I’m going to steal this entire post from Tough Questions Answered to get a conversation started:
Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority. They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.
For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.
Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God. This God gives them what they want when they want it. He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy. He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead. C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren. You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No problem!
Is this the Christian God? Philosopher Paul Moser answers the question:
It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans. Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans. Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.
If you are “worshiping” a God who makes no demands on you, you’re worshiping no God at all. You’re just trying to find a deity to make you feel good about your selfish choices. What’s the point?
I’m posting this because I’m looking for comments. Do you know anyone like this? I’ll help by getting you started with some sample atheists.
Famous atheists agree: God is not the boss of them
Consider the words of Thomas Nagel, a famous atheist philosopher:
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.
I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”
He is a widely respected atheist. He once named Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell as one of the Times Literary Supplement’s best books of the year.
And what about atheist Richard Lewontin: (and by “science” he means “naturalistic science”)
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our own a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, not matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” (Richard Lewontin in New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28)
Interesting. He’s willing to tell people lies to keep the Divine Foot outside the door.
And one last one from Aldous Huxley:
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantegous to themselves… For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” — Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937
So this is pretty widespread among famous atheists. How about among ordinary atheists?
Additionally, atheists are not as charitable as religious people:
Arthur Brooks’ survey showed that atheists certainly give less in charity and do less community service as religious people on the right and left.
Drawing on some ten data sets, Brooks finds that religiosity is among the best predictors of charitable giving. Religious Americans are not only much more likely to give money and volunteer their time to religious and secular institutions, they are also more likely to provide aid to family members, return incorrect change, help a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, despite expecting to find just the opposite, Brooks concluded: “I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people.”
Consider some examples. Religious citizens who make $49,000 gave away about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income. They also volunteered twice as often, are 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons, and two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace. Meanwhile, those who insist that “beliefs don’t matter as long as you’re a good person” are not as good as those who do think beliefs matter. The former group gave and volunteered at much lower rates.
Yet even these findings tend to obscure the impact of religion on charity. This is because some of the survey respondents that Brooks classified as secular are indirectly affected by religion if they were raised in a religious household.
Atheists also divorce more than committed Christians:
It’s a number that is trumpeted from the rooftops — and the pulpit: Half of marriages among Christians and non-Christians alike end in divorce.
But the reality is that Christians who attend church regularly get divorced at a much lower rate.
Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found that among people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, 60 percent have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, found a nearly identical spread between “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church and people with no religious affiliation.
Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, who is working on the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, said couples with a vibrant religious faith have more and higher levels of the qualities that marriages need to avoid divorce.
“Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction,” he said. “These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education and age at first marriage.”
My survey of atheists
I like to find out what atheists are really thinking. So a while back, I did this massive survey of the atheists in my life, and this fear of authority (and morality) seemed to be the central belief animating atheism.
Here’s Question 11:
What is your purpose in life, and why did you choose that purpose? Is it just yours, or for everyone else too?
And these were the responses:
- Mine is to feel good about myself and to feel respected by others.
- Mine is to enjoy it. I’d hope that I go about it in a way that doesn’t interfere with others enjoyment and that when it does we can compromise.
- Mine is to relieve inordinate suffering, while leaving room for constructive suffering that lead to creativity and progress. Based on empathy.
- Mine is to help the species survive by having lots of children, because that lasts after you die
- Each person decides for themselves. My purpose is to have happy feelings
- My purpose is to have happy feelings by doing what most of the other people are doing and avoiding social disapproval
- I have no “objective” purpose. I do what I can to be happy, all things considered.
- To live as contented as possible. To find answers to big questions. To prepare my children for adulthood. I chose these things because that’s what I like. I don’t care what another’s purpose is as long as they don’t harm anyone.
- My purpose is to seek happiness while doing no harm (or as little harm as is it may be possible to do) for as long as I’m alive. Of course it’s just my own purpose – I can’t presume to choose another’s purpose. That being said, I do presume everyone has more or less the same goal of happiness and fulfillment, but the precise methods of going about it are always going to vary from person to person.
- I want to be happy. I generally like other people, and I want them to be happy too.
Here’s Question 12:
Suppose Jesus appeared to us right now and addressed you directly with the following words: “I’m really here and you need to follow me in order to flourish and achieve the goal for which I created you”. He then glares suspiciously at me, snatches a few fries from my plate, eats them, and then disappears. Later on, the Ghostbusters show up and confirm that Jesus was no ghost, but really God stepping into history. And everyone in the restaurant saw and heard exactly what you and I saw and heard. How would you proceed? How would you find out what to do? (i.e. – the atheist now knows Christianity is true, and I want to see what they think they should do in order to act like a Christian)
And these were the responses:
- I have no idea
- I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me
- I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do
- I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
- If I found there was no trickery? I’d have to change my mind wouldn’t I! Not really likely though is it?
- I would keep doing what I am doing now, acting morally. That’s what all religions want anyway. (In response to my triumphant scribbling, he realized he had fallen into a trap and changed his answer to the right answer) Oh, wait. I would try to try to find out what Jesus wanted and then try to do that.
- I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
- I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values. I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
- He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.
Here’s Question 13:
What would be the most difficult thing about becoming a Christian for you? Would it be the moral demands? The demands on your time? The unpopularity, humiliation and persecution that you would face? How would you feel about publicly declaring your allegiance for Christ and facing the consequences? (i.e. – they have become a Christian, what is the most difficult adjustment from your current life?)
And these were the responses:
- I don’t know
- It would not be that big of a change for me. I already act morally, I’m already public about my beliefs, and I don’t care what people think about what I believe. I don’t mind disagreeing with people and being unpopular for it. I think the 10 commandments are good. I could find out what to do and start doing those things.
- I would not be able to believe in miracles, so there would be cognitive dissonance
- Sacrificing my personal moral standards to take up a standard from a book that is very old and outdated
- The most difficult would be the fact that I believe something without good evidence.
- I work many hours a week for institutions and organizations that are charitable. I’m certainly not going to swap those for hours for “prayer time” and waste them.
- I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran. Obviously, it is possible that if I became a Christian, then I would have different values then I have now.
- The most difficult thing would be trying to believe the ridiculous claims of Christianity. As for what a Christian finds difficult, how would I know?
- I could never obey God from gratitude and love, only from servility inspired by fear and cowardice. I do not see myself as servile, fearful or cowardly, and to behave in such a manner would injure my self-esteem and self-image.
So you might be surprised to know that even if Christianity were true, atheists have no intention of changing the way they live. That’s the real issue – and that should be scary for any atheist to realize. If they just cracked open a Bible and read Romans 1, that should be enough to scare the crap out of them – because it’s pretty obvious what is going on with humans – all of us have an authority problem. And a lot of the learning and striving that atheists do is just an effort to get people to think that they are so great and successful after they’ve dumped their relationship with God.
I hope that more atheists look in the mirror and are honest with themselves about what’s really going on. Is it really such a terrible thing to have a relationship with the person who cares the most about you and wants the best for you? Is fun really that important that people have to push away a real, significant, eternal relationship just because it requires self-denial? If I didn’t embrace chastity, as God wishes, where would I get to time to do the really heroic things I do – and how could I concern myself with a woman’s real moral and spiritual needs if I got into the habit of using them selfishly? You can’t experience imitating God when you shut him out. And that’s what we are all here to do – to know him, to be his friend, to act in a way that allows us to feel what he feels, and to have sympathy with him.
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