My approach wasn’t as erudite, but this short lecture much explains the intellectual process I went through to stop being an atheist. I haven’t yet jumped on board with the Biblical God (although I am deeply fond of the lessons the Old and New Testament hold about justice, morality, and humanity), but I realize that atheism is nothing more than the adult equivalent of a childish resistance to a parent’s authority:
Before I explain how Christians are killing Christianity (at least according to Alternet and Salon), a short anecdote: I have friends who used to joke that they would take up smoking when their kids were teens. Why? So that the kids, who they assumed would be rebellious, would rebel against Mom and Dad by not smoking. And now back to Alternet/Salon, where an atheist triumphantly reports that, not only is Christianity dying in America, but also that children raised in Christian homes are part of the demographic most enthusiastically embracing atheism:
The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.
Speaking facetiously, I would suggest that, as children in Christian households become teens, their parents ought to indulge in a little Satan worship to help drive their rebellious youngsters back into the religious fold. On a more serious note, the fact is that young people do rebel . . . and that older people seem to crave faith. It’s natural when you’re invincible (as all young people are) to feel that you don’t need a God. And it’s equally natural that, as you age, and see the chaos inherent in the world and feel mortality breathing down your neck, that faith starts to seem like a light and a refuge. I wouldn’t immediately start panicking about non-religious millennials.
Another analogy relevant to this issue: Imagine a family with a dog. One owner hates begging dogs and refuses to feed the dog table scraps. The other owner loves feeding table scraps. Torn between the two owners, it’s no contest: The dog will become a beggar. The lowest common denominator behavior always wins.
Christianity makes demands upon its adherents. You have to elevate yourself against your baser instincts. American secularism, by contrast, encourages people to indulge their baser instincts (mostly their sexual ones). In a competition between the two, the lowest common denominator behavior will prevail.
Here’s hope, though: Humans aren’t dogs. Dogs will beg until they’re too fat to move and everyone hates having them around . . . and they’ll still beg. Humans, however, have a sense of self-worth that dogs lack. Unlike dogs, humans have to look at themselves in the mirror and many of them who have spent years living the self-indulgent life of the secularist don’t like what they see. Religion promises redemption.
Anyway, this is a bit of a choppy post, so I’d very much like to hear what you have to say on the subject. I think what I’m trying to say is that Christians shouldn’t give up the fight to raise their children in the faith, no matter the numbers. And having said that, here’s one more choppy point: secularism ultimately is very thin gruel, since it doesn’t offer answers addressing every thinking person’s existential anxiety. Faith always fills the vacuum . . . and Islam is the most aggressive faith in the world, one that has no compunction about alternately enticing and bullying lost souls to get on board.
(And while we’re on the subject of faith, David Goldman analyzes the faith underlying modern secularism.)
My very strong sense is that the shutdown will reveal how much of our federal government is inessential. I’m not the only one who feels this way. And no wonder, because the shutdown reveals waste everywhere. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Monopolies are invariably poorly managed and unchecked bureaucracies invariably grow.
PowerLine takes on a disgusting piece of revisionist history. (I’d seen the underlying grotesque revisionism myself, but hadn’t had the time to challenge it.)
When it comes to Obamacare, is the government shutdown both a means and an end? Buzzfeed thinks that the shutdown on its own, without any specific defunding measures, will damage Obamacare quite badly. Considering Obamacare’s disastrous first few hours, Buzzfeed may be right.
Even in my most atheist days, I recognized that religion, whether or not there really was a God, is a moral necessity. Dennis Prager’s challenge to Richard Dawkins hones in on that fact.
Britain’s NHS continues to show us just how coercive government-run healthcare is. I’m no fan of smoking, but this type of bullying is sickening.
As we already saw in the Balkans, when it comes to Islam, the call to jihad always trumps all other loyalties.
Obama’s foreign policy in a nutshell — sort of. I actually think there’s a malevolent consistency running through it, which sees Obama’s hierarchy: Most favored are Muslim tyrannies; second place to Muslim nations; third place to Leftist tyrannies; fourth place to socialist nations; fifth place to free countries and traditional American allies.
Did I mention bullying somewhere above? Why, yes I did, in connection with Britain’s NHS. The fact is, though, that leftists are always bullies, as Christian troops in the American military are discovering to their cost. The First Amendment promises religious freedom. America hasn’t always been true to that, as with her attack on Mormon polygamy. (I hold no brief for polygamy, but it was a core Mormon doctrine.) There are certainly practices one can quarrel with. For example, I don’t think the First Amendment should extend to human sacrifice. To the extent, though, that heterosexual marriage is one of the core doctrinal concepts in all of the world’s religions, and that it reflects biological and reproductive reality, the bullying and coercion from the left is unconscionable.
Arthur Laffer (the repeatedly proven Laffer Curve) and Stephen Moore write Obamanomic’s epitaph. (And one should add that Obamanomics, which is simply Marxist economics has already been repeatedly proven . . . as a failure.)
This is an open thread, so please add anything you’ve found that’s interesting.
I have no problem with atheism, having been an atheist for large chunks of my life. I do, however, have a problem with atheists’ concerted attacks on religion, which I think bespeaks precisely the type of intolerance atheists swear they oppose. That’s why I found so amusing Catholic Vote’s list of “top ten awkward facts about the new atheist monument.” I can just imagine some hyper-politicized atheist coming across the list and crying out in anguish, “Stop confusing me with the facts.”
Hat tip: A friend who prefers to remain nameless
Arizona State Rep. Juan Mendez (D) turned a Tuesday afternoon prayer into something much more.
The Phoenix New Times reports that Mendez, who is an atheist, changed the course of the event held prior to the House of Representatives’ afternoon session. He asked lawmakers to refrain from bowing their heads and instead to view their surroundings.
“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said, according to the Phoenix New Times. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”
That’s all well and good — cute and “kum-bye-yah” — but it reveals that dangerous moral vacuum at atheism’s center. Everyone in the room is a moral authority.
Okay, then, I’m a moral authority too. And by the way, my morality says that I get to take everything in your house and put it in mine. The reason? I don’t need to give you a reason. I’m an extraordinary person who is alive (isn’t that wonderful?) and it will improve my life to have your stuff. Whoa! Wait a minute there, buddy. Are you telling me that your morality says that my life blights yours and that you can only experience the extraordinary wonderfulness of being alive if I’m dead? Nooooo!
That’s what happens when you have no external fixed moral point. The Ten Commandments work because they apply to everyone, at all times, in all cultures. Nor are they ridiculously rigid, to the point that humans lose free will. Heck, they’re so intelligently nuanced that the Hebrew word that’s mistranslated as “kill” is actually “murder,” because the Commandments recognize that sometimes, killing can be a morally appropriate act — or at least, not an immoral one. They demand our intelligence, as well as our allegiance to a moral and just force greater than ourselves. And they also threaten us with consequences that transcend whatever the people around us can mete out. They matter.
Or we can all sit there staring at our navels and basking in our wonderfulness.
When I was young, I was an atheist, in that I didn’t believe in anything at all. As I’ve grown older, however, I find that I cannot sustain a belief in nothing. Interestingly, my belief that there is some intelligent or design force out there that is infinitely greater than we are marches hand-in-hand with my belief in evolution and the Big Bang theory. I don’t doubt the verity of those two theories. I do believe, however, that they do not end the discussion of our and the Earth’s origins. Instead, they just begin it.
The real sticking point for me is the Big Bang. Perhaps it’s because I have a simple mind, but I cannot believe that everything came from nothing. My understanding of the world tells me that there must have been something before the Big Bang. When I say this to people who are committed to science in lieu of (instead of in addition to) religion, they tell me that “There was probably another universe that collapsed and then, when it compressed itself completely into impossible density, it exploded in the Big Bang.”
Okay. Fine. I’ll buy that collapsed universe, unsustainable density, big explosion theory you’re selling. But tell me this: where did the prior universe come from? It seems to me that we can play this “universe to Big Bang to universe to Big Bang” game forever, but that playing the game still doesn’t answer the question about where it all began.
For me, the “where it all began” leads to a something that must be infinitely greater and bigger than all the universes put together, or a single universe that keeps collapsing and being reborn. And of course, once you start answering the origin question by positing “an intelligent being,” suddenly you’re a theist. And once you’re a theist you automatically start trying to define for yourself your vision of this divine being.
I certainly don’t believe that there is a divine being who monitors our every move and controls our destiny right down to the last blink and handshake. Indeed, I’ve never even been able to believe in the anthropogenic God whom Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel or whom William Blake imagined:
Nor have I been able to believe in the invisible God whose voice spoke to Abraham, Moses, and others in the Bible:
What do I believe then? Well, I don’t actually envision a God. Instead, I see his/its/her acts. They are creative acts: the universe, the template (although not the final plan) for all life, and the breath or divine spark that animates us and makes us greater than the water and chemicals that can be distilled from our bodies.
I am absolutely certain that each of us is truly greater than the sum of his (or her) chemical parts. I knew this when my Dad died and his essence vanished, leaving only his body behind. I couldn’t then and can’t now accept that the intangibles that made up Daddy vanished into nothingness. To the extent that they were intangible — his wit, his intelligence, his charm, his temper — I felt then, and believe now, that they morphed into a different type of “intangibleness” (for want of a better word). Things don’t vanish. They decay or change. The body decays; the spirit changes.
My Divinity, to the extent I assign attributes to this Divinity, is the clockmaker so many thinkers envisioned during the Enlightenment. My Divinity got things started, inserted free will (including the freedom to engage in good acts or bad) and then stepped away. Maybe we are an experiment, or a play thing, or an art work, or part of a much greater purpose that we are incapable of seeing or understanding. Our inability to comprehend the purpose behind our existence doesn’t negate that purpose. And to the extent that I am vaguely able to glimpse something greater than myself, I have elevated myself above the cow in the field or even my sweet dog sleeping comfortably on her bed as I type. These animals exist, but I, imbued with that Divine spark, think.
As is so often the case with my long ruminations, I’m leading up to a take-down of a rather primitive atheist article I found in the New York Times. The writer, Susan Jacoby, dismisses a God that micromanages life on earth and, even worse, a God that allows evil. From that dismissal, Jacoby automatically assumes that only the opposite can be true — namely, that there is no God.
This line of thought, which is too simplistic even to be a proper syllogism, is silly. As I’ve stated above, it is perfectly possible to believe that we exist for a reason — and that good and evil are an integral part of that existence — and, further, to believe that a Being greater than ourselves started our existence.
Jacoby next contends that her limited, binary view, provides comfort to the bereaved. You see, in the face of evil, any evil, Believers can only conclude that God has abandoned or punished them, both of which are deeply depressing thoughts. However, if one shakes off the shackles of faith, one can just believe that Bad Things Happen — although why random evil is supposed to be comforting, I don’t really understand. Here’s Jacoby’s ultimate point, in her own words:
It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human “free will” is Western monotheism’s answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.
The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.
Today’s secularists must do more than mount defensive campaigns proclaiming that we can be “good without God.” Atheists must stand up instead of calling themselves freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists or “spiritual, but not religious.” The last phrase, translated from the psychobabble, can mean just about anything — that the speaker is an atheist who fears social disapproval or a fence-sitter who wants the theoretical benefits of faith, including hope of eternal life, without the obligations of actually practicing a religion. Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers — I answer to all three — but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.
We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.
As I understand it, Jacoby’s thesis is, essentially, that atheists must band together to deny God and then to go on to the streets to fight crime. I can just see their superhero now:
I applaud anyone who wants to make the world a better place, no matter what motivates them. I do, however, reserve greater applause for those who do so through conservative principles such as individual responsibility, the free market, and traditional morality, since I think they’ll be more effective in achieving their goals. I also fear those navel-gazers who, abandoning traditional religious principles, start thinking that the world would be a better place if we got rid of Jews or Blacks or Asians or anyone interfering with the navel-gazer’s world view.
What I don’t applaud is someone whose thinking is so blinkered that she cannot envision the possibility that a Divine Creator, in addition to giving us life (or at least getting the ball rolling on life), also endowed us with free will. I’ll admit that free will doesn’t automatically mean there is a God. Contrary to Jacoby’s limited worldview, though, free will’s existence doesn’t automatically negate a divine being’s existence.
I guess my bottom line is that I’m always suspicious when people engage in this type of simplistic binary thinking. My feeling is that, if they’re that crude and unsophisticated about big issues, it’s very likely that their thinking about the smaller ones that affect our daily lives will be equally limited and defective.
A lot of people have been crowing that the “God particle” proves that there is no God, because it explains the “something from nothing” aspect of the Big Bang. These people forget one thing: Where did the so-called God particle originate?
Dennis Prager is more erudite than I am, so he makes a more sophisticated fallacy-spotting argument:
But scientific discovery and meaning are not necessarily related. As one of the leading physicists of our time, Steven Weinberg, has written, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”
And pointlessness is the point. The discovery of the Higgs boson brings us no closer to understanding why there is a universe, not to mention whether life has meaning. In fact, no scientific discovery ever made will ever explain why there is existence. Nor will it render good and evil anything more than subjective opinion, or explain why human beings have consciousness or anything else that truly matters.
The only thing that can explain existence and answer these other questions is God or some other similar metaphysical belief. This angers those scientists and others who are emotionally as well as intellectually committed to atheism. But many honest atheists recognize that a godless world means a meaningless one, and they admit that science can explain only what, not why.
Not only is science incapable of discovering why there is existence; scientists also confront the equally frustrating fact that the more they discover about the universe, the more they realize they do not know.
I continue to be agnostic on the subject of God: Believers haven’t proven to me that God exists but the non-believers certainly haven’t proven to me that God doesn’t exist. Moreover, the one argument that believers make, and that Prager reiterates here, is that a belief in God gives meaning to life. That means that whether proven or unproven, God is a very important concept in elevating us above the cow that chews cud in the field or the ant that scurries back and forth.
Suek posted this is an open thread, but I thought it was too good to keep hidden:
Marines are taught:
1) Keep your priorities in order and
2) Know when to act without hesitation.
A MARINE was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the courses had a professor who was an avowed atheist and a member of the ACLU. One day he shocked the class when he came in, looked to the ceiling, and flatly stated, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you exactly 15 minutes.” The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes
went by and the professor proclaimed, “Here I am God I’m still waiting.”
It got down to the last couple of minutes when the MARINE got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold. The MARINE went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned ! and sat there looking on in silence.
The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the MARINE and asked, “What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”
The MARINE calmly replied, “God was too busy today taking care of America’s soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid shit and act like an asshole. So, He sent me.”
Had this Marine been in Berlin in 1925, he might have kept my Dad from becoming a lifelong atheist. My Dad’s mother always told him that, if he ate leavened bread during Passover, God would strike him dead with a lightening bolt. When my Dad was six, he decided to put this theory to the test. He stood on the curb with a piece of leavened bread in his hand. His plan: Take a bite of the bread and simultaneously jump off the curb into the street, so that the lightening bolt would miss. He put the plan into effect, but to no purpose — the lightening bolt never appeared. With six-year-old logic, rather than concluding that his mother was misinformed, my Dad gave up on God.
Ricky Gervais distinguished himself well yesterday by savaging the same people who usually savage us, the ordinary Americans. The video makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing, since the victims of Hollywood’s barbs are usually sitting anonymously in theaters and living rooms, not in the same room in which the insults are being issued. Hollywood’s stars expected a cute celebrity roast and got, instead an auto de fe.
Watching Gervais, who is a very talented man, got me thinking about another aspect of his performance — his aggressive atheism. I understand atheism. I was an atheist for most of my life, and have now moved to theism. Although my theism is informed by being Jewish, the fact is that I don’t hew to practice or doctrine. I float freely, acknowledging that atheism is a lonely place to be, and one that doesn’t explain the world before the Big Bang, but not ready to commit to any definitive view of God.
What I never was, though, was an aggressive atheist. I never felt the need to proselyte my lack of religion. After all, what in the world was I selling? There was no alternative vision. There was just plenty of nothing. No meaning or morality in this life, and no hope for the afterlife. More than that, I didn’t see that the world would be a better bargain if everyone thought as I did. Sure, I’d like to get rid of poisonous religions (you know what I’m talking about), or poisonous practitioners of decent religions, but I didn’t see a virtue in going beyond that.
The fact is that, even in my most atheistic days, I never lost track of the incredible stability and safety that the modern Judeo-Christian tradition provides us. Gone are the days of witch burning, homosexual stoning, wife beating, and nation conquering Judaism and Christianity. What we have, instead, when we look at cultures that hew to the Judeo-Christian traditions, are law, justice, grace, morality, generosity, etc. Sure, not all people rise to those standards at all times, but they are the standards by which we measure ourself.
What do practitioners of aggressive atheism — the ones who savage religion and belligerently advertise their lack of same — get at the end of the day? Where do they see Western society if they achieve their goal of proselytizing all of us into a complete lack of faith? Will we be more moral? I doubt it. More generous? Probably not. Find more meaning in our lives? Get real. Fear death less? Not likely. Get along with each other better? It is to laugh.
Atheists are selling a travel destination that no one, least of all the atheists themselves, would ever want to visit, let alone call home. If you’re a “sophisticate,” it can be fun and can make you feel like a really smart logician to point out inconsistencies in the Bible (both Old and New Testament), or to point to the hypocrisy that mere mortals periodically bring to their understanding of religion. Nevertheless, that intellectual superiority doesn’t offer any substitute for what it seeks to destroy through ridicule and logical argument.
It’s been an incoherent day, one that never gave me the opportunity for contemplation and writing. Instead, I’ve been bopping here and there, and dealing with one thing and another. Nevertheless, I have been tracking the news, so I thought I’d just write up a mish-mash of thoughts about current issues and events.
The top issue/event, obviously, is Gaza. By now you’ve all seen the hysterical headline about Israel having blown up a UN school, killing scores of civilians. At the exact second I read the words “UN school,” I knew it wasn’t a school at all but was, instead, a weapons storage facility and a headquarters for fighters. Why did I know this? Because the UN in Gaza is completely complicit with Hamas. In that part of the world, the two are one and the same entity. I also knew that the school wasn’t really a school because Gaza intentionally places fighters and weapons around children precisely so that it garner this type of scare headline. Michelle Malkin has a fact-filled post detailing all the many ways in which my instincts on this one were dead on the money.
Speaking of Hamas setting its children up as targets so that it can further vilify Israel in the eyes of the world, you really must read Ron Rosenbaum’s article explaining why, to the extent there are differences between Hamas and the Nazis, Hamas is infinitely worse. As part of that line of thinking, it’s worth noting that even the Nazis weren’t willing to sacrifice their own children merely to score propaganda points.
As is always the case, everyone in the world outside of America is urging Israel to back down. (In America, while Obama is ominously quiet, even Dirty Harry Reid has acknowledged Israel’s right to defend against the non-stop rocket attacks that have poured death and destruction on the land for years now.) In the past, Israel has listened. This time, I’m hoping against hope that she gives the world the middle finger and does what she has to do to defend herself. I’ve never understood why Israel, rather like the pathetic nerdy kid in high school, keeps twisting herself into damaging contortions to satisfy people who will despise her regardless. Eventually, the nerd just has to go it alone and the hell with the critics.
Incidentally, although the world doesn’t deserve good fortune, if Israel is wise enough to give it the finger, it may just get good fortune anyway — the good fortune in this case being that an Israeli victory against Hamas in Gaza is also an Israeli victory against the mad Mullahs in Iran. As has been the case for decades now, Israel is our proxy, and we should be grateful that she’s putting her bodies on the line so we don’t have to.
And one last word on the subject: Reader Lulu send me an email pointing out something interesting, which is that Hezbollah is doing nothing right now. You’d think that this would be a perfect time for Hezbollah to force a two-front war on Israel. That it’s not doing so might be a good indication that, all propaganda to the contrary, Israel may have inflicted serious damage on it back in 2006. Iran can replace the arms, but maybe she can’t replace the men.
In England, the atheists have launched an ad campaign encouraging people to abandon religion so that they can be happy. One of the brains behind this initiative is Ariane Sherine. She decided to launch the ad campaign because “she became angry after noticing a set of Christian advertisements carrying a website address which warned that people who reject God are condemned to spend all eternity to ‘torment in Hell.’”
I’m perfectly willing to admit that trying to scare people into religion may not be the smartest way to go about things. I do find the ad campaign peculiar, though, because I was under the impression that polls show religious people are more happy, not less happy, than the average atheist (putting aside the fact that the average vocal atheist always seem to be a pretty darn angry person).
As you all know, I’m a big believer in the many virtues of religion, although not particularly religious myself. Aside from liking the core moral aspects religion brings, I’ve also always appreciated (and envied) the way religion brings meaning to life.
In a religious world, man is not just a random collection of atoms, molecules, cells and organs, put on earth to procreate and scrabble for food until he dies. Instead, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition with which I’m familiar, man’s life has meaning and purpose. Whether God used evolution as his tool or instant creation, man exists in God’s image. His corporeal body may not necessarily be the mirror image of God’s being, but he is in God’s image to the extent that his mind and spirit are attuned to justice and a higher purpose. We’re not just meaningless bugs. We are something special and our time on earth has meaning, whether we emphasize that in our own lives or not.
All of which is to say that it strikes me as mighty darn peculiar to advertise an absence of religion as the answer to the search for happiness. You might as well say, “You’re a meaningless bug. Get used to it.”
While the first wave of hysteria following the passage in California of Prop. 8 has finally died down, hard feelings continue. A Catholic Church in San Francisco was covered with offensive graffiti, likening the church and its parishioners to Nazis. The beautiful irony of this story is that this particular church, located near the Castro district, has always been a welcoming place to gays.
Aside from the fact that vandals, by their very nature, can’t be expected to be intelligent (I guess), I find it strange that we live in a world in which hewing to unexceptional traditional values that span all cultures and all times is an invitation to vandalism. As you know, I’d be perfectly happy to see the state get out of the marriage business, leaving that to religion, and instead get into the domestic partnership business, with an emphasis on encouraging stable behaviors that strengthen society. Pending that unlikely situation, however, I can’t help but wonder if the gay marriage advocates realize that offending ordinary people who support ordinary values is not likely to advance their cause.