May 23, 2017

Re:Atheism

I received two letters this week from friends/readers asking for input and advice on relating to atheists in their workplace/families. It brought to mind a number of things I’ve been wanting to say about evangelicals and their take on atheism.

When I was growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, the face of atheism was Madalyn Murray O’Hair. I knew three things about O’Hair: she had taken prayer and the Bible out of our public schools, she was trying to get religious programs off of television and she was a weirdo.

For years, O’Hair provided the face of atheism to America: an angry, ranting, God-hating, bitter old woman who wanted to force her bitterness on the rest of the country. The way to defeat O’Hair was simple: Christians needed to sign a lot of petitions and vote the right way when elections came around.

It was safe to say that few people wanted to be like Mrs. O’Hair, no matter what their case against God and religion happened to be.

In my collection of videos I have another face of atheism. It’s a “debate” between Frank Zinnser, an atheist and geologist from Chicago, and Dr. William Lane Craig and his three Ph.ds. It takes place at Willow Creek Community Church in front of a massive crowd of Christians. Zinnser is awkward and amateurish, raising freshman level objections to the Bible that have nothing to do with the case for atheism. Craig, polished, erudite, prepared and pracitced, mops the floor with Zinnser’s bad toupee and worse presentation. It’s a demolition job that’s hard to watch.

At one point Zinnser notes that there’s a bigger crowd for this debate than the usual attendance at the atheist luncheon. I’m sure.

The message for evangelicals: atheists are clowns. We can defeat them in any arena. We need not fear them because our team can eat their lunch.

I have a shelf of books responding to atheism. Ravi Zacharias. William Lane Craig. Tim Keller. No one can accuse evangelicals of ignoring the subject. Many of these books are written in response to the publishing onslaught of the new atheists: Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and many others.

One way the game has changed is that when you proclaim yourself an atheist today, you aren’t signing up with O’Hair and Zinnser and the atheist luncheon in the Chihuahua Room at the Peoria Super 8. Now you are identifying with respected scientists and journalists. Whether you agree with the new atheists rantings about the threat of religion to the world or not, it’s a lot easier to be an atheist. When John Lennox debated Richard Dawkins in the Birmingham Civic Center, Dawkins was cheered like a rock star by a very young crowd.

But I’m convinced the game is not primarily about arguments any more. As grateful as I am for Tim Keller’s great book The Reason For God and his two hour presentations on You Tube, and as happy as I am that David Bentley Hart and others have convincingly demonstrated the fallacies of the new atheist arguments, the truth is that the contemporary atheist doesn’t plan to play a game of 21 with our NBA All Stars. No, he/she is going to sound more like Ricky Gravais in the video above.

Atheism is just….easier. Occam’s Razor. Theism is too much trouble. It starts to sound like someone is trying to sell you something sight unseen. Isn’t your best move just to hang up the phone and ignore the call?

Douglas Wilson may be witty and William Lane Craig may be brilliant. John Lennox may teach at Oxford and Ravi Zacharias may be able to quote a dozen philosophers, but most atheist young people today are like Brad Pitt. Pitt was a kid walking the aisles in Baptist revivals, trying to find God in that mess when he met a Methodist preacher’s daughter who told him it was OK to just say no to it all. He didn’t have to live like that. He could call the torture sessions off and just be himself.

That’s what’s going on, my friends. I’m not zeroing out the big gunners, but I think it’s time to stop running from your kid’s professor and start thinking more about his friend who recently left his youth group and stop believing anything except the joys of rock climbing.

One of my letters this week stated that a 17 year old raised in an evangelical family was now an avid atheist, with many of the hijinks of evangelicalism as evidence of manipulation and control. He couldn’t mean take off your shoes and spin your socks over your head while singing “Jesus mess me up?” Why would that bother anyone?

Write this down: When the coming evangelical collapse happens, and especially when thousands of our young people bolt for non-believer status, a lot of it will be COMPLETELY DESERVED.

We addressed atheism with the wrong arguments. We didn’t ask ourselves how it looks to a young atheist. We never stopped to notice that if you are a 17 year old with serious questions about evil, miracles, prayer and the Bible you’ve got small chances of getting any help from most of evangelicalism. We’re having too much fun squalling at the President and feeling good about ourselves . By the time you find that book, talk, ministry, etc. that might help, you’re already beginning to suspect that this is the emergency room where doubters are taken for emergency injections of how powerful anti-atheism drugs and then sent back to the “Bless Us Real Good” Game.

Even traditions with deep and serious reflection on the issues that erode faith often keep those resources tucked safely away in a closet on the fourth floor of the house of faith where you have to ask permission to see them. Senior Youth Group: Visit atheists for a conversation or play Goofy Golf? Duh.

Our team looks good to us. Trust me, they don’t look that good to atheists. If you applaud the point-scoring at debates, you’re missing the point entirely. The fact that someone like Dan Barker (and there are dozens more) is out there at all, making it plain that the Christian journey has brought a crowd of people just like YOU to the point where atheism looked far, far better than what you were hearing in church and trying to live is all the ammunition that’s needed for thousands of people.

You see, evangelicals have made such outrageous assumptions and promises about happiness, healing, everything working out, knowing God, answered prayer, loving one another and so on that proving us to be liars isn’t even a real job. It’s just a matter of tuning in to an increasing number of voices who say “It’s OK to not believe. Give yourself a break. Stop tormenting yourself trying to believe. Stop propping up your belief with more and more complex arguments. Just let go of God.”

You can send an army against an army. What do you send against a group saying “None of this has any point. Give it up and go have a coke.”

Don’t think I am avoiding the case the new atheists are making. I take it very seriously. My students learn the Dawkins and Hitchens arguments by heart. They are deserving of the best responses we can put forward and we need to know what they are saying.

But I don’t believe the new atheists are making converts because they have a better argument. I think they are making converts because the fruit is ripe to fall from the tree, and we have little or no idea it’s happening. We’re setting up for the great ideological debate and the kids have found that it’s just more fun to have a drink with the non-religious crew.

Keller is still great. C.S.Lewis is still helpful. Craig is still impressive. But I’m not sure their arguments are on the right channel. Vast numbers of people aren’t asking for philosophy. They are asking what will let them live a life uncomplicated by lies, manipulation and constant calls to prefer ignorance to what seems obvious.

What we’ve said and written is fine. What we’ve lived in our homes, private lives, churches, workplaces and friendships has spoken louder.

We are the ones who appear to not believe in the God we say is real. We are the ones who seem to be forcing ourselves to believe with bigger shows, bigger celebrities and bigger methods of manipulation.

You can’t understand why some people just say atheism has about it the beauty of simplicity? You don’t see why Occam’s Razor is so powerful, even among students who have no idea what it means?

Pay closer attention. The game has changed.

Comments

  1. IM…I totally disagree. Christianity lost America when the orthodox profs left the Universities in the early 20th century. The resulting implosion came as a couple generations of people in a row recognized that all the smart people where atheists and marxists. The shoe is starting to be on the other foot now. Evangelicals tend to be more educated and well read. Our scholars are starting to be given positions in Universities again and we have a voice on TV and radio. The tide has turned. It took liberalism about 60 years to expand from a takeover of the Universities to popular culture. The transition back to orthodoxy started in the late 1990s. I predict somewhere around 2050 we are going to see some pretty amazing things going on.

    To suggest that truth of argument is anything less than central is to think short term. Think 100 yr petri dish instead. The liberals have no philosophical foundation anymore (with the fall of positivism and the ridiculousness of phenomenalism) and they are losing the historical and scientific debates regularly. Sooner or later that yeast will work its way through the dough.

    • Will S:

      I respect your optimism. I expect in about 15-20 years, you are going to find it hard to whistle “always look on the bright side of life.” 🙂

      We’ll see who’s right. Cheers.

      peace

      ms

      • I would say that in 15-20 years you may be right. I am talking more like 50 to 100. Picture yourself as an academic at the turn of the century when the fundamentalists all left in a huff. No one predicted naked hippies taking LSD in plain sight 60 yrs later but it happened….. Why? Because it looked like philosophy, science, and political theory all pointed to Christianity being a thing of the antiquated past. Roseau made sense in 1960. Does anyone take him seriously today?

        No one can look at the world today and say that Christianity is antiquated. Instead, as you have noted, to be an atheist, for most people, requires avoiding the facts and not thinking about the fact that positivism is a self defeating philosophy that was rejected by any one of repute long ago. The situation has shifted……it doesn’t look like it on the ground (I too have spent many a Sunday night talking to youth group students who wrestle with faith and atheism).

        • Will what facts am I avoiding?

          • I don’t know. I don’t know who you are. I know that Christopher Hitchens avoids the fact that Positivism has been dead for twenty years. Are you a positivist?

          • I have no idea what a positivist is.

            I don’t believe there are good reasons to believe Zeus, Poseidon, Vishnu or any other gods actually exist. You said something about atheists having to avoid facts. What facts are you avoiding when dismissing Vishnu and Zeus?

          • You may want to look into what positivism is. It is hard to see the air we breathe. Positivism is the philosophical foundation for scientific materialism. It was pulverized more than 20 years ago and is almost universally rejected today.

        • Will S, I didn’t see imonk say anything remotely as disrespectful as “atheists are avoiding the facts”.

          imonk thank you for being very respectful towards atheists in this article.

          • Helen. Maybe I misread him. Wasn’t his whole point that many (or was it most) atheists are not becoming atheists due to facts? Am I wrong to call that avoiding facts or would you prefer it be put another way. I was certainly not trying to be offensive.

          • Will S:

            My reading of it was more like Helen’s, I think. What I understood imonk to be saying wasn’t “Everyone who reaches a different conclusion from me is ignoring the facts,” but that this debate is not won or lost, in EITHER direction, based on the facts. Which I think is true, and sounds less condescending to the people you’re trying to connect with.

            I don’t think most people accept any religious belief, including Christianity, based primarily on an objective, sterile factual analysis, at the conclusion of which they commit their life and their emotions. There’s always more to it than that. That doesn’t mean Christians are avoiding the facts, and it doesn’t mean that the facts aren’t important, it means the primary emphasis (again, in both directions) should be on forming loving connections to people as actual human beings.

            The worst situation to be in here is one a friend of mine faced: he loved debate and he knew all the logical arguments. He kept at one non-Christian, refuting all objections, until the other person conceded that he had answered all their arguments and they couldn’t find any holes in his reasoning. But they still didn’t want to be Christian, because they were face to face with what that meant on a human level and they disliked it. That person wasn’t “avoiding the facts,” they were choosing to focus on the very real and undeniable fact that my friend was (unfortunately, though I hope he learned his lesson) pushy, rude and unpleasant. Next to that, the metaphysical arguments are so much sophistry.

          • Will S, thanks for your reply. I understood imonk’s comments like David S did.

    • I disagree on two points. First, the “transition back to orthodoxy” did not start in the 1990s, it started in the 1950s with neo-evangelicals like Carl F. H. Henry and Harold Ockenga, among others. This movement also included the founding of what were then conservative scholarly institutions such as Fuller.

      Second, I disagree that American evangelical Christianity is orthodox. It contains much Enlightenment thought which, from a truly orthodox position, is heresy. The best example of this is the Scottish realist influence, which elevates human noetic capabilities far beyond what classic realism did. Another example is the Protestant “text fetish,” which is very modern. In my view, a good place to begin seeing just how modern — and, in the original sense of the term, secular — American evangelical Christianity has become is to explore more deeply Christianity’s Jewish roots. Jesus was a rabbi. Start there.

      I do agree that many evangelicals are well read and that the intellectual quality of many of their arguments has improved since the 1990s. I take them seriously as intellectuals. However, they tend to read each other too much. It is distressing to me how often I meet evangelicals who start talking about some other point of view only later to realize that they’ve only read about that point of view from other evangelicals. The ID folks are bad for that. Too often, most or all of what they know about evolution they’ve learned from other ID writers.

      I also agree about the intellectual bankruptcy of theological liberalism. I just don’t think American evangelicals are any less modernist than the liberals. Their rhetoric is, but only their rhetoric.

      • George, On your first point….of course there are always antecedents. The liberal takeover of the early 20th century was preceded by Darwin, Hume, and Nietzsche. My point was that the transition is apparent *now* just as the liberal transition became apparent in the early years of the 20th century. On your second point, we will have to debate that another day. As an exCatholic whose favorite authors are all either Catholic or Anglican I could not disagree more almost every level.

  2. Lifeway (baptist) research reports 80% of kids from evangelical homes are no longer in church 24 months after leaving home. This thread and post show why.

    • Tom, there are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics. The 80% number comes from a much broader definition of ‘evangelical’. If you take people that have creedal orthodoxy, the real fall away rate is closer to 15%. Additionally, evangelicals (real ones) tend to have a bunch more kids. The world is becoming very Christian very fast.

      • Who’s creedal orthodoxy? Barna’s?

        • There are three creeds that are known as the ecumenical creeds, meaning that they have a universal acceptance. They are the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. The Reformers of the 16th century accepted these creeds, and they are included in confessional writings as faithful expositions of Holy Scripture.

  3. I’m not quite getting this whole “Occam’s Razor” thing from the video. I have written a lengthy article on my blog on this article, because while I think you’re closer than most, I also think there are some points that just barely miss the mark.

    Like this occam’s razor thing. While the whole, “It’s easier” thing, may be a side dish (because, of course, atheism doesn’t require anything; it is not a comprehensive worldview or belief system, but simply allows you to feel free to pick your own belief system unhindered by a church or a book), I don’t think it’s the main attraction. Rather, the main attraction is nonbelief. It is that for some, it doesn’t make sense. They don’t have spiritual experiences. The way they see the world doesn’t mesh with the way theists and in particular, Evangelical Christians see it. So, I think that some of the ways you describe it are apt, but you’re still giving too little credit to many atheists.

    For example, I get this sense that you think, Michael (or do you go by iMonk?) that *if* atheists would spend the time, and if they had the *right* scriptures and *right* sermons and *right* people in their lives, that then they would find that the religion was worth it and get back involved (I’m sure plenty of your readers, some who were former atheists, did just this). However, I think this is an incredibly hopeful statement to say for all.

    I agree that if there were more of certain kinds of Christians instead of other kinds, then there would be more respect for Christians as a whole (and less of this angsty anti-theism that we’ve been seeing), but this wouldn’t necessarily make the case for God any more persuasive than it is. As Gervais says, you really can’t believe in something you don’t believe in. And as you noted, to try to force it, to wrap it up with theological and convoluted arguments, etc., will never make sense when the alternative is to let it all go, live a good life, and serve your fellow person.

    I think some of your commenters have a good outlook, but some of them…I disagree just a bit more with. But as you said, this isn’t about argument.

    Rather, I think what Christians will want to look at is something like: what does Christianity offer that atheism can’t replicate? Salvation is one of these things, but Christians nowadays make a remarkably poor case for the necessity of salvation. One of your commenters here in this thread remarked that Christianity is not about being “good and nice,” but instead about “saving the poor.” If this is so, Christianity has alienated a certain set of people, who can see CLEAR BENEFIT from being good and nice, being accepting of others (even so-called “sinners”), but cannot see clear benefit for the magic, the mysticism, the God narrative, the salvation narrative. And when some Christians live in a way that implies the God and salvation narrative are antithetical to the “be good and nice to each other” narrative (e.g., by focusing on banning gay marriage, for example, or on focusing “salvation” and right belief over right actions [charity and love aren’t monopolies…] and right attitudes [humility and meekness aren’t monopolies…]), I think some people (especially the ones for whom spiritual experiences are out of grasp — for whatever reason, maybe the Holy Ghost is having a bathroom break) will naturally be unconvinced.

    • How can you talk to an atheist about salvation? He doesn’t believe in a single component of that worldview. No God. No problem.

      • Precisely, so what’s the Evangelical response?

        Will you simply leave atheists to themselves and accept defeat (that is, if evangelizing is one of your goals), or what? How do you show that “No God” is a problem?

        This is really the goal for theists. If they/you cannot do this, then no matter what else, there will be atheists.

        Personally, I think that theism requires a personal subjective experience to stick (different religions call it something different, but it seems they are referring to something similar). This is not something that theists can invoke in others or tell others how to invoke it reliably and repeatably on their own, and without this peace, it really is the case that no God is no problem.

        • (er, you can probably edit my latest comment to ask: so what is the post-evangelical response? What is *your* response, in particular?)

      • Might there be the desire for elements of salvation form an atheistic view? I mean most humans don’t live their life as beautifully as they wish, do they? Am I wrong that whatever our world view happens to be, we don’t love those we love as well as we wish we did, we don’t break all of our bad habits, we don’t save enough whales, shrink our carbon foot print enough, or make enough money to do all the things we desire.

        I understand atheists might not be concerned about an afterlife, but aren’t most of us concerned about our present selves? I guess I can see atheists who might find the notion of salvation (being changed form those aspects of their nature that are harmful) befitting them while they live here and now as attractive. Isn’t that at least a part of what following the man Jesus offers?

        I only make this point to answer your question and to affirm a point Andrew made, “Rather, I think what Christians will want to look at is something like: what does Christianity offer that atheism can’t replicate? Salvation is one of these things, but Christians nowadays make a remarkably poor case for the necessity of salvation.”

        I don’t think atheists would find much else compelling about the institution of Christianity.

        • John M,

          If atheists do desire salvation, then this kind of salvation is not really the same as the Christian salvation. For example, the solution to your scenario, “humans don’t live their life as beautifully as they wish, do they?” (and all of the examples of how this is so) is not to believe in a mystical being who many do not experience.

          Rather, this is how you get a kind of secular humanism — if we want to improve our world, then it’s up to us. Heaven and religion is seen as “running away” from real world problems in this case (and that’s another way you alienate). It’s not about “being changed” (which implies that something else shadowy and unknown does the changing)…but rather it’s about us changing ourselves (an active role). Where, again, do traditional Christian ideas of salvation and grace fit here?

          Be careful about what happens when you divorce the supernatural aspects of Christianity from the “general good advice” parts. Because atheists would probably point out that many aspects of the Bible (New or Old) could be scrapped in this case, and aspects of other books could be adopted. Your scenario may create good people who try to be ethical and moral, but it doesn’t necessarily create Christians. The connect is that people do not see how Christianity fits into the picture, since you can be ethical and moral without believing in the supernatural aspects…

        • John M, I do think many (most?) atheists care about how they live their lives – they have standards and want to live up to them and they know they don’t always achieve that.

          However, there are various reasons such atheists would still not find Christian salvation compelling.

          First, it is predicated on Total Depravity/God’s need for perfect humans. Atheists tend to have a balanced view of humans, seeing them as capable of good and evil. That they are totally depraved doesn’t seem to fit reality; and besides, why would God require humans to be perfect? If God exists and does require that then surely that is his problem and why should atheists be grateful for him solving a problem of his own making?

          And as imonk pointed out, there is no need for salvation if God doesn’t exist.

          Also, if you say to an atheist, “Wouldn’t you like to live a better life?” they are likely to say that according to their observations, “saved Christians” don’t live noticeably better lives than any other people.

          Living a better life generally involves changing habits, which is something atheists can attempt without being saved.

  4. There are so many reasons why people would prefer atheism to Christianity. You’ve mentioned some good ones. UnChristian describes some others well.

    I think many people are atheists because they have trouble believing what Christians believe and/or they don’t find Christians have a compelling answer to ‘Why be a Christian?” Motivation and what worldview reflects reality are both important; maybe in differing degrees to different people.

    • Thanks for hanging out and talking with us. Practically everyone here can agree that something that American and Americanized Christianity needs right now is to take honest criticism seriously.

  5. ryan mueller says:

    I am an old school Lutheran (Bible, Book of Concord, the whole bit) but in the past few years I developed an appreciation for Ratzinger. I think it was in the first chapter or two of An Introduction to Christianity where he talks about doubt being inherent to the human condition. Doubt can be a starting point for discussion because most Christians and Atheists have it. I won’t attempt to reconstruct his position on things because I might make mistakes, and, even if I didn’t, he states his arguments more succinctly. A worthwhile read for anyone interested. He realized that a believer sometimes (often?) has a clownish appearance to non-believers: screaming about a terrible disaster that no one else can even see. When people don’t understand, the Christian gets more agitated and shouts all the louder, to the endless amusement or irritation of the audience that cannot see or smell the fire that the clown says is burning and killing people even as he speaks.

    • Fastthumbs says:

      Clown IS exactly the correct description many atheists view Christians who try to explain their worldview (especially the fundalmentalist type) as. See this:

      http://www.atheistcartoons.com/?attachment_id=1074

      • funny stuff. But I’m not sure God ever said gays, Hindus or atheists had to spend eternity in hell… I think he said sinners like me who don’t end up turning to Christ spend eternity there? Please advise if you know otherwise.

        God loves sinners and atheists alike.

        • Fastthumbs says:

          That may be, but a lot of Christians do not. And it shows, sometimes really ugly.

          • it gets ugly yes. But the ugliness isn’t limited to religious people. I have noticed that atheists can get pretty ugly too but since there is no God that’s okay for them I suppose?.

            I have a met enough religious folks in my lifetime who are nothing other than just that. Christians and religious people are 2 entirely different sets of people. Many religious folks call themselves “Christians” but ought to stick to calling themselves what they are. What I think people tend to forget is that there could still be a God even if we weren’t sitting around arguing about his existence, and talking about how because of Christians, no one believes in God. It’s an easy way out. Discussing whether God truly does exists can be done between a Muslim and a simple hippy really—so called “Christians” and atheists just do so much fighting about it that we tend to forget that.

            I understood your cartoon, hope you know that I wasn’t taking shots at you. But I hear a lot of folks talk about how God hates gays and this people and that people… Christianity asserts something much different: God loves sinners enough (and my sin is no less wrong than the next guys) to send his one and only son to die a brutal and undeserved death on a shameful cross in my place… Call that what you like, but that’s what orthodox Christianity teaches. I just know I was blind and now I see. It’s not for me to be God’s defense attorney, what kind of God needs one of those? God has his own mysterious ways of showing himself to the the skeptics and the haters (I speak from personal experience).

          • Ken Stoll:

            “I have noticed that atheists can get pretty ugly too but since there is no God that’s okay for them I suppose?”

            Please be careful of comments like this. You probably don’t realize both how common that sentiment is and how profoundly disrespectful it is to sincere atheists. It is only certain Christians (or theists) who believe that if there is no god then morality and behavior don’t matter. Atheists do not claim this. And when you make comments like that you are implying that by the very nature of their beliefs, a whole category of people are incapable of morality or love or kindness. That is a very dehumanizing sentiment from someone who likely also believes that these people were created in the image of God.

            Maybe you don’t really mean this and were just being snarky because of the “ugliness” you’ve seen in certain atheists. But you should know that this kind of sarcastic dismissal is something that atheists / skeptics hear sincerely all the time, and it does not help your cause.

      • …didn’t mean to be insensitive, but the motive of my intentions really aren’t the point here. You make a valid case David, so thanks. I don’t want to be dehumanizing so I’ll just stop trying to talk. I’m pretty messed up myself and don’t have a neatly little put together package of points to argue (not saying you or anyone else does, not trying to hurt feelings here), nor do I have the desire or energy to fight with the experts and not just because I’d lose. But even I did lose I’m just going to just suggest that God would not cease to exist, or it wouldn’t prove he never did. God will fend for himself, he’ll surely use people smarter than me to “prove” a case. I am one little man. If he’s depending on my reasoning and smarts he’ll have to find someone else. I do see humanists, atheists, theists, and all of us as made in the image of God, so, good assumption you make there. But I wasn’t implying that “a whole category of people are incapable of morality or love or kindness.”… I was saying if there is no God it’s not all that important. We are all recipients of God’s common grace and I’ve seen love in action in places and by folks you’d never guess. That wasn’t my point, but if a sincere atheist you speak of took it that way I was misunderstood. I’m not sure it’s about my being understood though, my feelings aren’t important (and I’m serious about that).

        As for morality kindness… I don’t claim to be all that moral and I can be a bit unkind so I really don’t want to get into a contest of who’s more moral and kind and who’s way of getting there is better.

        • If I can try to mediate in between the message that I think Ken is trying to make and the argument atheists are trying to make.

          it gets ugly yes. But the ugliness isn’t limited to religious people. I have noticed that atheists can get pretty ugly too but since there is no God that’s okay for them I suppose?.

          I would say something like…what we are trying to do is account for this ugliness. Supposing a world with a god, the kind of ugliness we see doesn’t make sense (or rather, we have to change the idea of god). But in a world without a god, the kind of ugliness we see does make sense. Religious theodicies try to cover up, but it doesn’t really make sense unless we either tone down some attributes of God or don’t assume God.

          This does NOT mean that “it’s ok” for people to be ugly. And I disagree (and I think most atheists would) with your statement, “if there is no God, then it’s not really important.”

          I hope for your sake and all theist’s sake that you don’t find things you do in this life important simply because you believe in God or an afterlife. I hope that you find them important for *now*. For example, it’s important for me to try to be an ethical and moral person because THIS is the world we have and I would rather it be pleasant than terrible. I’m not doing this for a “score report” at the “Game over screen.” I’m not doing this for some higher purpose. I’m doing it because I like people smiling, laughing, cooperating, instead of suffering. And I recognize I can’t count on any supernatural being to swoop us from it all.

          So, when atheists talk about ugly actions or ugly attitudes, then I think it’s because they are saying it’s rather incredulous to accept a god under these conditions, when there’s a perfect explanation for ugliness when there isn’t a god. It’s rather incredulous to accept the ethical code that theists of different stripes (Christian, Muslim, whatever) when their sources of authority don’t seem to be all that much better than human sources. This is not to say human sources are perfect (so of course, atheists can err as well)…but rather, if it is a human source, that doesn’t make a great case for deities.

          • …too much to respond Andrew S but you seem like an intelligent guy. For the record–and I can’t speak for you or the man on the moon for that matter–I don’t do what I do for a “score report” at the “Game over screen.” I don’t claim to do it out of a pure heart either, any “pureness” I have isn’t something I had to begin with. Jesus Christ has laid down his life for me and set me free, I do what I do with that in view. I myself won’t be earning any ticket to heaven, it’s freely given and freely received. I don’t discount “now” as you may imagine, but life is pretty vain for me without Christ (please realize I am speaking for myself)–I don’t assume to know what all atheists think or believe. I just have a hard time believing that anything really matters all that much without Christ to make sense of it all. End of story for me. And I don’t believe in “deities” or argue for them. I believe there is one God and he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and I have been lucky enough to bump into him and pray that others do.

  6. Atheist gladiator says:

    Sociologists tell us that people do not convert because, having become convinced that religion X is true, they go seek out religion X. Rather they seek out groups to belong to (humans being social animals) and then believe whatever it is the group believes.

    For Christians seeking new members, this makes your task easier: you don’t have to logically persuade anybody. Just give people a reason to want to belong, and make them feel welcome.

    One complication arises from the institutional needs of churches and so forth, which constrain how many (and what kinds) of new members may be welcomed. In other words, churches function almost like living organisms, and have their own interests (as do their leaders)–which may or may not be compatible with welcoming everyone into the group.

    This gives rise to an interesting paradox for Christians: on one hand, your theology generally holds that everyone ought to be a member. On the other hand, all social groups require boundaries, and churches or religions are no exception. (Each item of the creeds anathematizes some ancient group of dissidents.)

    Incidentally, one of the more interesting complaints on the “Friendly Atheist” blog was that liberal Christians (whom many atheists admire) have had no discernible effect on their conservative co-religionists (who are almost universally despised). I suppose the iMonk crowd falls somewhere in the middle.

    • For Christians seeking new members, this makes your task easier: you don’t have to logically persuade anybody. Just give people a reason to want to belong, and make them feel welcome.

      This can be very compelling for people; however, many atheists would not want to feel like hypocrites and would not attend worship services where they are expected to state a belief they do not have no matter how friendly and welcoming the community is.

      I miss being with the people in the church community I used to belong to, but I can’t go back and sing songs I don’t mean, pray to a God whose existence I question and listen to sermons assuming I am under the authority of a book which I no longer believe authoritative (albeit interesting and with some value).

  7. …see I am getting to the dance floor a little late. The game has changed no doubt Michael. But it always does. We are living in a time no different than say J.Gresham Machen, Luther–or even Paul the apostle for that matter. Animosity abounds. The atheists don’t play be “the rules”, but who can blame them, neither does God,

    Our youth ministry may be lame, or even have the coolest productions… and we can even be really caring. But the question is, and remains—are people’s eyes opened to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ? A mom might be shown up by a brother who questions the mom’s silly “superstitions”. But if God is half a god, he isn’t limited by some smart ass (no mattter how educated and contemporary he is). A “better way” than what we have to offer can be found at the corner coffee shop any morning of the week. Who can say that the successful Gervais who has the world by the tail right now, as the audience laughs, won’t hit a wall in life—or be drunk all alone in a hotel room one night and remember the love of his stupid mother?

    God will have the last word. And his word is always that—the last word.

    • You seem to be assuming a great emptiness in Ricky Gervais’ life – which Christian evangelical teaching often seems to assume about successful nonbelievers. The assumption is made that they are dependent on fickle things – material wealth, the approval of others – for happiness and one day that will fail them.

      However Ricky Gervais in the clip demonstrated having other values by his comments about how Jesus was kind and brave. Also he is a comedian and I don’t think him sharing his story of becoming an atheist in a humorous way necessarily implies a real lack of respect for his mother or a lack of appreciation of her love.

      Despite the Christian teaching about the deep down emptiness of nonbelievers’ lives I think many nonbelievers are as happy as believers. Suffering can come to any of us but nonbelievers have nonbeliever ways of dealing with it and wouldn’t necessarily become any less nonbelieving just because a crisis hits.

      I have heard testimonies of how people became believers in a crisis so of course I wouldn’t say it never happens. Rather, I don’t think you can assume that’s how a given nonbeliever would react to a crisis or that his/her life has a deep down emptiness.

      Notwithstanding the above, if Ricky Gervais does become a Christian one day feel free to come and tell me “I told you so!” 🙂

      • I won’t come and do that cause I wasn’t trying to be right. I will pray he does. Many of us suffer as Christians and as “other”… and we all respond differently. I was saying that could be an opportunity, that’s all. God’s richest blessings on you Helen!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Who can say that the successful Gervais who has the world by the tail right now, as the audience laughs, won’t hit a wall in life—or be drunk all alone in a hotel room one night and remember the love of his stupid mother?

      God will have the last word. And his word is always that—the last word. — Ken Stoll

      That sounds like a thousand sermons I’ve heard, as well as the plot of a LOT of Billy Graham movies and most all Conventional Christian Fiction. A fanfic retelling of the middle part of the Prodigal Son.

      Stepping back and looking at it from a distance, it’s actually pretty smug — “It’ll Happen! See? See? I’ll Show You! I’ll Show You!”

      • Heather… only God and Ricky know the emptiness in his life, that is if he has any. I guess I could be clearer. We can smile and laugh and be as empty on the inside as a tin can, that’s a part of what I was saying. I’m not sure I was saying he disrespects his mother, I’m talking about the laughs of others. Let them laugh. It’s all good. I laugh too. What I am trying to say is that there is a bit of mockery that goes on when it comes to those who follow this fairy tale Jesus. That’s okay. Jesus was mocked, why would those who are silly enough to identify with such a nut job expect anything less?

        Not sure I said it will happen Unicorn Guy, but maybe it sounded that way. I am merely suggesting that it can happen, stranger things have. Men and woman much more vocal about any resistance or unbelief have changed their mind. If I sounded smug please forgive me, I have plenty of pride to deal with of my own when my only response should be gratitude, I obviously still need the reminding, so thanks for pointing that out. The discussion about God that morphs into talk about Jesus seems to always get a bit more snark–he’s a controversial figure I find–and rightly so I think, he claimed to be God for goodness sakes. If he wasn’t God, he was what Lewis called a “lunatic” for certain.

        • Ken, I don’t understand why you are bringing up mocking in the context of Ricky Gervais. He said Jesus was brilliant, kind and brave and he was being serious, not sarcastic. He certainly did not say anything implying Jesus was a nut job.

          • correct you are. Plenty of others do say so and they are free to do so. If I read all 250 comments on imonks post here I might be able to point to some. Apologies to you and Ricky. He did say Jesus was what you say.

    • apologies Helen, called you Heather, oops.

  8. The Post-Christian says:

    The thing about faith, or the lack thereof, is that it always revolves around a person’s story. And you can’t argue someone out of their own story.

    • I think I agree…with the clarification that a person’s “story” includes their personal experiences, inclinations, reactions to environmental stimuli, etc,.

      So for example, I can recognize that people who have something that they recognize as a spiritual experience and an inclination to say that that spiritual experience came from God will naturally have a “story” that more prone to theism. And I can’t blame them for that. Arguments won’t work.

      I just think that theists should realize that atheists, of course, have different experiences and inclinations. So that’s why arguments don’t work.

      • If people’s experiences render arguments useless then why does Paul throughout the book of Acts constantly appeal to arguments?

        Jesus, with much wisdom and skill would defuse arguments from the opposition and offer counter-arguments.

        The fact that it is ‘easier’ to attack then to defend does not imply that arguments are obsolete. What is an argument but a declaration.

        I think that there are several issues at work in the rise of atheism.
        1. People have always looked for a means of justifying their unbelief.
        2. Atheism has become the latest fad. It has become a novelty.
        3. Atheism has garnished enough academic support to appease unbeliever’s consciences.
        4. There is enough moral capital to make it seem socially respectable.
        5. Too many Christians have retreated from the intellectual arena.
        6. Of course modernism also plays a large role.
        7. Lack of spiritual leadership. The image factor doesn’t exactly help the matter. Many Christians (leaders included) have fallen prey to porn for example. How can a man preach the word with a guilty conscience? How can he address the needs of his local congregation if he can’t even see straight?
        8. Sunday school and Sunday evening services have become a thing of the past. Both are critical for spiritual formation of the heart, mind and body.
        9. Whatever happened to the prayer meeting?
        10. Finally, the absence of believers filled with the presence of God.

    • Is is any different than trying to argue with someone who literally believes every word of the bible?
      I am an athiest and i think far to many Christians associate atheism with satanism or some other pagan type “religion”.
      When told that I am an athiest, i have been asked many times “well what do you worship?” A total lack of a higher power is more than some of these people can understand.
      I live in a traditionly religous area- poor, white, and under educated- and i find myself, when confronted by religion, saying I am Jewish. It’s equally hated among Christians but easier for someone like that to understand.
      I ask this question: Does the church, whether outright or covertly, reinforce the view that Athiests are “bad” people? I think they do, grouping us with the likes of BinLaden and Hitler when in fact, if left alone we are pretty much non-players.
      I don’t care if you believe in god, I don’t care what you do. I do care, though, when, through social or politcal channels your views are used to shape public policy.
      For example, gay marriage. Why should it matter to you? Is it your mission on earth to rid the planet of things that don’t agree with YOUR views? if so, gay marriage should be pretty low on the list. Poverty, abuse, war.. these are the things religion should be trying to stomp out.
      The moral of the story is that left alone, we are just fine and dandy, provoked we can make a stink.you worry about yourselves and we will worry about ourselves.
      GaB

      • The thing is, you wind up functionally worshipping *something*. Whether you define it that way or not, there is something, someone, that your heart ultimately seeks out. An object of ultimate beauty if you will. It’s a concept that I didn’t really grasp until just recently, and it’s absolutely correct. Many place that value on their significant other, others place it on “stuff”, still others money, vanity, celebrity – whatever it is, there is that one thing that your heart worships. Define it however you want.

        So atheists do worship. They have this functional kind of savior that allows them to feel everything is right with the world, and when that ultimate thing is blocked, cut off, harmed, etc, it’s not just a letdown, but it will bring out the worst in them. Rage. Hatred. Or it might make them feel so helpless that they’d rather die.

        The problem on the christian side of the gammut (where I fall) is that the arguments for atheism are very compelling, just as the article suggests. Logically speaking, I tend to fall into the category of “the simplest explanation is often the correct one”. Complex arguments therefore make me feel like something is being propped up rather than the right answer being acknowledged. That’s a pretty serious struggle of the heart. 🙁

        • SolveEtCoagula says:

          “The thing is, you wind up functionally worshipping *something*…So atheists do worship. They have this functional kind of savior that allows them to feel everything is right with the world, and when that ultimate thing is blocked, cut off, harmed, etc, it’s not just a letdown, but it will bring out the worst in them.”

          Wrong.

          Not just a little bit wrong around the edges, but wrong all the way through. Here’s why:

          1) You cannot know what is in the mind or psyche of another. To say that you know, in your righteous perfection, how not only someone else thinks, but how ALL the members of a diverse, disparate, far-flung group think is both preposterous and arrogant. Your supposition is invalid

          2) Something supported with empirical evidence is not an object of worship. It is a fact. Just because my pen rolls of my desk doesn’t mean I worship gravity. Your term is invalid.

          3) Atheism is profoundly affirming. If this is all there is, right now, right here, if there is no supernatural being enforcing his mandate — then all the matters is how we treat each other while we are here. Furthermore, we must do not only do the right thing (ie: be kind, look after the planet, care about the rights of our fellow human beings), we must do the right thing for the right reasons, because of innate respect. So even your extrapolation is invalid.

          Perhaps you are confusing atheism with agnosticism; you wouldn’t be alone in that, as it happens frequently.

  9. I’m wondering if the attitude you’re describing (being an atheist is just _easier_) correlates with this Wired article: http://www.wired.com/gadgets/wireless/magazine/17-03/mf_netbooks

    I read about it in music discussions all the time… how the music kids listen to isn’t as audibly faithful to the originals as CDs or even LPs. People opt for convenience over quality.

    I think these two topics are related. And the only way to solve it is to create hunger for the original qualities that can’t be compressed, that are worth the extra “work”.

    my 2 cents.

    • I think there’s a corrolary to your statement. What kids listen to in mp3 format (or whatever compression you choose), tends to be lossy. They’re missing out on fine details. They’re missing information. There are gaps that you can’t consciously pick up on, but they are most certainly missing.

      You have to allow them to experience something losslessly in order for them to appreciate what they’ve been missing. Without that comparative experience, they aren’t going to notice or care.

    • I would have thought this iMonk piece is more closely related to a different Wired article:

      http://www.wired.com/gadgets/miscellaneous/magazine/17-09/ff_goodenough

      i.e., maybe atheism is the ‘good enough’ belief system?

  10. Michael, your post has provided an interesting glimpse into this postmodern, therapeutic culture of ours. And of course no atheism vs theism debate would be complete without the misapplication of Occam’s razor, as learned from Jody Foster in Contact: there is no god is way “simpler” than trying to tackle, say, the problem of evil.

    • Ed – I think your post contains a freudian slip. As an atheist I DO want to tackle the “problem of evil”. You are equating atheism with nihilism. Regurgitating Dawkins, plenty of bad people in history were religious. Some were Atheist. I am interested in why you assume those who do not put their faith in an all-powerful being, for which there is no physical evidence, lack the vision to see all of the bad taking place in the world, and a subsequent desire to stop said evil? – I am truly interested in your reply.

      • I think he meant tackling the Problem of Evil, as in the argument against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God based on the fact that evil exists – not simply tackling the problem of getting rid of evil.

        The (mis?)application of Occam’s Razor there would be to cut the tri-omni God out of the equation.

        • Right. I was simply agreeing with iMonk that the principle of Ockham is often bandied about in these discussions by those who evidently don’t understand its meaning and proper use. So when faced with the problem of reconciling the evil in the world with an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God, the solution there is no such God seems to be “simpler,” according to a supposed principle of simplicity, than explanations involving human free will and a fallen world. However, “simple” as used in various interpretations of Ockhams’s principle, which is just a heuristic device, is a very ambiguous and subjective term; and there’s no evidence to support the notion that simplicity equals truth. Newton’s interpretation in his first Rule,” we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances,” implies the ability to empirically observe the phenomenon under consideration (ie, scientific method), which limits its usefulness in the current discussion. As originally formulated (something like: entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity), the principle was about necessity not simplicity; and for Ockham, of course, the only necessary entity was God.

          • I hope iMonk doesn’t mind me continuing a discussion of Ockam here, since it seems reasonably on topic for the thread.

            Does simplicity mean truth? No. I think Ockam’s Razor is about believing stuff with justification (in the mundane, rather than the Christian theological, sense). If you have a complex theory, say “God is omni-potent-benevolent-whatever, but permits there to be so much suffering because he values free-will/has his own, unspecified, good reasons/insert theodicy here”, the details are burdensome, as Yudkowsky puts it. That is, the burden is on you to show that God values free will very highly, or has good reasons, or whatever. In the case of theodicy, these details are ad hoc, made up specifically to address the argument. They’re the details it is necessary to add to your beliefs so you can continue to believe God is omni-whatever, and surely he is, so at least one of them must be true, right? I mean, all you’ve done is added sufficient complexity to explain the phenomenon under consideration. What’s wrong with this picture?

            I don’t expect teenage evangelicals who give up the faith go through the reasoning in just that way. Rather, I expect they have some intuitive notion that complex explanations need grounding, and see atheism as a way of cutting the knot. I don’t see that this is about science at all: all that you need to see is the magnitude of suffering in the world, and the claim that God is omni-whatever.

          • But what is justified belief? The literature is replete with examples of how people’s responses deviate from what is considered normative on reasoning tasks due to information processing biases, and our ability to select good premises and estimate their probability accurately can be distorted by many things, including self-interest. But to what extent do pragmatic and epistemic rationality overlap?

  11. Hello,

    I’m an atheist who wandered here from fark.com and found your thesis interesting enough that I’ll likely be reading the rest of the site during the next few days when I have free time.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of being the atheist in the family/workplace. Unwillingly, as I’ve not had a need to evangelize once I got past my stance of “anti-theist” (my term, meaning I was against God) to being an atheist, but the need for some Christians to heavily evangelize does get tiresome at times.

    One thing I’m not seeing here, and I may be missing it, is the approach to be taken regarding us atheists. I’m all for a live and let live approach. I don’t want to close any church doors or shut down school prayer groups or other things I’ve been accused of. I don’t necessarily know if there really is any approach that can be taken just due to the base concept of the Great Commission, but I’d like to hear more, and may well find some set of answers while looking through your site.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say I found this article interesting, and I hope the rest of the site is as interesting.

    Be well,
    Richard

  12. I am an agnostic who was raised as an evangelical Christian. All the way through college and my first marriage, I attended evangelical churches and worked fervently on my faith. You are completely correct when you say that “evangelicals have made such outrageous assumptions and promises about happiness, healing, everything working out, knowing God, answered prayer, loving one another and so on that proving us to be liars isn’t even a real job.” My life had been miserable since I started it and despite going to church with or without my single mom for my whole life, I was never allowed to fit in. I was never good enough for them. The only time I did fit in was when I was at college and I went to church with a bunch of other college students…we were all from the same place at that point, so we were all accepted as a group. But you can bet that when I had to move 40 miles away and my boyfriend of 2 years (who also went to the same church) and I broke up, not one single person who I had developed a relationship with in that church ever called me. The same thing when my marriage to the worship leader at our church ended. He told them I was a harlot and I was ostrasized, even though he was the one who did the sinful things. Before I finally broke down and left him, I was told to pray for him, and God would change him into the husband God wanted him to be. Well, I guess my prayers just weren’t good enough, and this “loving” community abandoned me again.

    Since I’ve let go of all of it; religion, God, worrying constantly about hell, worrying about my friends and family going to hell, trying to be worhty, etc, etc…I’ve lost 60 pounds, gotten into the only healthy relationship I’ve been in my whole life, made true friends (genuine people who I don’t have to impress with my piety), and have minimal stress. I was tired of being dysfunctional and influenced by dysfunctional people. I guess if being a functional adult is the pathway to hell, so be it. You say that people become athiests because it’s easier…well, if you were in an abusive relationship and the “easier” thing was to just walk away…wouldn’t you do it?

    • Olivia,

      I am so sorry to hear of your experiences in & out of the church. It seems like for every 1 “real” christian that you hear about, there are 10 who act in a similar way that your ex-husband did. It was because of this same dichotomy in my experience with Christians that it took me so long to actually become one. However, over a period of many years, I began to realize that no matter how “Christian” people act, they are still human and are prone to royal screw-ups. But, where I messed up was that I was basing Christianity on Jesus’ followers and not on Jesus himself. Way too often these are two very different things, and none of which is Jesus’s fault. I hope that this does not come across as judgmental or trivializing your experience, and if it does then please accept my sincerest apologies. I just hoped it would help. God bless you.

      • Jesus himself wasn’t all that great. If we’re truly meant to believe he’s the same being as Yahweh in the Old Testament, then he’s responsible for a horrific amount of slaughter.

        • I’m not sure I understand that.

          The crusades (the only thing I can possibly relate your statement to) had nothing to do with Jesus himself, and everything to do with man’s petty bickering and lust for money and power. The first crusade was at least somewhat understandable. After that it really came down to everything but Jesus.

  13. I grew up a normal Christian, the old fashioned kind that wanted to treat your neighbor as you wanted to be treated yourself and that helping the needy was a good thing. As an American, we respected other people’s religion, even showed polite interest. We used to make fun of the Evangelicals, those hicks gathering in their big tents, pretending like they were talking in tongues and getting all hot for Jesus. That was so foolish of us, they are in larger and larger numbers now. And, as this article suggests, they are in some sort of competition to win something. I think they are trying to hijack the US so they can pull a Hitler thing someday and get rid of the non-Evangelicals. Won’t those real Republicans, the ones that are just trying to get deregulation of big businesses, be surprised when they find out they are part of the Evil Empire trying to destroy the free America and bomb us back to the dark ages.

    If you just practiced your religion without trying to force it on other people, then maybe you would not look so ugly, selfish and scary to everyone else. You are doing the devils work, which is fine, we are free in America to do that, but don’t get all weepy when some smart youth see you for what you are.

  14. My favorite response that made me leave my church was when i asked about the Trinity… “It’s too complicated for you to understand” was the response I got. “Just wait until you’re older and it will reveal itself to you when you are ready”.

    I was immediately put off and forced to look for myself…and what I found made me an Atheist for a time.

    • The finality of religion (especially Christianity) is what has made me a loyal agnostic/atheist. Christ questioned his father, yet I am supposed to believe and subscribe day in/day out until my dying breath. Even at 15 I knew it was a sham and that was when I quit my youth group and my church. I think that many teens, especially those with an analytic or curious mind, see through this thin veil rather easily. For some, it takes a little longer.

      I wonder if there are any studies looking at the relationship between loss of faith and rates of suicides in teens.

      • I obviously can’t expect you to summarize your entire teen experience in a single paragraph, but I’m confused. At 15 you knew “it” was a sham? Define “it”.

        I’m being genuine, because there are aspects of my own faith I’m struggling with, and as you have stated that you’re analytical, what part of christianity did you see through as being fake? What truth did you find?

  15. One point I do not see mentioned is that atheists have become very good at making Christians look like “the bad guys”. When on one side you have the homosexual lobby saying, “We are just like anyone else and all we want is to love and be loved. God made us, we are homosexual, so God made us this way” and on the other side you have Jerry Falwell saying that homosexuals caused Hurricane Katrina it is easy to see who looks like the evil ones*. Another point the author of this article misses is that sin has become equated with “fun” and Christianity has become equated with “not fun”. Sexual intercourse is pleasurable so no one wants to be told/admit that it has serious consequences (which is why it should be saved for a serious, lifetime commitment with another person). The generation that came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s put forth the selfish concept that as long as it feels good to me, it should be allowed. The thoughts, feelings and needs of the rest of society comes second. So why should the government tell me who I can have sex with, what substances I can put into my body and what I buy or sell? Unless, of course, I get an STD, pregnant, addicted or busted. Then the government is supposed to take care of my problems for me.
    This is a very good article. I fear this country is truly going to hell in a handbasket and it will get much worse before it gets any better.

    *As someone born in 1960, I came of age in the 1970’s and mocked Christians and “religious nuts”. I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that this country would get to a point where being a Christian is something to be despised and ridiculed. We Christians have allowed the mass media to turn us into parodies, allowed the unbelievers to make us look like petty and unfeeling oafs, and allowed liberal politicians (like President Obama) to say that “the fundamentalists have hijacked religion for their own purposes” (paraphrased from a pre-election campaign speech).

    • Regarding * = Sorry man, but as Christians, we have done that to ourselves. Can’t blame the president for speaking the truth.

      • Amen. All truth is God’s truth. Doesn’t matter who’s mouth it comes out of. Obama is a christian himself. That doesn’t mean we all have to agree with his points of view, but the man *does* try.

    • Donalbain says:

      And here we have a fantastic example of why atheists are gaining in confidence. Christianity has ceased to be about what Christians do and has become about what everyone does. When an atheist does not hold to your beliefs, it becomes much easier to say “Well, that is your decision, if you do not like gay sex, then don’t have gay sex or whatever.” Christians stopped (or were they ever) being interested in how they should live their lives and more concerned about how others should live their lives.

    • Ritchie Annand says:

      Lee, I have heard the “sin is fun” argument a few dozen times over the past decade, so let me just come out and say this:

      The “opposite” of Christianity IS NOT SIN.

      If you attempt to equate atheism with sin in this manner, you will fail to engage atheists, and you will fail to engage those leaving the fold. It is a false stereotype willfully flung.

      The sins you describe have more meaning than the divine meaning you ascribe them. When you take away the divine, there are still real, earthly consequences to wild, unprotected sex and drug use: pregnancy, self-control, self-worth. It does not feel good to be out of control and on the street. It does not feel good to have your future cut short with unplanned pregnancy, or be looking at a life of living with an uncurable disease.

      There is no theological lock on these themes. Selfishness, naivete and failure to plan are the contributors. That naivete (including the myth of “if we do not teach them, they will not do it”) is seized on as a method of social control is, to my mind, unpardonable.

      I do not know if you would be of the mind to shoot back that atheism is somehow selfish. It’s a common trope that might make sense from a believer’s point of view, but from a non-believers point of view, how can it count as selfishness? It’s not anger at God (the rhetoric in discussing biblical tales might seem like it at first, but this is a reaction to the divine moral source arguments), it’s not rejection of a God that does exist… there’s just nothing “up there” in atheist epistemology. There’s just family, society, humanity, nature. To say it were selfish would be like the selfishness of an evangelical failing to put fruit, flowers and incense in a shrine.

      That’s not to say you have to agree with it, but to ascribe imagined motivations from your *own* epistemology/world view would be to completely misunderstand. I think that’s in part what the author is trying to say here when he says “Our team looks good to us”.

      If it is a scapegoat you want, look elsewhere. Better yet, don’t look for one at all. Throwing the light of day on our current tribulations is what’s needed; honesty, not tribalism.

      • Actually, by christian definition, the opposite of christianity *is* sin. Being apart from God, and failing to come to him through the savior is the very definition of sin. By the archer’s definition of sin, it’s missing the mark. When you miss the bull’s eye, you have sinned – high, low, or to one side or another.

        So yes, he’s absolutely right in that regard. Is that appealing to non-believers? No. Does that change the biblical definition of sin? No.

        • Ritchie Annand says:

          My apologies for confusing the theological and moralist terms in my usage, although I will take a grand exception in that while you can apply the theological ‘sin’ label to non-Christians by definition, that does not make it “opposite”, in that it is a not-exactly-incidental feature of Christianity that Christians sin and are sinful.

          You could still claim correctness by separating Christianity the ideal from Christianity the people, but then we would not be talking on the same terms.

          I realize that Lee did not couch it in exactly the term “sin”, but he follows a very common argument that atheists turn away from God “so that they can sin”, followed by examples of exactly what they think said sinning entails: not atheists going off to have a Coke and disbelieving in God, but rather a slanderous attempt to smear atheists with all sorts of depraved motivations and activities and further tying that to “the decay of society”.

          His implications are sheer scapegoating, and in that capacity, he is wrong, though it such a common trope that he is likely repeating it from elsewhere.

    • W. Kiernan says:

      …The generation that came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s put forth the selfish concept that as long as it feels good to me, it should be allowed. The thoughts, feelings and needs of the rest of society comes second…

      Hang on a darn second, I am from right in the middle of that generation, I still don’t get haircuts, and I can tell you that we “hippies” absolutely never claimed that “the thoughts, feelings and needs of the rest of society comes second.” You may be mixing us up with the Anton LaVey / Aliester Crowley crowd, who were a tiny minority phenomenon of the fifties. Or maybe the Randites, who were totally bonkers and still are.

      …Christianity has become equated with “not fun”. Sexual intercourse is pleasurable so no one wants to be told/admit that it has serious consequences (which is why it should be saved for a serious, lifetime commitment with another person)… So why should the government tell me who I can have sex with, what substances I can put into my body and what I buy or sell? Unless, of course, I get an STD, pregnant, addicted or busted…

      Were you talking about Christianity or the government? because it looks like you jumped tracks in the middle of that argument. As for sexual intercourse having “serious consequences,” no one with half a brain ever thought it did not, but what does it have to do with the Battle of Jericho or the Nicaean creed or eschatology? STDs, pregnancy, drug addiction, etc., are all tangible facts in the real world; they are of material interest to religionists and atheists alike. “Teenage sex is inadvisable because of pregnancy, STDs, heart-break, etc.” is an argument atheists can comprehend and maybe even agree with; “Teenage sex is vile and abominable because a Saint from the sixth-century argues against it on incomprehensibly elaborate metaphysical and theological grounds” just leaves us atheists – not to mention your average teenagers – scratching our heads in puzzlement.

      Finally,

      We Christians have allowed the mass media to turn us into parodies, allowed the unbelievers to make us look like petty and unfeeling oafs…

      Good Lord, what happened to the concept of responsibility? Do you suggest that the media are obliged to turn a blind eye to the repeated spectacle of professional religionists’ scandals and crimes in order to protect the good name of religion? Face it, it’s not the mass media who are to blame for self-serving profiteers like Pat Robertson and hypocritical sex-maniacs like Ted Haggard and manipulative political operatives like Jerry Falwell being widely perceived as grotesque frauds.

  16. Tim Lehnerer says:

    I must have missed the evangelical Christians “squalling” against the president from the years 2001-2008. When America truly needed a religious voice for moral truth and against evil, you were nowhere to be found.

  17. Dave Mishem says:

    When I was a kid the Evangelicals promised that all Hindus, Muslims, and other non-Christians were going to go to hell, no questions asked. If those Evangelicals were so wrong about so much, why should I believe that the current crop has all the answers?

  18. The debate between atheism and fundamentalism won’t be resolved until believers find a scientific basis for their belief. Until then, they will need to resort to politics, the volume knob, and squat opinionation for their response. And, well, what is the laboratory of religion? It is the human body. And what are the lab tools? Prayer and meditation. And what is the “proof”? It is direct, personal experience of God – as His many qualities: joy, love, bliss, light, power, sound, etc. (all mentioned in the Bible). The problem is, too many evangelicals are entirely outwardly directed in their religion. It lacks persuasive power because it is about reason, logic, proof-texting, etc. Whereas, what truly persuades people is direct experience – which is not of the mind, but of the heart. A wise person once said that the dogmatic tendency increases in direct proportion to a person’s inability to prove his point. Certainly true of evangelicals. On the other hand, I’ve known people of faith who didn’t need to shout, politicize, or squint squatly, because they had the experience of God and Christ. You could feel Christ in their presence. But, of course, far better to feel it for yourself. Unfortunately, I’ve also known evangelicals who believe that the effort to experience God and Christ personally and directly is “satanic,” “evil,” “heathen,” etc. What crap. Is God nothing?

  19. Jeff Elizondo says:

    Saying that I’m an Atheist because it’s easier is as insulting as it is incorrect. I was a believer for many years in my youth. Then, when parables from bronze age mythologies failed to answer any questions for me satisfactorily, I began searching for answers. I found them in science.

    It is not “easy” to become an atheist. Think about it – one day you believe in everlasting life after death if you do the right things according to mythology and the next you realize this is not so. This can be quite the shock and is not “easy” for many people who have left faith behind for actual knowledge of how the universe works.

    Your apologetic attitude is betrayed by the fact you attribute atheism to some attitude of making things easier on oneself. In fact, I would say the opposite is true – it’s a heck of a lot easier to believe you are some special being living on god’s little footstool that gets a super-duper prize at death as long as you believe what your bible tells you to (which is actually nothing – the niacine council is more responsible for your belief than you realize).

    Your insult was underhanded. If you want to say you believe people are atheists because they are lazy, fine. But do so clearly and allow yourself to be criticized for it, as you should be. It is a ridiculous and baseless argument.

    • Back up there, Jeff.

      I don’t think Michael was saying “Atheists are lazy intellectually and since they’re not willing to do the hard mental work of examining and reasoning, that’s why they become atheists.”

      By “easier”, he meant “simpler” or “clearer”. As Occam’s Razor is applied, no multiplication of entities. Look at the world; on the one hand, there is an account of clearly demonstrable physical experiments to back up the theories of a natural and materialist origin with no external entity creating or directing it; on the other hand, there are accounts of various entities of various degrees of complexity.

      It seems simpler, clearer, more self-evident and more reasonable logically to say “Go with the physics and biology rather than the theology.”

      That’s what he meant, not an insult accusing atheists of being idle and simple-minded.

  20. 8YearOldAtheist says:

    God is as real as Santa Claus. Both of them tell little kids that if you behave yourself now, you’ll be rewarded later. They are control systems and baby sitters. At the age of 8 I figured out that Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real. I had already figured out that God wasn’t real, but giving up Santa and the Tooth Fairy was a lot harder because at least they left tangible rewards in this life, even if it was just my parents sneaking around at night.

    You’re older than 8. You need to grow up now and put aside childish things like belief in magical all-knowing figures. Time to learn self-discipline and responsibility, so you can behave yourself without the need for shadowy father-figures.

  21. Granulor Hoek says:

    This is the same old message. Keep people involved in the message by concocting a threat from the godless. What we must all remember is that atheists don’t organize like religions do – we are, in general, not joiners. You pick a point in time arbitrarily close to the present to start listing off atheists. But we’ve been around a lot longer than Christians have. And we will always be here. When there is enough social pressure we will admit to believing whatever we are required to believe (“He who hid well lived well” -Descartes). That we live in a society open enough for people to say in public that they believe in no god should be a testament to the ideals of democracy and free expression. But you see it as a threat. Or would have others see it as a threat. To what end? You say minister to the people, but we both know what that means. Minister via government. Minister in the streets, in the workplace, in the home. Religions cannot allow dissent, otherwise why would you care what god I worship any more than what brand of peanut butter I choose? So go on and discuss tactics in your game of social control. You will never know me by what you force me to say.

    • Granulor, if your god is one that, for instance, requires the Flower Wars of the Aztecs in order to capture enough victims to sacrifice to ensure the continuation of the physical universe, that makes a difference to me what god you worship.

      If I’m likely to become a human sacrifice, I take a lively, not to say anxious, interest in your deity.

  22. “I’m convinced the game is not primarily about arguments any more.”

    I have discovered the contrary in my experiences on myspace debates.

    • It should be duly noted that NOTHING SAID ON SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES IS OF ANY RELEVANCE TO ANYONE

  23. ErmestPayne says:

    The god / no god debate appears to the restricted to the US and the third world. The rest of the world has moved on from believing in invisible sky fairies.

  24. This article is right on for a quiet part of the debate. The vast majority of the reasons why I decided to let go of any type of faith has to do with the evangelical side of all the arguments. In addition to just general disbelief in a higher divine authority for us, I thought often growing up that evangelicals as a whole are far too hateful to actually be following the teaching of Jesus.

    I’m going to forward this on to my friends on both sides of the divide.

  25. Jeff Elizondo says:

    Saying that the debate isn’t about arguments anymore is a good way to try and wiggle your way out of having crappy arguments.

  26. Great article. It is telling I’ve heard of all the atheist authors on your list, but none of the evangelicals, the face of Christianity is brought to atheists like myself by the most popular religious figures in the media. Over the broad spectrum of Christianity. The names that come easily to mind are Jimmy Swaggart, Fred Phelps, Pope Benedict, and the things we’re most likely to hear are the scandals that follow them.

    I think what appears to atheists (rightly or wrongly) as the War on Gays has been a really bad bit of marketing–it is one of the few contexts were we hear Christianity invoked in the media these days, and antagonism to what I might term “equal protection under the law” for LGBT Americans is an incredible turnoff, particularly when it is the primary thing we see Christians trying to accomplish in this country.

    I fully recognize that “the gay” is NOT the primary theme of Christianity, nor a primary focus of most American Christian lives. But it is the primary message that’s getting out to the rest of the world, and you might want to take a closer look at where that perception comes from.

  27. I find it interesting, albeit scary, that you would discuss a loophole in your brain-washing of your youth. You’ve already resorted to home schooling them so they cannot learn the truth of their situation, now you are worried that one of your own might see the light and spread that light through the flock. What kind of religion is it where you must hold your people prisoner and consider spies to find out if they are thinking on their own or following your rule. Human children are not like dogs, they can see that adult actions and words are hypocritical.

    It is not easier to be an Atheist. Unlike many religious people, we are not forgiven by some minister pretending to have a communication channel to God. We must suffer our sins and try to make up for them and live as best as we can, assuming we are a person with a conscious. We cannot live a double standard, we must live the way that we think is right. We must either face bigotry from our Evangelical neighbors or co-workers or pretend like we are not Atheists because they will ostracize you if they find out. Do you know how sickening that is to be untrue to yourself? To an Atheist, ministers look like swindlers with a golden tongue, taking money from lost souls who need guidance. An Atheist might see a minister simply as a person who craves power over others and this is an easy way for a loser to acquire power. Let us hope and pray that more youth see the light.

  28. Evangelical protestantism has nothing on traditional Catholicism for complexity; your post really struck a chord for me, as “losing my faith” in Catholicism had a lot to do with being tired of how demanding, fearful, and petty it was. Of course, the Church has changed some since my childhood, so I don’t know how young Catholics feel now. But for me, becoming non-religious was a great relief.

    There are many other religious alternatives out there for people, not just Evangelical protestantism vs. atheism. I eventually became a religious universalist (there is some truth in all religions); and feel free to read Christian, Buddhist, etc. and non-religious philosophy for inspiration, without religious fears. Some of the most inspirational devotional poetry I’ve ever seen is Hindu. If Evangelical kids were allowed to be exposed to the larger religious world out there, maybe they wouldn’t feel as though atheism is their only choice.

  29. It’s a paradox for me that those that are screaming the loudest about Jesus, those that are proclaiming to know the ONLY route to heaven are also the ones that seem to be practicing the teachings the least. They frequently come across as the least forgiving, most hateful and certainly the least Christian of them all. The fact is that most of the philosophies about right and wrong, caring for your neighbor, etc. all existed long before any concept of Christianity took root and the fact that early designers of these religions embraced these concepts doesn’t mean that non-believers are missing these concepts in their lives as frequently seems to be asserted. Between the hijacking of modern Christianity with a push toward a Taliban-like mentality of hate, intolerance and support of violence against non-believers (such as Muslims under the guise of spreading democracy), it’s no surprise many are thinking – we’ll if that’s what it’s all about, it that’s what their God represents, I don’t want to belong. By the way, I was raised in a traditional Christian American household.

  30. Steve Dutch says:

    Let me point out the elephant in the room. Christians can absolutely forget about ever being taken seriously by intellectuals as long as they reject evolution. You might as well reject the multiplication tables. It happened. Nobody cares about your theological objections because they exist only in your own heads. Go ahead. Cling to literal inerrancy while everyone else rejects the Bible in toto. It’s like standing on the Titanic loudly proclaiming that everybody else has their life jackets fastened wrong and you’re not leaving until you get yours right.

    Is rejection of evolution a Satanic plot to marginalize Christianity? Let’s see: get Christians worked up over something that is not a threat, get them on the wrong side of the facts so the only way they can justify their position is through dishonesty, appeal to their pride so they can’t admit they were wrong, and convince them that academia is against them so they stay away from science. And simultaneously make them ridiculous in the eyes of intelligent nonbelievers. Could there be a better way to destroy Christianity?

    I have been thinking about the fact that things lately are just not going Christians’ way. We have lost the blessing. God has spit us out of his mouth. People have the nerve to criticize Obama for mentioning religion, because he’s exposing Christians for the unscriptural phonies they are. How many Christians call for harassing immigrants, ignoring the injunction to treat the alien no differently from your own people? Let’s cut taxes by cutting services, and rely on charities to do the job. I’ll tithe the savings and keep the other 90 per cent. Do Christians really think God is that stupid? Is it possible Obama won on a platform of health care because James was right when he said “If you know something is right and don’t do it, it is sin?”

    I recently heard the chaplain of a local Chi Alpha chapter lament that kids go to college and are told that they’ve been lied to. I wanted to stand up and ask “Is not lying to them on the table?” They only need a couple of lectures in a comparative religions class to figure out that all the stuff they hear from the pulpit about how evil other religions are is evil itself. I have heard more than one missionary refer to Allah as a false god, blissfully unaware that Arabic Bibles (for the 15-20 million Arabic speaking Christians) use Allah to refer to God. Do we actually think ignorant people like this can possibly have anything useful to contribute as missionaries?

    • Excellent post, Steve – on so many levels. Thank you. As a Christian, I have thought every one of these things repeatedly.

  31. Michael Reed says:

    Great post and good comments, But…
    To be honest & religio-centric… this is the very Nature of Protestantism ( protest – ism ). Schism leads to schism, leads to schism, all from confusions and/or pride, over heavenly & earthly teaching authority.
    Everyone should follow readings from actual Catholic “monks” from St. Augustine thru St. Thomas Aquinas & Thomas More + Cardinal Newman, to see where the struggle between our better angels and original sin have left us today. In real matters of human nature, there really is nothing new under the sun.
    Childrens’ eyes see thru every hypocrisy and weak, self-serving argument sooner or later. Like night-after-day, we see the bitterness that follows from being misled – intentionally and otherwise. This always leads to a backlash and mass migration to any “other” belief or belief system that seems to better serve our immediate needs & wants… or, in politics, seems “the lesser of evils”.
    And low and behold, we always seem surprised by this!
    Keep up the conversation. Best Regards, Michael

    • Bravo, Michael, bravo. I am a convert to the Catholic faith, and I can that you’ve spoken the truth.

      For all you atheist posters, you should now that the arguments you associate with Christianity are not authentic Christian ones, as those are only found in Catholic theology. The truth is that thinking men — intellectually honest men — become Catholic.

      A good example of this is someone you forgot to cite as an authority, Michael, and that is G.K. Chesterton, one of the greatest philosophers to ever live. As he said himself, he was a pagan at age 12, and an Anglican later on until he finally converted to Catholicism. His arguments are profound and generally airtight; to debate him (even though he’s dead) is to lose.

      And just for the supercilious atheists’ information, no, you’re not as smart as Chesterton. He was a genius nonpareil. Oh, you read him, don’t understand his work and think it’s gobbledygook?

      OK, repeat after me, “I am not as smart as G.K. Chesterton . . . not even close.”

      Repeat as needed.

      Thinking men become Catholic. The rest disgorge tired, platitudinous arguments that were refuted before they were a twinkle in their father’s eye as if the arguments were new, novel and clever.

      • Death Knight says:

        Yes, certainly a rousing “argument” like this will help you win converts. When all else fails, insult peoples’ intelligence who don’t agree with you!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The Order of St Borg strikes again…

        (“You WILL Become Catholic! Resistance is Futile! Prepare to Be Assimilated! We’re Gonna Getcha! We’re Gonna Getcha! We’re Gonna Getcha!”)

  32. Daniela Berger says:

    I have a question for the Christians:

    Why can’t you just let Atheist be Atheists?
    Why is there so much talk about how to convert us, about witnessing to us?

    I understand that this article is in large parts about keeping young Christians from lapsing. Fine.
    That’s something that is basically an internal problem, and I have no horse in *that* race.

    But often I feel that as an Atheist I have a sign on my back that says “Convert me!”.
    Why can’t you just accept that my turning away from God and towards Atheism was a very informed, deliberate choice?
    Why can’t you accept that “Jesus is my saviour” simply doesn’t ring a bell for me?
    Why can’t you be happy for me because I have found my place in life?
    Why can’t you just wish me all the best in my life and move on?

    I understand that you’re trying to give me a gift of something that you consider very valuable. In a way that is commendable. But at the same time, aggressive witnessing is very rude, because it disrespects my choices.

    • Because Christianity is essentially evangelical, and because spreading the love of God around is pretty much the holy mission of all Christians. Even as an agnostic who thinks that door-to-door evangelists are really annoying, I think it’s commendable that they’re actually trying to spread the word rather than just keep it to themselves. To continue the analogy of Titanic a couple of posts up – Christians are doing the equivalent of making sure everyone else’s life jackets are put on right before jumping into the lifeboats themselves. From the perspective of anyone who has denounced the usefulness of life jackets it’s annoying as all hell, but keep in mind that the guy trying to strap you in is actually trying to save your life! Saying that you don’t want a lifejacket would, in his ears, be akin to saying “I don’t think the lifejacket would save my life” – which, to him, it’s pretty obvious that the life jacket will, in fact, save you.

      I do want to be left alone to believe in what I want to believe in, but refuting the fact that anyone trying to convert you is doing it out of goodness is ignorant and narrow-sighted.

      • Jens, also, people miss the larger point. Why do Democrats try to convert people into Democrats, and Republicans into Republicans? Well, as far as the sincere people go, it’s because they believe their ideas are best for the world (that’s why they embraced them). Thus, they believe that the world won’t be a better place until more people adopt their “correct” ideas.

        Now, you can debate whether this or that ideology, religion or philosophy is actually correct, but it really isn’t hard to understand why sincere believers (in anything) would want you to believe as well. And the larger point, in case some have missed it, is this: everyone tries to convert others to SOMETHING. It’s just a matter of what it is and to what degree they proselytize. However, it is only Christians who are expected to refrain from spreading their beliefs.

        It’s a fascinating prejudice.

        • The reason Christianity has become the primary target of said prejudice is because, unlike most other religions, it attempts to guide public law and policy in a non-theistic government. A excellent example would be a soldier returning from overseas after a traumatic incident who wants to go buy a six-pack of beer after returning home to raise a drink to his fallen soldiers. And what do we see happen in some states?

          “Sorry, it’s Sunday, we don’t sell alchohol.”

          First off, there is absolutely no scriptural basis for the prohibition of alchohol on Sunday. Secondly, if this law exists because of Christian influence in government, then why shouldn’t he be exempt from such laws?

          You don’t see Hindus trying to ban beef consumption by non-Hindus.

          You don’t see Jainists making the killing of spideres a capital offense.

          You don’t see Jews trying to make it illegal for a man to shave after he is married.

          You don’t see Shintoists (like myself) requiring you to have a purification right conducted on yourself after conniving against other people.

          So why should Christianity (All breeds; Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) dictate religious laws to non-believers in reference to things like marriage, finance, family life and lifestyle.

          Now you see why you are a large bullseye. As a Universalist Shintoist, I believe that faith and religion are very important to the world (Universalist Shintoists like myself even believe that many religious figures throughout history were manifestations of the kami [spirits, gods,] Including Jesus,) But politically motivated fundamentalist groups of all sorts (Christianity or otherwise) are everything that’s wrong with religious faith nowadays.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            A excellent example would be a soldier returning from overseas after a traumatic incident who wants to go buy a six-pack of beer after returning home to raise a drink to his fallen soldiers. And what do we see happen in some states?

            “Sorry, it’s Sunday, we don’t sell alchohol.”

            That’s still six more days of the week than in The Sandbox…

  33. Still trying to fathom how you figure that being out in the world, making your own decisions without guidance, without anyone to catch you when you fail, and with no expectation of an eternal reward is somehow easier than believing that a superpower is washing you of all your sins, guiding you, holding you and comforting you, and will have a halo and wings for you when you die. But yeah, atheism is easier. Keep telling yourself that.

    Seriously, your pride and your lust for souls is shocking to me. This battle you imagine you are waging, are you sure it’s for others that you are “fighting” or is it for yourself? It sounds really, really important to you that others believe what you believe. It is my belief that this need, this greed for converts and to hold on to the youthful followers, is symptomatic of your need for affirmation. If you were the last believer in a world full of atheists, that might mean that you are wrong, misguided, desperately holding on to an ancient fantasy for fear of having to face the black void of the unknown. And every teenager that leaves your flock is another peg sliding across on that abacus, moving you that much closer to a spiritual crisis.

    Religion can be a beautiful thing in the right people. Your desperate greedy version of it just makes me feel sorry for you.

  34. Thanks Michael. Good article and very good food for thought.

  35. I also found this site via Fark.com, and would like to make two comments: First, I’m always encouraged when I see literate, rational discussion of Christian behavior by Christians. Kudos for that, and I hope to see much more. Second, you have completely missed the fundamental reason people like me refuse to align with religion in general, and Christianity in particular: arrogance. You are so convinced of your own ‘rightness’ that you never even pause to consider if you SHOULD evangelize your beliefs, and instead spend your time & energy trying to evangelize more aggressively. The core theme of this article – that people choose atheism because it’s ‘just easier’ is a perfect example of this. “Well, everything thing we’re saying is right and true, so there must be something wrong with those people. I know – They’re just plain lazy!”

    You want to ‘connect’ with a modern agnostic or atheist? Start by admitting you don’t have any more answers than anybody else, that you didn’t invent morality, and that you know what’s best for everybody else. And most importantly, don’t have the audacity to call another group ‘lazy’ when you have chosen to have your world view handed to you in a book written and re-written – over and over again – by people (yes, actual human PEOPLE) with agendas.

    Seriously, who in the “Hell” do you think you are?

  36. No Doubt at All says:

    I was raised in a home where religion was not discussed, and by time I was 17 I was “saved”. Then I hit my mid-20’s and just literally woke up one morning and didn’t believe any more. I felt as if a great burden of guilt and shame had been lifted from my shoulders. I have been happily atheist since (20+ years).

    If you want to know how to deal with atheists, you need to understand what our viewpoint is of theists (I don’t claim to speak for all atheists – after all we don’t have dogma). Imagine an adult joins you at work and he/she is friendly, intelligent, warm, etc., and then one day you find out this person actually believes Santa Claus exists. To atheists, YOU are that person.

    And really, who is the more moral person, the theist who is following a doctrine of reward/punishment, or the atheist who acts morally because he chooses to do so with no fear of punishment or desire of reward?

    There is one more thing to consider: the Enlightenment lifted western civilization out of the Dark Ages that were primarily caused by the Catholic church. What you are witnessing with your youth turning to atheism may be the start of the second Enlightenment. Would you have been one of the people who sentenced Galileo to what amounted to house arrest because he dared state that the sun was at the center of the solar system?

    • Untrue, the so-called Dark Ages were not all that dark, and the Catholic Church is the very entity responsible for modern science and civilization. I think your history is, to be diplomatic, just a bit sketchy.

      • Whoa, slow down there, trigger. Copernicus ring any bells? Modern civilization is heavily based on ancient Greek society, as adapted by the Romans – coincidentally, the same people who spread Christianity around.

        • Yes, Jens, Copernicus is the gentleman who penned the treatise “The Revolutions of Heavenly Orbs.” And, just so you know, he was protected from the Calvinists by none other than the Catholic Church, the very entity you were impugning earlier.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Whoa, slow down there, trigger. Copernicus ring any bells?

          You mean Fr Kopernik?

  37. Evidence of God… We can all be blinded by what’s happening around us every day. But if you pull back from that, look at the simple , yet complex and beautiful creation that is our Earth and the heavens, it’s hard to argue against a magnificent creator. Evidence of God is EVERYWHERE. In EVERYTHING. Open your eyes and SEE.

    • Take a forensics class so you know what evidence really is. It is not faith – it’s a hard, verifiable FACT. Show me one FACT that god is everywhere.

      I agree our Earth is beautiful. We better take care of it, because we as humans, are responsible for it. Just as we humans are responsible for all our actions – now, in this life.

  38. Fr. Peter Fitznuggly says:

    Here is the problem with Christians today: too much Leviticus, not enough Beatitudes. Just ponder that.

    I you want to convince me that Christianity has any traction, don’t have a “bring-your-gun-to-church-day”, get universal health care passed. That’s what Jesus would do.

    It is easy enough to practice the golden rule without the Christian baggage. You can spend more time helping if you aren’t spending time hating gays, atheists, working mothers, democrats, Catholics, Moors, Jews, Unitarians, Californians, foreigners, Christians of another stripe, and your own brothers and sisters.

  39. I beleive in God, but I’ve found that many churches and so called christains have very little if anything to do with God.
    The “Anti-Christ” most likley won’t fool Atheist first. He has a much more futile crop in the churches. Seeing how evangelicals blindly follow whatever Fox news and the repulicans say, all the “Anti-Christ” has to do say he’s anti abortion and put a American flag on it and they’ll follow him anywhere. like Jim Jones, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Jimmy Swagert, Bill O reilly etc….. To many to mention.

    Let’s also not forget all the pedifile priests that lead so many to atheism.

  40. “They are asking what will let them live a life uncomplicated by lies, manipulation and constant calls to prefer ignorance to what seems obvious.”

    You will find it is impossible to separate faith from those “lies, manipulation and constant calls to prefer ignorance.” That is what faith is. That is how faith is sustained. Believers don’t practice day to day on the basis of some philosophic Christian argument. They practice ideology. Even if they don’t call it that. And that is precisely what their children will reject.

    And about time.

  41. I’m a former athiest. I was raised a Christian, became an athiest and now I have come back. My advice:

    Stop acting like religion has anything to do with fact. Especially stop this retarded campaign about “intelligent design”. It is some feeble attempt to attack athiesm on it’s home turf and it is going to lose every time. EVERY time. The lack of evidence against something is NOT the logical equivalent of evidence FOR something.

    There is NO evidence that God created the Universe. None. You can’t try some “life is so complicated that it must have been made by..” argument. What you are saying is “we have no evidence of how it all happened. This includes having no evidence against God having done it. Therefore God must have done it.” The argument is a 100% logical failure. Let go of it.

    I for one happen to believe that God DID create the Universe but I know my belief is not based in fact and **I have no problem with that at all**.

    Other advice: give up on the Apologists. Seriously. Ravi Zacharias is a smart and clever fellow but his arguments convince no one except those that already believe. He is again trying to use fact and logic to prove his point. There is no fact proving that God exists and his logic that relies on this crumbles before reasonable argument. If it could be proven God exists through facts or logic then it would have been done by now.

    I am more comfortable now in my beliefs because I have come to accept they are not based on fact. The argument that is turning kids off (it’s ok NOT to believe) is the same one that should be turning them on (it’s ok TO believe).

    It really is perfectly ok to believe in God even though there is no evidence of him. Be comfortable in that. When someone says there is no evidence of God your response should be “OK” instead of some flailing attempt to refute what they are saying.

    As a kid I was raised as “you will believe this…”. Had I continued to believe at that time my faith would have been weak today. At some point kids grow up and start really thinking for themselves. If you have taught them the “facts” about God then they will rebel once the realize the “facts” are false.

    • I’m an atheist and I agree with this.

      I strongly value theists who have faith — because faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things unseen, isn’t that how the scripture goes?

      But you have to have that assurance. You have to have that conviction. I believe that is a personal subjective experience. If you don’t have it, you don’t. I don’t. So, I don’t try to fake it and complicate my life. I understand that in the future I could have such a subjective experience and then I’d feel differently, but I think the most powerful example is someone who lives their life humbly but secure in their experience.

      • There are lots of things that converted me back from Athiesm but here are a few (again..just my experience).

        1. There IS a reason this is all here. I mean, it’s here right? It got here somehow. I finally had to come to grips with the fact that there is *some* reason. Big Bang, string theory, the dreamings of a self God, The Christian God getting busy for 6 days etc. Something.

        2. I’ll never know what #1 is. never.

        3. There is some pattern that I see in this world. Coincidences here and there, events here and there, alignment of beliefs with occassional facts, as well as some just unexplainable events that happened to me. It was almost like taking a handful of multicolored sand and tossing it on a surface. Up close it looks random but if you back away you see a pattern of relation in those unrelated grains. Once seen I could not “unsee” it.

        I stewed and fussed over #3 for probably a decade knowing that it was one of #1 that was the cause and being well aware of #2. Very bothersome.

        One day I finally came to the conclussion that I’m never going to know for sure. I’m just going to have to pick a door and walk through it. I know I can always step back from the door at any time but I don’t because I already know what’s here: No answers.

        I’m probably the last person to try to convert someone but I’ll just say this: I know you know what I’m talking about. I can’t explain it to you but I also know I don’t have to. If the time comes that this itch becomes unbearable just know that it’s perfectly ok to believe the answer to #1 is God. There will never be proof of it but that’s ok. There will never be proof against it either. You are not a nutbag for believing in the unprovable.

        Whatever path you choose I hope that this wonderful life brings you great happiness.

    • Josh,

      I mostly agree with you, but I wouldn’t say there is no evidence that God exists. I would agree there is no proof. The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. We are fools if there is no evidence, we are merely optimists if there’s no proof.

      • I see the subtle difference but I still believe there is no evidence. I think that’s an argument Ravi Zacharias touched on.

        Evidence such as the existence of the universe could also just as easily be evidence of the GSM.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Intelligent Design as the heir of Natural Theology (“thinking God’s thoughts after Himself” by exploring the natural world, a Renaissance philosophical underpinning of science)…

      or

      Intelligent Design (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean), the latest coat of camouflage paint for Young Earth Creationism and one more weapon in The Culture War?

    • William James said, “To preach skepticism to us as a duty until “sufficient evidence” for religion be found is tantamount therefore to telling us, when in presence of the religious hypothesis, that to yield to our fear of its being error is wiser and better than to yield to our hope that it may be true. It is not intellect against all passions, then; it is only intellect with one passion laying down its law. And by what, forsooth, is the supreme wisdom of this passion warranted? Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear?”

  42. First, I’d like to compliment you both on your post and on the quality of the comments you’ve approved; whether you choose to publish mine or not, I’ve learned from what I’ve read. There seem to be many excellent and thoughtful individuals participating here.

    Second, as an open-minded atheist, I’d like to point out one way in which I have found atheism to be easier than my earlier faith. True, as others have said, it’s not easy to have to hide my beliefs from certain of my relatives, or from neighbors and well-meaning strangers. It’s not easy to accept laws made to force me to respect someone else’s holy day by not buying liquor or forbidding other activities on Sundays or even all week long. But what has been easy is the call to labor.

    One can be free from fear, or free to speak one’s mind. The two freedoms are different in kind. Likewise, ease comes in different sorts. It has been easier for me to work to improve my own understanding than to passively accept mysteries. It might be hard work to help a friend in need, but doing so is much easier than seeing one’s friend suffer alone. It has been hard work to learn about geology, biology, and astronomy, and harder work to develop my own moral sense, and the hardest work of all will always be to try to live up to my own expectations.

    But to do that work has been easier, though far more fatiguing, than to understand why I can’t understand the Trinity, or the many conflicts among different religions, or the Incarnation, and so forth. Work has proved easier and more rewarding than passive acceptance.

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly. I didn’t want to derail the thread too much talking about the “easier” assumptions, but you’ve given a good explanation. I feel that, yes, things are “easier” for me now, in precisely the same way that a hard truth ultimately gives more peace than an “easy” lie. I feel that I can finally be honest with myself about what I think, and stop filtering the world through glasses that divide everything into “Christian” and “heresy.” I can simply take joy in good wherever I find it, rather than inventing ever more elaborate philosophies to explain why feeding the hungry is more good if you believe in a particular monotheistic god while you do it.

      A wise man once criticized religious leaders who bound up heavy burdens for their followers, and then wouldn’t lift a finger to help. He recommended instead the “easier” burden of loving your neighbor. The commenters who seem indignant at lazy youths for rejecting the burdens the church is putting on them today might want to think about the parallels there…

  43. Voice of Reason says:

    Very convenient to say that the reason young people are leaving religion in droves is that they’re stupid (“Give it up and have a coke?” “Goofy Golf”).

    Human societies have become less and less religious over the centuries, as more and more things your side explained with “divine truths” have been explained by science. No amount of whining, strategizing or complaining will change that fact. You’re dinosaurs, and your meteor is coming.

    • “Human societies have become less and less religious over the centuries”

      Nuh-uh. It comes and goes in waves. Right now, Europe is pretty secular, contrasting the highly religious USA – but in a hundred, two hundred years, maybe the roles will be completely switched around. During the dark ages, the Middle East was as secular as it’s ever been, and science, maths and medicine took giant leaps and bounds forward. Now, on the other hand, the Middle East is heavily dominated by strict religious dogma. Europe had the renaissance in which logic and rationality were the ultimate goals of philosophy and art, swiftly followed by the baroque period, reverting to religion. It’s a very interesting subject, and no doubt, history will repeat itself.

      • I don’t know who “educated” you — and I use that word loosely — but you need to demand your money back. The Middle East was Islamic during the Middle Ages and anything but secular.

  44. Brilliant article! Well-written and thoughtful.

    As a former Christian, there’s one other really big reason why so many Christians have left for atheism: popular Christianity doesn’t have much to do with Christ.

    Jesus’ message of forgiveness, avoiding judgment, and taking care of the poor isn’t some big secret. Anyone can grab a Bible and read it. So it doesn’t matter how good your arguments for it are, when the people making the arguments are largely vindictive and judgmental, and love Reaganomics.

    You can’t blame the atheists for leaving a religion that wasn’t what it claimed to be in the first place.

  45. I gave up Catholicism for Lent years ago, and have rarely looked back. My mother (catholic) and father (southern baptist) are both fervent in their faith. I simply don’t have time for it. The sky fairy, holy spirit, great earth mother, whatever, went out of my life.

    I learned about micromanaging in college – and rapidly realized that there isn’t a god out there with time to handle every snotty-nosed muttering for intercession. And for every Captain Sullivan out there, able to use his “god-given” talents to land a plane safely in the Hudson River, there is a god that put the birds in the engines to begin with. And, lets stretch that example even farther – did (a) god help Sullivan decide to become a pilot? So that in the great cosmic plan for January 15, 2009 he would be ready to land that aircraft? And what about the god that made the pilot schedule for US Airways? Obviously that person had divine guidance to make sure Sully was at the controls of that particular flight, on that particular date (and not in the restroom on final approach – oh, that would be the divine guidance in the FAA regulations editorial staff….).

    Give it up already. Live your own life, in the best way you can.

  46. A cursory examination of the history of Christianity gives the impression that this is a faith that has constantly reinvented itself to be more conveniently convincing. It has utterly changed from its original form and bears no resemblance to what is actually taught in the Bible.

    It’s pretty telling that the big debate among evangelicals is about a change in strategy and methodology. Consistency of dogma is deadly to faith in a changing world.

  47. I think a lot of the backlash that will be seen when throngs of people rush to the non-believer side will be primarily because of the patently absurd Creationism/Intelligent Design debate.