I have a hard time talking to fellow Christians about today’s hot topics. I either end up upsetting them or getting upset by them. Does it have to be this way? Should it be this way? The more I read about the church’s opinions on these subjects, the more I feel we’re doing more harm than good when we get involved.
What is the church’s role? How do we talk about subjects such as abortion, morality, homosexuality from a Christian point of view with objectivity and love? Should we approach them morally? And if yes, which moral compass do we use? Should we spend time trying to change people’s behavior? Should the church choose a political ideology and fight alongside a political party? Are we more worried about winning souls or winning the political argument?
I asked a dear friend to explain why he feels the way he feels about religion in general. Please, read the following letter and tell me how you would respond to his views.
Will talk later…
The Atheist Proposition
I am quite satisfied with the task, which you have asked me, and I’ll try my best not to leave anything out, yet as brief as I can. I must start by giving the motion of what the atheist position is, which basically is the following: that of the many hundreds, or even thousands, of gods in religions that humanity has invented in its time, you must consider three, and only three, alternatives in considering them; first, are all of them true; second, none of them are true; and third, ONE is true.
The first one is pretty much self evident, whereas most religions are mutually exclusive, so they can’t be all conceivably true. The second alternative seems at least possible; and the third, what my fellow Christians believe. So, in short, for us non-believers, there is no good reason to believe that there is a god or even gods. So, in my view, if every god that has been discredited instead of the only three left to us that haven’t yet been shown up to us as completely manmade fabrications and joined Thor, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl; if all of those where proven to be fraudulent, I have reasons to believe that our moral dilemmas would be exactly the same. We would still have to wonder about our existence; the origins of the cosmos and of nature; our duties toward one another; how to reflect on truth and on beauty; all of these dilemmas would remain exactly as they are, unaltered by any supernatural dimension.
I must, now, go on by telling you why I do not believe that a Celestial Being or a Prime Mover does exist and why I am relieved to reflect that this is the way it is – or why I would believe it to be horrible if it were true. Well, first of all, we must dissect the difference between deism and theism. The deistic way revolves around first causes, a Creator of the Gaps if you will, from the observation of the rhythms of nature and cosmos, so the deists trust that those observations could not have been made without the authority of a God – and they postulate nothing more than the notion of design, which is refuted by a chaotic and infinite regression: what designed the designer? Though, I must say no one can discuss this conclusively, but there are some gross inconsistencies with it nonetheless. Some of my personal heroes were deists, such as Thomas Jefferson. I’ll grant you that, though, for the purpose of not boring you to death and because you asked me to be as brief as I could be. So, I’ll grant you that it could be true, that there was indeed an original creator, and that it is, at least, an elegant explanation on how the cosmos came to existence and nature here on Earth (two extremely different subjects, I must add). Still, it leaves the theists, as you and other Christians, with all work ahead. A believer has to show, somehow, not only that there is a God, but also that you and others understand the mind of that god, knows the will and interpret the wishes of that deity on questions such as “what is good”, “what is evil”, “what foods to eat and what foods are profane”, “what sexual partnerships are allowed”, “what sexual positions are licit”, “what days of the year are holy”, “whether if it is requisite to mutilate the genitals of children”, “is the purge of natives from their lands licit”, “is misogyny and the submission of women permissible”. Major questions, where a believer has to say, “Yes, I know you must do this because I happen to know what God wants us to do”. It is in my opinion to say that no person, however clever they may be, is in any position to say that they know god’s will, or god’s word, desires, or intentions. To me, those who claim that they know, in a sense, are already discredited. As far as human knowledge is concerned, the more we know how much there is to know, the more we should distrust the ones that know that they are absolutely certain about any claim, a priori. Ergo, we are divided: those of us that attribute our presence here to the laws of physics and biology, and those of us who are sure that we are here as consequence of a divine design. There is all the difference in the world between those two world views. The biggest difference is that one of them has evidence and the other does not, and I can tell you the exact argument that would refute the physics and biology that would change my mind, yet the theist will never do that. A theist will never say “show me this, and I’ll stop believing it”, and there is an interminable replenishment of infinite and renewable resource of faith going on. The revolting notion against religious on the behalf of us freethinkers is not what you believe, it is the how you believe it – and therein lays a colossal difference. We know to some extent that over 95% of life on this Earth has died off since its beginning, and the Homo sapiens species has been here for no less than 100,000 years, according to Francis Collins (the great Christian believer who did the human genome project). So, if you’re a believer, you would have to believe that for 98,000 or so of those years (where humans where dying through their teeth, agonized by diseases, earthquakes, volcanoes, lightning strikes and that’s no to say anything about tribal wars), the Heavens watched all of this with complete indifference, and then, some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, it is said “right, we have to intervene now, and something’s ought to be done about it”. What way of intervening, though? How about a person being tortured to death in an obscure and illiterate part of the Middle East? Or if you’re a Muslim, how about getting an epileptic shepherd to start babbling that he talked to an archangel? That is what you would have to believe.
We move on to the account of who’s in charge or who is the boss – or why I think the idea of an eternal father is degrading. I am no father, but I believe that the job of my father is to get out of my way, in simple terms; it is to do what is best for me in his view, but in the end, make room for me to live my own life. There is a sinister thought on a father figure implementing that “don’t worry, I’ll always be here; as in, I’m never going away, in fact, I’ll be here long after you’ve died, and I’m actually looking forward to that so I can pass a judgment on you”. In my view, this is not even a benevolent kind of despotism. If this was true, and all of these things are attributable to an eternal father who’s unknowable except by those who claim insight on that information (and denied it to me and many others), this would mean that, as so brilliantly C. Hitchens puts it, “it’d mean that we live in an unalterable, unchallengeable dictatorship; it would mean we were bound to everlasting round the clock surveillance, so we were enied a private moment”. Even Big Brother, in George Orwell’s 1984, couldn’t possibly do this, for the Party in Orwell’s fiction, as much as it wanted and tried, could not punish thought crime – which the theist Prime Mover can. The fascistic part of it all is, as so C. Hitchens puts it, “you’re created sick, and commanded to be well”.
The Atheist Outlook
Every now and then, when I stumble on a conversation with a believer, the atheist outlook seems to them as something bleak and hopeless. It is rare to find an argument that does not cite “where do atheist get inspiration”, or “well, where’s your hope when you know that this is the only life you have”. I must start with the fact that we are born narcissists, almost by definition, since we can only experience the world around us from our own perspective. In that sense, the world revolves around us, and no wonder the prospect of having our consciousness snuffed out unsettles us – a great deal, if I may add. When analyzing photos from NASA’s Ultra Deep Field, every speck in those images is an entire galaxy. Each one of those galaxies contains billions of stars, no doubt with countless undiscovered solar systems orbiting them. Somewhere in that vast expanse, floats our tiny blue planet. We are smaller now than ever. If one embraces an atheist worldview, it necessarily requires embracing, even celebrating, one’s insignificance; after all we are not that special. It’s a tall order, I know, when one is accustomed to being the center of attention – as to so religious belief is accustomed to feel. The universe existed in all its vastness before I was born, and it will exist and continue to evolve after I am gone, completely indifferent. But knowing that doesn’t make me feel bleak, or hopeless. Nor does it make me feel like nothing I do could possibly matter. Quite the opposite: everything we do matters a great deal. That’s the paradox. It makes our short time here on Earth incredibly precious, in which every moment should be savored. So, telling how much I love and care for the ones that are close to me does matter a great deal. Fifty years will be gone in an instant from a cosmological perspective. Our choices, our actions, how we choose to behave toward our fellow travelers — random kindness to strangers — all of this becomes tremendously important when one embraces that kind of insignificance because this life is all we have.
As you can see, the Church has a lot to do in order to meet people where they are. We should not expect the world to understand what and why we feel the way we feel. By the Grace of God, we were saved and can now see how hopeless life is without His love.
I pray that we open our eyes and see the world through the eyes of Christ. One world in need of the same saving grace that redeemed us.
Thank you and God bless,
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