Monday, November 2, 2009

Atheist or Anti-Theist

I know plenty of atheists. Rolling in the circles I roll in, that's not much of a surprise. The Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith just proves too much for many folks. Unlike many other Jesus-folk, I am sympathetic to that mindset. Atheists are people too, and they can be both entertaining company and good friends.

'Course, they're all going to hell, but there's nothing wrong with enjoying their company before they are eternally immolated in the undying fires of God's unescapable wrath.

Kidding. Or...am I? Hmmm.

What strikes me, having gotten to know atheists, is that there are as many different atheisms as there are atheists. Recognizing that continuum, I've noted two polarities of type.

Many atheists are mellow. They don't believe, because they've 1) been burned by faith or 2) they have such a radically empirical view of the world that there's just no room in it for the supernatural. Whatever the cause, they don't have a chip on their shoulder about it. These are the folks who are willing to say, you know, there are many things about the teachings of Jesus that are pretty cool. But the whole package? Nope. Sorry. They just can't get there from here. Theism means...well...nothing to them. Faith is just irrelevant and/or immaterial. Slappin' that "a" prefix onto the front of "theist" means theism shouldn't factor into the equation at all. This is, to my eyes, the most authentically a-theist position, because it is non-theist.

Then there's the atheism that is more "antitheist" than "atheist". For these folks, non-belief expresses itself as a vigorous and normative opposition to all forms and manifestations of faith. It's all up in your business, relentlessly truculent and dismissive. Faith is not irrelevant for these folks. It's the gravitic center of their worldview, the enemy against which they orient their existence, the opposite polarity which they relentlessly reject yet which paradoxically defines them.

I prefer the former, although the latter can be entertaining to have around when you're up for some sparring.

31 comments:

  1. I have many friends who are non-believers, and I would never assume they are going to hell, I think that's up to God, not me.

    I will say this though, I have experienced more compassion, love, and forgiveness from non-believers, than many fundamentalist I have known.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @ Rob: I would never make that assumption either. It is, as you say, not for us to decide.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're delineating of the two is spot-on. ;o)

    I encounter more anti-theists than I do atheists, unfortunately. I'd put folks like Hitchens and Dawkins in the anti-theist camp, wouldn't you? Hitchens actually gets his own category "Alcoholic Anti-Theist". They'll have a 12 step group before you know it.

    And agnostics drive me batty! Commit already, will ya?! But I sympathize with them a bit more because I was there too for much of my life.

    And as far as their going to hell because they don't believe...that salvation deal is quite a bit more nuanced than just that. Of course, certain segments of modern day evangelicalism tend to reduce it all to just that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kinda like the current political climate (you knew it had to go there...). I live in a Congressional District that, until a small while ago was represented by a guy considered to have impeccable conservative creds. As a guy with impeccable liberal creds, I rarely agree with him. However, he comes by his views honestly and thoughtfully. I respect him. Now, he's being challenged by folks who consider him too liberal. They're a scary, intolerant bunch spitting hatred and rage.

    Not good.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The latter are a bunch of jerks, really. Anti-theists are basically religious fundamentalists at heart- that their religion is no religion is irrelevant to their worldview.

    Atheism in general is not a problem for anyone. Antitheism in particular is a problem for everybody.

    ReplyDelete
  6. John 8:47 – “The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God.”

    Yes, even God’s enemies want love and peace – and none of those are valid reasons for committing yourself to Christ.

    Salvation isn’t for those seeking love, hope, and peace; it is for sinners who want more than anything to be forgiven.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @ Mark: So what's important is what's in it for us?

    And...um...dude, where's your scripture? 'Cause the "God's enemies want love and peace" thing seems a bit of a stretch for anyone who's bothered reading the Gospels or Paul.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Christ isn’t for those seeking love, hope, and peace; He is for sinners who want more than anything to be forgiven.

    So what's important is what's in it for us?

    What's important, is what man does with Christ. If you need help finding those who want "love" and "peace" and yet deny who Christ said He was, you're not looking very hard Dave. I'd start with Paul and the gospels, because yes I have "bothered" to actually read them. I mean that literally, did you?

    hint: rich young ruler ring a bell?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I respectfully take exception to the notion that atheists who choose to avoid confrontation with religion are somehow more "authentic." You are certainly entitled to prefer atheists who are agreeably quiet about their differences with you -- sort of "don't-ask-don't-tell" atheists. But I'm not sure why a theist should feel entitled to define what makes atheism "authentic". Suppose I said, "As an atheist, I think that fundamentalist Christians are more authentically Christian." Wouldn't you object that I had no business making such a judgment?

    Atheism signifies disbelief in gods. It does not necessarily signify indifference to the concept of theism. Nor should it, any more than, say, progressive politics implies an indifference to conservative politics. There are certainly atheists who claim to be indifferent to theism, and we can always count on these guys to join the theist side of an argument by declaring "I'm an atheist, but you don't hear me going around advertising it, or saying things that might hurt a theist's feelings." I personally think this usually amounts to a kind of sucking up, a kind of Uncle Tom attitude. We live in a culture dominated by theism, and this has real and ugly consequences for quite a lot of us. Subsequently, there is a growing movement among atheists to come out of the closet and say what we really think, and one of those things is that religion is as worthy of criticism as anything else. Now, this makes some atheists very uncomfortable. They fear a backlash, and they want to make it plain that they, at least, can be an atheist in a way that will that will not cause any inconvenience or embarrassment for the status quo. They want to be liked more than they want to be right. But this does not make them any wiser, or more moral, or more "authentic" in their convictions.

    Still, I understand the impulse to just keep your head down. (Mostly because I usually find arguments with theists to be tedious. Present company excepted.) As an atheist, I find that my engagement with theism is usually proportional to it's conflict with me, or the things I hold dear. Someone who peacefully worships in a personal way? I have no problem with that. As Mr. Jefferson says, "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." I think you would find that most atheists, including the most famous "new" ones -- Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris -- feel similarly. Our objection to theism only becomes noisy as theism impinges on our own well-being and that of the secular institutions that we hold dear. Pockets get picked, legs get broken, and it becomes necessary for us to find the courage to speak up.

    So, finally, I'd say that the linear scale you try to draw between "a-theism" (politely quiet, indifferent disbelief) and "anti-theism" ("a vigorous and normative opposition" etc.) is not as useful or interesting a distinction as the one that already exists between those two words. Hitchens describes himself as an anti-theist, but what he means by that is that he does not merely disbelieve in religion. He's opposed to the vision of the world that it offers. He does not say, "Isn't it pretty to think so." He prefers the universe as it actually is.

    ReplyDelete
  11. And...um...dude, where's your scripture? 'Cause the "God's enemies want love and peace" thing seems a bit of a stretch for anyone who's bothered reading the Gospels or Paul.

    Did you read Browning's comment Dave? It would appear atheist do indeed desire love and peace.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Mark: You still owe me a scripture, eh?

    Browning: Greetings, frater!

    You're right, of course. It would be troubling to define the only legitimate Christians as fundamentalists...yet that is precisely what neoatheism does. It summarily rejects any value in faith, and is particularly dismissive of the mystic/progressive Christian.

    Interesting that you should surface Hitchens. Hitchens is refining the definition in precisely the same way and for the same purpose as I. Neoatheism is, as Hitchens self-describes it, aggressively antitheist. In it's polemic, antitheism admits to no value in faith at all, and relentlessly surfaces only the most negative aspects of every tradition it assails. This is both materially inaccurate and irrational, as irrational as those theists who are unwilling to show tolerance and consideration to folks of the unbelievin' persuasion.

    Part of that is, I recognize, a reaction to the aggressive stance taken by many of my coreligionists, particularly in regard to the rights and perspectives of other traditions. I push back hard against that, too. When any worldview stops viewing what actually is, and starts making binary statements that only exist to subvert or destroy the Other, then it ceases to be ontologically valid. It's true of my faith, but it is also true of your atheism.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Mark - You still owe me a scripture, eh?

    Let me know which ones you think are actually God's words - and I'll do my best.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @ Mark: Nice try. C'mon. Bring it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. As an Atheist, I find the "hell" comments not only condescending, but a prime example of why I despise many of the Christian attitudes and their sneaky presumptions that I am worthy of infinite torture for no other reason than I disagree with them. What tyrants! What pernicious tyrants!

    What would you think of me if I started torturing Christians for being believers?

    Exactly.

    So why should I have any different opinions of you?

    ReplyDelete
  16. @ Fred: Not just tyrants, but pernicious tyrants, eh? My goodness!

    I think, quite frankly, that what I'd think would be rather less relevant than the opinion of the local gendarmes.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @ Fred, you seem to be rather confused over what followers of Christ "believe" - they also deserve eternal hell and Know it, not just you. That's why they have faith in His work, not their own for salvation. Now, if you think you do not deserve hell, well that you will indeed take up with God, and since Jesus is way smarter than I, He says you have a problem; hell, not I or the Christian.

    Furthermore, it is rather self righteous of you to think that people who disagree with you are some how "tyrants", because you would rather rule over them (whether ideological or physically) as well no? I mean, you saying Christians who warn you of eternal hell are getting on your nerves and you wish they would shut up so to speak, no? So why should you "rule" them and also complain of the same thing?

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Mark

    The whole concept of hell is "pernicious," (regardless of whether Christians think themselves equally deserving of it.)

    It's an insane, sadistic revenge fantasy. It was dreamt up by breath-takingly ignorant, delusional people a long time ago, and there is no reason to believe that there's any truth to it. Which is good, because it is a morally reprehensible in the extreme.

    ReplyDelete
  19. It's an insane, sadistic revenge fantasy. It was dreamt up by breath-takingly ignorant, delusional people a long time ago, and there is no reason to believe that there's any truth to it. Which is good, because it is a morally reprehensible in the extreme.

    You appear to have a strong source for morality which is authoritative; may I ask what this source is and how exactly anyone else would know if it is True or False?

    ReplyDelete
  20. @Mark

    All moral questions and answers boil down to the same thing: What should we do to maximize the well-being of sentient beings? This is true even of theist moral claims. E.g., "Everyone should worship Jesus and do as he instructs so that they can go to heaven (and thereby attain maximal well-being)." But anyone can make claims, including claims about what God (or gods) want us to do. So I can turn your question back to you. You have a book. Or perhaps you have had a revelation. There are lots of books, and asylums are full of people claiming to have had revelations. Let's consider your book, or your revelation. "May I ask what this source is and how exactly anyone else would know if it is True or False?"

    When this question is put to you, you could say something like "I just have faith." But there are all kinds of faith in all kinds of different things. So are we treat all moral claims that rely on faith equally? This leads to moral relativism, which is self-refuting. UNLESS you have some means evaluating competing faith claims. The best way to evaluate such moral claims is to consider the whatever evidence there might be that yours, or anyone else's moral claims, actually, objectively, maximalize well-being in sentient creatures.

    So why not just do that? I skip the step of having faith in the moral claims of some authority. My moral sense is not derived from any "authority," because authorities cannot decree what is moral any more then they can decree what 2+2 equals. A dictator can makes laws, but he cannot make morality. Either actions maximalize well-being of sentient creatures or they do not, and the declarations of any authority can either be moral or not depending on how well they manage to do so.

    I try my best to evaluate moral claims by using reason and evidence.

    There's no evidence for the existence of hell. And even if hell existed, it would clearly be a terrible way to maximalize the well-being of sentient beings, since it is, by definition, a way of infinitely maximizing the the suffering of such beings in response to finite crimes.

    When my daughter misbehaves, I would not dream of torturing her forever, or even threatening to do so, because clearly that would be evil. I don't require any authority to tell me this. All I need is a capacity for reason and empathy.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Browning,
    Your first Truth claim which you assume I should agree with and based upon no authority but your own opinion is:
    All moral questions and answers boil down to the same thing: What should we do to maximize the well-being of sentient beings? This is true even of theist moral claims.

    Why would I or anyone care about "theist moral" claims, which are a dime a dozen, and you seem so confident in defining? When did "maximizing" the well being of the created trump the creator?

    Next you ask When this question is put to you, you could say something like "I just have faith."

    Again, you imply "faith" is absent of reason, based upon what evidence?

    Next you ask UNLESS you have some means evaluating competing faith claims... Well, I do sir - an empty tomb, an historical fact, predicted in texts written over more than a 900 year period by more than "one" human author living in completely different parts of the world.

    Would you care to argue against the empty tomb, because as you probably know, both those who hated Jesus and loved Him both agree on this historical fact? Or perhaps you would like to argue against the reliability of the "book" which I argue is nothing less than God's word?

    But before we do any of that, would you tell me why I should have "faith" in your religion that assumes moral "sentient beings" like you and I, came into existence from what? unthinking matter?

    ReplyDelete
  22. @Mark.

    Ancient claims of an empty tomb do not impress me. There are contemporary claims of non-Christian mystics who can raise the dead and levitate in front of hundreds of living eye witnesses. Are you inclined to believe them? Me either. Because eye witness testimony is well known to be unreliable. People lie, exaggerate, are fooled by charlatans, and fool themselves. Written accounts of prophecies and verbal testimonies can be forgeries and fictions. And extraordinary claims, like those of miracles, require far better evidence than this to be believed by anyone but the extremely gullible. As magic tricks go, and "empty tomb" is not even that impressive. David Copperfield once made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

    But let's say it's all true. The man was born of a virgin, could walk on water, and rose from the dead. His magic powers still have exactly zero relevance to questions of his moral authority, because morality is not derived from power. Might does not make right, as they say. We can -- indeed we must -- evaluate the truth of any moral claim by seeking to determine whether it serves improve the well-being of sentient beings.

    You say this is "based upon no authority but your own opinion." Well, it is my opinion. (Just as the idea that the Bible is the word of God is yours.) And you are right that my opinion is not validated by any received "authority," that is, a dictator who decrees it to be correct. But I assert that it is the only rational way to think about morality, regardless of your religion or lack thereof. I defy you to offer any coherent counter-example. Go on. Try. I dare you. Name a moral truth that serves to minimize the well-being of your fellow sentient beings.

    And, no, I would not ask you to have faith in evolution. That's the great thing about science is that not only does it not require faith. Faith is forbidden in science. You must be skeptical. It's the only way to know that you are getting to the truth. And I agree that it is amazing to contemplate that sentient beings such as ourselves could have evolved from unthinking matter. But it is even more amazing because, once you understand how evolution works, it requires no faith in miracles and other superstitions to believe that it could happen. It's actually more amazing than your mythology for being true.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Faith is forbidden in science.

    Yet you have faith in the concept of something from nothing and your not skeptical of that? That's curious.

    Will you follow the scientific evidence no matter where it takes you? How much evidence of design would you need?

    You ask me Go on. Try. I dare you. Name a moral truth that serves to minimize the well-being of your fellow sentient beings.

    Answer is - There is no absolute Truth nor author of it.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Those "mellow atheists" are the really dangerous people. Nobody takes the radical atheists seriously, because they DO obviously have a chip on their shoulder. But these who consider some "things about the teachings of Jesus really cool" are even more evil. They fit in quite well in churches, if they want to hide their real beliefs. They can get people to respect atheism as if it were a valid philosophy, and suck all kinds of people who are put out with churches in to it.

    If they decide to take over a church, they can make it, or even a whole denomination, into a synagogue of Satan, which has no place for the Christ found in the Bible at all, and creates an imaginary Christ which is "really cool" by atheist standards.

    When believers engage them, they have to do it ruthlessly, and point out that atheism simply has no room for the concept of knowledge whatever, since it denies that a final authority exists that serves as a reference point for reality. The believer may be spitting into the wind, since so few people know how to use logic, but the few that do may grasp the issue.

    ReplyDelete
  25. @Mark. I don't have faith in the concept of something from nothing. Rather, I understand that the question "Where does all that exists come from?" is nonsensical. It's a failed attempt by our primate brains to apply our provincial intuitions about space and time to conditions where they are far out of their depth.

    And yes, I will follow the evidence wherever it leads. That's how I got where I am now. Once I fully grasped how evolution worked, it was clear to me that a designer is unnecessary to explain the complexity and diversity of biology. It's becoming more and more clear that the same is true of physics and cosmology. But hypothetically, science could discover evidence of the existence of God at any time. It just never has. And it seems highly unlikely that it ever will. But if it did, I would be a believer. How much evidence would I need? How about any?

    Not sure I understand your answer to my challenge. Are you saying that you consider this statement to be a moral truth? "There is no absolute Truth nor author of it." I would have expected that you would disagree with that statement.

    I'm asking you for a moral statement that you consider to be true that you also think minimizies the well-being of sentient creatures. In other words, it is simultaneously morally just and, if followed, will make things worse overall. Either show me an example, or concede that my definition of morality is not merely my unfounded opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  26. BROWNING: But hypothetically, science could discover evidence of the existence of God at any time.
    ED: This shows the basic misunderstanding of the concept of knowledge itself that leads to atheism, Browning. It reveals that you think of "God" as a contingent being, and not final authority. You cannot have knowledge of anything unless there is some final authority which can serve as a reference point. Atheists simply illogically use themselves as the final reference point, and their prejudiced interpretation of data which they mistake for objective evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  27. @Ed

    So according to you, in order to judge whether or not to believe in God, I must first believe in God. Isn't that conveeeeeeenient.

    And absurd.

    I think you are conflating God with a sense of objective reality. I can believe in the latter without believing in the former, and if you want to convince me otherwise, you are going to have to do a good deal better than this.

    Meanwhile....

    We r in ur cherches satanizing ur d00dz. With r melloness.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Browning states: Rather, I understand that the question "Where does all that exists come from?" is nonsensical.

    Why is it nonsensical? Is that not a Truth claim on your part? and why should anyone believe you, what evidence do you have to support such a Truth claim?

    And yes, I will follow the evidence wherever it leads. That's how I got where I am now.

    What scientific evidence do you have that unthinking matter became think matter (Sentient beings)? btw - can you narrow down your definition of sentient, since it is a philosophical term and means different things to different people?

    it was clear to me that a designer is unnecessary to explain the complexity and diversity of biology.

    Your evidence for something out of nothing, and the origins of life must be rather overwhelming. Obviously, based upon scientific evidence that excludes even a hint of design.

    But hypothetically, science could discover evidence of the existence of God at any time.

    Since when did the evidence of design, evidence discovered by sentient beings, who know nothing doesn't equal something, become excluded?

    Are you sure you are basing your conclusions on science, or reason / logic and not philosophical conclusions - perhaps predetermined? You claim to be an atheist (deny the exist of God) yet without denying your own existence? You don't deny the idea, concept, or even the possibility you exist do you?

    Lastly, you some how have made the Truth claim the Gospels are not reliable, when in fact the historicity and reliability of the scriptures, has enormous academic support, among believers and non-believers. It is after all an Historical "faith" - not forgeries as you boldly claim without a shred of evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  29. @Mark.

    Why is it nonsensical? Well, let me ask you this: Does God exist? Then where did he come from? What is the cause of God? So, you see, I think even if you believe in God, you need to concede that "Where does all that exists come from?" is nonsensical. And once you understand this, you understand that if God does not require a cause, then neither does the cosmos. The set of "all that exists" need not include God, nor require an explanation for it's cause. It just is.

    "What scientific evidence do you have that unthinking matter became [sentient beings]?"

    It's called evolution. There is an overwhelming amount of amazing evidence for it. There is no evidence for special creation whatsoever. (I am using "sentient" in a very conventional manner, meaning "capable of having a subjective, conscious experience.")

    "Your evidence for something out of nothing, and the origins of life must be rather overwhelming. Obviously, based upon scientific evidence that excludes even a hint of design."

    As I said, I don't require evidence for "something out of nothing" because the concept is nonsensical. I might ask you, what is your evidence that there was ever a "nothing" before there was something? Is it merely that it seems to you that there must have been that nothing prior to there being something?

    Once you understand evolution, then the origin of life (abiogenesis) is not so difficult to imagine, though there is little evidence at the moment to explain specifically how it came about. All you really need is a self-replicating molecule under the right conditions, and given the vastness of space and time in this universe alone (which may be one in an even more vast array of parallel universes), there is plenty of opportunity for the right conditions to occur. At any rate, there is zero evidence that God did it. And, yes, the evidence for the complexity and diversity of life that we see around us evolving without a single hint of design is completely overwhelming.

    "Since when did the evidence of design [...] become excluded?"

    Since never. It's not excluded. There just isn't any. Some thing may appear as if they were designed, but all such appearances can be explained much more elegantly by evolution. If there were ever evidence of design that could not be explained by evolution, that would be incredibly interesting. But there isn't any yet. (Keep looking!)

    "You don't deny the idea, concept, or even the possibility you exist do you?"

    Now you are just being silly.

    "Lastly, you some how have made the Truth claim the Gospels are not reliable, when in fact the historicity and reliability of the scriptures, has enormous academic support, among believers and non-believers. It is after all an Historical "faith" - not forgeries as you boldly claim without a shred of evidence."

    You are incorrect. It is well-known among Biblical scholars that the Gospels were not written by their purported authors. Most mainstream scholarship, even among devout Christians, agrees that they were written by anonymous authors sometime in the 2nd Century CE. And they are not only inconsistent with what we know of the history of the era. They are inconsistent with each other.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Once you understand evolution,

    I do - something out of nothing - a miracle. A process that demands non thinking matter, think ahead to what it will need in the future to even exist, so it can build it, all unguided.

    then the origin of life (abiogenesis) is not so difficult to imagine,

    You mean FAITH,

    though there is little evidence at the moment to explain specifically how it came about.

    I wonder why at this point? :)

    All you really need is a self-replicating molecule under the right conditions,

    Again - FAITH.

    and given the vastness of space and time in this universe alone

    A universe that is factually loosing energy only needs more time to have more...matter become thinking matter...humm?


    which may be one in an even more vast array of parallel universes) there is plenty of opportunity for the right conditions to occur.

    Again FAITH in the goddess of Time and Chance. An age old goddess btw.

    At any rate, there is zero evidence that God did it.

    Unless one (an intelligent sentient being) cannot actually recognize design and also deny it at the same time; in the name of Scientific fact, and NOT philosophical limitations or beliefs in the ancient goddesses of Chance and Time?

    And, yes, the evidence for the complexity and diversity of life that we see around us evolving and without a single hint of design is completely overwhelming.

    The scientific evidence for design is in fact overwhelming, not your philosophical conclusions, with all due respect.

    What's the probability of your goddess of "chance" producing just one single random protein cell?

    Scientists, estimate it at 10 to the 190 power. When does the law of improbability come into play with you philosophical worldview of what is True and False?

    Lastly you say

    You are incorrect. It is well-known among Biblical scholars that the Gospels were not written by their purported authors.

    Now "mainstream" equals TRUTH?

    Most mainstream scholarship, even among devout Christians, agrees that they were written by anonymous authors sometime in the 2nd Century CE.

    Browning, now it is you that is being silly.

    ReplyDelete
  31. BROWNING; So according to you, in order to judge whether or not to believe in God, I must first believe in God. Isn't that conveeeeeeenient.

    ED: A final authority must always be presupposed, Browning. It is just more logical to presuppose an external one rather than presupposing that the final authority is oneself like atheists do. I don't think even you would claim that you make two plus two equal four.

    BROWNING: And absurd.

    ED: Not as absurd as presupposing that one is his own final authority, as atheists do. That makes the concept of truth absurd. Nothing can be true for everyone, if we are all our own final authority.

    BROWNING: I think you are conflating God with a sense of objective reality. I can believe in the latter without believing in the former, and if you want to convince me otherwise, you are going to have to do a good deal better than this.

    ED: One can believe the most absurd things, Browning. The issue is, can they be logical? Atheism cannot provide a rational justification for the existence of objective reality. The concept has to be borrowed from the Biblical worldivew.

    BROWNING: Meanwhile.... We r in ur cherches satanizing ur d00dz. With r melloness.

    ED: By the way, you are not my fussy baby who won't eat his carrots. You are responsible to find truth for yourself; I am not responsible to force feed you with it.

    ReplyDelete