Jun 1 2009

Atheism, morality and deconversion

This is just a quick post to recommend some extra-curricular reading.  First, here’s an interesting post that fits nicely with my recent series on morality as a basis for atheism from Common Sense Atheism.

Next, theBEattitude gives the reasons why he recently left Christianity, and Michael Spencer’s commentary on this post.  Both are well-worth reading, if you’re at all concerned about what is going on inside and outside the Christian Ghetto.

More from me soon.

May 18 2009

More on morality and atheism

This post follows up on the discussion on my prior post, Moral reasons for atheism, in which I suggested that many atheists choose not to believe in God because of moral issues – they don’t want to change, acknowledge sin, or acknowledge any absolute moral code – not because of intellectual issues.  Modern atheists typically try to pass themselves off as being rationalists, discounting a belief if God because God is not possible in the universe they have invented to believe in – one is only material in nature.

To perhaps oversimplify the argument (but not by much):

  1. the only evidence we can accept is that which is verifiable in accordance with the modern, scientific approach.
  2. we cannot verify the existence of any non-material being according to the method.
  3. therefore we must assume God does not exist.

It is, of course, self-fulfilling; but in the absence of any greater understanding, this argument “works” for them.  Most, for example, simply ignore the fact that “the method” is not itself something which can be proven to work. There are foundational issues with a reliance on reason itself which I’ve discussed before.  The only way that atheism functions in its current state is really to sidestep these issues completely.  But, if belief in God is merely an intellectual issue, why would anyone not want to deal with these issues?  It begs the question of what, then, is the real issue.

Now, I am not saying that atheists are immoral and Christians are moral; nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. We are all immoral creatures.  At the very heart of Christianity is the acceptance that “all have sinned” and that we are saved “by grace and not by works, that no man should boast.”   Martin Luther coined the phrase, simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously saint and sinner; we are made perfect in Christ, but on our own we stand condemned by the law.  To deny that we are in any way righteous, or even morally superior, is to have a false gospel; Christians who claim a morally superiority are frauds (I’ve just finished writing a book on this).

One of the problems with modernism – which, by the way, we were all “baptized” into, whether we like it or not – is dualism, in its many forms.  We separate the physical from the spiritual, mind from body, and mind from emotions.  Slowly doctors are discovering that we are more internally connected than modernism would want us to be; many physical ailments are in fact known to have emotional causes.

This dualism is handy if we want to ignore our emotional or moral components; we can pretend to be totally objective, we can create wonderful logical arguments, and we can use lots of fancy-sounding words to sound intellectual. However, I do not think that any of us can reduce the choices we make about what we believe about life and God to mere intellectual issues. We are more complex than that.  A lot is said about intellectual dishonesty – arguing things we know are not correct – but not much is said about emotional or moral dishonesty when talking about a belief in God (except, it seems, by Christians who are unable to grasp the intellectual issues; it’s that dualism thing again).

In discussing one’s choice of beliefs (and I insist they are choices), I believe we have to take more of a gestalt approach.  We all have our issues; that is, those things we acknowledge as maters for discussion. We also have our interests, the things that really matter to us, that may be unconscious motivators, and the more substantive of the two.   Morality – not “being good,” but how we view what is good or bad – is, I suspect, at the very core of who we are.  It is interesting that guilt is nearly universal; the absence of guilt pretty much makes you a sociopath, even if you’re an atheist.  Since we all have our internal morality meters, we all deal with sin, even though atheists wouldn’t consider it as such. But, as Paul wrote, to do that which someone considers wrong is for him, sin.

What is different is how we deal with sin.  We can blame it on evolution, upbringing, society, genetics, Adam, or Satan – most of us hate to blame ourselves, although most of us do, deep down.  This gap between who we really are and who we think we should be – what a friend calls the “crap gap” – affects us in more ways than most of us care to admit, whether we are Christians, Buddhists or atheists.

Intellectual debates are great, for what they are.  I appreciate reason and logic, accepting their foundational weakness.  Many atheists are quick to point out the Christian’s need to believe in God; I’ve yet to see one own up to a need not to believe in God.  But, I suspect it’s there for many, if not for most.

May 15 2009

Moral reasons for atheism

A few months ago I read a blog post – I was trying to find it, but couldn’t recall which blog – where a pastor wrote about an encounter he’d had the week before with a teenager from his congregation. The boy confessed that he no longer believed in God.  The pastor looked at the boy for a while, then asked, “So, how long have you been sleeping with your girlfriend?”  This, in fact, was the case.  The boy had no real issues of faith; what he had was an issue of morality.

I recall being told years back that most atheists rejected God for moral, not intellectual, reasons.  I have not presumed this in my dealings with atheists, and would never go so far as to apply this to all atheists.  However, over and over again I have run across outspoken atheists who are good machine-gunning intellectual arguments for atheism, but who turn out to have significant moral issues.  They deny that morality has anything to do with their beliefs, but often the coincidence is too obvious, and their arguments are not that good.

Morality may be, after all, one of the more common reasons for atheism.

In searching for the blog post I mentioned at the outset, I came across another story that was almost identical.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  However, for someone dealing with guilt, unforgiveness, or simply a need to believe that right and wrong are not absolute, the easiest way to resolve the isse is to mentally do away with God, at least the Christian God.

I routinely read a blog by a young atheist who is very bright, and writes about atheism from a very logical point of view.  He is somewhat refreshing as he does occasionally agree with the other side on a point or two, at least giving the appearance of intellectual integrity.  Recently, I discovered that he also is a proponent of polyamory – good, old-fashioned licentiousness.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.

Issues of morality for which atheism provides some conscience-relief include sex outside of marriage, including adultery.  As I mentioned earlier, unforgiveness – the inability to forgive or the resentment for not having been forgiven – can only be justified if there no God.  The same is true for self-righteousness, which includes many arguments about the problem of evil and suffering.  The only way to really make a good argument about evil and suffering is to somehow ignore the fact that you are a contributing cause; once that concession is made, the argument is somewhat deflated.

I am not saying that there are not purely intellectual arguments in favor of atheism (none are very good, in my opinion), or that people can’t sincerely believe in any of these arguments; however, more and more I see indications that people have reasons other than purely intellectual ones to chose to believe what they believe.

Obviously, I can’t prove this; however, this does seem to agree with Paul in Romans 1.  At the very least, morality plays a large part in many people’s decisions concerning religion.

Feb 11 2009

Overcompensation and the return to oppression

James Robertson writes:

Europe’s war on free speech is the result of a profound identity crisis, one that is being generated by the blanket abandonment of traditional Judeo-Christian values coupled with mass immigration from Muslim countries. But in their zeal to criminalize free thought and free speech, the leftwing guardians of Orwellian political correctness are systematically destroying European democracy.

Not only are European elites using hate crime legislation to silence people with opinions that do not conform to official state policies. They are also dividing Europeans into two groups (the majority and the minority), each with different rights and responsibilities. The minority (Muslims, homosexuals, Socialists) is imposing its will upon the majority (non-Muslim, heterosexuals, non-Socialists) by aggressively prosecuting those who refuse to fall into line.

He provides some recent examples of what’s going on in the rest of the West.  It’s bizarre, but not unbelievable.  And, America is not immune from this kind of thinking.  We have our own history of overcompensation, with so many incentives given to “minorities” that leaves a white male as perhaps the most disadvantaged person of all, as jobs and scholarships are given out based on diversity rather than on ability.  I have no problem with equality – I don’t believe that “all men are created equal,” but I think it’s great that our Constitution created that equality.  Of course, the Constitution is not what it used to be; and if we don’t watch it, in a few years it will be just a shadow of what it is today.

What happens, I think, is that what starts out as a very good and admirable desire for justice quickly turns into a shallow, mindless self-righteousness. We who have a new-found “tolerance” or understanding start to believe that we are perhaps better than those who may not be so tolerant.  There is then created a New Elite, a self-righteous minority who out of force of will become the new majority. But, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.”  Where does that leave us?  As the perception grows that overcompensation – and the corresponding oppression of contrary opinion – is the high moral ground, right and wrong become so convoluted that a voice of reason is looked at with suspicion.  It is Orwellian, indeed.

Who, now, is the disenfranchised in the US?  Note that some of Obama’s first acts as President were in direct opposition to the majority opinion.  Note that a majority of people would like all the facts about evolution taught in our “public” schools.  I could go on, but all you have to do is pick up the newspaper for more examples.

Roberton asks if the U.S. will follow in Europe’s footsteps.  I think that as the issues become turned upside down, it is quite possible; and for some of our leaders, I think that this is actually the desired goal.