Atheists Challenge 5
This is the latest answer to my challenge on atheism. I'm not here to judge or attack, but believe everyone has a right to express a view. For the record I'm a staunch believer in God, evolution, and science. Shocked? By the way I had Bible classes in college and if I had to believe in the Bible I'd be an atheist.
Here is the latest answer:
In my case, yes, I do think so.
I complement you on your reasoned message, if more Christians and other theists were not so bound by angry dogma, there would be less strife between all in the world. Morals, I try not to have any morals. Morals are largely a list of local customs. Ethics are a set of reasons, my personal ethical code can be condensed into "harm nothing" and"try not to lie".
You will notice that lie has a qualifier, try, when your lovable old aunt asks you your opinion of her wardrobe do no harm trumps truth. Atheists still feel guilt, and I do penance for that falsehood, usually by a random act of kindness.
I only need to forgive myself. I follow local customs, if they do no harm. I have a close friend who sums his ethical code as; don't be a ****. (Richards nickname) I like his summation for it's compact inclusiveness. Before I shed my childhood programming, my behavior was more destructive to myself and my relationship to others. I work hard, meet my commitments and pay my dues.
I have read the Bible through at least a couple of times, and I have used the Sermon on the Mount as an example for promoting social programs, and I have used Ecclesiastes 6:3 in defense of right to choose. I don't think this is hypocrisy, as I am clear on my own lack of faith.
I use these examples as a means to communicate. My challenge to you, can you prove, with all the strife, fraud and cruelty that is bound up with cults, denominations and dogmas, that religion makes someone a better person? By the way, I have a sister who is quietly faithful, she prays not in the market square, I love her dearly, if American Baptists had Saints, she just might qualify.
I have no problem with theists like her or I think, you. By the way, I think you are keeping some bad company with some other titles on this site, please think about it, and do no harm.
Thanks Bill and Lynn
Chris on Atheism
Been a long time since anybody made any posting here, and this being the end of 2008 I just thought I'd add my own metaphorical 2 cents.
I almost became an atheist myself, and asked the very same questions. I have always believed that most of the atheists among us are some of the most moral people I know...to become an atheist is a result of deep self reflection and questioning of our most sacred beliefs, an affirmation of non-belief. An atheist has the courage to say "there is no God". Most atheist I know came from religious backgrounds like myself.
Some atheists make the mistake of using examples from history to illustrate the evils of religion, but this only shows a lack of knowledge and a misunderstanding of human nature. The Crusades, for example, were caused by the decline of Byzantium and economic opportunity for a resurgent West. Religion was viewed back then as we view politics/nationalism now, and was used as a unifying force for more worldly motives. Religious belief did not cause the Crusades, opportunity to make a buck did...but I digress.
It is not about religion. Religion is the expression and codified form of belief...belief causes religion, not the other way around. Many atheist also error in attacking Christianity, the largest and easiest target. But they are attacking a human organization, the church, not the nature of belief itself...I digress again.
Most of us are hard-wired to believe in things we cannot touch, hear, see, or measure. Belief in a higher power is natural in human experience. Animals, on the other hand, are purely empirical creatures. Only man could have made up God to explain what we do not understand. "If God does not exist, we would have to invent Him". There is a reason atheism has not declined or increased since we have been keeping track of such things. Religion changes and evolves, but the belief is still there. Why?
1) There are no atheists in a foxhole. I have no doubt there would be some remarkable attestations of new found faith on a passenger jet plummeting towards earth. It isn't about fear of hell, it is about facing eternity and non-existence...if you would still deny God when faced with oblivion, then you are a true atheist.
2) What is the point of all of this? Most people, deep down in some vague inarticulate way, believe that there is a reason for our personal and collective experience. We define this vague "purpose" as being "Good", which is reflected in belief of God. We have to be going "somewhere", perhaps we need to believe the human story needs a happy ending. If you don't believe there is any higher purpose than what we as humans assign to it, then atheism may be your best choice. When I read into the depths of human history, one has to see the ultimate failure of all human institutions and ideas, religious and secular, with their manifold unintended consequences, paved with good intentions.
My whole point to all of this is belief in God is, and always will be, a personal choice. I won't try to convince someone there is a God. Either you know or you don't. For me, I don't have all the answers. Human science is getting very good at answering "what". But it cannot answer "why". An atheist will say there is no "why", it just "is". But this does not fulfill the deepest needs of most human beings, and never will. It doesn't fulfill my need, therefore I still believe in God.
Sorry for the long windiness, I really enjoy your website.
Chris H. Saginaw, MI
Does becoming an atheist make a person a better human being?
Hmmm, in many cases it makes people more tolerant of others. We don't have a "good book" telling us that a particular lifestyle is an abomination, and thus it bothers us not in the least who other people want to marry (as long all parties are consenting adults and not too closely related, which has more to do with the most likely outcome (genetic defects) than that we care who they marry). We, in general, are more tolerant of the various religions than theists, so long as we are not forced to abide by your particular religious beliefs, especially when enacted by publicly elected officials who should leave their own religious beliefs at home when leaving to decide the laws of the land.
Does not believing in God prompt or inspire a person to positive actions.
No, not necessarily. There are many who realize that we are on our own and that we cannot expect help from some supernatural sky father who is interested in whether we praise him enough but can't seem to be bothered to help some of his most ardent followers out of situations beyond their control. That sparks an interest that they did not have before to help their fellow humans because, after all, we are all in this together. When this happens, the result is even greater because the person is doing it for truly altruistic reasons, rather than punch his or her own ticket into eternal reward from the sky father.
Let me ask this. Does believing in God ensure that a person will begin helping others? No. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the majority of people who begin following a religion continue their previous ways of either helping or not helping others. What about those who are inspired to commit atrocities in the name of furthering their religion? You seem to try to head this argument off, but you are not afforded that convenience.
If you want to take credit for the good done in people's lives due to religion, you must bear responsibility for the atrocities committed in the name of the religion, regardless of whether it was the true religion or some perverted form of it. How easy to claim credit for any good that comes from your beliefs and then say anything bad is not the true religion. If there was a god worth worshipping, he would control his own people and save the rest of us from your abhorrent actions.
Christianity (and other religions) can point to many, many people whose lives were =hanged for the better by adopting the faith. Can atheism make the same claim? =an atheists point to examples of people who have had their lives positively changed? Have any drug addicts given up their addictions as a result of discarding religion? Have any thieves stopped stealing and started earning an honest living as a result of becoming infidels? Have any abusive husbands stopped beating their wives as a result of abandoning a belief in God?
Let me turn this around on you. How many wives have stayed in an abusive marriage praying to god to save them and make their husbands decent human beings? =How many of these wives have continued praying to this absent god until either they or one of their children have been beaten to death? How many people in Africa have suffered and died from AIDS because the church fights against distributing condoms to protect these people from spreading the disease?
How many devout believers have watched their loved ones die as they refuse medical treatment that would most likely save them, opting instead to pray to a nonexistent being? How many people have been harmed because they chose to do nothing =read: praying) rather than taking it upon themselves to solve the problem and seek real help (read: real humans rather than figments of their imagination)?
In short, if atheism is such a positive way to live what real good has it done? Can it even be called a "belief-system"? (After all it is really about a lack of belief - isn't it?)
Making one realize that we must help ourselves and our fellow humans is positive. Actively working to solve our problems rather than waiting for them to solve themselves is positive. Not being held back by superstitions and the ignorance of bronze age men who could not explain the most basic aspects of the world around them. Being more accepting of others is positive.
Having the view that thinking for oneself is to be desired while slavishly following the lead of others is something to be avoided is a positive. Not having a desire to force our own beliefs on others is a positive =remember, the vast majority of atheists simply want freedom FROM religion, not to ban it altogether).
What is your point about atheism not being a belief system? Most atheists hate the word atheist. It describes us by saying what we don't believe in, rather than something we do believe in. I don't believe in a very large number of things, yet there is only one that I have to =ave a word for to describe myself. Also, many atheists will gladly agree with you.
It is NOT a belief system. The only thing we necessarily have in common is that we do not see a need to believe in any supernatural figure, regardless of what you call him/her. It is like telling a bald person that baldness is not really a belief system. They don't claim it is and the only thing bald people have to have in common is that they have no hair. So what's the point? =core one for you...atheism is not a belief system. It's a point most of us are more than glad to concede.
Thanks for the website, nice to see someone taking the time to think about the Bible in a constructive and honest manner.
You said in your article on Challenge to Atheists 1 Proving that the Bible is flawed only proves that either the Christian God does not exist or that he has a high tolerance for incompetence and error in his sacred book. I think there is another much greater issue at stake here: God seems to me to be testing those who read it to see if they will patiently accept what is said even if they don't understand it. Not that we should always take it literally, for much is not to be taken literally, but that we should also not be is cynical about what it states.
For example, just because God said that "The serpent was more subtle than any other beast of the field" does not actually mean that a snake spoke with Eve. Yet I certainly believed that it could be possible as just about anything is possible, it is just not particularly plausible. However I recently read in The Companion Bible by Bullinger (appendix 19) that the term serpent would be better translated 'shining one' and he makes a compelling argument that what Eve saw was "a glorious angel possessing superior and supernatural knowledge". And for this reason was compelled by what he said. Now that seems much more plausible and easier to believe.
If at the first sign of something in the Bible being a little bit difficult to comprehend we throw the book out then we have no patience to work through the book and to study what is being said. God does not lay it all out on a plate, it is often partially hidden or even totally hidden. Christ said that many righteous men had desired to see what the apostles had revealed to them, but they were not told, even though they were righteous.
We therefore need to appreciate that there are many apparent errors in the Bible not because God is tolerant of mistakes in his word but in order to test us to see if we will persevere and have tolerance in both God who loves to hide things for us to find and also in the translators who no doubt will get plenty wrong in the process of doing their job. There are also some actual errors, but not many, for exactly the same reason, and because where they are it is of no consequence except for nit pickers to find fault.
I therefore don't think that "The question is does God actually not exist or has God just gone off somewhere?" as you say, nor is "God there but not intervening" God is working with individuals to develop in us the character of God, part of which is patience and loyalty toward him. God wants a relationship with people individually, and in order for us to have any relationship we must trust the other person. Just because we don't understand everything about our friends does not mean we don't tolerate or love them. We are attracted to the fact that they are different and interesting because of their differences. Yet with God people want to know everything all at once, well no relationship works like that. We need to be patient with God and he will let us know him as we are able to handle it.
Thank you for your website, for the vast amount of reading and thought that has gone into it. This email is in response to your Challenge to Atheists.
Becoming an atheist, or accepting one's lack of belief in another's cosmological view, can make you a better person. It's the equivalent of standing up and declaring the Emperor has no clothes. Rather than following the crowd, mimicking their "piety" because you don't want to be shunned, you come clean with yourself, and others. You own yourself, your intellect, your virtue. It is an act of faith, because you realize that, if there is a God, it's got to be a whole lot better than what gets marketed as God. If there is a God, you aren't going to get anywhere by pretending to go along with someone else's story about it.
When you accept yourself as a non-believer, it is a supreme act of self-acceptance. It is healing. It is empowering, because you no longer let others define you, or what your spiritual experience is about.
When you accept that the world works the way it does, not because there is a capricious entity working out each decision, you let go of feeling that we are victimized by the Universe. No longer is there an agent deciding who suffers, who has plenty, who gets ill, who wins the presidency or the ball game, but a thousand little cause and effect happenings work these things out. You are free to celebrate the beauty, and loathe the tragedy, and work with others, regardless of their religious perspective, to solve problems.
I know several atheists, and knew them before I had my own experience in letting go. None of them were drug addicts, wife beaters, thieves, or other kinds of decadent people. Maybe the same reasonableness and inner peace is what enabled them to be both atheists and civil human beings. They didn't need a religion to save them, they were simply reasonable. And they are as compassionate, and thoughtful, as anyone else I know, Christian, or Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu.
No, I don't know of a famous person who has done great things, who was an atheist. That doesn't surprise me, as churches find ways of destroying heretics. Anyone who would have been great, certainly wouldn't have made it into the history books, at least not without being demonized. So the argument that atheism can't change us for the better is hard to substantiate or refute.
Thanks for allowing me to share my point of view.
I too enjoy your website and its insights. Comments and questions are interesting and provocative and in the case of the latter, I found a note from one GJ to be "answered/confronted".
GJ's copout about his/her "belief system" is flawed at best. Firstly the word "atheism" is from the ancient Greek "atheos" meaning without God and is meant in the negative. It is therefore a rejection of God.
There is no doubt that a belief in God is usually allied with a relationship through a belief system which includes a deity such as Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Mohammedanism or Judaism. All of these may be considered to be flawed. Therefore skepticism and freedom of thought which may provoke criticism should not be identified with or mistaken as rejection. Dogma and doctrine often provoke rejection which is understandable, but forced acceptance has almost disappeared from religious teaching except amongst the most fundamentalist.
The etymological understanding of the word atheism allows folk like GJ to live in a comfort zone which is based on a false understanding of their stated rejection of God. They therefore believe that they do not take responsibility for this stance.
What GJ is suggesting on your site is perhaps closer to agnosticism which I would guess he/she would reject as being "lukewarm". That being the case, GJ get off the fence and make a real statement.
For my part, I am not a follower of one of the dozen or so monotheistic religions. I have studied many of them all of my life and continue to do so. My search for the truth has led me to a stage where I have come to an understanding of my relationship with God and my responsibilities to that relationship. It is a relationship which has enhanced my love of my fellow human being whilst also making me more aware of the deity of evil, the subtlety of which threatens our very existence.
Love of God is a personal search and cannot be found in books or even debate although such activity assists. It is my experience that God's love may only be discovered through observation, interaction and examination. Meditation is one form of scrutiny of one's innermost thoughts and understanding and can lead to further, deeper self-awareness and where we fit in the Universe.
I would therefore invite GJ and like-minded folk to carefully examine their experiences and feelings and never give up on the search for their reason for being.
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