Six Questions to Ask an Atheist

Recently, I wrote the following on Facebook:

Been thinking about life after death ideas and people saying they can’t stand the thought of nonexistence. I think, how did I feel before I was born, the other time I didn’t exist, and I realize there’s nothing to fear. Literally. 

This led to a discussion between me and various Facebook friends, atheists and Christians, including an invitation by one friend to consider the following questions from a blog post entitled, Six Questions to Ask an Atheist.  I thought answering them would be a good opportunity for me to explain myself and really think about this.  I won’t do it all at once, as there are quite a bit more than six questions, as you can see.  This will come slowly, I’m sure, and will be interspersed with other topics.  Stay tuned.

Six Key Questions to Ask an Atheist
Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists.  Sometimes, in the midst of arguments and proofs, we miss the importance of conversation.  These questions, then, are meant to be a part of a conversation.  They are not, in and of themselves, arguments or “proofs” for God.  They are commonly asked existential or experiential questions that both atheists and theists alike can ponder.

1.    If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern.  Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?  If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?  Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?  How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong?  If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

3.    When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question – are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I’m thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.

4.    If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer?  Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.  It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort.  Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?

5.   If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most?  Whose voice will be heard?  Whose tastes or preferences will be honored?  In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway?  Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong?  Where do those standards come from?  Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy.  Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

6.    If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent?  How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty?  Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world?

For further reading, see Ravi Zacharias’s book The Real Face of Atheism, and C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity.  The RZIM website has many excellent resources on atheism, www.rzim.org, as does the Centre for Public Christianity, www.publicchristianity.org.

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Been thinking…

I know, always dangerous, but here we go.

So what’s up with this?  I often hear people say that God never gives a person more than s/he can handle.  This is said in times of adversity ~ living with a serious illness, the birth of a very disabled child, having a terrible accident and learning to live with disability,….  Okay, so God gives the strong people adversity because they can handle it.  I guess that feels good if you’ve been dealt a bad blow.

On the other hand, there are those who are basically healthy, who have healthy kids, who never have anything go terribly wrong, besides the “normal” problems of life.  Does God thinks they are weak?  When you see the people with the “charmed” lives, has God thought ~ “ah, poor weaklings, I better make things easy for them.”

Another scenario.  Terrible accident.  Family prays for healing and healing occurs.  Wow, the power of prayer!  Proof in God.  What about the other families whose loved ones don’t heal so well?  Are their prayers no good?  Maybe they aren’t doing it right?  Maybe God just thinks they are stronger and can handle the adversity, so He’ll let them deal with it.  Heal the weak ones, give the strong ones hell.  Somebody has to. 

Or, maybe it’s all random.  The good and the bad happens because that’s how life is ~ full of good and bad and it’s going to happen to someone.  What’s bad for one might be good for another.  The beautiful deer dies, but the tiger lives another day.  The rabbit eats the carrot, the carrot dies.   The fire destroys plant and animal life, yet cleanses and renews the land.  Bacteria takes a life, but lives and spreads itself.  All life fights for another day.  Begging praying for our own better treatment doesn’t make it so.  Rationalizing adversity doesn’t make it go away, but oh, it does make it feel better.  So, rationalize on.  It’s what we do with these big ‘ole frontal lobes.  I bet that bacteria ain’t prayin’ to God, yet sometimes it wins anyway.

Freedom

So, I’ve been thinking about religion – especially since the comment discussion under Call me an animal, which led to some private email discussions, which were quite lovely.  Anyway, I think I’ve figured something out, and I realize this is a complete no-brainer to some, but it seems like the whole religion tension comes down to one thing – life after death.  For the faithful, the questioning, the nonfaithful, the angry, and those of all religions I can think of – this is the crux of the issue.  What will happen to me when I die?  I need to make sure I will be okay.

And this is exactly why I am free.  I’m not concerned about life after my death.  I have no need for salvation.  I’m just doing my best while I’m here.  It’s very important to me to do my best and be as ethical as I can.  However, I feel no need to prove myself to a higher being or be saved by one.  Myself and those who around me are all I expect to prove myself to and actually, I find that to be a pretty awesome responsibility.  All to often, I think religious people put their responsiblity to God before their responsibilities to each other, but that is another subject, which I don’t think I’ll be broaching any further.

I’ve been thinking about when I die, which I do as much as anyone else, I guess.  I was talking about it with Kimberly last night.  At one time, I wanted to be eaten by a tiger – you know, right back into the food chain.  Now, that’s reincarnation!  But, I don’t think it’s legal for someone to dump my body in a jungle.  Burial at sea doesn’t appeal to me, as I’m afraid of deep water and sea monsters (sharks, jellyfish, and the like).  I guess I want to become something that I like.  My current desire for my body is to be composted.  Human composting

consists of taking the corpse’s temperature to minus 321 Fahrenheit in a liquid-nitrogen bath and breaking the brittle body down into a rough powder through mechanical vibration.

The remains are then dehydrated and cleared of any metal, reducing a body weighing 165 pounds in life to 55 pounds of pink-beige powder, plus the remains of the coffin.

Then, my compost can be used to nourish some kind of plant.  I was thinking I’d like to become a white dogwood, but maybe a fruit tree.  Either way, I’d be back in the food chain – plant –> flowers –> bees –> pollen –> honey –> humans.  It wouldn’t be too long until I parts of me would be human again.  There’s something poetic about it.  Fruit tree – even faster, people would eat my apples.  Ooooooh, creepy.  Maybe it’s too quick a process?  I’m thinking the dogwood is the way to go. 

Unfortunately, right now human composting is only happening in Sweden, as far as I can tell.  I’m not sure what the big deal is.  It’s much more ecological than cremation.  I’m told there are some green cemetaries in the U.S., but even then you’re segregated.  I like the idea of cremation where people can make individualized plans for the ashes, but with composting the remains actually have some use.

 

My dream

I had a dream last night that I was applying for a job to take care of apes.  Oh, but they were so cute!  I walked into a store that sold used cars and washers and dryers.  Weird combination, but it was a dream.  There were also these wonderful apes everywhere and I started interacting with them and really liked them and they responded positively to me.  This made me oh so happy.  Then a woman working there asked if I’d be interested in a job.  I told her I had a job at the brain injury rehab, but I’d love a part-time job on evenings and weekends taking care of the apes.  The dream ended as I was filling out the application. 

What does it mean?  Maybe that I want to take care of someone who needs me?  Also, I think it’s reminiscent of my Call me an animal post, because like I said there I would like to be more animal like.  I also happen to agree with Secret Agent’s thoughts on religion dividing us from animals and each other.  However, I’ve also been thinking about the awesome religious people in my life – mostly Christians.  I’m lucky to know many Christians, one posted a comment on the “animal” post, who although they disagree with me, don’t judge me harshly.  In other words, from what I can tell the cool Christians I know are religious to their core, but they don’t judge me for being different from them.  Much like Jesus did with people who were different from him, in fact.  I have also known Christians who are extremely judgemental and don’t want anything to do with me, without ever attempting to know me.  These people make me sad and sometimes angry.  I’ll admit that this anger has sometimes caused me to react poorly.  However, I’m trying to not judge others badly, until I’m judged first.  That’s what feels right to me.  I do like the Golden Rule.  It’s universal to all faiths and I think a good rule to live by.  In fact, it works well for us animals too. 

The ALTS

I belong to a cool adoption forum. It’s a neat gang of people who joined together to support each other during the long wait. What do I like about this group? I asked to join, despite the fact that they require a 2006 LID, because of I found myself reading the blogs of other members and decided I had to find out what this ALT group was all about. Then, I went to the site and read this description and was intrigued. Here’s what I found:

“Were you DTC during the 2006 calendar year? Are you tired of saccharine religiosity, prayer requests, and overt proselytization? Turned off by red threads and China “angels”? Then this is the group for you! We are thoughtful, open-minded, humorous, and easily frustrated by the likes of red, white, and blue hair-pretties and signature bible quotes. While we look forward to participating in some of the old-school DTC traditions, we won’t be shoving ladybugs at you. ALTERNATIVE DTC 2006 was created by three disgruntled a-parents as an alternative, nonreligious forum for those of us allergic to the traditional DTC group culture.”

I’d noticed that some groups get a little over-zealous about using religion and adoption myths to help cope with the wait. That hasn’t done much for me. There was also talk of saving heathen children by converting them to Christianity and other things that I find disrespectful and even dangerous. I’d also found some groups to be very right-wing, conservative Christian to the point that anyone else wasn’t comfortable. In fact, I was kicked out of a group for asking for religious diversity.

I recently found that the group is getting a bad rap as anti-Christian, when in fact many in the group are Christian. How this happened, I’m not sure. I find it odd that when people just ask not to hear religious talk constantly that they are branded anti-Christian. These are just people who want to talk about adoption and other life issues in other ways, too. We found, on other forums, that often discussion was quickly shut down with “I’ll pray for you” with no other discussion open. While I don’t object to anyone praying for me, sometimes what I want to do is think things through with others or even vent. I found that place with the ALTS. They are smart, funny, thoughtful, empathic, and authentic. Many are religious and some are Christian. All are tolerant of our world’s religions, although most are having a hard time with religious intolerance and some feel it directed at them. Our goals adoption related. Can someone tell me why people who choose not to discuss religion overtly are labeled anti-Christian or worse? Is this a Christian thing to do? Doesn’t Christianity preach love of thy neighbor even if thy neighbor is different? Isn’t that what Jesus did? Over and over I find groups like our ALT group are very threatening to certain Christians. Not all. None that I choose to spend time with. Still, it saddens me, as I don’t think that’s what it’s all about.

What’s been really interesting recently, is that this stuff has been discussed on the ALT forum and I have read with fascination. Mostly, what fascinates me is that this group can talk things out. Things are discussed, even argued about, but people are thinking! I’ve seen people get censored and banned for this stuff on other forums. And you know what? Some feelings have been hurt, but only for the moment, I think. Everyone survives and I think we have a stronger group because of it. There’s no fear like I’ve heard of about some groups about saying certain things. We have freedom of thought and speech and we’re surviving. No, we’re thriving.

Political hoopla

There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, and his choice to privately take his oath of office on his holy book, the Qur’an. Many would prefer that he stick with the majority tradition, which is to use the Bible, although this would be a meaningless act for him, akin to a Christian taking the oath on the Qur’an. Why, I wonder, would anyone prefer to have Ellison take a solemn promise to uphold American law on a book that has no personal meaning for him? I’ve just read an article by Dennis Prager, a radio show host and contributing columnist for Townhall.com, who states that,

“America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison’s favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.”

Huh? The American founding fathers came here for religious freedom. They came to escape persecution in Europe. Now, well over 200 years later we’re looking to persecute others over religious issues? Those of the majority religion are deciding that their holy book is the American holy book? What’s really ironic is that some of the most famous American founding fathers, were not Christian, and they strongly supported separation of church and state, since they saw the dangers of combining them in the past. John Adams rejected the Trinity, becoming an early Unitarian. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were Deists, which began in the eighteenth century and was very popular in America. Deism is a system of thought advocating natural religion based on human reason rather than revelation. Jefferson was also a deist, who accepted some of the doctrines of Jesus. He also said in his Notes on Virginia that,

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury to my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” (Dumas Malon, Jefferson The President: First Term 1801-1805. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1970, p. 191).

Our Founding Fathers wisely left issues faith to individuals and they created a government that must neither endorse nor oppose any religion because they saw the damage government and religion could do when combined. America is not a Christian or religious country. It is a secular country where all have the freedom to believe and practice whatever religion they choose. Also, religious practice is not a part of government activity.

Back to Prager: he also states that allowing Ellison to choose his own book, in what I might add is a private ceremony, is equivalent to allowing someone to use Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” which he calls the Nazi bible. He also refers to the Qur’an as the Muslim bible. I have two problems with this:

  1. What someone does in a private ceremony is his or her own business. Ellison was elected by the people of Minnesota, who must have seen qualities they where looking for. Maybe they chose him because he’s a Muslim. Maybe they didn’t. Never the less, what he does at his private ceremony is his business just as it’s mine whether I say grace at my table or not. I only hope that if I do it is according to my belief, otherwise I am just a liar or a fool. I will add, that I do allow the beliefs of my guests to be represented at my table in the form of prayer if it is their custom out of courtesy to them. But I would do that with any issue. Prager is acting as though the Bible is the mandated book to use, when in fact it is only the most commonly chosen book. All those in this position may chose any or no book for this purpose. In fact, no religious text is used in the public ceremony, as we have separation of church and state in the U.S., so it would be inappropriate to use any religious text.
  2. The Qur’an and Mein Kampf are not bibles and to call them such is to mix up religions and show great ignorance. I always find this an odd thing that religious people do when discussing other religions. To even put Mein Kampf in the same category as the Bible is quite the insult to Christianity, but he did it, not me.

I find it oddly fascinating and sad that some Christians are so threatened by someone taking their oath of office on a book different that what they find holy. Are their beliefs so weak that they are so easily threatened by this? Is Christianity truly so weak? Good Lord, what would Jesus think?

Happy Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of light.

Many, many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root: an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration. ~ This site

Early Christians transplanted the holiday of the birth of Christ onto the Winter Solstice, as a way to get the pagans to celebrate the new religion. Many Christian traditions, including the Christmas tree, mistletoe, use of candles, gift giving, and the celebration of a god-man born to a virgin (Jesus by God the Father and mortal mother Mary and Apollo by god Zeus and mortal mother Leto). These were all themes familiar to the pagans and in time it wasn’t hard for them to make the transition to Christianity.

We’re busy tomorrow night and won’t be attending our community’s Winter Solstice celebration. I’ll miss it. Happy Solstice everyone.

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