Anything else you don’t believe in?

Scott Smith —  January 9, 2012 — 36 Comments
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Monday morning chuckle for you.

 

(Clip from “The Soloist”)

No, I don’t believe all atheists are as dopey as this guy is portrayed. It is refreshing to see that Hollywood doesn’t always make the Christian the idiot, though. Steve Lopez (Downey’s real-life character) asks some fantastic questions and makes some great observations here.

Great line:  “Not a lot to talk about.”

This exchange highlights what I consider to be an absurdity of atheism. If you don’t believe in God, fine. I get it. You don’t have to. But why organize around disbelief? Why evangelize against something? I just don’t understand. Do people gather to share their dislike of music or art? Do people have meetings to talk about why they never started smoking?

As Christians, we ought not be hostile. But in honest dialog, it is fair to turn the tables. When belittled for “gathering around our superstition”, it must be asked how gathering around lack of belief is inherently more reasonable or noble.

 

Scott Smith

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Scott Smith is a lifelong Christian and an active member of his church. He enjoys blogging and teaching on Christian theology and defense as well as engaging skeptics in debate regarding Christian truth claims. Scott is a co-founder of Etcetera as well as TC Apologetics, and in his spare time he runs his own 3D design company.
  • Jared Asay

    Yup, atheists definitely have nothing to talk about. Religion affects our daily lives in no way whatsoever. No law has ever been influenced by religious belief. No child has ever been exposed to creationism in a public science class. No one has ever been harmed by religious extremists. Nope, nothing to talk about whatsoever.

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      Hey Jared.

      I never said atheists had nothing to talk about. I’m just making an observation. There are clubs for those who collect antique cars to show theirs off, for people who appreciate nature to take walks, and for those who enjoy wine tasting to … well, taste wine.

      My question is whether it makes sense to have clubs for people who think antique cars are uninteresting, for people who dislike nature, or for people to discuss which wines they like the least.

      In what other avenue do we define ourselves by what we are not?

      (And thanks for reading!)

      • Jared Asay

        You obviously approved of the questions in RDJr’s scene, and quoted the salient point. So it seems dishonest to back away from that question now.

        You seem to be implying that the only good reason to form an interest group is if the members have a positive affinity for something. Why not a negative affinity? It can, and does, produce just as much discussion.

        I can’t really think of another avenue in which we define ourselves by something we are not, but it doesn’t matter. In a world saturated with religious belief, being a non-believer is quite a marked delineation that separates you from the majority of humanity. A hole in a wall is defined by something it’s not (the wall), but it’s still pretty defined, isn’t it?

        • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

          I didn’t say I approved of anything. I just thought it was funny. :)

          What I did was use a funny clip as a jumping off point to make what I think is a fair observation. I have substantiated my position with examples, and all you have done to refute my position is to state a claim. (You’re welcome to do so, of course, but it’s not terribly persuasive.)

          Here’s my confusion – maybe you can help me. :
          Christians believe that the soul is eternal, so it makes sense that they would care about the destination of the souls of others. This is why they evangelize. Forget whether you think Christians are misguided – maybe they are. Can you explain to me why a group (atheists) would evangelize to spread their view that this is all there is?

          • Jared Asay

            The “fairness” of your observation is exactly what I’m disputing, so I’ll restate my claim in the form of a question. 

            Is it your claim that interest groups are only valid if they have a positive affinity for a particular subject? 

            If so, then you need to provide better support for this claim then a film clip starring a straw-man atheist being grilled by a smug reporter asking, in your words, “fantastic questions” such as “Do you non-gather?” Really, Scott?

             If not, then it’s palpably UNfair to criticize a group for sharing a negative affinity for a topic, especially in light of the fact that we both know the topic of atheism can and does produce an abundance of discussion and mutual support, and I doubt I need to back that up with examples.

            The way I see it is very simple. Can a topic bring people together for discussion and mutual support? If so, then it does indeed make sense. What does it matter if it’s positive or negative?

            To answer your last question, if you want call it evangelizing, that’s fine, but I think the reasons for pointing out the dangers of religious belief is self explanatory.

            BTW, I love that tag cloud on your sidebar, where did you get that?

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            I’m in no position to say a group is or is not valid.

            Here’s my confusion…
            Christians are united by a specific set of ideals. There are core Christian doctrines that define the faith, and peripheral doctrines that we dispute. When we gather, it is for the purpose of worshiping God and coming to a better understanding of these doctrines.

            If atheists gather *solely* united by the fact that they discard all the doctrines I mentioned above – what is the point? Do they discuss how silly the notion of the Trinity is? Do they hash over the silliness of the resurrection? It seems to me that would get old pretty quickly.

            I’m not sure how to counter your claim when you still have not given me any examples. Do people have associate because they share a mutual disgust for the Broncos, or because they root for a particular team? There are countless examples to my point, but I still don’t see any for yours. Can you show me some cases that back up your position?

            **

            I don’t think that the reasons for evangelizing atheism are at all self-explanatory – that’s why I keep asking. :)
            (BTW, I’ve never received a logical answer for this that makes sense given the atheistic worldview. Maybe you can be the first!)

            **

            The plugin is called WP-Cumulus. Check it out here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-cumulus/

          • Jared Asay

            The disbelief in god and the rejection of religion unites people and provides a huge variety of discussion and support. Some people might be the black sheep of their family/community or even outright disowned and are seeking solace and encouragement. Others might be united politically in support of the separation of church/state or against creationism being forced into public science classes. And yes, there are mountains of Biblical (or other religious texts/apologetics) topics to learn about and scrutinize – we atheists do like to keep our arguments sharp. There are atheist parenting groups where parents can give tips on protecting children from the daily onslaught of dogma they might perceive coming from the outside world. Other atheist groups wish to make charitable contributions to secular organizations wanting to do good work that is free of proselytizing. Or some people might just be looking for friendship from like-minded persons.

            Atheism is an umbrella topic over which there is no shortage of potential connections between human beings.

            Christians gather around the ideals you discussed, and whether they are correct about them doesn’t invalidate their desire to congregate. They see their beliefs as being of ultimate importance and that’s enough to connect with fellow believers. Likewise, many atheists believe religion does more harm than good, and whether they are correct in this doesn’t matter, they feel it’s highly important to educate themselves and others on the dangers of faith, and that alone is a perfectly reasonable excuse to create a community.

            OK, my blog uses the google blogger platform. The author of that widget has an explanation of how to make it work for platforms other than wordpress, but it’s too complicated. As soon as I started reading the instructions my eyes glazed over and blood shot out of my nose 😉

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            I’m going to bump this out to a new topic. Disqus’ threading is cramping my style…

          • Jared Asay

            Also, I’m a Steelers fan, so mentioning the Broncos is a low blow 😉

  • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

    Ok…  continuing with Jared, but starting over with full width.

    Can people gather for any and every purpose? Sure. Why not. Who am I to limit anyone’s right to gab. My question was do they. You gave a long list of “mights”, and you might be right. Maybe those sorts of things exist somewhere. I’ve simply never heard of them.

    Your examples are all groups gathering around a topic with atheism added beneath the surface. This is not what the clip showed. The clip reflected people united solely by disbelief. The antithesis of church. Gathering to sing to no-God, to learn about no-God, and to worship no-God. You’re telling me that doesn’t strike you as a bit silly?

    I didn’t see any answer to my question about what aspect of the atheistic worldview would support evangelization.

    Sorry about your aneurism! I was on blogger for a while. I highly recommend the switch to WP. Lots more flexibility.

    • Jared Asay

      I wouldn’t base your arguments off a Hollywood movie’s comedic depictions of your opponents.

      Yes, the common thread among us is disbelief, but a wealth of conversation and community flows from this. You seem only to want to limit your criticism to a straw-man group of people who sit around saying, “There’s no god.” and “Yep.” and nothing else.  There’s so much more than this ridiculous, cookie-cutter depiction of atheists.

      What aspect of the atheist worldview would support evangelization? There’s a lot to unpack here, the first being the concept of an atheistic “worldview”. If  you meet an atheist for the first time, the only thing you know about him is his/her lack of a belief in god, and that’s it. He/she could be liberal, conservative, libertarian, or even religious (Buddhist or New Age atheists). This is yet another reason we atheists have so much to discuss when we meet – we come in a variety of flavors. Then there’s the concept of evangelization. What you call evangelization, I would probably just describe as public criticism of religion and/or faith. Support for this criticism, like I said before, comes from the belief that religion and faith are harmful to society at worst and at best simply irrelevant or unnecessary. 

      The cartoon atheists you are criticizing in this post simply don’t exist.

      • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

        I’m more than happy to set aside the meeting issue. It still seems like an odd premise to me, but maybe I’m the odd one out.

        Let’s follow up on the worldview thing though. I accept your qualification that there are many flavors of atheists. Same goes for Christians. No disagreement here. When I refer to a worldview in this sense, it is a very basic notion. I simply mean that if a person does or does not believe in God, that belief will have consequences in many issues of their life. Fair enough?

        • Jared Asay

          Of course.

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            Ok. Good. In that case, we have two options in view – theism and atheism. Theism says there is a being bigger than us and that we will live forever. Atheism say that there is no such being and that our existence is restricted to our physical lives. We still on the same page?

  • Jared Asay

    Bump. Yep, still on the same page.

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      (Sorry – long day!)

      Good. We’re still together. For the sake of simplicity, in this discussion, evangelization simply means sharing your message with a disbelieving world in an attempt to sway them to believe as you do. This definition should work nicely for both sides. Agree?

      • Jared Asay

        Sounds good to me. Response forthcoming (probably tomorrow)

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      **THEISM**

      (1a) The theist believes that since there is a being bigger than us, it follows that he is the ultimate moral authority and we all (theist and atheist alike) will have to answer to him one day.

      (1b) The theist also believes that since we are immortal, our consequences (positive and/or negative) for actions in our physical lives are eternal.

      (1c) Therefore, the theist has the motivation to tell others about their impending doom that is entirely avoidable. (Not to mention the Christian theist has a mandate to do so.)

      **ATHEISM**

      (2a) The atheist believe that there is no being greater than us. Therefore, there is no ultimate moral authority and none of us will have to answer to a greater being for our actions.

      (2b) The atheist also believes that we are not immortal. It then follows that our consequences (positive and/or negative) for actions in our physical lives will end at our death.

      (1c) Therefore, the atheist’s only information to share is their view of the truth. Their only motivation to tell others will be an arbitrary decision because there is no ultimate moral authority. Those they evangelize will be free of all consequence when they die whether they accept atheism or not, so the message, if accepted, will accomplish nothing more than a temporal change of opinion on the subject.

      **CONCLUSION**

      Whether they are right or wrong, theists have logical reasons to evangelize that are rooted within their worldview.

      Atheists, even if they are correct on the issue, have no logical reasons to evangelize others to join them that are similarly rooted in their worldview.

      Certainly both sides may, and do. Atheists just have no logical grounding to do so.

      • Anonymous

        I’m a Christian, a Christ-follower. And I like to approach things with a clear mind and a focused mind. And with honesty. I think most, if not all, of my atheist friends would take exception with your statement 2b, as stated. I believe what you’re trying to say is that they won’t have to answer for themselves in eternity. Or do you believe that they think when they die their bad decisions go away? That’s how it reads, anyway. I think, the way your statement reads, that most atheists would disagree with you: they could get someone sick, pregnant, put their family in debt … and all of these things would have lasting consequences.

        Christians don’t think things through thoroughly and logically when they make public statements. They often say things that might make sense in the Christian community but sound insane to others. We need to be careful how we say things so that they are clearly understood to those on the “outside.” When we don’t we make ourselves targets, not because of our faith but because of our ignorance. I’ll wear a target for Jesus any day, but I prefer to avoid wearing one for stupidity. I’m not accusing you of stupidity or ignorance, mind, but pointing out that some folks could read this and make some strong arguments against it, so more clarity here would be good. I was going to share this with others, but for that point.

        • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

          Yikes! It sure sounded like you were calling me stupid and accusing me of not having thought this through. I actually have, and was quite careful with my wording, but I’ll take your word for it. 😉

          You’re misunderstanding 2b. The point is *their* consequences go away. Certainly other people may be impacted, but that is of no consequence to the one who caused it because they are gone by then. Or briefly, they don’t need to be concerned with eternity. That’s all.

          Does that help clear it up?

          (In case you weren’t aware, you’re commenting on a long conversation between me and Jared. A lot of groundwork was laid in prior comments that may help you understand the context.)

      • Jared Asay

        Implicit in your argument is the assumption that a human being’s desert is only valid after death, and it is, in my opinion, the subject of one of atheism’s greatest criticisms of theism in general. Theism emphasizes the importance of a life whose existence it can’t verify over the one life we at least know we have to live. Our desert should only be realized during this life.

        Yes, to us, everything ends after we die, but the fact remains that we have obligations and consequences in the current life while we are still living it. Our motivation for “evangelization” is therefore to get theists to stop wasting time and energy and harming society by being preoccupied with an evidence-less afterlife and to instead concentrate on living the one life we’ve got.

        • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

          Ok, but on atheism, why would you care about other people frittering their life away? By your definition, wouldn’t your time be better spent living your life than attempting to reason with those you see as weak-minded?

          Here’s my question: what basic tenet of *atheism* (not your personal opinions) compels you to ‘evangelize’?

          • Jared Asay

            Actually, if religion would leave the rest of society alone and not impose itself on anyone other than its own adherents, I really wouldn’t care all that much. But religion isn’t content to live and let live.

            So my “evangelism” doesn’t come from my atheism, it comes from my desire for a secular society.

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            But religion does nothing. Beliefs are not capable of actions.  So, you are saying that you want to be able to spread secularism but that others should not be able to spread any religion. That hardly seems fair.

            How is it that religion is imposing itself on you? And why ought you be able to impose your secularism on others? Can’t you live and let live?

  • Chanda

    So clear to me why atheists want to “convert” others– because of the poor witness that many “Christians” are.  They probably think, “The fewer Christians the better.”  Simple. 

  • Jared Asay

    Bump.

    “But religion does nothing. Beliefs are not capable of actions. ”
    But beliefs are capable of influencing and being the impetus of actions. 

    “So, you are saying that you want to be able to spread secularism but that others should not be able to spread any religion. That hardly seems fair.”
    I’m not sure you understand the concept of secularism. It simply means the state does not get involved in religious affairs.  And don’t confuse evangelism, with which I have no problem, with state-sponsored religion, examples of which I have gone over several times (creationism in public schools, 10 Commandments in a public facility, etc).

    Secularism is fair to all religions and non-religion, because it doesn’t condone nor condemn any specific creed. It simply remains neutral in religious matters. When you hear religious leaders complain or criticize secularism, it is without fail because they desire their specific religion to be propped up with state power above all others.

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      Choked out by Disqus yet again!

      I didn’t realize you were commenting on the public policy aspect. Thanks for clarifying. Actually, I think we’re not too far apart on this issue. I can certainly see the dangers inherent in a government adopting the beliefs of a specific religion.

      I appreciate the clarification on evangelism too. I’m glad to hear it.

      However, I don’t think the concept of secularism is possible in practice. Beliefs have consequences. Try and follow this hypothetical if you would…

      (1) If God exists, objective moral values exist.
      (2) Nations have a vested interest in upholding moral values
      (3) Nations have a vested interest in observing God’s law (based on 1 & 3)

      If my premises are true, then the conclusion is unavoidable. Would you agree?

      Naturally, I expect you to reject #1. My point is that *if* #1 is correct, then not only is secularism a bad idea, but we are required to reject it. Would you agree?

      • Jared Asay

        I reject #1, but not in the way you might think. Of course I don’t think god exists, but I can accept that premise for argument’s sake. What I reject is the assumption that the morals that come from this god are objective.

        That’s neither here nor there. For now, I accept the entire argument and the conclusion. I actually find it quite a compelling argument for why religion is so dangerous to society. Every religion, according to itself, is the one true religion; and every religion, by virtue of being in possession of this ultimate truth, has everything to lose if it turns out to be wrong. Having everything at stake means that no religion can be content to leave non-believers alone.

        What remains curious to me is your position on secularism. You’ve agreed with me on the inherent dangers of not keeping a governing body secular, and yet your own syllogism requires you to reject secularism. What now? Are you openly embracing theocracy? Or will you admit to what society has slowly realized over the last few centuries: that religious moderation is required for a more free and peaceful society – and what is religious moderation if not a combination of secular reasoning and ignorance/rejection of scriptural absolutism?

        • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

          I guess the point I am trying to make is that while laws aligned with an arbitrary religion absolutely will be problematic, if there is a God, and if we align our laws with morality, and said morality is rooted in him, we are in effect aligning our laws with God.

          If there is a God, our best attempts at secularism will ultimately end up pointing toward him. After all, we’re searching for truth, right? If that truth ends up leading us toward God, a rigid secularism will be difficult to justify.

          • Jared Asay

            Gmail put the reply notification right into my bulk box, so I didn’t see that you responded until just now.

            Until Christians or the members of any other religion actually put forth definitive proof of their deity of choice, or until said deity reveals him/herself so as to leave no room for any reasonable doubt, then every religion, including Christianity, is arbitrary. So when Christians seek to align society’s laws with the morality of God, we first have to ask “Ok, which god? There are literally thousands to choose from, and they all have varying opinions on what is actually moral.” , and the onus is then put upon Christians to prove the existence and desires of their particular deity – to prove their religion isn’t as arbitrary as every other religion that has come and gone since the birth of man.

            The problem? Nobody thinks their religion is just as arbitrary as everyone else’s. And no two gods make the exact same demands of their adherents, therefore we have inescapable conflict. This is why the solution is secularism – it recognizes something that every human can agree upon, no matter what religion they subscribe to, and that is: we all have, at the very least, one life to live, and this is that life. Therefore choosing to enshrine the precepts of any one religion into law would encroach upon the religious liberties of all the others during their lifetimes.

            I don’t buy the warm and fuzzy liberal theism which says that all religions are paths leading to the same god. The Christian god has a specific set of demands that inexorably conflict with the Muslim god who has a specific set of demands that inexorably conflict with the Hindu god(s) and so on, etc. Anyone that espouses this theistic relativism simply haven’t read the relevant holy book(s) or are outright ignoring them. A society that values liberty simply won’t adhere to any demand that is specific to a particular religion. And this is why if one of the religions is right, then our best attempts at secularism will not lead towards that particular deity.

            Secularism, even in its most basic form, requires the moderation of one’s religious beliefs – your syllogism confirms this. So the question remains: are you in favor of secularism or theocracy?

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            If secularism ignores religious influence and theocracy is divine guidance, then this is a false dilemma. The alternative that I prefer is that we elect people who we believe have solid moral values and charge them with making decisions that follow from those values. Frankly, as long as their values are moral and their decisions are just, I’m not concerned with their stated religion or irreligion.

            (Though it seems we have strayed rather far afield from my original topic. :P)

          • Jared Asay

            I’m not sure I follow you. You say secularism ignores religious influence – a mostly satisfactory definition – and theocracy is divine guidance – in other words, it is religious influence. This means they are completely incompatible. Choosing to follow one precludes the other, automatically and entirely. Hence the dilemma. 

            The alternative you describe is too fuzzily defined, because I certainly prefer a candidate of that description as well, but you and I have obvious differences in what we value.

            Think of any uniquely Christian or religious precept of moral stance (on gay marriage, working on the Sabbath, contraception, abortion, creationism in schools, etc). If you’re in favor of and accordingly vote for putting government support behind any of these positions because of religious reasons, then you have theocratic tendencies.

            On the other hand. 

            You can still agree with what your religion says about these matters and dutifully follow them personally, but if you’re a principled secularist, you would still put your vote in favor of letting each individual member of our pluralistic society follow the dictates of their own conscience. 

  • http://www.emenac.com/outsourcing/call_centre_service/order_taking/ Order Taking Service

    Every person has their own believes and we do not have any right to say any thing about it.

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      What about the belief that I am entitled to your income? Or the pedophiles belief that children exist for their pleasure? Don’t you think that the consequences of many beliefs actually require that we say something about it?

  • http://twitter.com/joesw0rld Joe’s World.

    The thing about atheists is that they believe it’s better to be honest rather than pretending the universe is other than it appears.

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      Are you suggesting that Christianity teaches otherwise?