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Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’

A Naturalist might ask a theist, or Christian to be specific, for proof of the existence of God. One might point to the bible, and then the naturalist will say that is rubbish, it is full of magic tricks called ‘miracles’. These are impossible, he/she might say, because of Hume’s argument against them: it is far more likely that a witness to such an event is either lying or mistaken, than the laws of the universe have been altered.

But imagine this: You ask for proof of divinity and Jesus rises from the dead and says that death no longer has a hold on humanity if you believe in Him. So you say that is rubbish, because clearly people don’t rise from the dead. Let’s say we go a step further and a miracle of one kind or another happens and you see the reports of it on the news. You then say that that too is rubbish and the whole lot of people must have been drunk, high, or stupid to believe anything they are reporting to have seen (or even better, it was some magician trying to make a name for himself by making a building disappear in NYC…damn those magicians…good special effects these days…). Then, let us say that a miracle happens right before your eyes. What do you say then? “O well, I must have had something bad to eat last night, I’m hallucinating, tired, delirious, insane, dreaming, mistaken, etc etc. You will never, ever, come to the proper conclusion, the truth of the matter, because you exclude miracles from the start. Even if one actually occurred right before your eyes, God proving His divinity and power over natural laws (not that a miracle must be that way), you would still not recognize it for what it is.

In conclusion, when a naturalist claims that they just can’t believe what was written thousands of years ago about miracles, and they sure would like to see some in the present day, preferably right before their very eyes, this very instant so that they may believe, they are mistaken or lying, because they still would not believe.

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“Men seem to proceed on their way in a twilight of indifferent neutrality; and this in spite of all their activity and suffering, their influencing and being influenced, their sowing and their reaping. But what fruits do they secure? What is the upshot of their journey? What signifies their behavior and their prowess? What do they achieve by their words and by their deeds in which they do but discover their own selves? What mean the ‘movements’, the alliances, and the rules within the framework of which they live their lives? Whither do progress and evolution lead them? What is the goal, the TELOS, the purpose of those innumerable ends for which men strive and to which they may, or may not, attain? Do men know the answer to these questions? Or indeed, can they know? In this harvest of human endeavor wheat and tares grow up in such entangled identity that it is impossible to detect which brings forth iniquity and which sanctification (vi. 19). Who is able to judge, and by what objective norm can it be decided, whether the limbs of our mortal body do right or wrong? Who can say whether a thing made by the finite and created spirit of man is evil or good, or whether this or that motion of the soul or historical achievement is iniquitous or holy? May it not be that everything that men do and say and bring into being lies wholly on one side or the other? Is there any visible iniquity which it is quite impossible to interpret as sanctification? Or is there any visible sanctification which may not be called iniquity? We possess, however, no Rosetta stone by the help of which we can decipher the unknown language of human life. We are manifestly ignorant of the harvest which the Lord will carry into His barns; ignorant, too, of the relation between His harvest and ours. And if the meaning of the things we bring forth is beyond our comprehension, how can we comprehend the meaning of our existence? If we do not know our end, how can we know our beginning? Are our affirmations and our negations anything more than chance or whim? When we judge one man a criminal and another a saint; when we destine one to hell and another to heaven; when we believe ‘good will grow better and better, and evil worse and worse’ (Harnack), are we not purely capricious? Moreover, what is good? What is evil? Is it not right that twilight such as this should mark the realm of tension and polarity, of dualism and allogeneity? Here ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ confront each other; here both are alike necessary, valuable, and divine–and, yet we can have no very great illusion about the necessity, value, and divinity of this ‘Yes’ and this ‘No’. Here wisdom can, no doubt, do its utmost to adjust a balance and arrange a compromise–so that the play can run on without a hitch!” p. 225-226 The Epistle to the Romans

Here Barth breaks down the basic questions that all men ought to ask and ponder. I’ve come across many non-religious folks who think that Christians just don’t think about these things at all. That these questions are passed over because they don’t “fit” in to our “religion”. I think Barth shows us how they do fit in, and how they are at the back of everyone’s mind whether they realize it or not.

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“Only the person taken on in Christ is the real human being; only the person confronted by the cross of Christ is the judged human being; only the person who participates in the resurrection of Christ is the renewed human being. Since God became a human being in Christ, all thinking about human beings without Christ is unfruitful abstraction. The counter-image to the human being taken up into the form of Christ is the human being as self-creator, self-judge, and self-renewer; these people bypass their true humanity and therefore, sooner or later, destroy themselves. Falling away from Christ is at the same time falling away from one’s own true nature.” p. 134 Ethics

Before any non-religious people get upset, I apply this passage to myself and all ‘believers’ as well. At the end Bonhoeffer reminds me of Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death. I see the counter-image to the human being taken up into the form of Christ in the self-righteous, “holy” man who thumps his bible at people and condemns them, as well as the ‘free’ thinker who seeks to ‘free’ those still enslaved to religion. What were you created to be? Who you are in the eyes of God is what matters…can you see it? In the love of God, in Christ, we find ourselves as we ought to be, and as we shall be.

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“Is God unrighteous? No; but He has His own standard! The righteousness of God is eternal! The love of God is infinite, and not finite! What does this mean? According to human conceptions such a God can be described only as a ‘Despot’, and men are bound to rebel against His tyranny. But He whom men would not naturally wish to name ‘God’ is, nevertheless, God. Through the knowledge of God which is in Christ, He whom men name ‘Despot’ (Luke ii. 29, Acts iv. 24), is known and loved as the eternal, loving Father. The God of Esau is known to be the God of Jacob. There is no road to the knowledge of God which does not run along the precipitous edge of this contradiction. If we conceive of God as conformed to our human ideas, as one cause in a series, as one factor among other factors, He is not the Cause, the Absolute, the Eternal, Personal God–but rather the ‘No-God’. And even this ‘No-God’ is the parable and image whereby we are led inexorably to the point where the contradiction occurs. For the ‘No-God’ points beyond himself, and is himself dissolved to the honour of the true and only God. The will of God is not some good thing, operating independently, to which God is subject. His will is rather the source and sanction of all good, and it is good only because it is what He wills…” p. 350 The Epistle to the Romans

In a discussion with an atheist friend of mine the character of God was brought up. He claimed God was clearly evil, and mentioned evil things in the world, and in the Bible. I said he was mistaken, and here is my reasoning, along with some of Karl Barth’s. From within the Christian perspective (and this may be a debated point) we, as finite human beings, cannot come up with a “measure” by which to judge God as evil. We have no “yard stick” of morality we can hold up to God and say “this is evil”. Instead, He is the measuring stick by which we are judged. Judgment is one way, from God to us. Thus you have Barth talking about God being perceived as a Despot, and the No-God being invented to sooth the minds of those who cannot stomach the true God. But once you can grasp what it means to be the true God, the rest falls into your understanding as well. The Eternal, loving, God the father; the Cause, the Absolute, the Personal God; all of these things become clear then.

I like to keep things short, but here’s some more. To use evil as a predicate for God means you are no longer talking about God. You have switched to some other entity and are judging it. God, by His nature, is good. Without this, He is not God, and to attribute evil to his nature is contradictory.

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“Then who created thee lamenting learn
When who can uncreate thee thou shalt know.” -Abdiel in Milton’s Paradise Lost, book 5.

Some context: From what I remember (it has been years since I read this epic poem) Satan is rallying angels to his cause in heaven. He believes he is uncreated and a co-equal god with God. He does not believe he was made to serve, but to govern, like God governs. He argues his case among the angels, and one stands against him, and speaks the truth. Satan will have none of it.

I think what is quoted above is quite amazing and powerful. Read it aloud. Read all of Paradise Lost out loud. Unfortunately this is how many rabid atheists will probably know God: “when who can uncreate thee thou shalt know” in their destruction. I like how Milton says this…you can learn of your creator; a positive force above you in every way, or you can know who can “uncreate” you; a negative and destructive force above you in every way. It seems some people know God in the positive sense, as their creator, while others only know Him as their destroyer. Below is some more text just after Abdiel speaks his part.

“So spake the Seraph Abdiel, faithful found
Among the faithless, faithful only he;
Among innumerable false unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal;
Nor number nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,
Though single. From amidst them forth he passed,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he sustained
Superior, nor of violence feared aught
And with retorted scorn his back he turned
On those proud towers, to swift destruction doomed”

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“Secretly we are ourselves the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust Himself.”

This is plucked from Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. In this section he goes over how we diminish God so much so that we stop thinking about God for who He is, and replace Him with ourselves. We become the God we worship, unknowingly, and therefore dangerously. At the end of this passage, quoted in full below, Barth describes the context and solution in more detail.

“Our relation to God is ungodly. We suppose that we know what we are saying when we say ‘God’. We assign to Him the highest place in our world: and in so doing we place Him fundamentally on one line with ourselves and with things. We assume that He needs something: and so we assume that we are able to arrange our relation to Him as we arrange our other relationships. We press ourselves into proximity with Him: and so, all unthinking, we make Him nigh unto ourselves. We allow ourselves to reckon with Him as though this were not extraordinary behavior on our part. We dare to deck ourselves out as His companions, patrons, advisers, and commissioners. We confound time with eternity. This is the ungodliness of our relation to God. And our relation to God is unrighteous. Secretly we are ourselves the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust Himself. Our arrogance demands that, in addition to everything else, some super-world should also be known and accessible to us. Our conduct calls for some deeper sanction, some approbation and remuneration from another world. Our well-regulated, and pleasurable life longs for some hours of devotion, some prolongation into infinity. And so, when we set God upon the throne of the world, we mean by God ourselves. In ‘believing’ on Him, we justify, enjoy and adore ourselves. Our devotion consists in a solemn affirmation of ourselves and of the world and in a pious setting aside of the contradiction. Under the banners of humility and emotion we rise in rebellion against God. We confound time with eternity. That is our unrighteousness. –Such is our relation to God apart from and without Christ, on this side resurrection, and before we are called to order. God Himself is not acknowledged as God and what is called ‘God’ is in fact Man. By living to ourselves, we serve the ‘No-God’. ” p. 44 The Epistle to the Romans

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The claim is that Christianity is the cause of terrible violence throughout the world, throughout its history. I will try to argue against this using perhaps only two points that I think are the strongest to pit against this attack.

1. The foundation of Christianity, so to speak, is that men are unrighteous, fallible, evil…sinners. To see them do evil is no surprise. Likewise, the foundation of a secular humanist (who usually attacks Christianity in this way) is that men do good things, that we are righteous, that we can judge and find what is right in the world.

So where am I going with this point? Here: If church leaders throughout history have sided with evil (numerous cases can be pointed out) it is not the antithesis of Christianity, but the foundation of it. They are trying to point out hypocrisy or a flaw in Christianity, but what they are pointing out is only a flaw in the character of man, which they hold to be so high.

As a theological side note, which need not be included in this argument, the Church, in all its failings, guilt, and tribulations is fulfilling its role on earth as a sign post, pointing not to itself (which is void of goodness in itself) but beyond itself, to God. It is reminding us of our own guilt and tribulations, and pointing us towards reconciliation with God. The secular humanist, meanwhile, points only inwardly and towards himself, to the rotting character of man, and never beyond.

2. Historically the greatest evils in the world have tried to eradicate religion from the face of the earth. These evils were political in nature, and anti-religion. What am I talking about? Try Hitler, Stalin and Mao…see which one supported religion for what religion is. All of them tried to turn the worship of God into the worship of themselves. From this study, you can also see that great violence and evils don’t just errupt from Christian lands, but from Buddhist or Islamic etc lands as well.

So is the problem religion then in general? No, as I said, it is political in nature, and any serious study of these great evils in the world would make that clear.

These two points taken together, I feel, are enough to squash the argument that Christianity is responsible for terrible violence in the world. The crux of the matter is that the great violence in the world is almost always political in nature. Citing the times when the church was complacent with evil, as if these are incidences proving Christianity false or evil, only demonstrates the character of man as such. This point is damaging to the secular humanist world view, not the Christian one.

As a P.S. I would like to add that sometimes the phrase “Violence in the name of Jesus” comes up in these arguments. To that I would simply rebut firstly that anyone can do violence in the name of anything, no matter what. Someone could blow up a building in the name of the easter bunny…that doesn’t make the easter bunny some evil thing that should be eradicated for inciting violence. Secondly, the teachings of Jesus are not violent, and to look at his life and work one can not draw violent conclusions. This is not true of all major world religious founders / figures however…

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