I have been reading through Calvin's Institutes with the aid of the "Still Waters Revival Books" audio. I highly recommend having the audio book to go with the reading, not only does it go faster but at least for me I comprehend it more, for instance I read through Jonathan Edwards' "Treatise On the Religious Affections" in a little over 2 weeks with the audio. Anyway enough praise for the SWRB goodies. Calvin's Institutes begins where all true philosophy should, the existence of God. Calvin employs a strong presuppositional apologetic against atheism, arguing that men are atheists NOT on any rational grounds but because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The existence of God is not some speculative concept but rather reality inscribed upon the very mind of man:
"That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God Himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has indued all men with some idea of His Godhead, the memory of which He constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man, being aware that there is a God, and that He is their maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship Him nor consecrate their lives in His service." (Institutes Book 1 ch 3 section 1)
That statement goes against what every single atheist will say. Calvin (in line with Paul) says that the atheist knows God, they have a sense of the knowledge of God stamped upon them. The fact that every single culture has fashioned gods Calvin says is a manifestation of this fact. Although they create false gods they are created out of a sense of Deity and creatureliness. All the false religions and gods simply never could have succeeded had there not been in the mind of man a sense of Deity.
If I may interject a bit here, in all my conversations with atheists the words of the apostle Paul apply with perfection as he states: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools," (Rom 1:21-22)
Fool here is not name calling, but an accurate description of where their thinking leads...foolishness/absurdity. For example a very simple question, "Where does morality come from?" becomes impossible to answer for the atheist. (Well not just the atheist but all who do not have their thinking centered around God) It is really grievous to me as I dialogue with atheists and they flat out say: "Well I really can't say that molesting children is wrong objectively..." Molesting children is wrong ONLY because that is what our society says.
With such a hollow moral foundation, how in the world can we be surprised when a young man wearing a T-Shirt that says "Natural Selection" on it comes into a High School and begins shooting fellow students. Atheism can not definitively say that raping women is wrong, it has no grounds to say such. All that you can say on morality in an atheistic worldview is that right and wrong is just what we decide as a society. If that is true where did we get off trying Nazi war criminals? If we don't think that not having the ability to say "Torturing babies for fun is wrong" is a reduction to foolishness then perhaps the word fool should be abandoned altogether.
You see even though the atheist says there is no God he does not live that way. He does not live as though there is no such thing as right and wrong, he really does believe torturing babies for fun IS IN FACT wrong. This is because, whether or not he admits it, he is made in the image of God. And, as Calvin is saying, he (the atheist) knows this God, the knowledge of God is embedded on his very nature. By suppressing this knowledge his thinking becomes foolish.
Now lest we think that it is only the atheist that is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness Calvin goes on to talk of how "Religious" man suppresses the truth of God's existence. Man by nature knows of the existence of God, yet some in their suppression do not deny His existence in whole but will deny parts of His existence. This is manifested in numerous forms today as men shave off attributes of God at will and thus make God in their image. To quote Calvin:
"Thus although they are forced to acknowledge that there is some God, they however, rob Him of His glory by denying His power...In this way, the vain pretext which many employ to clothe their superstition is overthrown. They deem it enough that they have some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard, that He can never deny Himself, and is no spectre or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individuals caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses mocks God, while it tries to please Him" (Instit bk 1 ch 4 sect 2-3)
What Calvin is saying is that there is a very "religious" way of denying God, this is probably the most prevalent form of denial. This sort of denial of the true God comes when man begins to shape and form God as he sees fit. The phrase "That's true for you but not for me" in reference to God/Christianity is a rank manifestation of this fact. We so often treat God like ice cream and think that we can pick and choose what toppings and flavors we will have and decide what kind of God we will worship. O, the arrogance of man! That we think we can pick and choose what kind of God we will have rule over us!
I have talked with quite a few "Gay Christians" it is fairly obvious that they are making God into an image that they can stomach rather than submitting to God as their Lord and fleeing from sin. Men will accept God on THEIR terms, but what is this but the same as rejecting Him?! To be a "Gay Christian" is the same thing as a "Womanizing Christian"...hey that's just who they are they like to sleep with numerous different women and make no commitment to one...that's just who they are God accepts them...after all if He didn't that would be intolerant, right?
This is just ONE way in which this form of suppression takes place, but all have in common the fact that man fashions a god that is acceptable to him. A god that has a moral standard that he (man) sees to be good, a god who is never really angry, nor has a place reserved where those who reject him will be punished eternally. Calvin states again:
"Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits." (Instit bk 1 ch 4 sect 3)
God only becomes worshipable to the natural man AFTER God has been shaped by the natural man. God would never seem in the least bit desirable to man had man not first fashioned a sort of "God" that he in himself found to be desirable (like choosing ice cream flavors/toppings). Thus this sort of worship is nothing but idolatry.
"It makes little difference at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence of one God, or a plurality of gods, sins, in both cases alike, by departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable idol." (Instit bk 1 ch 4 sect 3)
I would also add or hold to there being no God. Atheism too is a form of idolatry. An idolator forms a god that is acceptable to him, as does the atheist. The atheist will have no God to rule over him so he says there is no God.
With such a description of idolatry it seems impossible to come to a knowledge of the true God in all this mess of human idolatry to which we all are naturally inclined. But, God by His grace reveals Himself to man by opening man's eyes and turning him to Himself. Christ spoke of this as being "born again" which must happen or we will continue to fashion a god in our own minds. Glory to God that He reaches down and opens the eyes of idolators like us that we might turn and worship Him and make Him our all!