Responses to NY times articles: “An Atheist’s Christmas Dream” and “Religion Without God”

On Christmas eve I had a great discussion with a family member about religion and atheism.  Two days later they handed me the Christmas day Op-Ed section of the New York Times.  They wanted me to read two articles that were relevant to our conversation: 1) “An Atheist’s Christmas Dream” AND 2) “Religion Without God”. The following is part of an email message that I sent back to them in response to the articles:

It is interesting that you gave me those newspaper articles as the same day another article came out in the Wall Street Journal called “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God” (here is the article- http://www.wsj.com/articles/eric-metaxas-science-increasingly-makes-the-case-for-god-1419544568).  Needless to say, there are compelling arguments on both sides of the “God debate”.  However, what we need to ask ourselves is: which arguments are more convincing? AND are we open-minded enough to be convinced by a good argument?  With these questions in mind, here we go…

“An Atheist’s Christmas Dream”- http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/opinion/an-atheists-christmas-dream.html?_r=0

Here are a few quotes from each article that I briefly respond to. I will offer elaborated responses upon request!

He says, “That the war was one of the great failings of “civilization” is beyond question…”

I agree that it is a failure. However, on atheism, can he tell us why it was objectively bad or evil?

He says, “But nothing slowed the killing, certainly not religion. Though you wouldn’t know it from the rhetoric, logic demonstrates that a benevolent God played no role. This, of course, is one of the reasons to dislike organized religion; each person thinks God is on his side. Perhaps turning the other cheek is too much to ask.”

Here he is borrowing language from a Theistic worldview by assuming that unjustified killing is objectively wrong. This is ironic because atheism holds that all morals, values, and duties are subjective. On atheism, whatever is in nature is good and correct. Most atheists I talk to blame God for what humans freely do. His quip at the end about turning the other cheek is clever but telling and harsh on anyone who is religious. How many wars have been fought on behalf of atheism? It can be argued that Marxism and the regimes of Stalin of Russia and Mao of China based their worldview on atheism. How many died in the gulags of Russia or the social revolution in China? Atheism is not the absence of faith in God. It is faith in the absence of God. In other words, the atheist trusts their worldview is better than theism and is banking on the fact that they are right.

He cites his friend saying, “Christians would all say ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ They just can’t agree on what love entails and who your neighbor is.” He later says, “Though it’s widely ignored, we all know what love is and who our neighbors are.”

How does he know what that Bible verse means? Could it be that the truth of God’s commandment is written on his heart and all men’s hearts? Read Romans 2:12-16 in the Bible. Him stating, “we all know what love is and who our neighbors are” is antithetical to his own worldview. He is actually supporting Christianity in stating this. It seems like he might be confused as to what atheism actually entails. He wants no God to exist but he also wants there to be a moral compass that everyone has access to supernaturally.

He says, “The so-called golden rule — do unto others — is ostensibly a core principle of every major religion.”

Read Matthew 5:43-48 AND Luke 6:27-36 – This is Jesus’ prescription for love. It is not just treat them, as you would like to be treated, although that is part of it. It means praying for those who hate you and actively seek to destroy you. I would be interested to hear similar prescriptions from other religions, specifically from Islam. However, this is an “in-house” conversation for those who believe that things exist beyond nature. Atheists don’t believe that the golden rule is objectively required as a duty.

He says, “A just and wonderful world can be ours, as long as we do not relinquish our citizenship.”

I wonder what the author’s view of a wonderful world looks like. Advocates of communism have espoused the ideal of a utopian society and the ultimate goal seems to include one world government. My opinion is that the more centralized and powerful the government is, the less freedom the individual is allowed. The only way to ensure one world government or a communal society is to enforce it with the strong hand of government intervention and the nanny state. I love the First Amendment to the constitution that says, congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof. And I love it that we have free speech and press! People are free to believe and act on their beliefs without government interference as long as we don’t let them interfere.

He says, “The historical Jesus was a nonviolent revolutionary. Let’s celebrate that.”

It is interesting how every worldview wants to use Jesus as their poster boy to push whatever agenda suites their needs. One thing that I think we should do when evaluating Jesus is to take into account what he said about himself and what others during his time thought of him. He claimed to be God, which means that he was either is God or is a liar or a lunatic (More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell, 2009). We cannot just think he was a good person and shrug off the fact that he said he was the Lord. Read the historical documents on it in the New Testament Gospels. These are primary accounts of his life are historical. In fact, according to an official statement from the Smithsonian Institution, the Bible is historically accurate in much of its claims and can be counted as more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories.

“Religion Without God”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/opinion/religion-without-god.html

This article hit close to home for me and I appreciated it. It seemed like an indictment on the church and on all religions that claim to have something special. I will quote a couple lines and respond in turn:

She says, “Unitarianism emerged in early modern Europe from those who rejected a Trinitarian theology in preference for the doctrine that God was one.”

It seems like Unitarians started as a more inclusivistic group then strayed from doctrinal norms connected to orthodox Christianity. However, they started disbelieving and now are comprised of naturalists and atheists. How could a group who believed in One God now believe in none? I do not have room in this message to refute the claim that the trinity is false. However, I will say that the Bible affirms both that God is one and that Jesus is God along with the Holy Spirit. The reason for Trinitarian formulation is because it makes sense of what the Bible says about God. Yes, word “trinity” is not in the bible. However, neither is the word “incarnation” and that is the word we use to describe God becoming man in Jesus. The trinity is not an invention of the early Catholic Church but an inference made about God when accounting for all statements about God in the Bible.

She says, “Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt.” She then quotes a founder of Sunday Assembly, a fast growing atheist church movement, ““Singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. Which part of that is not to like?”” Near the end of the article she states, “Much of what people actually do in church — finding fellowship, celebrating birth and marriage, remembering those we have lost, affirming the values we cherish — can be accomplished with a sense of God as metaphor, as story, or even without any mention of God at all.”

The proliferation atheistic church is an indictment of Christian churches. If the only thing church congregations offer is ritual and community, then there is nothing different between the two churches. It reminds me of this verse: 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…” This last sentence shows how people can go through the motions with “church” and still deny its power. It seems superfluous to attend a “house of God” if God is not real. It is a charade. I am not denying the practical benefits of being involved in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This type of community can help many social problems, especially if the communities promote family values and growth. Atheists see the value of church as modeled for years by theists. The fact that atheist churches exist makes me wonder what my intentions are for church. Is church today being run the way it is supposed to be run? Are Christians “doing church” for the right reasons?

She says, “Moreover, these rituals work, if by “work” we mean that they change people’s sense of their lives. It turns out that saying that you are grateful makes you feel grateful. Saying that you are thankful makes you feel thankful. To a world so familiar with the general unreliability of language, that may seem strange. But it is true.

This is interesting to me. It reminds me of my article on neuroplasticity – https://williamjosephsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/neuroplasticity/

She says, “May the spirit of Christmas be with you, however you understand what that means.

This is coming from a relativist’s standpoint and I reject the premise of the statement. It seems to imply that everything is subjective and that truth or knowledge cannot be known objectively. This can lead to some absurdities. For example, say that you are dying and you have a choice between two bottles sitting in front of you. One bottle is labeled “poison”, and the other “medicine”. You, I hope, would never choose the bottle labeled “poison”. The objective truth in that case is that one bottle is poison and the other is medicine. Even though we might not know every truth, that does not mean that truth does not exist. In fact the statement, “truth does not exist” is self-contradictory and fails its own criterion.

There is truth and we are on earth to find out what it is. Paul alluded to this when reasoning with the Greeks in Athens: “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for” ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; Acts 17:22-28

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