Friday, December 18, 2009

If I Were An Atheist

It is amazing to me when I meet nice people who are atheists.

These people are pleasant and thoughtful. They live by the rules of polite society. They do kind and helpful things for people in need. They go to work and work hard to accomplish something. They color in the lines and don't use garish florescent colors.

For me, this doesn't make any sense.

Have they misplaced their inner beast? Have they no passion in their hearts? Have they never felt a rush of murderous rage or lecherous lust? Have they no rapacious avarice driving them to acquire newer, better, faster and more things than anyone else? Have they no sense of pride, no drive for domination?

My inner beast is alive and well and barely under control - and that only by the grace of God. Praise God that Christ came to save us from our sins! I know that on my own - without God's work in me through Christ - I would be consumed by my beast. I can still hear him grumbling in my breast - violently rattling his cage when someone cuts me off in traffic. My beast is always threatening to break out. It is certainly not my strength that confines him there... but the power of God's Spirit at work in me.

Even so, I struggle with grouchy, sullen and sarcastic impulses - especially when I am tired. But I fight them - by thinking about God, His gift in Christ and His will for me revealed in His word. I try to fight off the feelings because I know there is a God in Heaven Who cares how I act. I want a relationship with Him more than anything, so I work at self control by His Spirit.

If I were an atheist, I am sure I would not be a nice one.

I need to be careful even thinking about it, lest my imagination be allowed to carry me into evil fantasies of violence, greed, etc., which the Lord has said are the same essential sin as the deeds themselves.

But I am sure I would be an atheist on the order of Hitler, Stalin or Mao. What did they do? Pretty much whatever they wanted as much as they wanted. They pursued power to satisfy their own desires. And why not? Time is limited. If there was no god to whom I must answer, I would work to get as far as I could in the direction of doing whatever I pleased. No morals, no conscience, no scripture, no restraint, no limits, no fear, no doubts. Everything and everyone would be viewed with a pragmatic eye - how will this help or hinder my pursuit of world domination? (Isn't this the idea behind the survival of the fittest - i.e., natural selection?)

Check out the news headlines and you will see evidence that many many people live this way as much as they can. Some, no doubt would be worse if it were not for fear of legal prosecution. Others spend most of their free time indulging in their fantasies through TV, pornography, or role playing games. Some are pretty well controlled in public, but in private or in situations where they think they are anonymous they let their inner beast free.

That doesn't surprise me. But it does surprise me when I meet nice people who are atheists. It doesn't add up.


Brian Westley said...

Well, it's easy to explain...

You appear to be a sociopath, who is only restrained by your belief in a punisher-god.

Most people are not sociopaths, and can treat other people well without an invisible enforcer.

Pastor D said...

Brian! I am so glad to hear from you. Evidently you are not one of those nice atheists who perplex me. (Smile)

I might well have been a sociopath, except for God's gracious intervention.

But you are mistaken. It is not my fear of God that constrains me, but my love for Him - in response for His love for me.

Actually - Sociopath and Atheist are pretty much synonymous terms. Sociopath refers to people who have no conscience, and why should a real atheist have a conscience? According to atheism, a conscience is only a social construct that does not reflect a transcendent moral reality.

From my perspective, if you are restrained by your conscience you are giving the nod to a moral authority - God! I do that myself - and I'm glad you do too!

Brian Westley said...

Brian! I am so glad to hear from you. Evidently you are not one of those nice atheists who perplex me.

Evidently, you are not a nice person.

Actually - Sociopath and Atheist are pretty much synonymous terms.

Not at all.

Atheist: not a theist
Sociopath: lacking in conscience and empathy

They are completely orthogonal concepts.

why should a real atheist have a conscience?

Why shouldn't a real atheist have a conscience?

According to atheism

Atheism is merely a lack of belief.

a conscience is only a social construct

Wrong; atheism says nothing about whether a conscience is a social construct or not.

that does not reflect a transcendent moral reality.

Wrong; atheism doesn't say anything about a "transcendent moral reality," either.

You obviously have no respect for atheists. You are quite a nasty person.

Anonymous said...

I just wrote a small novel in my reaction to an earlier post, so I might just as well write some more :)

I like your honesty, Dave. I think everyone (esp. males?) feels the urge to let loose his inner beast, unhindered by moral laws and societal mores. The fact that people don't do that en masse, whether Christian, atheist, Muslim, or Pastafarian, proofs that there is something like a universale innate conscience or tendency to conform to social laws and expectations. We're a social species and the advantages of order and conformity are immense, so that makes sense.

So I think it's not only your belief in God a.k.a. pure willpower that keeps you civilized, but also the expectations of others. I mean, you're a family man and a pastor, a bona fide role model for chrissakes!

That's also why I don't think you'd be an atheist a-hole. Personally, I didn't change significantly after I turned my back to Christianity. There'll always be your upbringing and the people around you. And if you WOULD become a beast, then Brian would unfortunately be right.

That said, I strongly object to the causal connections you make between evolution, atheism and social darwinism. The debate is muddled enough. Of course there are strong ties, but let's keep in mind that evolution is a scientific theory, atheism a philosophy, and social darwinism a social theory and a total disgrace. To adapt a description of the way species evolved through the ages to a social theory on how people should treat each other now is ludicrous and total nonsense. It's like the Olympic Comittee saying we should be running the 100 meters sprint on all fours because that was how we did it for millions of years.

Social darwinism was just racism and perhaps class discrimination disguised as a social theory. By presenting such matters as the ultimate consequences of unbelief, you compare atheists like me to mass murderers like Hitler. It's like me saying that the Inquisition and the Crusades are the ultimate consequences of faith.

You will see that debating non-Christians will be more enjoyable for both parties if you keep your argument clear of unjust comparisons and unrelated issues. I try to do the same, which can be hard because it means less verbal fireworks (which my inner beast happens to love).

- Harmen

Pastor D said...

Harmen, thanks for another fine and thoughtful comment.

You are exactly right - I tie the different strands from different fields of study together. You yourself say, "Of course there are strong ties..."

I say they are all intricately related in any reasonable investigation. (Maybe I've read too much from the philosophers who espouse these things.)

I realize that in any religious discussion, no individual will be 100% aligned with the official or historic development of their faith. But I point out those teachings anyway - not to attack the individual, but to make him or her reconsider the views they claim to hold.

The fact is that evolution (science with lots of theories, but no evidence) is closely related to atheism. As Richard Dawkins points out, it is the means by which he can be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

I appreciate your antipathy for Social Darwinism - I agree completely. But why are their theories less convincing to you than biological Darwinism? If biological Darwinism is true, then it stand to reason that some people groups might be more evolved ("higher life forms") than others.

I agree that there is an innate conscience that is universal in man. But apart from a Holy God whose character is the measure of all things I see no logical reason to assert that it is TRUE or RIGHT or should be binding. People violate their own consciences every day to one degree or another.

I do not at all mean to suggest you are like Hitler. But since you claim to be an atheist, it bears consideration that famous atheists like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. were only taking their atheistic beliefs to an extreme level. Nietzsche would have been proud of them. As he said, "All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."

It is fair enough for you to bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition... but easy for me to show that the people behind them and the reasoning involved is NOT biblical Christianity.

I don't mean to be offensive - but it seems to me the ball is in the atheist's court to say from an atheistic perspective why Hitler was "wrong" (much less "evil.") I know why Hitler and the Crusaders and the Inquisitors were wrong from a Christian perspective.

One more thing. I can testify that it is certainly NOT "pure willpower" that keeps my inner beast restrained. It is truly a supernatural work of God changing me.

Believe it or not.

Dave Denny

Pastor D said...

Blogger Pastor D said...

Brian - I was tempted not to post your letter, lest you be embarrassed by the unpleasant tone of your communication. But I have posted it and I'll let the other readers decide on its value.

You have called me a sociopath.
You say I am not a nice person.
You say that I have no respect for atheists (despite my willingness to dialog with you and post your unpleasant accusations.)
You say I am a nasty person.

I don't remember calling you names.

As for your arguments - if you are going to call yourself an atheist, you should read more writings by atheists about atheism, because you are flat wrong about the implications of atheism. I suppose you would enjoy Nietzsche and Hume, etc.

Also, there is a distinction in meaning between "synonym" and "synonymous." Sociopath and Atheist are not synonyms but they are - as I said - pretty much synonymous terms.

One of the definitions of synonymous is "closely associated with or suggestive of something." When you study the writings of famous atheistic philosophers or study famous atheist world leaders it is clear that what people call sociopathic is often associated with people taking their atheism to its logical conclusions.

You say you have a conscience that helps you "treat people well without an invisible enforcer." (I will take your word for it.)

Where does your conscience come from? Why does it have authority? Is it completely pragmatic, or is there a sense of absolute right and wrong?

You seem to feel that I have wronged you. All I have done is disagree with you and point out the (very well documented) logical inconsistencies in what you claim to be your atheistic world-view.

Have a nice day... Whether you believe in Him or not, God believes in you. This day is a gift from God to you. Make good use of it.

Brian Westley said...

I don't remember calling you names.

You accuse all atheists of being sociopaths.

Where does your conscience come from?

Being human. Try it sometime.

You seem to feel that I have wronged you. All I have done is disagree with you and point out the (very well documented) logical inconsistencies in what you claim to be your atheistic world-view.

Just like anti-semites insult Jews by pointing out all the horrible things Jews have done, like kill Christ, and that's why Jews can't be trusted.

Pastor D said...

Brian - three strikes and you're out!

Read the record and find the place where sociopath is first mentioned. You called me a sociopath.

In contrast, I said that many of the atheists I talk to are very nice, thoughtful, kind, etc. I only said that I don't think their niceness is a logical outcome for their belief system.

Now you have added to your direct attacks on me the allegation that I am inhuman? Why?

I have a conscience and I am not surprised that you have a conscience. I only pointed out that having a conscience doesn't make any particular sense in the system you espouse.

Believe me, I'm GLAD you have a conscience. I hope you hold on tight to it.

Your paragraph on anti-semites seems non sequitur. How did we get on this? It has nothing to do with the thread of conversation. I'm not an anti-semite and I'm sure you are not suggesting that you are.

I've given you plenty of space already. I'm not posting any more of your comments on this thread.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm afraid that I typed up a pretty critical post too, but I'm sure you can take it...

You state that evolution holds a certain social imperative. I'm not at all compelled by my unbelief to put biological theory into social action. Applying Social Darwinism to social circumstances goes against everything I believe in, which is cooperation and excercizing compassion. Why do I believe in that? Maybe I just choose to focus on those universal human treats instead of greed, hate, and violence, like you do. It's convenient for your argument, but is it honest? Not at all.

I'm a bit confused here. On one hand you enjoy debate and like to think and publish on the internet, but on the other hand you seem to not be open to real discussion. Why? You have a charicature of atheists stuck in your mind. I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you seem entrenched in your ways of thinking. That's why I asked: Are you prepared to have your mind changed? I'm not talking about deconversion here (I don't aim to deconvert), but being open to the possibility that different kinds of atheists exist, among them ones that combine a conscious, moral life and empathic humanism with unbelief. Your earlier comment "nice atheists don't add up" speaks volumes.

And then there's this paragraph:
"Check out the news headlines and you will see evidence that many many people live this way as much as they can. Some, no doubt would be worse if it were not for fear of legal prosecution. Others spend most of their free time indulging in their fantasies through TV, pornography, or role playing games. Some are pretty well controlled in public, but in private or in situations where they think they are anonymous they let their inner beast free."
I really can't take this paragraph seriously. It's so selective and bigoted, I would almost would call it mean-spirited. Harsh criticism is not my style, but you've managed to evoke it. You were the one talking passionately your inner beast in an earlier post, something I don't really experience in that measure (I think it's not in my character, "thank God"). Doesn't the Bible teach that Christians sin just as much and should not compliment themselves on their holiness? You seem to project your own struggles on atheists, whom you don't know but generalize based on news headlines, which is laughable in itself. I'm sorry, but that's the conclusion I reach based on your posts. Am I supposed to think you take me seriously as a person?

The same applies to your thoughts on evolution. I'm convinced that after serious study, you should at least be nuanced about the subject. There IS evidence for evolution (eg. Atheists or not, but scientists are serious and passionate about their job and not dumb. Research can't be all faked, all the time. If you still believe this to be the case, then you must believe there is some immense godless conspiracy at work, and then you throw atheists on one scheming, immoral, lying and/or moronic heap.

In short: Your image of atheists is wrong. Most of them dismiss Social Darwinism. Not all of them are disciples of Scientism like Dawkins. Most of them are fully functional, honest human beings who lead a moral life according to their own sensible and acceptable morality. A considerable share might even be called "nice." Crazy but true. Fact is, choices can be made within the frame of atheism. Good choices. You don't acknowledge that fact and I find that dishonest.

I liked the unexpectedly frank discussion so far, but it is getting hampered mainly by your extremely one-dimensional and suspicious view of atheists (and the world in general).

I don't see why I should continue, because I don't think anything contructive will come from it. I can imagine that you might consider this to be a victory, in a way. You irritated the atheist. all right. But nothing was gained.

- Harmen

Pastor D said...

Dear Harmen -

I appreciate your honesty and your good heart about this discussion. I am sorry that my points have evidently muddied the waters for you, rather than cleared them.

I KNOW that different kinds of atheists exist and I'm GLAD of it. (I do indeed thank God!) I am glad that you and MOST atheists are not throwing aside all constraint to do their worst.

But since I think that choosing atheism will ultimately and literally bring you to God's judgment and punishment, I would like to point out the connections between atheism and these things you DON'T believe as a way of suggesting you should reconsider.

You have evidently chosen things I consider good as the morals that guide your life. I'm glad, but why do you think that is good and another thing is bad apart from a good God who says so?

As far as my suggestion that the headlines reveal that people behave badly and feed their inner beast regularly - I stand by it. But I didn't mean to imply that it was only just atheists. Theists, monotheists and polytheists and spiritists and animists are all in the same general boat.

The question is, why is feeding your inner beast bad while suppressing him and making "good choices" (benevolent, truthful, kind, helpful, etc.) is good?

What I would like, is to encourage you to follow your conscience back to God who gave it to you. I certainly don't want to suggest that you should follow what I believe are the logical implications of atheism to their unpleasant conclusions. (And I don't believe you will necessarily do that either.)

Contrary to your assertion that I dishonestly refuse to acknowledge that atheists can make good choices - I DO FREELY ACKNOWLEDGE IT! And I rejoice in it.

I believe that atheists are simply people - no worse than anyone else. But I think they should think through the implications of what they are saying when they say, "There is no God."

I believe there is a very real God and there will be a day of accounting to Him. God forbid that I should say, "Whatever you believe is fine with me as long as you don't bother me."

As for evolution, you and I will just need to disagree for the time being. I think there is not any evidence for evolution (i.e., macro evolution.) (I did look at the site, by the way.) There are plenty of theories and papers written and much evidence that is studied with evolutionary presuppositions - but there is no evidence.

I too have a high regard for scientists and their work. Most of them are not trying to prove or disprove evolution. I do not mean to impugn the integrity of any scientist.

But there isn't any evidence for evolution. Not even one intermediate life form in a fossil. Not even one example of life coming from non-life. Not even one example of information organizing itself from disorder.

Harmen, I have really enjoyed dialoging with you. I hope that I will hear from you again. I don't know if we will ever agree - but I appreciate your openness and honesty. I am sorry if I have offended you. I only wanted to make you think.

Anonymous said...

Well Dave, you can't be blamed of giving in one inch, even if that means you have to beat around the bush a little (your last post seems a bit evasive and contradictory, but let's not go into that).

I could have known that it would turn out in an attempt to lead me back to the straight path... I just think your shock tactics don't work with many, if not most atheists, simply because some of your arguments are unfair and even false and contain a lot of generalizations. I think I have demonstrated that in my posts. Like: An absence of faith doesn't mean an absence of morality. This can be observed all around us. Heck, I'm the living proof of it! Although I have much to improve. Life is a learning process and I can only do my best.

My intention was to talk about the things that matter and in the process learn a bit from each other. Sadly, you only reinforced some of the prejudices I had of US Baptists (maybe vice versa: I'm the atheist from the liberal hellhole called the Netherlands, haha). I'm pretty pessimistic about your future attempts to reach atheists if you don't change your way of approaching and debating them.

I learned that when talking to fundamentalists like yourself, I should not readily assume the level of nuance and openmindedness I am used to. It only makes me strive to better understand orthodox believers. Mutual understanding is the way to go, after all. So thanks for that.

I get that what matters to you is my salvation and that's nice of you. Nevertheless, I hope you open up your mind a bit to other ways of thinking without necessarily losing your faith, because I don't wish that upon anybody.

As human beings, we both want to see what we want to see, and we both need to be wary of that in order to live honestly and truthfully. I hope we can at least agree on that!

Tot ziens,

- Harmen

Pastor D said...

Harmen -

Thank you for the time you put into this discussion. I am sorry that you are disappointed with me. As you know, I believe I answer to someone else :)

I am far from expert in talking to atheists - obviously. You might want to check out this link. These folks are in Europe and might better answer your needs.

May God bless you and keep you.