Rob Bell on Animals, Angels, and Atheism

There are two posts today, so don’t forget to scroll down and read “Rob Bell on Heaven and Hell.” I am reading Sex God, and finding it to be a moving read with much to say about how I live my life. I appreciate Rob’s ability to communicate in ways that move me and make me want to be transformed.

I was reading a blog called the Friendly Atheist speaking about Rob Bell (read it here). I was impressed that Rob can communicate in ways that interest a thoughtful young atheist rather than turning him off. If you read the article, you may agree with me that Rob was too soft and non-committal on a few things. But even if he is making some mistakes, he is representing God well to people who need to know him.

Anyway, the blog article got me thinking about some of Rob’s ideas expressed in Sex God that have bearing on the issue of atheism. I like C.S. Lewis’s point, made famously in Mere Christianity. He said that when we are seeking truth, we may not be able to have certainty about the universe. It is outside of us. But we can look within and feel more certainty that we know ourselves than any certainty that we know the universe. Thus, Lewis goes on to give evidence for God from our own moral urgings.

Rob does something similar. He is not really trying to argue with atheism, but to make a point about a balanced view of sexuality and materialism. Nonetheless, Rob opens a window into the urges inside us, urges that are evidence of God’s reality.

Rob contrasts our inner angel and our inner animal. His first illustration is of a safari when he and his wife witnessed a lion couple mating. Rob noticed the sheer physicality of the encounter, the lack of spirit:

These animals are going to mate because it’s in their DNA, their blood, their environment. They aren’t lying out there in that field thinking, I just really want to know that you love me for more than my body.

A little later, Rob describes the sheer animalism of the spring break party scenes in places like Cancun. For a little while life becomes hedonism. This leads Rob to ask:

Are we just the sum of our urges?

What a question. How can an atheist avoid honestly saying yes, we are just the sum of our urges? How can any thinking, feeling person really feel this is a description of the truth we experience?

Rob goes on to speak about our angel urges. Angels do not need the physical. They do not need food, sex, or physical pleasure. God made us differently. We can’t pretend to be angels. We have physical needs and there are good ways to fulfill them:

When we deny the spiritual dimension to our existence, we end up living like animals. And when we deny the physical, sexual dimension to our existence, we end up living like angels.

And both ways are destructive, because God made us human.

Later he says, God made animals before humans. He also made angels before humans. To go back and try to live either way is to go backwards.

I don’t know if any atheists will read my little blog. But if you do, I hope you ask yourself similar questions. Isn’t there a little bit of angel in you calling out for fulfillment? You may turn Freudian and call it wish-fulfillment, but what if you are wrong? Why not indulge it a little? Try reading Matthew. Try praying to the God of Israel and the God of Jesus. Maybe we are more than the sum of our urges and maybe you will find it too.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Rob Bell, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Rob Bell on Animals, Angels, and Atheism

  1. peter says:

    great post derek.

    i am looking fwd to reading the book for myself now. i will say that velvet elvis really helped me open my eyes to the rigid outlook many if not most christians tend to have about “religion”.

    by the way, i dont know if i mentioned this before, but i am deployed in iraq right now, but my wife is home in atlanta. she is thinking about visiting your synagogue. its in dunwoody right? she’s staying in roswell, not too far.


  2. Peter:

    Didn’t know you were in Iraq. I admire what soldiers do. In fact, it seems a couple of centurions (known to be excellent soldiers and the backbone of the Roman army) were God-fearers and became fans of Yeshua. It is an admirable profession and thank you for your service to our country.

    Awesome about your wife possibly being able to visit. You can get all our info at We meet Sat at 10 am in Dunwoody. Directions are at the site.

    She will experience a traditional Jewish service mixed with contemporary worship meeting in a Baptist church! How’s that for a mix?


  3. Keith says:

    Look, honestly, all these arguments can be easily refuted, and I don’t want to dissect every single one, but as an atheist, I guess Socrates puts it best, saying “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

    “He said that when we are seeking truth, we may not be able to have certainty about the universe. It is outside of us. But we can look within and feel more certainty that we know ourselves than any certainty that we know the universe.”

    -You may choose to ignore the huge amounts of knowledge we can and are obtaining on the atomic scale and the universal scale, but when it comes to truth, I choose evidence over a “gut feeling.”

    “When we deny the spiritual dimension to our existence, we end up living like animals.”

    -I have never, since I was 7 years old, needed a spiritual dimension to my existence to act moral and just. I also don’t need an invisible, all knowing, all seeing, infinitely existent god who is all around me whenever I want to talk with him who provides me a heaven to go to when I die to live a good life. It really makes me sad to see people (and there are a LOT out there, whether you choose to “believe” it or not) who need a god to fear and a heaven to wish for to live a good life. Atheists have lower divorce rates than almost any other religion (especially christianity) as well as lower crime rates, and higher IQ test scores as well on average (god delusion, Richard Dawkins)

    Any theistic person I try to rationally explain this to never really has the ability to rationally argue against because of the lack of evidence, but they always tell me, “read the bible, just read the bible.” What I personally think is that all these ignorant religious zealots have to stop trying to force illogical books that are thousands of years old and obviously unnaccurate. They should actaully try to pick up a book and be open-minded about it; maybe biology is a good place to start?

  4. Keith:

    I didn’t say that you needed to follow a gut feeling. I said you are denying a part of who you are. Beauty has no meaning in the random universe you believe in. You are merely the sum of your urges. In your world-view, love is simply a conglomeration of hormones, nervous system reactions, and the DNA imperative to propagate seed. How sad.

    But you don’t have to be sad, Keith. I know, you will tell me you’re not sad. But that can only mean you are a smiling nihilist, a person who stares at the cliff dive into oblivion and meaninglessness and is nonetheless happy.

    Anyway, I was saying you don’t have to be sad. The urges you feel toward love, beauty, truth, and self-sacrifice are real, not imagined. They point to a more beautiful reality than empirical data reveal.


  5. peter says:


    thanks for the encouragement.


  6. Eydie says:

    lots of Rob Bell is over my head, but I like stretching. He speaks from another shore than what I was brought up to hear and I like the jarring it does to my complacency.

    Your description of your church was most intriguing, and if I lived in the vacinity, I would most certainly check it out for worship.

    I cannot wait to see how this all plays out, since its not as simple as I once thought it was……..:)

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