Atheism: Much to do about nothing

Paul Derengowski, ThM

 

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”—Richard Dawkins. 1

Militant atheism within the past few years has been on the rise.  With the likes of Richard Dawkins—who is easily the most visible and most raucous of the militant atheist crowd—Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, et al, leading the way, atheists and atheism appear to be gaining public respect in ways that in times past would have been ignored.  Contributing to the atheist popularity is an increasingly secularized mindset spurred on by postmodern philosophy being taught in nearly every university and college, and it is no surprise that the vitriol like that seen above in Dawkins’ statement is revving to a fever pitch.

But, aside from the bravado of the atheist, is he really saying anything new that has not been said in the past?  Or is it that with the advent of the Internet, coupled with a hostile liberal media, that he’s simply being heard by more people?  For surely rejection of God’s existence is nothing new at all.  King David asserted the foolishness of failing to believe in God in his day when he wrote, “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.'”

In today’s society, though, the arguments of the atheists seem to be broken down into at least three representative groups: the non-theist, the religious atheist, and the practical atheist.


The Non-Theist

The non-theist is a mere shade in difference from the brazen atheist from the days of Madalyn Murray O’Haire and Carl Sagan.  It is not that the non-theist rejects God’s existence, for he does, but with a slight twist in sophistication, the non-theist seems to base his rejection more on moral argumentation than simply for ontological or empirical reasons.  Moreover, that rejection is targeted more specifically at Christian theism than any other theistic systems of thought.  Oh, it’s not that the non-theistic has no disdain for religion in general, but if one takes the time to cull through the burgeoning cadre of published text put out by atheistic entities in the past five years, one sees that most of the hostilities are directed at the God of Christianity.  Well-known author and debater Christopher Hitchens made his non-theistic, anti-Christian sentiments clear when he wrote, “I now know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism.” 2  Later on Sam Harris wrote his book Letter to a Christian Nation for the same targeted reason by asserting, “I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.” 3

Yet, why has the non-theist finally exposed his real motive for not believing in God, which is moral in nature, rather than empirical.  There are at least two reasons.  One, the philosophical arguments for God’s existence now outweighs those which rely solely upon empirical arguments in an attempt to denounce him.  Plus, with the advent of scientific discovery, particularly that which is aligned with the fine tuning of the universe, the atheist can no longer sit back and rely on his five senses as the means to “prove” that God does not exist.

A second reason why the non-theist has rethought his strategy is because of the decline in moral-ethical behavior in human society.  Postmodern thought, stemming from the Deconstruction philosophy taught by men such as Jacque Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty, has led to the development of a relativistic attitude toward right and wrong, truth and error, and black and white when it comes to morals.  And part of the moral decline of humanity has led to the acceptance of an outward, brazen, in-your-face attack upon God.  It is what is fueling the motives of many atheist groups to buy billboard space and bus advertisements to advertise their crass messages.  So, what we have is a turning from the old intellectual argument for God’s non-existence to an immorally emotional argument.

The Religious Atheist

Any religious system that does not promote the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and is ultimately rooted in the revelation of Jesus Christ, as the final expression of the one true God (Heb. 1:1-3), promotes religious atheism.  Religious atheism is distinctly different from the non-atheism previously discussed in the sense that the religious atheist either actively or nominally promotes a belief in God, but that “God” is a non-existent counterfeit.  It is it type of belief about God that one finds in all Christian cults and non-Christian world religions.

For example, Mormons sometimes refer to a character by the name of “Heavenly Father” in their discussions.  But, Heavenly Father cannot exist.  Why?  Because the Heavenly Father of Mormonism is a contingent being that is intimately related to a succession of gods and goddesses that extend infinitely back into history leading to no one.  There is no first god in the contingent line that Heavenly Father belongs to.  Hence, he cannot exist either.

Or, speak to any number of Buddhists, and one is likely to garner an array of beliefs about a god, none of which compare favorable.  In fact, by-and-large Buddhism is an atheistic religion, with the ultimate goal in life being to cease the life-and-death cycle and be absorbed into a non-personal nirvana.  Hence, Buddhism is religious, yet atheistic in its theological orientation.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of religious atheist groups and organizations in existence, all of which promote some kind of “spirituality” or recognition of a god or goddesses for the adherents to follow.  Nevertheless, when those systems are more fully examined as to their theological claims, none of them advocate a god that actually exists.  They are all idols, created in the human image, and ultimately provide nothing to alleviate the human condition.

The Practical Atheist

Practical atheism is a philosophical way of living which outwardly demonstrates God’s non-existence stemming from an inward decision to disobey God’s commands.  The implication is that the practical atheist knows God and his expectations, whether the person is a Christian or at least familiar with Christian principles.  Typically when the practical atheist acts he does so by using a relativistic thought process which attempts to rationalize away anything he might know about God.  That way the practical atheist can find some of moral justification for his actions, even when things do not go according to plan.  And if the decision does happen to go awry, then he may use God as an excuse for his immorality.

The practical atheist, though, is often used by the non-theist as an object to prove his thesis that God does not exist.  Frequently one sees in the writings of Hitchens and Dawkins allusions to the Crusades, Inquisition, or priest fondling children as examples of hypocrisy in believing that a true, loving God would be behind such behavior.  What they are actually pointing at are examples of practical atheism.  Granted, much of what the non-theist is using to support his claims is stilted, but in many ways Hitchens and Dawkins do have a valid point.  One cannot live the life of a practical atheist and not expect that the non-believing world is not watching, and will ultimately use the poor results of a compromised life to either discredit the practical atheist or the God he says exists.

CONCLUSION

Atheism comes in many varieties of expression.  While most people recently have seen the outwardly braggadocio demonstrations of a militant atheism, that has no problem with shoving its ideas in the public’s face, atheism itself is actually more prevalent in false religion and the compromised lives of Christians. Whatever the expression, though, it is God-dishonoring.

The encouraging aspect behind the rise of non-theism is that the exposure itself can only serve to backfire on atheism proper.  Not only are the atheist arguments being challenged successfully, each time the atheist gets up to debate or writes another diatribe against God, he bears the vacuity and hopeless of his soul for the world to see.  Of course, given the gradual breakdown of society, there are going to be those who see the Dawkins’, Hitchens’, and Harris’ as some kind of saviors of humanity, and the crowds may appear overwhelming in favor of their nihilistic messages.

But, just because the crowds are large, and the emotions are running high, does not mean that the assertions are novel or true.  Unbelievers have been around for a long time; God says that they’re foolish for believing the way they do; and ultimately when the atheist has to keep changing his tact, given that he will not follow the evidence where it leads, then that is clear evidence in itself of just how vain it is to cling to such a notion as belief in oneself as a god, rather than God himself.  Moreover, it is a clear indication that the atheist’s argument against God is not an evidential argument, but a moral one; a moral argument he will also lose, since he has no firm basis upon which rest that argument either.

Notes:

  1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.
  2. Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007), 11.
  3. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Vintage, 2008), ix.