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):
- the only evidence we can accept is that which is verifiable in accordance with the modern, scientific approach.
- we cannot verify the existence of any non-material being according to the method.
- 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.