Story by Alec Harvey and Photo by Brit Huckabay
Richard Simmons doesn’t shy away from the big questions or the big issues. Just take a look at the topics of the faith-based books he’s written – wisdom, life, death, sex, truth.
His latest book tackles the biggest question of all. Reflections on the Existence of God is a collection of essays about whether or not God is out there, something the 66-year-old Simmons has been exploring much of his adult life.
A former insurance executive, in 2001, Simmons founded the Center for Executive Leadership, a ministry for businessmen and professionals. The Center for Executive Leadership provides counseling, Bible studies, a prison ministry, and much more. Simmons and his staff of 12 work with men from all walks of life, a number of them coming from over-the-mountain areas.
Simmons answered some questions about Reflections on the Existence of God, which is available at Books-A-Million and online at amazon.com and through The Center for Executive Leadership’s website (thecenterbham.org).
What led you to write a book about whether or not there is a God?
“This is the most significant book I’ve written. I’ve really been researching it in one sense, for 25 or 30 years. And then I’ve read scores of books on this topic. I have big, thick files of articles and I never was quite sure when this book was going to become a reality. It’s very similar to the book I wrote on wisdom, just short essays that people liked to read. It’s 57 essays divided into 10 sections. And my goal was to write a book that was well-researched but easy to read and understand.”
And why this particular book now?
“it seems that atheism is on the rise in the Western world and faith is in decline. And so I felt like the time had come. I felt led by God. And I think the timing and the writing of this has been validated. A month ago, I watched the last 30 minutes of the Democratic presidential debate. Toward the end of the debate they went to a commercial break, and I was shocked that the ad was an advertisement promoting atheism. Ronald Reagan’s youngest son, Ron, was the spokesman for the commercial, and at the very end of the commercial, he said, “I’m a lifelong atheist, and I’m not afraid of burning in hell.” I guess the shock came from the fact that this was a commercial on national television. Two days later there was an article in The Wall Street Journal about the decline of faith in America, and then two weeks later there was another fascinating article about people in the age group of 18 to 29. They describe themselves as Nones. It means that they’re not affiliated with any religion at all. They don’t call themselves atheists. They call themselves Nones. So, just right there in a four-week period, I feel like the timing of this book was validated by just those three incidents.”
What did your research tell you were the reasons some people don’t believe in God?
“Probably from an intellectual standpoint, the number one reason that people don’t believe is because of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. People try to reason that if you’re referring to the God of the Bible who is supposedly a God of love, why in the world would he allow all of these horrific things to happen? But that becomes a real problem when you reject God, because ultimately if evil exists, there’s got to be a moral standard that we all accept and, when you go against that moral standard, you say that’s evil. But in order to have that moral standard, if you think about it, somebody’s got to provide that for us. If there is no God, then we basically let the people in power come up with our standards. A second problem people often have growing up is the theory of evolution. If we evolved from matter, then there is no God behind all of life. You will see how evolution is a theory in crisis and for that reason I have eight essays on it.
Another reason so many people don’t want to believe in God is because they don’t want to change their lifestyle. They like their life the way it is, and it ultimately becomes an issue of morality. I’ve got a number of examples that I lay out in the book, but it’s so much easier to say “I don’t believe in God” than to say ‘]I believe in him, but I reject him because I don’t want to live the Christian life.’
Another issue is the pride of life. I see this in a lot of men. They worry about being rejected. They worry about what people will think about them. And then there’s probably the most interesting part in that particular section in the book called “The Defective Father Theory.” Paul Vitz wrote a very well-researched book and said that most of the famous atheists over the last 100, 150 years either didn’t have fathers around or had horrible relationships with their dads. And it’s well documented.”
What is theism’s strongest argument?
“The fine tuning of the universe. Even two of the most famous new atheists, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who is now deceased, both agreed that this was a very difficult issue for atheists to deal with and explain. There are 122 variables that need to be lined up with perfect precision for our universe to come into being and for us to be able to stay in existence. Even Stephen Hawking said that if any of these variables was off by even a million millionth, matter wouldn’t be able to unite and hold together and there would be nothing. There’d be no stars. There’d be no world. There’d be no people. And those who don’t believe in God have a difficult time explaining this. They say it’s a mystery. It’s almost as if there has to be a divine explanation to deal with this fine-tuning issue.”
Who is your target audience for this book?
“I wrote this for skeptics, for atheists, and those who struggle with doubt. I also wanted to use this book to help people of faith to equip themselves so they can more effectively engage with the skeptical culture in which we live.
And then thirdly, I really wanted it to be used with younger people. Pew Research and Fuller Seminary tried to determine why young people who grew up in the church, go out into the world after college and lose their faith. What both of these reports said was,so many of these young people have all kinds of questions and doubts, and nobody ever answered them. Unfortunately, I think parents, maybe even church leaders say, ‘Just have faith.’ Well, that’s not good enough. I think they need answers. They need to understand why they believe in God.”
“I wrote this for skeptics, for atheists, and those who struggle with doubt. I also wanted to use this book to help people of faith to equip themselves so they can more effectively engage with the skeptical culture in which we live.”