Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why I am not an Atheist

While it is true that I was raised in a nominally christian home, I didn't come to faith in God until I was 18 and out of the house. My experience with God was not a rational one- by that I mean I did not philosophize myself to faith- but rather it was a subjective experience with God. While I realize that there are numbers of people who believe in God and haven't had the benefit of a "crisis experience" it does not diminish my own experiences and belief.

I won't bore you with the anecdotal story except to say that I do not hold to a vision of God that is removed and distant but one in which he is personally close and imminant.That he responds, in biblical fashion, to the prayers of those who love him. But surely there are those who haven't experienced my experience. When they (aggressively these days!) try to attack my belief system I give them some of the following reasons why I could never be converted to atheism.

#1 Atheism is unnatural. All men are religious creatures. Cultures all over the planet have gods. There gods might be different than my God, but they represent the inherent nature of man's quest for truth, meaning and significance. This can be seen even in the scientists who argue for a strictly rational view. For instance, in Carl Sagan's anthropomorphisms. (An anthropomorphism is when we speak of an inanimate object as though it carried the character of a human being.) While some paint that as innocent nuance of language- I would argue that this is provoked by the innate personality of the universe. Since all mankind was created with that inborn hunger to know God (though men settle for desperate substitutes) it stands to reason that we were designed that way.

#2 Complexity. I simply do not have the faith necessary to believe that all that is came together without divine direction. I may not speak authoritatively on HOW creation happened but I am convinced that the guiding hand of God was in the mix. To believe otherwise is impossible for me. If I gave you a 36x12X24 inch box and filled it with screws and parts- hundreds of them- how many times would it have to be shaken before they assembled themselves into a DVD player? Similarly the complexity of the human machine is WAY more complicated and Infinitely more advanced than a DVD Player.

#3 Morality. The Atheist has no basis for his morality. That is not to say that I am only moral because I know that I will face an eternal judge someday. What I mean is that the definition of what is right and wrong is woven into the fabric of mankind. And, while the conscience can be seared, most of us know that stealing is wrong, that murder is a crime, that rape is not acceptable behavior, that genocidal killings are a bad idea, etc. The atheist has to find a pragmatic reason to refrain from stealing my bread when he is hungry. He may justify in his mind that I have much and he has none, or that mine is better than his stale crust. But in the long run there is not a compelling reason not to steal my bread. But faith in God implies that I am not to reduce myself to the worth of a loaf of bread. That there exists another avenue of supply- that the universe is not closed but open to various possibilities, among them hard work!, that will provide me with bread.

#4 History. Christians are responsible for building hospitals, for changing the penal system to include reform rather than punishment, mandatory education,for medical research grants,etc. Who are the famous Atheists you know? Marx, Neitzche, Stalin, Hitler, Gengis Khan, Mao? They have left a trail of bloodshed and genocide. (often they proclaimed equality or genuine concern when really they were living luxurious lifestyles) If the argument is that atheists don't have to be bad I probably agree. But that might not make them good, consistant atheists. Who would you rather have running the universe a consistant follower of the teachings of Jesus or a consistant atheist?

#5 Evil. Its existance becomes increasingly undeniable. Evil is the absence of good. Brain chemistry, poor socialization, psychological formation, etc cannot alone explain why some love their neighbor and others rape, murder and bury them in their back yard.

#6 Jesus. The highest and most noble teacher of mankind. His historicity is undeniable (even by the harshest critics) and his influence is even more clearly seen. His followers have sometimes represented him poorly. But writing off Christianity based upon that would be like judging the validity of a brilliant professor's teaching by asking questions of a pot smoking drop out from one of his courses.

So I will attempt to represent (imperfectly to be sure) the God who loved the world enough to send his Son to die for them. And while it would be nice at times not to care about those dying in Peruvian earthquakes, those abusers of children, and those destroying their lives on crack cocaine-I can't simply write it off as natural selection. I have to believe- and therefore- I have to try to make a difference.



1 comment:

Paul M. Harrison said...

When people ask me if I am an atheist, I feel much like when someone asks you if you are a Christian. "Yes, but..." followed by many qualifications of what you are not, hoping to break stereotypes.

It was a couple of years ago by a lake in Arkansas that I had gone to seek God's guidance on a matter and remembered that I had been seeking Him this way for an entire year, only to be met with silence. I literally could not pray anymore. I said, "Lord, I have no idea what You are doing or what You are thinking, but I cannot obsessively exhaust myself another day asking for Your involvement in my life. Every time I have sought Your guidance, protection, or help, I have been met with delusion and disappointment, even upon obeying everything You asked me to do. I have to get on living and making decisions for myself, so I cannot sit here waiting and depending on a supposed mode of revelation that either doesn't work or is only met with silence. You can do whatever you want with me and I invite You to be in my life any way You wish, but I'm just going to get on living by common sense and by what seems right to me."

From that point on, I simply started making common-sense decsions and cutting out anything that wasn't practical to worry about. I realized that I wasn't sure God was or is availavle to us in this life, so practically or existentially, this made me an atheist by default, but gave me tremendous stability and relief.

Philosophically, however, I felt that God in some concept was very probable. I read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and others and for the most part found their arguments callenging, but had no desire to now be part of an atheist movement.

Was I an existentialist of some sort? A mystic? A liberal? An atheist? An agnostic? A free-thinker? A secular humanist? A skeptic? I started to just say, "I'm me, what do you want to know?" Let me move on to your points:

1) I agree, atheism is unnatural. I believe even if religion and belief in God is fantasy and imagination, we could never rid ourselves of it anyway. It is very beneficial to believe in most cases, even if the object of belief is a delusion. But that is exactly where the debate takes place. I find naturalism cold and unimaginitive, I can't exist there, even if it were true.

2) It is possible God is behind design and complexity which can wedge people like Antony Flew out of atheism, but there is still a long way to go to get to the God-man in Galilee.

3) The issue I have with a transcendent source of morals and ehtics that must be revealed from the authority of a Divine Law Giver is first of all having to demonstrate that the revelation is divine and not human to begin with, then secondly, having to argue over what the text means! Slavery, polygamy, etc., and all of the qualifications become endless. The atheist then taps the theist on the shoulder and says, "You are in the same boat we are, having to use rational inquiry, discussion, and argument to come to moral conclusions."

The atheist can get away with more with no divine justice in the afterlife, but Shermer pointed out that it is not in the benefit of the individual to cheat the community because he will more times that not be held accountable to the reputation and laws in his social network. For him, the biological basis of behavior plus accountability to your direct society is objective enough without appealing to the transcendent or God. "Why be moral without God" is a meaningless question to him he says because "morals are not what you do, but who you are." In other words, it it in our genetics to behave at all. This, of course, begs so many more debatable questions.

4) I think Michael Shermer in a debate with Dinesh D'Souza gave a good answer when he said world leaders are not good representatives of any worldview because they are more often than not interested in their power and agendas, using anything they can use to enforce them. Was Hitler a Chrsitian, a Catholic, an atheist, a Darwinist, and occultist? Who knows, he invoked them all. He was a psychopath. Controlling and evil people have put on robes and hats and used religion the same way.

Secular ethics are basically liberationist and are against the totalitarian rule of anyone, whether it be a religion or a secular ideology. You cannot congregate around what you don't believe. "I don't believe in Thor, and this makes me want to build a hospital." It is hard to congregate atheists unless they borrow a religious model and start something like Unitarian Universalism or write up a secular value statement to push for. Most become, as you said, practical atheists who will come to CLC and work the soup kitchen without believing the literal truth of Christianity. Christianity has been highly beneficial to the world, but there are liabilities to every worldview that seems to brng harm as well. I think this is inescapable in any system - religion, politics, or otherwise.

5) Ha! Back to morals and the existence of evil. There are volumes on this so I wont touch it, though I am tempted.

6) If the Gospels reflect Jesus accurately and he is who he claimed to be, this is the best reason not to be an atheist. I have very good reasons for believing and lots of reasonable doubt as well. Being in Christian culture for so many years, I am drawn to him, but can't detect him in my life. I'm always groping after him as if he is not there. So I wonder.

I am not a self-motiviated person so I do more when something outside of me demands it of me. In many ways this is how community carries you on. I am inspired to do good by the simple self-evident fact that it is good!

What I take great peace in now is that I don't look to you or any other Christian pastor friends I have to speak for God or to defend him, or to win me back. I see us all as struggling to make sense of things - Sproul, Geisler, Zacharias, Craig, etc. are all just people trying their best. I put all of this in God's hands and tell Him to do what He see's fit, then find anything good I can in Christianity.

It's the best I have right now.