Battling Moral Questions Between Religion and Atheism
It is not certain that God does not exist. It is assumed that he does not exist. I rather propagate ambiguity and mystery to certainty, because this ultimately leads to hatred and potentially totalitarianism. Hence I do not like the classic atheist that claims to understand Christian belief. And I do not like the classic Christian that has rights to knowledge because of a relationship with the Source of Knowledge. I like to argue and disagree with both points of view, in the style of Christopher Hitchens.
Most importantly, as humans, we need to understand how limited we are in our understanding of these deeper things. The key is to step in the other person’s shoes.
The Stoic Mind and Open-Mindedness
This morning I read a blog on the famous Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. The article was by Zat Rana a blogger on Science, Art, and Business. This is what he had to say, borrowing from Aurelius:
“One of the cornerstones of awareness is objectivity. It’s a kind of neutrality that aims to see the world as it is and not through personal judgment and bias. . . .
We predominantly go through life understanding the world and influencing our behavior like we’re at the center of reality, and that everything around us derives its importance according to how it fits into our narrative. It warps our perception of our surroundings and how they unfold. . . .
Step outside your own shoes, conceptualize your observations as if you’re in the body of someone else around you, and try to harness objectivity through a different host of eyes”.
The Christian Mind and the Atheist Perspective
There are two variations of opinions that I meet that confront my Ex-Christian, atheist self and the claims I tend to make on Christianity. There is the old philosopher Atheist that thinks he knows a lot but knows very little. And then there is the 20 something Atheist that has just recently reached past the 100 page mark on goodreads and thinks that he has the right to misunderstand Christianity. It is difficult to find the person that is in between and propagates spiritual ambiguity.
I am not expecting everyone to be unbiased. That would arguably be impossible. I do not claim to possess such unbias myself. My problem is when people make claims on the validity of Atheism, basing their idea on that which does not extend very far, logically.
I heard one such claim, listening to Dave Rubin and his interview with one Christian Individual (link at the bottom). They were discussing the moral absence of Atheism. Here is the statement:
“If there is no God, there can be no morality. If there is no morality, do what nature tells you to do, what nature tells you to do is have pleasure at other people’s expense . . . why shouldn’t you have pleasure at other people’s expense? I thought that’s the first atheist philosophy I have ever heard that makes sense from A to Z, that makes sense. . . . I thought, I can’t go there, that’s hell for me . . . to take pleasure off of other people’s suffering. I know it’s wrong, I don’t care if they say it’s right.”
I’ll try to frame my response in one sentence: homo-sapiens have prospered and survived because they worked as one collective in hunter-gatherer societies for the good of all of the people involved within the tribe, there was no concept of the individual up until the 18th century Enlightenment — there was only the collective.
Now first, let me step into his shoes. I understand where this man is coming from. He probably has a couple of assumptions.
- If my Christian worldview is questioned, then my philosophy for happiness can dissipate and I will have no meaning. I need to defend my worldview at all costs for the sake of my own happiness.
- If I am ultimately made happy by my worldview, then everyone else in the world will probably benefit from it as well. There can not be a difference in opinion, circumstance, and/or culture that affects the outcome.
- If my worldview is one of ultimate well-being and joy, then the opposite must be total death and devastation, hence if one is not a Christian his life must lead to this.
I give him this much. There are many more reasons for his beliefs that lay hidden in his subconscious.
Now let me start with my reasons for my belief that his statement is wrong:
- The opposite of Christianity is not unhappiness. No matter the statistical claims you have heard. Atheism does not lead to despair. Loneliness does. I have been saying this for a long time, atheists need to learn how to be well-rounded citizens, such as Christians have been educated for all their lives, every Sunday at church.
- Three years ago I was a Christian. Three years ago I thought I was completely in love. Three years ago I had good relationships with people I never speak to now. Three years ago I was a kid. Life is constantly changing, our brains are adapting. We should not base our lives on opinions we have at the moment, because the next day they may be different. This is another reason to propagate ambiguity.
- Different ideologies have communicated the Golden Rule way before Jesus. It is not Jesus that originally called for peace and understanding. So why not start from somewhere else?
This is my understanding of the issue.
Dave Rubin on the other hand responds, (paraphrased) “Are there not a lot of people as atheists that live absolutely content lives in happy marriages?”
A perfect response, if you ask me. He doesn’t extend because he doesn’t need to. We understand the principle. Christianity is not needed for happiness, hence it can not make damning claims on Atheism for being an unhappy belief. I did not say Christians can not be happy. I just said that Christianity is not the prerequisite for happiness in this life. So it can not expect all Atheists to be unhappy (not to speak of those of other religions).
What Would Leading Atheists Respond to Claims Such as These?
You had my humble response. Now let us look at what leading Atheists think about these things.
Sam Harris, a neurologist and stanford-educated philosopher, wrote in his book Moral Landscape on this topic as well. He helpfully explains why our happiness is dependant on others:
“While each of us is selfish, we are not merely so. Our own happiness requires that we extend the circle of our self-interest to others — to family, friends, and even to perfect strangers whose pleasures and pains matter to us. . . . even Adam Smith recognised that each of us cares deeply about the happiness of others. He also recognized, however that our ability to care about others has its limits are themselves the object of our personal and collective concern” (57).
Harris further elaborates:
“The truth about us is plain to see: most of us are powerfully absorbed by selfish desires almost every moment of our lives; our attention to our own pains and pleasures could scarcely be more acute; only the most piercing cries of anonymous suffering capture our interest, and then fleetingly. And yet, when we consciously reflect on what we should do, an angel of beneficence and impartiality seems to spread its wings within us: we genuinely want fair and just societies; we want others to have their hopes realized; we want to leave the world better than we found it” (58–9).
And then he provides a list of the ways we have changed from the so called ‘Selfish Gene’ so to speak, to our civilized cultural selves of now:
“1. Genetic changes in the brain gave rise to social emotions, moral intuitions, and language . . .
2. These allowed for increasingly complex cooperative behavior, the keeping of promises, concern about one’s reputation, etc. . . .
3. Which became the basis for cultural norms, laws, and social institutions whose purpose has been to render this growing system of cooperation durable in the face of countervailing forces” (59).
That was my call to authority. If you will not listen to me, perhaps you will listen to the much more accomplished and better educated. Happiness is ultimately gained not by being selfish, but by extending your help to others to build them up, not to bring them down.
The Postmodern and Consequentialism
To provide further arguments on this point, I will quote from a text-book I have read for one of my English courses. This is taken from An Introduction to Literature, Criticism, and Theory, and I thought that it fits for the benefit of this article perfectly. In this case it is speaking about the postmodern in literature. But it can be applied to atheism as well, just substitute the word postmodern with the word atheist:
“For those nervous of the postmodern (or atheist), this is deemed to amount simply to nihilism and chaos. But for the postmodernists (or atheists) it is precisely those monolithic, unthinking assumptions about a fixed grounding for political, ethical, and textual decisions that lead to abhorrent results. It is the belief in a transcendent explanatory system — such as God, national identity or historical materialism, to name just three — which leads to terror, persecution and oppression. In each case, there is a transcendental value (God, the nation-state, a certain reading of the writing of Marx) which can justify any excess. Postmodernists suggest that reason itself has been used to justify all sorts of oppression. Reason may be said to lie behind the Stalinist terror, for example, in the form of a rational or ‘scientific’ development of Marx’s thinking. Alternatively, in the science of eugenics, ‘rational’ argument or so-called empirical science helped to justify the Jewish holocaust on grounds of racial difference” (326–7).
What’s my point? I was a big opponent to postmodernism when I was a Christian. Then I read up on it. I tried to understand, I wrote a paper, had a presentation, bought some books, had a couple of conversations and I started understanding why things are not detrimental in and of themselves. Understanding a worldview is not dangerous.
Atheism, if done well, will not lead to moral chaos. It will not bring the ‘End Times’, or a vast persecution of Christians. If done well, it will learn to take the good that Religion has provided and expand on it. It will shake off that which has hurt society and adapt to new cultural norms.
This is why I do not think Christianity is good for me. Because there are beliefs that need shaking off. There are beliefs that are damaging to society. In this article we started with the first one: that Atheism leads to absolutist terror and dictatorial regimes.
I hope to at least have started to persuade you otherwise.
Thank you for reading.
If you liked this, please make sure to read my review of C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. I appreciate every comment and recommendation.
Dave Rubin’s interview:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (Will Durant).