heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it [confers] the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing. 11] Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them, and is always engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works is void of faith, and gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith nor what good works are, yet babbles and prates with many words concerning faith and good works. 12] [Justifying] faith is a living, bold [firm] trust in God’s grace, so certain that a man would die a thousand times for it [rather than suffer this trust to be wrested from him]. And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to every one, to serve every one, and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire.

This from Luther, as quoted in the Formula of Concord.


No, I think that anyone who believes in Jesus and has true faith and wants him will be led to him will find him.

We all have different levels of grace and as long as we use the grace given to the best of our knowledge, that’s all God expects.

Sola Fide didn’t so much do it (although I do think its meaning has been oversimplified by many people in the generations since) as it was simply that Christianity had fractured into so many denominations, specifically once the denominations (including Catholicism) began to fight each other. That doesn’t exactly paint a good picture of our faith.

Mark 3:25
And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

I agree with this. I have more than one friend who has used the fact that there are so many competing denominations of Christianity as one of his excuses for not believing in God. When I tried to point out that was a logical fallacy, he ignored me >_>

Atheism existed long before the Reformation. Long before Christianity. Long before even codified Judaism.

The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.

I think it’s a big problem in some Christian denominations. A lot of people want logical explanations, and the problem with using the Bible alone is apparent in discussions from so-called gay “marriage” to pornography.

“But Jesus didn’t specifically say!”. :rolleyes:

I agree with your reflection of the fracturing of the Body of Christ being so destructive; however we need to be cautious about identifying Catholics as “just another denomination among many.” We are not a denomination, we are the nomination (from ‘nomen’ meaning ‘name’). Those that have de-nomen-ated themselves have rejected the Apostolic faith (shedding that name) and in most cases, chose a new name for themselves.

You don’t seem to have much of an understanding of mainline protestant theology.

Furthermore, atheism is not a resolve to stay a “filthy sinner” because that’s how god sees you. It’s a lack of belief in god at all.

It’s pretty simple-catholics have heard of hundreds of gods that they don’t believe are real. Atheists just have one more on that list. That’s it. We all put on our pants the same way in the morning.

While I understand your point, and I am not a faith alone Christian, I think the counter could also be asked. “Does a Sacramental Theology lead to atheism”. Here’s what I mean.

When a church is taught all they need to do is “check the boxes of the sacraments” and they’re good, does that lead to a broken faith? From my experience with Catholics and Anglicans, they seem to think “as long as I was Baptized and Confirmed, I’m good”. Their faith becomes little more than making sure they hit certain milestones within the doors of a church building, showing up on Sunday once in a while, and somehow they are living a full Christian life.

It is the inverse of your question, but from practical observation leads to similar results.

Thanks for the post.

Great Post:thumbsup: In Isaiah’s day, the kings of Juda (except Ahaz) were observing all the temple rituals perfectly, but they were not taking care of poor, orphaned and otherwise marginalized. God tells them that He will not accept their sacrifices or prayers! On the flip side, we are instructed to pray without ceasing, faith without works is dead, and that Jesus will judge us by our deeds. Jesus not only prayed and observed the passover but also healed the sick and crippled. Scriptures never tell us that it is either/or but and/both, a totality of surrender.

I don’t mean to bundle Catholicism as just another denomination. The inclusion was to point out that we were involved in the fighting.

No it didn’t. At least not as a widespread belief system. It is impossible to find societies or large groups of people who espoused a complete denial in the supernatural prior to the Age of Enlightenment. Please provide examples if I am wrong.

Per the OP’s question. I do not believe Protestantism leads to atheism on a personal level. There is no evidence that I have ever seen which would indicate more protestants than Catholics adopted atheism. You can even use the Catholic courts of the 17th and 18(ie France, Spain, Portugal) the century as a counter example. There was likely more widespread, albeit often underground, support for the precursors of today’s atheists in those countries and elite classes than in the protestant European countries.

Now, the question on if the reformation caused atheism on a societal level is a bit more complicated in my mind. Certainly the age of enlightenment lead to widespread atheism. And it is hard to see the age of enlightenment taking its same course without the cleaving of Christendom brought on by the reformation.

That was my thinking as well.

You are foisting a ‘straw man’ of Protestant doctrine, something you find easy to discredit.

In similar fashion, many Protestants claim Catholics teach you can get into heaven simply though good works, or perhaps a large $ donation to the church or approved charity.

Playing with **‘straw men’ **is never conducive to functional interfaith dialogue.

I’m an a-evolutionist. Lots of people have silly theories of Darwinism. My grandma thinks that somewhere along the line, a monkey gave birth to a human. I just take it one theory further and reject it completely. That’s it.

I can see that in Spain and in Russia- two examples, from the west and the east, of countries that were not cleaved by the Reformation, yet did and do very much have serious issues with atheism. Of course, these countries were around, somewhere in the world, at the time of the Reformation. Just like all the countries of the world were around and somehow inter-related. But when you look at Germany, England, France, smaller countries in northern Europe- you see cleaving, fighting, flipping back and forth sometimes. You look at other countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, and to an even greater extent Greece and Russia, you see on one hand countries that stayed Catholic and basically kept Protestantism out of their own picture, and on the other hand countries that are historically Orthodox and even less affected by the Reformation, even indirectly.

I’m picking on Russia and Spain in particular because they fit the bill for the latter sort of country- the kind not cleaved by the Reformation- and there is also a whole lot of atheism in each of these countries.

I don’t believe I attached any such qualifier, but I’ll defend the point.

Atheism has existed as a belief system (though certainly not of the militant variety in existence today) since ancient times. Not widespread enough to rule major kingdoms or peoples (not until Modern Communism, anyway), but some small tribes in Africa were found to have no concept of the supernatural - not even basic superstitions.

While certainly not as widespread as other systems of beliefs, Atheism was widespread enough to be identified by ancient Greeks as a-θεος - check out Theodorus the Atheist of Cyrene. If the origin of the word itself isn’t proof enough, consider the ancient Eastern “religions,” which really function more as pseudo-philosophies, and have no deities.

Heck, even the great empires - Macedonia, Persia, Rome, etc. – while officially practicing their respective henotheisms/somewhat-tolerant-pluralism as they conquered people of various religions – could be considered essentially Atheistic when it came to actual religious views; what mattered to the rulers was simply the narcissistic continuation of their rule (that’s where we see Roman emperor after Roman emperor getting their own apotheosis. These were public ceremony, like modern state funerals; not really religious events).

If the above is unconvincing, then I’d steer you back toward Scripture. Since Man’s time in the Garden, he has always been fascinated by the concept of being his own god and destroying all others. King David was not speaking in the hypothetical when he sang, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” - Psalm 14:1

That help?

All of that said, I think there is evidence enough of a correlation between the growth of Atheism and countries that continually battle about religion. In that respect, a side effect of inter-Christian battling could be the inadvertent growth of Atheism. But to suggest that the causation is belief in Faith Alone is as absurd as suggesting that Atheism comes from heavily-ritualized worship.

Where to start, where to start. First, referring to the Reformers as “protestant rebels” is not a generally accepted way of talking about historical figures, at least not within actual academia. For you to do it here is either ignorant or rude. If it is ignorance, let us hope it is not invincible ignorance.

Second, you are conflating some very different things. It can be said (and has been said by prominent scholars and without any pushback from other scholars) that the 19th and 20th-century not-mainline Protestant descendants of Anglicanism, Lutheranism, et al have changed much more relative to them doctrinally than the Reformers ever did relative to Catholicism. What you are conflating is the actual, clear, consistent, well-defined, historical teaching of (for example) the Lutherans, with whatever misguided off-the-cuff claims you’ve heard from a semi-informed layperson who belongs to some denomination that has practically nothing to do with Reformed theology and, apart from a basic affirmation of the five Solas, has virtually nothing else in common with the particulars of doctrine.

You should not conflate these two things, and you should not assume that you are giving an accurate representation of what it is that people like Lutherans and Anglicans believe. You’re not even close. They are telling you this, and you should listen to them. Even blueeyedlady, an atheist, is informing you that you don’t seem to have much of an understanding of mainline Protestant theology. Whatever problem you have, it is with some of the Baptists, independents, and non-denominationals, people who did not break directly from Rome and who might consider it very optional to even call themselves Protestants.

And you shouldn’t refer to these people as rebels, either, even though they have far less in common with you than Protestants of the Reformation era did.

To answer your question, no, sola fide does not lead to atheism. Rejection of Christian teaching can and does lead to atheism, but it doesn’t really matter if the Christian teaching consists of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Lutheranism, or some other sola-fide-related group of beliefs that actually does relate to the descriptions you’ve given, which so far do not remotely correspond to any of the denominational groupings or families that you’ve called into question.

Now, I do believe there are two basic things that any Christian can do that will cause people to leave Christianity and perhaps become atheists. First and foremost, hypocrisy- when Christians praise Jesus with their lips and proclaim His power and presence in their lives, then go out the door and get on by their lifestyles. Essentially, when people state that God is/will/should be doing thus and such within their lives and then they act exactly like it’s not really happening. Probably because it’s really not happening, but I can’t know that and it’s not for me to judge.

And second, when Christians disagree with each other in a certain type of way. Namely, when different types of Christians technically (officially) acknowledge that they proclaim a common gospel, worship the same God, and basically have the same message about how to know Him and be a part of His family. But then along with that, they criticize each others’ differences to the point where another form of Christianity, technically regarded as legitimate, is presented as something that’s worthless and laughable, as if these other Christians are defective, and most especially as if there is no possible value in being affiliated with this, that, the other, and also this here branch of Christianity. They have something wrong with them, how could they even believe something like that? Don’t these rebels know that This type of Christianity basically leads to atheism? And don’t Those rebels also know that That type of Christianity is just so wrong in other ways?

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should join hands, sing kum-bay-ya and completely ignore important differences. We just need to be more focused, and less broadly condemning of a whole group of Christians and their various doctrines In Their Entirety, because this is the type of careless criticism that serves to tear down Christianity as a whole. If all Christians consistently portray most other forms of Christianity as something not worth being a part of, and those other Christians basically do the same- at some point, you’re going to find that a sane person will start listening to all the Christians and determine that, for various different reasons, no branches of Christianity are worth being a part of. Just listen to the Christians. Which leads me to a very specific question just for you, Estevao- is Protestantism worth being a part of? The various branches of Protestantism, from the Mainline denominations whose specific teachings you don’t know very well, on to the Baptists and the non-denoms and the broader Evangelical movement- is it worth something? Is it worth being a part of? Or is it a collection of worthless rebels, making up branches of Christianity that should just die and be cut off? Remember, at least one atheist is already following your thread and will see how you respond.

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