One of the least publicized aspects of atheism is the question of what has happened when atheist beliefs are incorporated on a practical level. In short, does atheism work when applied to the real world and real people? Some atheist experiments have tested that idea.
A good example is the story of Liberal, Missouri, which was founded in 1880 by an atheist named George Walser. Walser was a lawyer, and he bought 2000 acres of land in southwest Missouri to start an experimental community. He advertised across the country for atheists to come and live in a town without a church “where unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training.” He said in Liberal there would be “neither God, Hell, Church, nor Saloon.” Supporters of Walser published a boast that Liberal “is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell, or devil.”
Similar atheist experiments have been tried elsewhere, such as in France in the late 18th century. The government issued a declaration that God did not exist and condemned any public worship, including observance of any Sabbath. Atheist-based political systems exist today, including several communist states such as North Korea, and China.
In the case of Liberal, Missouri, the crime level, violence, and abuse became so bad that people left the town. They made written statements such as, “I’ll never live in another town that does not have a church.” Today Liberal has a population of less than 800, and there are five churches in town. Walser became a believer and wrote a book titled The Life and Teachings of Jesus. He called himself “a converted infidel who had searched for hope through materialism, atheism, agnosticism, and spiritualism, but found none.” Atheism fails all tests of practical application. Atheist experiments such as Liberal, Missouri are testimonies to what happens when God is excluded from human activities.
The Psalmist said it best “The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God.’ Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that does good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one.” Psalms 53:1-3.
As an atheist in my earlier days, I would have vociferously argued against that statement. Looking back at my life as an atheist and at the atheists who shared my belief system, I have to say the Psalmist was correct.
— John N. Clayton © 2019