Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ten Counter-Proposititions from One Atheist to Christians


     A recent article by Greg Clarke entitled “Ten Key Propositions for Atheists and Christians Today” grabbed my attention. As an atheist, I find myself drawn to the writings of Christian apologists as a matter of curiosity. I read many works by men such as Hal Lindsey, Norman Vincent Peale, and Lee Strobel when I was a believer. Revisiting those works now that I have switched positions brings a different perspective. Clarke’s ten propositions are directed at the faithful (evidenced by the article being posted on http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/the-ten-key-propositions-for-atheists-and-christians-today.) This article has less to do with pointing out proposals for interactions between atheists and theists but rather to reaffirm the faith theists already possess, should the readers of the site begin have moments of free thought. As such, these are my counterpropositions to Clarke’s ten proposals.
  1. Clarke makes the argument that the rumors of Yahweh’s (I will use Yahweh in place of the word “God” to clarify which belief system I’m referring to) death are greatly exaggerated. Forgetting for a moment that he’s riffing on one of Sir Paul McCartney’s greatest lines, this point is one I happen to agree with. I would agree that Christianity is not dead. Clarke also makes a valid point that most cultures across time and space have believed in some form of supernatural essence or structure to the universe. Personally, I believe it is a fundamental right of all peoples to decide for themselves whether to believe or not believe in the supernatural. As long as humans are afraid of death, there will be religion. This primal response to our ultimate demise and the misunderstanding of the natural world’s laws and structures led to the development of religions across the globe throughout history. Religion was our first attempt to understand the natural world and as such it can and should be seen as the baby steps of an infant species.I would argue that traditional religions are slowly decaying. Those religious institutions that wish to remain viable must utilize corporate ideals of consumerism and capitalism in order to provide appealing services in this post-modern age. This death-knell should be articulated more clearly by the prominent atheist speakers.
   2. Clarke’s second point is that Christianity does not endorse blind faith but reason and knowledge. My counterproposition goes as such: Reason and knowledge are based on evidence; faith is belief in the absence of evidence. One does not have to believe that there is evidence to support a claim if the evidence is readily available for all to see. The question I and many other atheists ask regarding the supernatural claims of Christianity is this: What evidence do Christians possess to show your belief system has any more merit than any other belief system? All of the religions in the world that deal with the supernatural make extraordinary claims about spirits, demigods, demons, the afterlife, etc. Tangible, testable, repeatable evidence is the only way to sift through so many claims and determine which is correct, if any of them are. If someone wishes to say that Christianity is based on evidence, then rely solely on evidence and let the case stand or fall on that. But don’t state that there is evidence and then retreat back to stating it must be taken on faith. This is an either/or proposition, not an “and”. One relies on faith or one relies evidence, not both.
     3. The myth of Jesus Christ must be examined and determined as historical fact. Forget for a moment the miracles, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the supposed sacrifice. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the itinerant rabbi Yeshua ben Yusef really was the avatar (or god made flesh) of Yahweh. Clarke’s argument here is that Yeshua’s life and works reveals everything Christians need to know about their deity’s love, mercy and justice. What this reveals when looked through critical thinking lenses rather than rose-colored faith lenses is monstrous. In order to create a loophole in a system of his own devising, Yahweh must take a physical form and then engage in a blood-soaked human “sacrifice”. (A moment of digression: how is this any different from the Aztec ritual of ripping a person’s heart out to ensure the sun rose the next day?)  You have a deity sacrificing himself to himself to create a loophole in a system of his own creation.
     What does it also say about the desire for vicarious redemption? What does it say about a religion where the core tenet of the faith is a “spiritual bypass” where a person does not have to take responsibility for their actions but can still be absolved of their wrongdoing?

     4. The connection between history and Christianity is not a joyous or glorious one. While it can be said that the Roman Catholic Church was responsible for the creation of universities, it was also responsible for allowing slavery, the degradation of women, and the repression of any thought that contradicted biblical teachings for centuries. The Church was connected at the hip with the rampant inequality of feudalism, legitimizing a worldview that insisted the lowest echelon of society accept their place and never make an attempt to improve their lives for the better. It is only in the last 400 years that humans have begun to throw off those shackles and see the world through reason and rationalism. But it has not been easy. At every turn, fundamentalist theists fight to keep learning stultified if it contradicts their holy books. An example would be the fights in America over the religious right’s attempts to introduce creationism into science classrooms.
     5. Christianity demands love and fear for their deity. One must both adore and be terrified of their celestial father figure. Cognitive dissonance could not be better defined than in this way. The argument being made in this point is that atheists hold the Bible too literally, far more literally in fact than Christians. My disagreement on this point is this: Atheists are not the ones claiming that the Bible is the inerrant Word of Yahweh and the foundation for all morality. Christians make this ludicrous claim for no other reason than Christianity has been the dominant form of religion in the world for several centuries. What is often found is selective reading or cherry picking on the part of Christians with regards to the Bible. By and large, Christians ignore the Old Testament stories that paint Yahweh as worse than Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot combined in favor of the New Testament, which involves the exact same deity. And yet, when it is convenient, Christians will cherry pick which verses of the Old Testament apply to living in the modern world.

6. Atheism is not a worldview. It is a singular position on a singular topic. There are no tenets, no holy books, no rituals, no agenda save the removal of religious bullying from public life and (at least in America) the separation of church and state. Atheism is one thing: the rejection of theistic claims due to lack of evidence. I agree with Clarke that children should be encouraged to ask questions and they not be forced into religious faiths without understanding all available options. Unfortunately, the majority of Christians doesn’t agree with Clarke and would prefer that all children (including the children of non-Christians) be introduced and indoctrinated into some form of Christian doctrine.

7. Clarke asks where the bitterness of some atheists comes from where it concerns Christians. I cannot give a complete answer but I can give some reasons. First, atheists have had to deal with being treated as somehow less than human by Christians for decades. There are thousands of atheists who must remain silent because they are married to, or living with, or living amongst theists who will mistreat them (under the best circumstances) should the truth of their lack of faith be made public. When one is shamed for possessing a differing opinion, one begins to experience bitterness. When one is called evil or a moral reprobate or lacking any form of moral compass simply because one does not accept any story of supernatural existence, one develops bitterness toward those who make such comments. If theists treated atheists with even a small fraction of the amount of respect and dignity that they demand atheists treat them with, atheists would probably be less vitriolic toward theists.
8. Clarke claims that atheists are naïve for believing that humans can be good without religion. My challenge to Clarke (and any other theist) is such (and comes from the mind of the late Christopher Hitchens): Think of a single moral action that a theist can do that an atheist cannot possibly do. What atheists state is that we can be good without a celestial dictator ordering us to treat each other with dignity. We reject religious institutions largely because they often become a divisive measure in a society rather than an inclusive measure. One needs look no further to the mistreatment and alienation of homosexuals in America at the hands of the religious right to see this statement is true. Left to their own devices good people will try to do good things. If you want a moral person to do something immoral, that requires religion.

9.  Up to this point Clarke has avoided this pitfall, which is associating atheism with totalitarianism and fascism. For a proper retort I would once again point to the late Mr. Hitchens and his book God is Not Great which has a chapter devoted to this topic. I will also address Clarke’s point about the 20th century’s totalitarian governments: not a single one of them was done in the name of atheism. Atheism, especially in the case of Stalin’s Soviet Union, was a means to remove the power of the church in the daily lives of Russians, making the state the most powerful entity available. Mussolini and Hitler both had strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church, with Hitler going so far as being venerated by German Catholic priests and bishops for much of their reigns. Nazi party membership was almost universally Catholic, much the same way that Mussolini’s forces were as well. One needs look no further than the Bible for examples of totalitarian behavior perpetrated by Yahweh.

10. Clarke’s final point boils down to an argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy. Since one cannot disprove Yahweh’s existence, Yahweh therefore exists. If one applies even rudimentary logic, one can see how quickly this proposition falls apart. For example: Since one cannot disprove that the Bhavagad Gita is the true record of the creation of the universe, it is therefore the true record of the creation of the universe. The same could be said of pink flying unicorns, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Wodan and Thor, Zeus, etc. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins do not argue that a deity doesn’t exist. They argue that the current concepts of such deities do not hold up to logic, reason, and evidence. Theism is based on the idea of an interventionist deity. If such were the case, the mysterious nature of such a being does more to hinder belief in such a being than assist belief. This again goes back to the faith argument. Faith is not a pathway to truth. Truth is discovered, not revealed. If humans waited for revealed truth, we never would have made it out of the Dark Ages. Science is the reason we have advanced so far in such a relatively short amount of time, not the revealed truth of faith. 

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