It’s summer, July actually, the months are flying by.

It is very strange to think that I will have no real “transition” in September.  No school.  Granted, I have experienced this once before, but at that time, it really didn’t hit me like it’s doing now.  For me, the seasons have now become differentiated around temperature, not school.  In other words, my “summer” will last as long as the temperature stays above 60 degrees.  It’s a nice thought.  I’m hoping for summer to stick around at least through October, but I live in the Midwest, so here’s wishing.

So back to summer.  It’s definitely wedding season.  I have attended three weddings so far this summer, and I have stood in all three, all as a groomsman.  I have thoroughly enjoyed that role, mainly because you don’t really have to do anything except look nice.  To a modest degree, that I can handle.

A friend once told me that groomsman are third-class wedding material; they are accessories.  Groomsman are accessories to the bridesmaids, who are in turn accessories to the bride.  In rank of order, that makes us number three.  I’ve always wondered where the groom fits in.

I would consider myself to have six close friends.  I suppose you can call them “best friends”, but that is a messy term, and more apt for playground politics.  This number does not include siblings or mentors, but simply peers of my gender with whom I have been blessed with good, long-lasting friendship.  To make an extensive story manageable, five out of the six have been married in the past eight months, all to beautiful, Godly women.  I was able to celebrate with most of them, and as previously noted, I stood in three of the weddings, which was truly an honor.

 Marriages are a wonderful thing, and the more I experience them, the more I grow to revere the institution.  I find it wonderful and fitting that God Himself preformed the first marriage by giving Eve away to Adam.  I find it even more honoring that the apostle Paul give marriage the amazing office of representation for Christ’s relationship to the church.

Marriage has form and function.  The form of marriage is Christ-centered love.  The function of marriage is to live out the aforementioned truth as living witnesses of Christ.

Marriages are as missional as they are Christ-centered.  The mission of marriage is to radiate the love of Christ and the church through the radiation of love, compassion, grace, etc. towards each other.  This is an extremely powerful testimony, especially in an age where marriage is so strongly thwarted, namely, “one man to one woman for life.”  Now, I do not say this to say that Christian marriages are always perfect, for on this side of heaven, the only thing that was ever perfect was the person Jesus Christ.  This is why the charge of marriage, and the vows taken, must be ever so severe.  “Until death do us part” does not bring to mind a garden, but a battlefield.  Marriage brings struggle.  There will be temptation (Christ was tempted), heartache (Christ was rejected), tears (Christ wept), and pain (Christ was crucified).  But through all of this, we may still be of good cheer, knowing that He who holds marriage together has overcome these things, and has risen to glory, interceding to the Father for us.  He knows our struggles, and is able to grant us rest, both in His work on the cross and His words of life.  Therefore, in all these things, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, not angles nor rules, nor things present not things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

But there is something else, another function of marriage, and we see this function in the very inception of the institution.

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone…”

To understand the weight of this statement, one must first understand the intimate love already found in the Godhead, the Trinity, before creation ever came into being.  It is a common misunderstanding to state that God created humanity so that He had someone to love.  Yet common as it is, it is also an extremely damaging statement, for it robs us of the truth of the nature of God, and it does so at the very inception, therefore polluting all that is to follow.  The truth of the matter is that God was already experiencing perfect love in Himself before the world began.  The reason He created was not so He could love, but that He may be glorified, with the utmost expression of this being his saving work of Christ on the cross.  Now, I am not saying that God didn’t intend to act in love with His creation, for to say this would be utterly false.  All I am saying is that it was not God’s impetus in creation.  His impetus was glorification, the means to this impetus was the grace and love shown to us, his children, and expediated through the working of His Son on the cross.

Therefore, we understand the existing love found in the Godhead, and now we find Adam.  The natural question to arise would be, “Would not direct communion with God be enough to suffice that which was lacking in Adam’s state?”  This question presents some misleading assumptions, namely, if the answer is “no” then God is lacking something in His perfection, but if the answer is “yes”, they why create Eve?  To understand this apparent dilemma, we must understand two things.  First, God created man as a social being, and secondly, a being most directly relates to their own kind.

To highlight the first point, Biblical commentator Matthew Henry writes, “Perfect solitude would turn a paradise into a desert, and a palace into a dungeon.”  Therefore, no matter how perfect Adam’s surroundings, the longing of his heart was for companionship.  But again the question is asked, “Was not communion with God enough?”  Here we must understand the second point, and an act of pitied grace from God on Adam.  It is made painfully obvious that Adam could not find a suitable helpmate among the animal kingdom, and this I believe points to the fact that man most directly relates to their own kind.  God communed with Adam, but He was also God, something Adam could never fully relate to.  It is a beautiful picture when God presents Eve to Adam and Adam states, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”  God had given Adam a counterpart, God had given Adam a helpmate, God had given Adam a wife.

However, perhaps there is something deeper happening here, something spiritual, something pointing to Christ.  I think there is.  As Adam yearned for a counterpart, someone after his own kind, we see that God brought Eve to him in marriage, but we also see a deep foreshadowing of another yearning, namely, a communion with God on Adam’s level, a communion with someone of his own kind, communion on a human level.  And so the astounding picture becomes clear- Adam was yearning for Christ!  Christ, who was 100% God and 100% man!  The perfect intercessor for perfect communion!  This beautiful mystery becomes all the more clear as we once again return to the parable that marriage is telling, namely, the relationship of Christ to the church!  As the first marriage was instituted in Adam, so also was the final marriage looked forward to!  And so, in marriage, we are not only charged to love one another as Christ loved the church, but we are also charged to never lose sight of the story that marriage is telling, namely, that we have a Beloved who is pursuing our hearts relentlessly, and who eagerly looks forward to His bride, the church, as we are presented to Him, in glory, at the marriage supper of the Lamb!

And so, the final charge:  LIVE THE PARABLE!

To close, I chose a passage of Scripture from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

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Why do you claim that atheism is a bankrupt system of thought?

 

Because ultimately, the tenets atheism has to offer are hopelessness, meaninglessness, and according to Sartre (an atheist himself), suicide.  Sartre was “likewise struck by the possibility of suicide as an assertion of authentic human will in the face of absurdity. Suicide is, according to Sartre, an opportunity to stake out our understanding of our essence as individuals in a godless world.  For the existentialists, suicide was not a choice shaped mainly by moral considerations but by concerns about the individual as the sole source of meaning in a meaningless universe.” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/) To even the playing field, according to Camus, another atheist, although life is meaningless, suicide may not necessarily the best alternative, for “suicide…tempts us with the promise of an illusory freedom from the absurdity of our existence, but is in the end an abdication of our responsibility to confront or embrace that absurdity head on.” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/) I would, however, contend with Camus and agree with Sartre.  In a meaningless world, filled with all sorts of evils, suicide is definitely a viable option.  It is not the only option, and some people will contend that it is not the best option (as Camus points out), but it would be untrue to atheist worldview to state that it is not a viable option.

 

So you’re saying that atheism can’t be true because the implications of it make you feel bad and Christianity must be true because it makes you feel good?  Is that your argument?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with your position.  Obviously eternal bliss with a loving god would be preferable to a short mortal life followed by oblivion.  I would choose the former myself if I could pick how reality was.  How could anyone possibly choose atheism when faced with such a choice?  That’s exactly the problem though, we don’t get to choose what we want reality to be.  Reality is what it is, regardless of our feelings.  No matter how depressed the idea of a natural universe with no god and no afterlife makes you, it does not make it untrue.  No matter how happy you feel when you think about god and heaven, that does not make them real.  I am a non-believer not by choice, but because it is the only intellectually honest position to take in a universe with no evidence of any gods.

 

Now, as for the hopelessness you see in atheism, I fully disagree with you.  You mention some atheist philosophers who say that there is no hope in atheism and you might as well kill yourself.  How is it then that there are so many happy atheists out there, myself included, who have hope and who don’t want to kill themselves?  How can we exist when a philosopher has determined that we can’t be happy atheists?  It’s because a.) we don’t really care what a philosopher thinks we should be feeling, and b.) we find our meaning within life, not without or after.  I find meaning and hope in my life when I see my beautiful baby daughter’s smile, when I finish a project at work, when I eat a good meal, when I learn something new, etc.  I don’t need the help of an invisible god nor do I need promises of an illusory heaven to find hope and happiness in life.  Sure, I won’t get to live forever and I don’t have an invisible pal in the sky, but that’s just how things are and how they always have been.  There’s no use getting sad about it.  Take lemons and make lemonade, my friend!

 

Sure, suicide is always an option for people of any religious persuasion, or lack thereof, who have reached a point where they feel life is not worth living.  Christians kill themselves too you know, despite that wonderful grace thing that’s supposed to make everything perfect.

In response to your comments on suicide, let me first clarify, and then comment.  As clarification, I never stated that atheism was untrue based on it’s implications, I simply stated that, due to it’s implications, it is a bankrupt system, aka it has nothing to offer were true meaning is concerned.  Now to comment, I am exceedingly happy that you find meaning and hope in (as you put it) your family.  This is good, and I applaud you and encourage you to continue to raise your beautiful daughters as a loving and devoted father.  However, here’s the issue at hand: you have every capability to, as a human being, live a life with these aspects of “meaning”, but your worldview provides no basis or grounds for this meaning.  You either have to borrow tenets from other worldviews, or create tenets from nothing, to accomplish this.  In the one case, you are no longer a true atheist, in the other case, you are being self-deceptive.  I would not so rashly dismiss the conclusions that your fellow atheists have arrived at, for they are the ones who are living your worldview to it’s true, logical ends.  For points of reference, read Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus for a start.

 

How does one quantify “true” meaning?  Who decides what’s a true meaning and what’s a false meaning?  Do the practical things in which I find meaning not count as true meaning?  Meaning is a subjective opinion, which means that nobody is in any position to tell me that my meaning is false.  Anyone who cares to is welcome to give their opinion on what I find meaningful, but no one else’s opinion is any more valid than mine.

 

It is also important to note that offers of meaning have no bearing on the actual truth of a given worldview.  An atheistic reality could be utterly devoid of any and all meaning and still be true.  Reality does not owe us any meaning.  When picking my worldview I am concerned above all about what is true, not what makes me a better-sounding offer.

 

When you say that atheism provides no basis or grounds for meaning, you’re both right and wrong in that statement. Yes, atheism doesn’t provide grounds in itself for meaning.  This is because there’s not much to atheism, it’s just a lack of belief in all gods.  Atheism doesn’t provide a goal to shoot for like heaven in Christianity.  However, you’re wrong that there is nowhere to get meaning as an atheist.  I don’t have to derive my meaning from my position on religion.  As I have said before, I draw meaning from my life, my experiences and my relationships with other humans.  No god or afterlife is required for finding meaning here and now.

 

In reference to those philosophers you mentioned, they certainly have some interesting ideas, many of which I would probably agree with, but at the end of the day their conclusions vis-à-vis meaning are their opinions.  I am under no obligation to defer to any authority when determining subjective meaning.  That’s the thing about atheism: we don’t have a pope or a Bible to tell us what our opinions should be.  We are allowed to come up with our own.

 

I want to highlight several of your statements in your response:

 

“Do the practical things in which I find meaning not count as true meaning?  Meaning is a subjective opinion, which means that nobody is in any position to tell me that my meaning is false.”

 

I don’t mean to patronize you, but I would like you to think, for a moment, the ramifications of this statement.  What happens to morality?  What happens to social order?  Is this system of thinking a livable system?  What has history taught us about this ideology? (if necessary, I have some historical examples, unless you wish to provide any)

 

“It is also important to note that offers of meaning have no bearing on the actual truth of a given worldview.”

 

If meaning is subjective/relative, what is truth?  Buddhists will claim that the self doesn’t exist, is their statement true?

 

“However, you’re wrong that there is nowhere to get meaning as an atheist.”

 

I agree with you that atheists can get meaning out of life, I am simply stating that they have no basis within their own belief system to warrant this meaning.

 

“I am under no obligation to defer to any authority when determining subjective meaning.”

 

Again, I would like you to think of the ramifications of this statement.  The one word that comes to my mind is chaos.  To deny this, you are going to have to prove that meaninglessness and objectiveness are not contradictory.

 

As a last note, I would again suggest that you review these atheistic philosophers I have mentioned who lived out their atheism to its logical ends, and I would implore you to rethink your own worldview stance.  It is destructive in more ways than just religiously.

 

Yes, it all becomes subjective, doesn’t it?  The ramifications are lots of different opinions on meaning, morality and all manner of other topics.  Some opinions work better than others.  Sometimes differences of opinions create anger, hatred and bloodshed among people who take these differences seriously.  Sounds kind of scary, but does this not accurately describe the situation in our world throughout history and even right here on this forum?  There is no objective standard to compare against.  Many Christians fancy their morality to be the objective standard, but the reality is that there is a huge spectrum of different opinions even within the Christian community.  Even if Christians all agreed with each other it’s still just one opinion among many.

 

Once again, the fact that you find these ramifications of a particular idea uncomfortable does not make it incorrect.  This is an Appeal to Consequences logical fallacy, which you continue to base your arguments on.

 

Your point on truth seems like a bit of a red herring, but I’ll address it anyway.  Truth is what is objectively true.  We never know truth for a 100% certainty.  That doesn’t mean that objective truths don’t exist, just that our ability to know them is not perfect.  The scientific method gets us as close as we possibly can get to objective truth though.  I base my worldview on the truth as near as I can possibly know it.

 

As far as the self-existing or not, that’s a weird one.  I think the self does exist because I can experience myself.  I could be wrong though.

 

In reference to your point on chaos, I think you’re extrapolating a bit more than I intended to say with that phrase, as I was mainly referring to personal meaning in the sense of “reason to live.”  I think I somewhat addressed your point about chaos in the first part of this post.  I won’t deny that chaos can result from relativism of meaning and morality.  Yes, things can indeed get chaotic as it very often has in human history.  It would be nice if people agreed on things more and weren’t so prone to attack each other over disagreements, but unfortunately that isn’t human nature.  The only solution is to get more people to agree on better ideas, but that’s an elusive goal that nobody has a solution to yet, including Christians.  If you did then the world would have become a nice, happy planet when Christianity came on the scene a couple thousand years ago.  It didn’t.

 

Finally, how is atheism a destructive worldview? I’m a very calm, nice person overall.  I don’t hurt anybody, steal, rape, cheat, and I pay my taxes.  In what sense is my worldview is having a destructive effect on the world?

 

Again, highlighting several of your statements:

 

Statement A: “There is no objective standard to compare against.”

Statement B: “That doesn’t mean that objective truths don’t exist, just that our ability to know them is not perfect.  The scientific method gets us as close as we possibly can get to objective truth though.”

 

Pardon me for any ignorance, but as far as I can rationalize your two statements, you seem to imply that objective standards don’t exist, but objective truths might?  Let me not patronize you: what you are essentially saying is that objectiveness may only exist where it benefits your own paradigm (strict naturalism).  If I have misinterpreted you, please clarify, because to a layperson, you have stated an apparent contradiction.

 

You then criticize me for making an Appeal to Consequence.  It is not an appeal to consequences to take a worldview to its logical conclusions in order to show inconsistency and contradiction.  However, I can see how it would seem that I am making an Appeal to Consequence, and I therefore respect you assertion, and will attempt to clarify myself better in future posts.  I apologize for any grievance I may have caused you.  Please know that I respect you, and I hope you respect me as well.

 

My point on truth was not a red herring, it stemmed directly from my point on meaninglessness.  In a meaninglessness world, truth is a subjective opinion.  My point with Buddhism was to point out that what is “true” for you may not be “true” for someone else.  Who is to say which paradigm is the correct one?  What grounds do you have to deny an eastern view which, in many regards, is totally opposite in paradigm to that of a scientific one?  I hope this clarifies my statement.

 

Again, I respect that you have found your own meaning, and I hope you continue to find joy in your family, but you must understand that this meaning has no grounds within your worldview.

 

To comment on your thoughts on chaos, the simple problem is that atheism provides no grounds to fix this dilemma.  To quote you:

 

“I won’t deny that chaos can result from relativism of meaning and morality.”

 

You are being far to kind with your statement.  Following your worldview to its logical ends, atheism does lead to chaos.  Again, I urge you to look into the atheist philosophers I have stated.  You will understand what I mean about a destructive worldview.  It is a bankrupt worldview.  It cannot fix the inherent problems to it’s system, it can just hope that people act morally, which is, again, a contradiction to it’s own proclaimed tenets.

 

In reference to your confusion of “Statement A” and “Statement B”, each of those statements refers to something different, but I can understand the confusion if I did not make myself clear.  In statement A I was saying that there is no objective standard for subjective opinions like morality and meaning.  This is evidenced by the fact that everybody has their own ideas of morality and meaning and they have shifted in trends over time according to human culture.  In statement B I was saying that there are objective truths about how reality is, such as the atomic weight of hydrogen or the speed of light in a vacuum.  To use the question of the existence of god or gods as an example, there can be only two possibilities: god(s) either exists in reality or he doesn’t.  Whatever the answer is, it’s not subjective.  God can’t be non-existent for one person and extant for the next.

 

I didn’t arbitrarily come to these conclusions just to suit some sort of naturalist dogma.  Naturalism is where the evidence has led me.

 

To clarify on your comments, I am not aware of any inconsistency or contradiction within my atheism or between my atheism and reality.  I have hopefully clarified the supposed contradiction you pointed out earlier.  I didn’t see how your points about atheism leading to a meaningless existence showed any inconsistencies or contradictions.  As I said in previous posts, atheism could lead to utter meaninglessness as you say and still be correct.

 

Then to comment on your statement that “In a meaninglessness world, truth is a subjective opinion.” I think this is where we’re not understanding each other and I think it’s causing a lot of confusion for both of us.  The bolded statement doesn’t make any sense to me because “meaning” is something completely subjective that does not exist outside of human minds, while truth is simply what reality is.  It seems to me akin to saying that because I’m happy today, Neptune is going to turn around in its orbit and start going the other way.  There is no connection between the two.  What is going on in our heads has no bearing on what is really true about reality.

 

The only “truths” that can be true for some people and not for others are not objective truths, but subjective philosophies.  The example you provided was one of these.  My grounds for denying the Buddhist view of the non-existence of self is that there is no evidence to support that claim, to my knowledge.  If anyone can make a case that this view accurately represents reality then I am open to being convinced by the evidence.

 

Then to comment on the problem that atheism provides no grounds to fix the dilemma of chaos leading from meaninglessness, yes, you are completely right that atheism provides no answers to fix the world’s problems.  That is because this is not a subject that atheism speaks to.  There is no contradiction with atheism’s proclaimed tenets, because atheism proclaims no tenets.  Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, nothing more.  Atheism has no tenets, it is not a system, it doesn’t instruct one how to live and it’s not something to base a government on.  When an atheist wants those types of functions, we look elsewhere to systems devised by humans to serve those needs.  One can subscribe to ideas such as secular humanism, democratism, anarchism, socialism, environmentalism, conservatism, capitalism or any other -isms to cover all the practical worldview needs while still subscribing to atheism.

 

Every one of us, yourself included, are left no other choice but to hope that other people act morally.  When you walk down the street you have to hope that the guy walking past you doesn’t decide to pull out a knife and stab you.  He could very well do such a thing, and he would either get away with it or somebody would deal with him according to either their personal morality or the morality of the law of the society you live in.  Is this not the case whether you’re an atheist, Christian or anything else?  If the man was a Christian, would that have stopped him from plunging that knife into your gut if he was otherwise inclined to do such a thing?

 Thusfar, I am exceedingly surprised at your aptness to civility, even in our disagreements.  Thank you for that.

 

Now, to respond.

 

Thank you for your clarification.  As I understand you now, your official statement is this:

 

Morality and Meaning = Subjective

Reality = Objective

 

To cover the content of a great deal of you response, my question to you is this, how do you define reality?  Let me answer for you, you define reality from a paradigm of strict naturalism.  As you stated, you see this as the most feasible response, and you are entitled to that opinion.  However, in a meaningless world, you still must accept the fact that your paradigm is not necessarily better than the rest.  You would claim that nature supports your naturalist paradigm, but this is circular reasoning.  Nature cannot explain itself. (herein is a fundamental argument for the necessity of a higher being)  Therefore, even reality, under your system of reasoning, is subjective.  It is based on your opinion as the most feasible, but a Buddhist may quickly disagree with you, and claim a paradigm that transcends nature.  You cannot deny them this, based on your own assumptions of meaninglessness, you must understand that you cannot deny them this.

 

This is a little out of place, but as a side note, based on some of your comments, you sound a little agnostic?  Am I sensing correctly?

 

Moving on, you seem to want a clearer portray of atheism’s inconsistency and/or contradictions.  As I recollect, I made several arguments, but I think the strongest one I promoted was atheism purporting morality on a meaningless world.  You cannot deny that this occurs, and if atheists ever followed through with the logical ends of this assertion, chaos would ensue, as I previously asserted.  You cannot deny this.  If you want more examples, I suppose I could go digging through these past post, but for brevity, I’ll move on.

 

You state: “…’meaning’ is something completely subjective that does not exist outside of human minds.”  You say this, but you do not believe it.  How do I know this?  Because without even knowing you, I know that your outward actions would dictate otherwise.  Here’s an example.  I have a family who I love dearly.  A murder comes into my home on night and threatens the life of one of my children.  I plead with him to stop.  How does he answer me?  “The love you have your child is meaningless, because it exists only in your mind.  My mind dictates another meaning, and that is to kill your child.”  Now, following the logic of your statement, the murderer is justified in his actions.  Now, granted, this is a harsh example, and I hope that if a murderer ever entered your home and threatened your children, you would punch him square in the face.  But you must see my point, and the inconsistency it portrays.

 

You then state: “Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, nothing more.  Atheism has no tenets, it is not a system, it doesn’t instruct one how to live and it’s not something to base a government on.”  Trust me, in every way, I wish you were right, and if this statement were true, and not idealic, I would be jumping up and down for joy.  I am not being sarcastic here.  I fully agree with you that atheism is not something to base a government on, it is not something to instruct someone how to live.  I fully and 100% agree with you.  The sad news is, atheism is a world view.  It does have tenets, it is a system of thought, it does instruct one how to think, act, and behave, and worrisome beyond all, it is a pressing governmental dogma.  Believe me, I understand what you are saying, and idealistically I agree with you, but your idealism has turned into a dogma, and may I say, a vicious dogma.  I do not need to give you examples, look at the many authors and bloggers who are espousing this.  This is my point.

 

You state: “Every one of us, yourself included, are left no other choice but to hope that other people act morally.”  In the sense you have stated this, I agree with you, for I would be a fool to disagree.  I do not hold the reigns of morality, I cannot dictate human action. But here is the difference, Christianity offers a moral standard, atheism does not.  The hope you espouse to is based on meaninglessness, the hope I espouse to is adherence to standard.  Which is the better hope?  This is the point I was trying to make with my original statements.

 

I continue to wish you all joy and happiness, and I hope that your family is doing well.  I will patiently await your response.

 

In reference to reality, a good, succinct definition of reality is one coined by Philip K. Dick: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  Naturalism is the only view that consistently holds up as reality under this definition.  When you stop believing in god, he goes away.  When you stop believing in Buddhist transcendentalism, it goes away.  Nature doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.  If you jump off the roof of a 30 story building, gravity is going to pull you down and most likely kill you whether you believe in the reality of gravity or not.  That’s because gravity is not subjective.

 

When you say that nature cannot explain itself you’re getting into the origins of reality, which is a different subject altogether.  Science has some pretty good theories about it, but nobody knows the exact answer to that one.  I’m fine with saying “I don’t know,” and in cases like this that’s really all you can say and remain intellectually honest.  Keep in mind though that not knowing doesn’t invalidate naturalism, nor does it “prove” that god did it.  That is an argument from ignorance logical fallacy.

 

The fact of the matter is this, atheism doesn’t make claims to morality, but atheists can and do make claims to morality.  This is an important distinction.

 

To refer back to your example of the child and the murderer, firstly, I think you are confusing meaning with morality in this example.  They’re two different things.  I never said that I think everybody can just do whatever they want and they are justified in doing so.  When someone gets the idea to start murdering innocent people, for example, that tends to make other people pretty unhappy.  Atheists dislike being murdered as much as anyone else, so we get our ideas that murder is bad from that practical knowledge, not from our atheism.

 

Secondly, the fact that meaning exists only in our heads doesn’t make it meaningless.  Everyone’s meanings are meaningful to them, and to others to the extent to which they empathize.  The murderer in your example is apparently a sociopath with no empathy whatsoever, so clearly my meaning doesn’t mean anything to him.  This fact seems to me to support my point perfectly.  The problem was when you said that I would have to agree that his action is justified, which I could not because it goes against my own subjective sense of meaning.

 

You also make several claims concerning tenets that atheism espouses. Before I can discuss this, could you list some tenets of atheism as you understand them?  Can you describe in which ways atheism instructs one to think?  Can you tell me about this atheistic governmental dogma?  This is the first I’ve heard of any of this, since there are no atheist Bibles or churches or anything.

 

In closing, I feel like I’ve said this many times now, but you’re totally right that atheism does not offer a moral standard.  This is because atheism in itself doesn’t speak to morality.  Atheists all have their own opinions on morality based on their backgrounds and their own opinions on the subjects.  We each have our own standards and our own sources of hope that we draw from other places besides our position on the existence of gods.  If this was as bad as you make it out to be then you would expect most atheists to be criminals, but somehow we’re at least as good as any other group on the average.

 

I think a better question than “which offers the better hope?” is “which is more likely to deliver on your hopes?”  If you just look at the offers then Christianity looks pretty good.  It falls way short when it comes to following through on those hopes, however.  Christianity gives all sorts of false hopes in prayer that does nothing, heaven that nobody has ever seen and a god who doesn’t do anything.  Atheism gives hope in understanding and coming to terms with reality as it actually is without clouding things up with supernatural nonsense.  I think that’s more valuable than any of Christianity’s illusory hopes.

 

First, thanks for being intellectually honest, I respect that greatly.

 

You state, “When you stop believing in god, he goes away.  When you stop believing in Buddhist transcendentalism, it goes away.”

 

Again, this is stated from a naturalistic paradigm, and is not necessarily true.  From my paradigm of theism, the assertion “god…goes away” is simply incorrect, and I’m sure the Buddhist would have something to say on the matter as well.

 

You state, “Atheism doesn’t make claims to morality.  Atheists can and do make claims to morality.  This is an important distinction.”

 

I agree with you that this should be the case (although I would wonder where atheists find their basis for moral claims), but I disagree that this occurs.  Again, you are stating an ideal case.

 

You state, “When someone gets the idea to start murdering innocent people, for example, that tends to make other people pretty unhappy.”

 

So morality for atheists is based on what makes other people happy?  This is a scary thought.  What makes me happy might not make you happy at all.

 

You state, “Atheists dislike being murdered as much as anyone else, so we get our ideas that murder is bad from that practical knowledge, not from our atheism.”

 

Is disliking something practical knowledge or personal taste?

 

You state, “Secondly, the fact that meaning exists only in our heads doesn’t make it meaningless.”

 

I disagree, the subjectivity you have promoted, and the fact that you are not the only person in the universe, dictate this.

 

You state, “The murderer in your example is apparently a sociopath with no empathy whatsoever, so clearly my meaning doesn’t mean anything to him. “

 

I see that another tenant of atheistic morality is empathy?  So basically the Golden Rule?  But with no basis for morality, this view crumbles, for the “sociopath” as you mention is the proof of this.  It was the point I was attempting to make.

 

You state, “The problem was when you said that I would have to agree that his action is justified, which I could not because it goes against my own subjective sense of meaning.”

 

This is incorrect, for you have not understood “justified”.  Yes, you are correct to assert that you do not have to agree with the actions of the murderer, but based on your meaningless system of morality, you must assert that he is justified in his actions.  Remember, something can be justified and you may, at the same time, not like it.

 

You state, “Ok, before I can discuss this, could you list some tenets of atheism as you understand them?  Can you describe in which ways atheism instructs one to think?  Can you tell me about this atheistic governmental dogma?  This is the first I’ve heard of any of this, since there are no atheist Bibles or churches or anything.”

 

Off the topic of my head, a good example would be Margaret Sanger.

 

You state, “Atheists all have their own opinions on morality based on their backgrounds and their own opinions on the subjects.”

 

Again, taken to it’s logical conclusion, if this idea was ever purported as the correct “system of moral action”, the result would be chaos.

 

You state, “If this was as bad as you make it out to be then you would expect most atheists to be criminals, but somehow we’re at least as good as any other group on the average.”

 

Yes because you live under an objective moral code (aka the laws that govern your land), which is actually contradictory to your own espouse world view.

 

You state, “…which is more likely to deliver on your hopes?  If you just look at the offers then Christianity looks pretty good.  It falls way short when it comes to following through on those hopes, however.”

 

I completely disagree, and you will disagree too when you understand that this is morality we are taking about and not God.  The Christian system of moral standards far exceed that of an atheistic moral system.  Christian morality is where any hope lies for a good moral system.

To give a brief history, this is a conversation I had with an atheist over the topic, “Why won’t God heal amputees?”  The atheists charged God for being “wicked” in (as he put it) never healing an amputee- ever.  The atheist furthermore posited that God is contradicting Himself when Christ states, “Ask anything in my name…” and yet (as he put it) many prayers go unanswered.  Here is part of the transcript from the discussion.  The bold paragraphs signify the atheist, the rest are my responses, but I hope this will be apparent.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why won’t God heal amputees?  He said ask anything and I will give it to you, is God a liar?

 

Why would God do anything at all for people?  Is He obligated?  You make the point that in the Judeo-Christian religion, Christ makes the statement:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.  If ye love me, keep my commandments.” – John 14:12-15

The big issue here, I think, is that of context.  Who was Christ speaking to?  Why did he say it?  What were the conditions?  What did He mean?  If this statement by Christ is admitted as evidence towards an understanding of this web site’s namesake, it must be treated with a more analytic approach as to it’s literary meaning.

 

Nah, it really doesn’t.  John isn’t a historical account; it, like the rest of the gospels, are fiction.  We could analyze the reasons why the fiction was written in a specific way and perhaps get somewhere, but that’s as much as we can do.

 

One can even read fiction analytically.

 

Yes, but to different ends.  We can read Harry Potter analytically and glean insight into, say, human sociology while realizing that it’s not going to tell us anything about actual historical events.

 

What makes you think I’m making a historical argument?  I simply stated that the argument this web site is making in it’s namesake does not follow from any evidence found in John.  The proof does not lie in any historicity, but in the texts themselves.  I am simply applying a textual hermeneutic to analyze the statement.

 

Hermeneutics are a fun intellectual diversion, but in this case, it would seem that they would serve only to detract from the difficult rhetorical question which serves as this forum’s thesis statement.  Hermeneutics in this case offer no solution, or even promise of a solution, but merely a tactic to get us to stop asking the original question. 

Why would God heal amputees?  I can think of several reasons why I, if I were a god, would do exactly such a thing – the alleviation of suffering, the demonstration of my power, just wanting to be a nice guy about it, etc.  Maybe I’d prevent limbs from being amputated in the first place.  Who’s to say?  But I have to admit that I can’t think of a reason why I would decide to never, ever do such a healing feat.  I also can’t think of a reason why I would not prevent thousands and thousands of Jewish children from being thrown screaming into ovens or thousands and thousands of people dying from unsafe drinking water every day.  Why would I want to be that much of a bastard? 

 

I disagree with you.  Hermeneutics, in this case, are not meant as a diversion, but are of paramount importance to a proper understanding of how the Scriptures are read.  I do respect the point you made about the namesake being a rhetorical question, and I can accept that, but then I must also accept that you are not really looking for an answer.  As for your points on what you would do “if you were god”, my question to you would be, is your grievance with death or is it with suffering?

 

Actually I consider “An imaginary god cannot heal amputees, and all gods are imaginary” to be a fine and rigorous answer to the question.  If you have a better answer, you might want to start breaking it out at some point, particularly since the “ask anything in My name and it will be done” scriptures have been brought forth.

I actually hadn’t considered that I have a “grievance” per se.  True, if I were convinced of the existence of the Christian God, I would well want to know why so many lives are nasty, brutish, and short, and why the nastiness, brutality, and shortness of those lives seems to have no correlation at all with how “sinfully” or “righteously” those lives are lived.  As it is, however, I needfully chalk it all up to random chance and have no one to whom I could direct my inquiry.  To answer the question, I suppose I have more of a problem with suffering, since everyone gets the same allotment of death (one per person) yet some suffer much more than others.

 

You bring up the “ask anything in My name and it will be done.”  Again, I would point to context, conditionals, and a proper hermeneutic treatment of that passage before an interpretation is made.  By the way, I believe your answer to my question was excellent, for this is an issue that many Christians have problems with.  Why does God allow suffering?  It’s a big question, but I don’t think you will like my answers (although I’d be happy to give them), because they are very theologically based.


Will I not like your answers because they are pro-theist?  Or will I not like your answers because they will be long, conflicting, and prone to obscuring the topic rather than enlightening it?  Don’t be so sure I’ll dislike it.  I’ll tell you that every answer I ever got during my Christian days was a variation on “who are you to question God’s ways, you don’t understand anything, you need to stop asking the question, examine your own life, and pray for forgiveness.”  I guarantee that I will appreciate your answer in inverse proportion to how much it resembles the answer I always got.

 

You seems very genuine, and I both respect and admire that.  The reason I didn’t think you would like my answer is because I will rely to a good extend on theology and throw in some Scripture here and there.  If you are OK with that, then by all means let’s pursue it, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind if you are critical, you have every right to be.

Bring on your game.  Even though I’m no longer a theist, I still keep my ear slightly to the ground.  If this tells you anything, I still subscribe to Bishop Spong’s newsletter and own several of his books, though I don’t often agree with his last-minute attempts to salvage his belief from the arguments against it which he himself brought forth.  Regardless, I’m not one of those people who reacts as Dracula to garlic simply because Jesus or scripture is mentioned.  Just as a person who was brought up in a family of morticians isn’t going to freak out over a dead body, I’m comfortable with talking about a theism which resides in my past.

 

To properly understand why suffering exists, two other aspects must first be understood, sin and grace.  Suffering is the direct result of sin.  As soon as sin entered the world, so did suffering.  Now, I am not going to patronize you with an extended treatment of sin, for I have a sneaking suspicion you already have a good understanding of what it is.  But now we have the bigger question, why does God allow suffering to exist?  He has the power to stop it right?  Let me start by affirming the fact that just as God hates sin, God hates suffering.  We read in Lamentations 3:33 “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.”  The Hebrew word here for “willingly” can also be translated “from His heart, or inner most being”.  This is an amazing verse, for we see two things: God, in His sovereignty, allows for suffering to occur, but in His heart, He does not will that it would occur.  Now, you may immediately think “but isn’t this contradictory?”  The answer is no, and I will try to explain why:

1.  God is the ultimate source to which all glory is due.
2.  God is most glorified in that which brings Him the most glory.
3.  The affection which brings God the most glory must be the necessary end of all things.
4.  The affection which brings God the most glory is the exposition of His grace.
5.  For grace to exist, sin must exist.
6.  Where there is sin, there is suffering.
7.  Therefore, though God is not the author of sin and suffering, He has ordained sin and suffering that He may be glorified in His grace, the grace found in Jesus Christ.  God can morally hate something, but sovereignly allow it for His glory (see John 11, specifically verse 4).  This doesn’t mean that God enjoys sin or suffering, on the contrary, He hates it, and we see God’s verdict on sin in the image of the cross.  To look at Christ on the cross is to look at God view of sin, and if any of you have seen the Passion, you known exactly what I’m getting at- it is absolutely putrid and disgusting.  So much so that God would send Himself, in His Son, to die in human place so that sin could be conquered once and for all time.

This will probably bring a lot more questions, but this is the concise version of a much longer treatment I could give this topic.  I hope this helps.

 

First off, thank you for a calm and thought out response.  It is, admittedly, very hard to answer the question without writing a book.  Bart Ehrman is one of the smartest people I know of, and he pretty much had to write the book, even if the thesis itself could be summed up in a sentence or two.  (It’s a fantastic book, by the way, and he’s not paying me to plug it.)

 

Yup, I’m well aware of the “the world was created without sin, but now we have sin and that’s why everything’s screwed up” point of view.  20 years ago I would have probably agreed with your entire post, verbatim.  But now that I have developed a more skeptical eye, I start to see things that no longer make sense to me.  The biggest one is the use of language, and the odd tendency of religion to use words which either don’t have secular analogues at all or whose meaning changes when used in a secular context.

 

“Suffering”, I think, we can agree on.  Let’s say a crazy person jumps out of the bushes and stabs you half to death and you face a long painful hospital recovery, maiming, and scarring.  Yup, “suffering” is a good word to describe this situation, whether you’re a theist or non-theist.  Now let’s assume for the moment that this suffering is the result of “sin”.  Now it gets trickier, because there is no perfect secular translation for “sinful”.  “Non-ethical” certainly fits the bill; your attacker definitely went against any civilized society’s ethical boundaries when he plunged the dagger into your flesh.  But “non-ethical” can’t also describe acts like wearing polyester-cotton blend or eating shrimp or working on the Sabbath, acts that are, in the ceremonious sense at least, “sinful”.  And hey, it’s your attacker’s “sin” which caused your suffering, not yours; why must you be the one to pay that cost?

 

Then we get to your very first numbered thesis, “God is the ultimate source to which all glory is due”.  And I ask myself, I’ve heard the word “glory” all my life, usually in religious contexts… what the heck does it even mean?  Is it fame?  No.  Adulation?  Not quite; I guess we’re supposed to smother God with adulation, but that’s more our response to his “glory”.  Is it something we can see?  Touch?  Hear?  None of these.  I turn to my online dictionary… “high renown or honor won by notable achievements”.  Well, that’s a bit of a help, I suppose.  And if you believe God created the heavens and the earth, that’s a pretty notable achievement.  Still, “glory” is a word I so rarely hear used in secular contexts, and then it’s usually referring to war (which, from what I gather, is the opposite of glorious for the most part) or naked bodies (and yes, I have seen a few I’d describe as “glorious”, although my religion forbade it). 

 

Then #2 is a clear-cut tautology, #3 is an assertion that comes from out of nowhere (you might need some scriptural exegesis for that one to make any sense), #4 seems to contradict #3… I really can’t get further into it because the language itself seems to be working overtime to be mystical and murky.  “Sin”, “glory”, “grace”, “the end of all things”… I feel like I’m watching an attempt to do mathematics using emotions rather than numbers.  What IS contentment divided by existential angst?  I don’t know the answer to that.  I also don’t know what I could do to “bring God glory”, although I was once foolish enough to think I could.  So far I’m getting the idea that this carefully constructed answer you’ve presented is, at its heart, a call to worship.  It’s starting to smell a whole lot like the “shut up and keep praying” sorts of answers I used to get. 

 

And how in the world, if we’re going to admit that these big questions don’t have easy answers, could we turn around and then say that everyone in the world can grasp a knowledge of God so great that it would result in their eternal salvation… or could reject it knowingly enough that it would result in their eternal damnation?

 

First off, thank you for an honest response; you have been a pleasure to converse with.

To get to some of the meat of your response, I really found it quite fascinating your point of how many “religious” terms are not easily transferable.  To certain extents, I agree with you.  “Sin”, “grace”, and “glory” are words which are difficult to correctly transpose to a secular understanding.

You bring up the point that “non-ethical” is possibly the best equating word to sin.  As a point of clarification, by non-ethical, you are meaning any action which does not follow a predetermined course of ethics?  If it is, this seems to be a very narrow correlation, for suffering occurs on a scale much larger then ethics predetermine, namely, natural disasters.  However, I do not mean to patronize you, for I am quite sure you would also consider various other means by which people may suffer.  The causes of this suffering may be physical, monetary, economical, social, psychological, etc.  The point is this: suffering cannot be treated neatly under a blanket of ethics.  Someone can suffer from a mental disorder, or psychological depression.  All I really mean by this is that the idea of suffering must be treated in a broader arena.

Your then cite several Old Testament laws, and then imply that our “modern day ethics” don’t prescribe to them.  I took this in humor, for I’m am quite sure you understand that the law was fulfilled in the New Testament through Christ.  For example, the law was meant as a guide to Christ. (see Romans 7) We are not under these Old Testament laws in the same sense as those who lived when they were given. (this is the best I can say this without extensive treatment)

You then stated “it’s your attacker’s “sin” which caused your suffering, not yours; why must you be the one to pay that cost?”  There it is, you have just defined it yourself, suffering (the attackee) is caused by sin (the attacker).  To answer your question, no, it is not “fair” in the sense you have understood it, and that is one of the terrible aspects of sin, namely, within sin there is no true justice.

I was absolutely shocked when you equated my view of God with the reasoning behind why I ascribe Him glory (namely, as Creator and Sustainer), for what you deduced was exactly and perfectly correct.  Please forgive me, but this is a rarity in my discussions with non-believers, and I find this as both honoring to my viewpoint and respectful to the conversation, both of which I applaud you for.

You then correctly identified a tautology.

Point #3 may slightly seem out of place, but it is simply meant to state that, from a Christian assumption of God glory, the ends of every action that ever occurs must necessarily result in the bringing of the greatest amount of glory to God.  (It follows from the implicit Christian understanding of God and of glory.)

Point #4 is taken from several parts of Scripture and also from exegetical Biblical scholarship, for example see Ephesians 1.  This point does not contradict #3, it simply identifies the ends, namely, the glory of the grace of God shown through the workings of His Son Jesus Christ.  This point is the most powerful, beautiful, and perfect of all Christian doctrines, for it both glorifies God through the workings of His Son, and it gives us a hope for salvation from our sins.  “Grace” in the Hebrew may refer to “undeserved favor”.  In the Greek, specifically how it was used in Scripture, grace referred to “the undeserved favor shown through the merciful kindness of God which, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ.” (Thayer’s Lexicon)

I hope I have clarified the “mystical” and the “murky” and I would sincerely urge you to return to the rest of the points I laid out, and give them a more thorough look.

I am not trying to mathematically equate this, all I am try to do is present a case in a way that is accessible, short, and to the point.

You then ask the question “What IS contentment divided by existential angst?”  I would simply note that apart from Christ, even pleasure many times leads to suffering.  To be truly (and I mean really, truly) content apart from Christ is, in my experience and understanding, ultimately impossible (please note carefully the word ultimately).  The equation only works from a standpoint of non-theism, not from theism.

You then state, “I also don’t know what I could do to ‘bring God glory'”.  The answer to the question is this: cleave to His perfect working of grace, namely, Jesus Christ.  If God is most glorified in this grace, cleaving to its work would surely bring Him the ultimate glory.

You then state, “So far I’m getting the idea that this carefully constructed answer you’ve presented is, at its heart, a call to worship.” WOW, this is absolutely stunning.  I cannot believe how perfectly and correctly you accurately prescribed the natural response to the case I have made.  Many CHRISTIANS can’t even answer as correctly as you did.  I am utterly amazed at this, I have never seen a non-theist be able to correctly ascertain this fact in this context before- ever!  Trust me, I could say bookfull’s on this topic, but for now, I will simply say well done!

But the way, I am in no way saying “shut up”, please by all means keep up with your constructive criticism and questions.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to you praying.

You finally close with a dynamite question “And how in the world…could we turn around and then say that everyone in the world can grasp a knowledge of God so great that it would result in their eternal salvation…or could reject it knowingly enough that it would result in their eternal damnation?”  My answer to this question is simply this:  your assumption is correct, it is impossible, but God has made it possible through the revelation of Himself, through His Son, through His Word, and through His Spirit quickening our dead hearts.

In closing, I will simply say that again, I could give much longer treatments on all of these points, but will stay my typing for the time being in order for you to read, to ponder, and to respond.

It is an unnatural thing for me to read without being compelled to write.  As far as genres go, I really enjoy allegory and satire.  I am currently working on several projects outside these blogs, all of which are works in progress, none of which are close to completion.  Here’s a quick rundown:

The Maimed Dove of the Symplegades (working title) – this project is tentatively set as a shorter fictional literary work which utilizes antonomasian style with allegorical undertoning.  It is meant as a purposeful response to postmodern philosophical thought.  It will hold nuances of similarity to the parables and poetry found in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke ZarathustraStatus: In progress.

The Apartment (working title) – this project is a pilot for a family-friendly TV sitcom which follows the lives of three apartment-mates who work for a major news company.  Status: In progress.

(Full-Length Feature Film Script with no working title) – work on this project has been slow and tedious.  Several drafts have been completed, but revisions are currently still being made.  The film is allegorical in nature, and could be considered a period piece.  I may post extendedly concerning this script’s content at a later time.  Status: In progress.

From Tarsus to Antioch to Rome – the title of my more serious blog which tracks a personal commentary on Paul’s New Testament letters.  This project can be viewed at www.joearant.blogspot.com  Status: In progress.

In case any of you are dying to know what I’m reading this summer, here is a list of my reading goals.  Perhaps you’ll notice a trend.

 

The Holy Bible (NKJV or ESV)

Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis
by Greg L. Bahnsen

Institutes of the Christian Religion
by John Calvin

Defense of the Faith
by Cornelius Van Til

The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader
by Alvin Plantinga

There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
by Antony Flew

A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism
by Ravi K. Zacharias

The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions
by David Berlinski

The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists
by Ravi K. Zacharias

The Slightest Philosophy
by Quee Nelson

On Proof for Existence of God, and Other Reflective Inquiries

by Paul Vjecsner

 

I can honestly say that Calvin alone would prove a daunting task, but I feel compelled to challenge myself in this manner in order to prepare my mind for the absurd amounts of reading in graduate school.  That’s right, I said it, graduate school!

I feel like a fish out of water with this new template, but I’m excited to start using it.  This will be my day-to-day blog from here on out.  There will definitely be strong doses of theology here and there, but my goal with this blog is less academic and more personal.

Here is my old blog, where you can find a continuing, slow process of unpacking the Apostle Paul, as well as future theological pursuits and inquiries.

www.joearant.blogspot.com 

Don’t forget to check out the blogroll and photography!  Enjoy!