Let’s not put our heads in the sand. The Atheist movement is growing. For many, this is a source of fear or anxiety, for others, it’s contemptuous. Yet, others are seeking the truth and wondering if there is truth in this godlessness. The methods used for propagating atheism are now in many cases beginning to resemble how Christians preach. A friend of mine sent me an article from Time Magazine about a dude who left religion. The person is not really attacking Christianity or religion directly, rather he speaks of the benefits he believes he has received in leaving.
So, I don’t usually do this, but I want to respond to what he wrote. The objective is not just to point out inconsistencies and it is definitely not meant to ridicule or put him down, but it is also meant to point out what he’s reacting to from Christians to make him express what he’s expressing. I’m not into having public debates about matters like these, because faith is not about a crazy debate. Often when things turn into a debate, we actually miss the forest for the trees. Faith, however, does call us to use our minds as well. I’m writing this largely because I feel like Christianity when poorly understood or practiced, creates its own enemies. Yes, there are some people who leave faith for silly reasons, but there are some who leave because of inconsistencies. I’m aware that this post is very long, but I hope that at the very least, you challenge yourself to move past practicing religion out of fear or guilt, and that you do not worship your emotions, or give them more than their due of honour.
Warning: This post is not about what Christianity is about as a whole, because our Christianity is not founded in negative rebuttals, it’s founded in the reality of Christ God. The rest of this blog is about random things that make us Christian, so please do not misunderstand this response and reduce it to what “Christianity is all about”.
1. Feelings of Peace
The person starts with discussing his ‘feeling of peace’. Does that sound familiar? We all like feelings of peace, but a feeling of peace has to be founded on Truth. So, this gentleman claims that the world makes more sense to him and that the world behaves as one would expect it to without the belief in a Supreme Being. He then goes on to say, though, that he does not understand everything and that he has unanswered questions. So then, on what basis does the world actually “make more sense” by simply removing a belief in a Supreme Being? How does the behaviour of the world change by adding or removing a Creator? This is actually a very meaningless statement when one understands Who God is better. It’s also just as emotional as Christians who don’t ask questions, because he very casually waves off that he has unanswered questions, but some questions are very important and need to be answered. Everyone ridicules the question of, “Well, where did it come from?” And yet, it’s still an important question. If the world is in existence it begs the question of where did it come from. Nobody with a rational mind would ignore some new formation or object that suddenly appears in a room, so why can we do the same of the universe? Why is it okay to leave this question unanswered?
What he’s reacting to: Religionists who overstep the boundaries of religion and try and force a scientific interpretation on the world. Science is science and should not be approached with biases. A Christian ought not to have a motive or desire to disprove a particular scientific theory any more than another person should desire to disprove God. Both parties should look for the truth. But if we spend our time making up arguments to disprove one another, well, that results in the false peace that this gentleman and many Christians experience.
2. Love of Learning
The gentleman proceeds to discuss how he found out that the world was now open to fascinating and intriguing realities, and that faith and learning are often in great tension with one another, and at times they are diametrically opposed to one another. He found that he could now daily learn something new and get more and more amazed.
This is pure emotionalism. It suggests that one couldn’t be amazed and full of wonder daily if one has religion. It also suggests that a scientific fact could somehow diametrically oppose faith. This is said so gently, and yet it’s a ludicrous idea. If something is a scientific fact, faith cannot oppose it. Faith is about believing what one cannot see or explain, it is not about belief or lack of belief in something that is physically known to be true. What is more bizarre about this softly spoken point, is that it neglects to mention that some great minds in science and discovery also have faith. For example, the former atheist who led the human genome project in America, went from faithlessness to faith through the science, wonderment and amazement of his field. Yet, many people who are looking for an emotional rush, will read this and think, “Yeah, yeah! He’s so right.” No, he is kind and soft-spoken, but he is not correct.
What he’s reacting to: Christians who do fear science, Christians who are sceptical about every natural phenomenon as though it’s a challenge to faith, and as he states himself, those [religionists] who find that learning and faith are diametrically opposed to one another. There is no reason to fear learning. Learning gives intellect to our prayers, it gives us a better understanding of the mind of God. There is no reason to actively fight learning any more than there is reason to force people who are typically not interested in something to take interest in something. There is once more a need for looking for the Truth about any given matter, and then understanding what that truth means. There should never be a fear of seeking the Truth.
3. Ability to accept people he used to judge
The dude goes on to say that religion is the main reason that people condemn same-sex relationships. In other words, one particular moral issue is what he is using to make a point. He says that religionists condemn something that lies at their core identity, I suppose because he accepts that people are born with this and thus would be fighting themselves. He has now opened up to a wider range of people because a 2,000 year old book no longer tells him how he should see the world.
This is another appeal to your emotions, for a person to say, “Oh, wow, he’s so right. Without this rule book I would be more embracing of people that I know are kind.” and other things similar. Well, why is he choosing one particular moral issue? For example, why is he not as upset that people condemn polygamy? Why is he not upset that we still frown on incest – given that there are other people who will have equal chance of having offspring with disease or abnormalities that we do not prevent from expressing their sexual desires? Why are you focused on this one as though it were so factually a right thing?
I’ve already blogged on the issue of homosexuality, so I will not flog a dead horse. I would like to suggest, though, that to say that because someone is born in a particular way, does not mean that someone is right or justified in acting on what he finds to be most natural. For example, a person who is born with a propensity towards addiction is not justified for being addicted to a substance even if it is perfectly understandable and warrants our love and care. Yet we know that some people are born with this. A person who because of his genetics develops schizophrenia, is not correct in how he perceives the world, even though it is incredibly real to that person. He also supposes that in disagreeing with whether or not something is naturally intended or not, is a statement of judgment. I do not judge an addict for his addiction, I do not judge a patient for his illness, but I can still call an addiction an addiction and a disease a disease. A better question is what is the right way to deal with this!
It’s worth throwing out there – that just because something is old does not make it true or untrue! So the confidence in such a statement is questionable. Generally speaking, we tend to like things to withstand the test of time, we do not hope for something to be true for a generation and become untrue later on. His own opinion, for example, if his opinion is preached for 2,000 years should we look for a new truth after that since 2,000 years have passed? The real question is: is the teaching right?
What he’s reacting to: People who do judge individuals and say that these people are themselves evil, people who walk around screaming about the fire of hell awaiting for these people, as though the sins that they themselves commit are somehow not a big deal. The reality is that a faith based on fear-mongering and hell-threatening are not likely to be a sound basis of religion. How can a Christian speak about a loving God and yet put all his time in getting upset and angry at people and what they do? Our focus as Christians needs to be on the Love and mercy of God, because that is what transforms us, not the opposite. We need to seek the Truth about a matter – we can say that something is right and wrong – but we must remember the Spirit of the Law, not the letter.
4. Less judgment toward himself.
The person goes on to say that he’s less picky about himself and judgmental of himself, but at the same time, he holds himself accountable to some [non-defined] moral standards of honesty and unprofessionalism. He feels that this has led him to feel less guilty and to feel much happier.
Note the key words of feelings again. He is speaking about these feelings and giving them an authority and yet religionists are often accused of the same thing. There is still an absurdity in this argument, however, coated in friendliness and nonchalance. That is, why should he bother being honest? If there is no Supreme Being, on what basis do we need to believe that honesty is a good idea? Why can’t a better way be survival of the fittest? I will lie if it brings me gain and say the truth where it benefits me. Even in nature, there are times when its advantageous for an animal to lie, hide out, lunge and attack to either survive or to eat or other reasons. Why is this unacceptable for humans? On what basis does he follow any code of behaviour of any kind? If there is no “Higher Meaning” to the universe, then any moral code is entirely arbitrary. It is based on the rule of the majority, but that does not make it the right authority, it simply makes it the authority that the majority agree upon, but can change on whim or emotions. How is that any more illumined than anyone else who believes differently? Yet, it’s emotionally satisfying to make such a statement.
As for judging himself, well, St. Paul says, “I judge not my own self” (1 Corinthians 4:3)! It’s not about judgment. The real question is if there is such thing as right and wrong, and what is the truth about that? If there isn’t, then, well, every man for himself, and lets acknowledge that the rules are arbitrary, but not talk about them authoritatively as though you are obviously right. If religion is true – which is its whole other debate, then religionists are very justified in believing that there is a right and wrong thing. If we are created, then it means that we were created to be a particular way, and for Christians that “way” is holiness.
What he’s reacting to: People who have unhealthy guilt and fear make us look bad. God is not asking for us to live a life of guilt. God is asking us to live a life of love. The two are totally different. If a Christian does things because he is afraid of the feelings of guilt that he will experience, then how does he have conviction about what he does, and how does he ever grow in love toward his God? God asks us to enter into a loving relationship with Him, and it’s a loving relationship that makes us want to make one another happy. I don’t refrain from slapping my mother or friend across the face just because I would feel guilty if I were to do it! I don’t do it because I love that person. If I did it, I might feel guilty because I did something against my love for that person. What is guilt? Another feeling. Feelings are not foundational. Ever. Feelings have a use, but they are not foundational.
5. Giving credit where credit is due.
Instead of thanking God, this gentleman thanks those who ‘actually did it’, and thanking himself for the good that he does.
What he’s reacting to: I’m not sure if this was meant to be profound or just another emotional appeal, but I would suggest that this is because of all of us Christians who say, “Thank God” all the time. Perhaps what’s missing from this whole thing is that we are all meant to be God toward one another. Christ said that whatever we do to others is as though we did it to Him. He wants us to comfort one another, clothe one another, mourn with one another etc… If we are thanking God, it’s because without Him, Christians believe none of us or what brings us happiness would exist. Having said that, well, I don’t know many Christians who never thank others for what they have done as well. I have never met a Christian who will say, “I will not thank you for this gesture because it was God not you”, so I’m not sure what this person is really getting at. There is also no reason why a Christian should not be happy and excited to use the gifts that he has.
6. Getting Sunday mornings back.
I’m not going to give this one a lot of time. If you love someone, you spend time with them. It’s simple. So if you’re enjoying your Sunday mornings off, great, it’s not a selling point against Truth though. The question is whether something is true or not, not what you could do with your spare time if it’s not true. Find out the truth then go enjoy your time in the way that is appropriate to you, because your emotions about any particular thing will be informed by your perception of them. Different activities have meaning. Since he was a formal evangelical, he may also not perceive the meaning of Eucharist.
What he’s reacting to: Those of us who grumble and groan that we’re going to spend time with God on Sunday. A negative emotion that shows a lack of love and a lack of understanding of what Eucharist is. This is something serious.
7. Better health.
After losing religion he decided to care more about fitness and physical health and “he felt better than he ever felt his whole life”. There’s those feeling words again.
Once more, I’m confused as to where this is coming from, to be totally honest. It suggests that there is such thing as physical health being mutually exclusive from religion, and yet we preach that our bodies are the temple of God, we preach that you shouldn’t smoke, and we preach that addictions are bad for your health, and that you have to respect your health. So, if this particular person discovered health after losing religion, that’s cool. What should be acknowledged though is whether or not religion truly preaches against health or not. There may be unhealthy Christians, but there are certainly unhealthy atheists. The question should be one of the truth of a teaching, not one of how you felt when you started doing it.
What he’s reacting to: I’m actually not sure on this one. Maybe some people spend so much time on religion that they forget to take care of their health? That is still not a statement, however, as to whether or not we believe we should neglect health. A lot of overworked workers, or people who are really into other things also neglect their health. It’s not a statement that hard-working people do not believe in health, that would be a very bizarre conclusion.
8. Better sex.
I won’t get explicit on this one other than that he discovered sex was way better when he could embrace his body. A negative body image, he says, isn’t compatible with embracing what “really good sex requires”.
This presupposes that the religion of what “really good sex is” is correct, and that he has discovered that religion and its truths. Sounds a bit relative to me, to be honest. It’s another emotion of what ‘feels good must be right’, as opposed to ‘what is right’ and how do I find pleasure in that? Why is sex the place where his negative body image matters? Why cannot another man who appreciates his strong body image use his body in an abusive manner and feel that he is best expressing himself? I realise that that might seem like a petty argument, but the point is that how you ‘feel” is often really meaningless. How you feel has a lot to do with chemicals in your head. We can induce chemicals to go off in a certain way, and other times it just happens. So how about we spend more time trying to understand the body rather than selectively justifying which body expressions and highs are the best ones because of how they ‘feel’.
What he’s reacting to: Christians who do not understand the human body and perpetually talk about it as an evil thing. He is reacting to Christians who make it sound like the body is a terrible object in which their poor soul is victimised and prevented from doing what is naturally right. This is not proper Christian theology. God honoured the body and made it, it is important for Christians to understand the body and appreciate it, not to treat it like it’s evil. That does not mean “I should let my body do whatever impulses it wants”, it means not being always negative.
9. Friends who are more fun
He acknowledges that this is petty, so I won’t point that out myself, but let’s look at the reasoning. The reasoning is because group A is dominated by long lists of things you’re not supposed to say, think or feel and group B doesn’t have that list.
It’s funny, again, how the focus is on not having any kind of inhibition. It seems to be a trend – this love for lawlessness. There is a common theme of not wanting anyone to prevent you from your natural impulses. Yet, this is absurd, because the existence of laws (even in atheist dominions) prove that we, as society, do believe that we need to be restricted, or we would not restrict ourselves. So yes, it might seem really petty to talk about group A vs group B, but what is being said is actually profoundly puzzling to me. We have laws and codes for society because we believe that society needs to care about health and safety – and not just physical health and safety. We believe in psychological safety, we believe in religious freedom, and we believe in some kind of morality, too – or we would not be prevented from killing one another, stealing from one another, having sex with anyone we want, or using drugs. We regulate these things. So why is a person worked up and sarcastic about religionists having rules and regulations, when so does all of society, atheists included?! It’s contradictory.
The other absurdity to me, is that he’s basing his pleasure in conversation on such a frivolous reference point. More specifically, the current lists of what not to talk about (I have no idea of how accurate they are accurate) are what he’s deciding on what determines fun. Yet, for millennia, people have had lots of fun with similar lists! What I am trying to say, is that there is so much more fun in the world than sex and cussing. If a person’s fun is limited to only talking about and engaging in those two things, that’s a very petty world in which we will see little human progress and development. What happened to literature, arts, natural science, hiking and the great outdoors, and even good old fashioned cards? I’m not restricting the list, but for millennia people have had fun in various ways, I’m not sure why fun today is limited by someone’s lack of desire to say anything that comes to mind. This is unhealthy.
What he’s doing here, is glorifying, and emotionally so, what he perceives to be fun, and projecting his own thoughts of what is fun onto the world, that those not engaging in this fun must be missing out because of their restrictions. Different frames of reference…
What he’s reacting to: Fake Christians. Guys, you’re allowed to have fun. You should laugh and joke. Having self-control does not mean that you cannot have fun and that you should be miserable. Go, have fun! Discover the world! Go hiking, read books, sing songs, play cards, laugh a lot, love a lot, tease one another and smile! Don’t be intimidated by modern trends towards only ONE kind of fun just because everyone is doing it all the time. There is way more to life than sex and cussing, and if it really were so fun then really, why are we all on anti-depressants?
10. More realistic expectations about life.
This person says that he no longer believes that he is special or that a supreme being is orchestrating events around him for his benefit or the benefit of anyone. He takes responsibility and doesn’t look for a savior.
What he’s reacting to: In this case, there is a somber reality and a mixture of truth with poison. I’m skipping again to what he’s reacting to because he actually has a point. Many Christians do not actually understand Free Will. Many of you think you can do whatever you want, but then want God to intervene selectively. That is not how free will works. Free will means that you do have to take responsibility for what you do – you individually, and we as a society. Whatever we do has consequences, and we have to realise that. We have consequences that affect us individually, and consequences that affect all of society. In this, he has spoken truly – the only problem is that his perception of what we teach is wrong. It’s not the Truth about what we believe, but he’s justified in criticizing because many Christians don’t express or even recognise this teaching. It would have been better to seek the truth, though, than to jump to such conclusions. We often “feel” better when we can make everything about God, but we can’t base it on emotions, there’s a reality that we have to be responsible. Our lack of good choices, however, does not annihilate the need for a Saviour, and the question should be is there a Saviour or is there not, but dressing it up in emotional statements doesn’t answer the question of Truth.
11. A greater appreciation for the preciousness of life
Once this man realised that it’s the only life he’s going to get, he made the most of it. He said it also made him minimise suffering of others and himself less. He said that it makes it easier for him to be an agent of change when you realise that this is all there is.
This is a very interesting one that is also largely based on feelings, but has some truth in it as well. The underlying premise of this, is that someone who has a religion does not realise this is the only life he has, or that they should/would minimise the suffering of others, and that you would not care about change. On what is this founded, though?
This is a very authoritative statement to make. Everyone – not just “religious people vs non-religious” people have an outlook on life. How they understand their life will dictate how they behave. Even atheists have various understandings of what the meaning of this life is, and will conduct themselves differently than one another. So on what basis does this discovery of his have anything to do with religion as a whole, rather than his own personal take on life? It was Mother Teresa, not Richard Dawkins, who said, “Be the change you wish to see in others.” She believed in being an agent of change. Christ said “be the salt of the earth and light of the world”, He wanted us to be agents of change. Christians all over the world have led scientific endeavors and philanthropic ones as well. So to make such a statement makes it sounds as though Christians don’t believe in these things and that he suddenly discovered after leaving religion that he should. This is an internal emotional response, but it is not a factual one.
Christ gave a commandment to comfort others and that we have to bear one another’s sorrows. He never promised we would live in a sorrow-less world. So I don’t understand why there’s an accusation that we would minimse the suffering of others just because we also believe that there’s more to life than this world. Just because we have a different understanding of sorrow and pain does not mean that we do not care about easing the pain of others. In fact, the Gospel is supposed to be about Love. I think love usually has something in it that cares about people not feeling sorrow or pain, and that we need to comfort one another and try and help one another carry the burdens that we have.
What I also find interesting is that he levels an emotional response to Christians and why they accept pain (accusing us of only doing it because we believe in heaven, as though that were the ONLY reason for it – which it is not) but he does not consider in this piece the question for those who are atheist: why should you accept suffering? I would be baffled if you could find an authoritative reason, and not just you own personal conjecture on the matter.
What he’s reacting to: People who are not compassionate, and dismiss every crisis with “Everything will be better in heaven”. Yes, it will be better there, but we live here right now, and we are supposed to be Christ right now and right here. Christ comforted the people, He helped them of their afflictions, He played with kids, He fed the hungry, He sat with outcasts. Do you shy from this? You’re supposed to be Christ.
All in all my friends, we have a serious responsibility to learn and reflect the Truth. If our wrongness ends up being the reason why people disbelieve, then we have to take some responsibility. Stop and reflect, and ask yourself “am I in the faith”, and where you lack, ASK! We’re not going to have the answers without asking, seeking, and knocking. But let us be true ambassadors of Christ, so that we may not alienate our brothers and sisters in humanity from the Truth: Christ our God.