Do Agnostics & Atheists Have a Point?

As many of my readers know, I am fascinated with the topic of faith, religion, and spirituality. I pretty much cover the gamut on this, but more from a historical lens than that of a theological one. I love drafting posts about how people view faith and how their sense of faith transformed or is transforming human history. There are many atheist who are just bitter. They hate themselves and thus force their own sense of disdain for humanity on to others. This is true of religions too. There are those who believe in certain values which are pushed on to others. I was recently asked by a student to share my thoughts on both ends of the spectrum. Though I find this video to be very very good, it is flawed in some ways. Give it a listen and you might see why. As for me, the atheist arguments that are without validity are:

1. There cannot be a God because good people suffer and die
2. Religion causes too many wars and conflict
3. Religious people are evil and do evil things
4. Religious people lack intellect
5. Christians are the reason for racism

As for Christians, I find them silly in that they:

1. Believe the entire book of the Bible is the inherent word of God; we know this is not true as man has self selected pieces to define this cannon
2. Make silly arguments regarding time and space vis-a-vis dinosaurs
3. Seem to believe all members of society should live by their legislation
4. To be one of them — one must behave in an overly outward way of expression
5. Nonreligious people are immoral

Why I Admire Agnostics?

I have a great sense of admiration for those who define themselves as agnostic; it is here that one has not fully reached a point of distinction; he or she are still wrestling with the merits of two extremes. I mean on one hand, you are asking a person to simply have faith in that a man was born of a virgin to combat the natural elements of the universe, only to be resurrected three days later. Further, man must contend with the notion of biblical inconsistencies, particularly those in the book of Geniuses. On the other hand, science cannot explain so much about humanity nor man’s sense of place. Hence, this opens the door back up to the agnostic as he continues to seek truth.

The reality of seeking truth for this agnostic is that he may never find it. But, the thing I admire about agnostics is their lack of a solid conclusion.Paradoxically, I admire the atheist who studies Christian and religious beliefs and seeks to understand why they have their values — this being true for the atheist’s respect of Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. Religious people must also seek an understanding of why their “will” and “faith” cannot be pushed on non believers. Many have spent a great deal of time coming to this conclusion.

I myself respect the values of all people. Because of that, I concluded this past year that I cannot nor will I ever teach at a religious school that discriminates on the behalf of their belief. I have found such institutions to be narrow in seeking to understand that the world can exist outside of religious dogma. I am at a point in my career that I can demand better. To reject others and limit the knowledge base and diversity learned by students is not fair to them, nor does it fully allow for real intellectual engagement.

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13 thoughts on “Do Agnostics & Atheists Have a Point?

  1. My takeaway from this article is that closed-mind attitudes are not limited to religion. There is no-one more dogmatic than a militant atheist.

    Not everyone who prays is “arrogant”.
    Not all believers are fools (or fooled).
    Not all spiritually based people are religious.

    Arguing that personal experience= universal truth, is endemic to all true believers – atheist or not.

    Also – smug is smug & a complete turnoff for anyone who is open to a variety of experiences.

    • Arguing that personal experience= universal truth, is endemic to all true believers – atheist or not.

      You betray your bias here. Atheists aren’t the ones who argue that their personal experience is true, that would be the theistic perspective. But I don’t disagree with the statement without the superfluous addendum.

  2. This post was thought provoking, although I feel some of your points were a bit specific and do not reflect the beliefs of all Christians. For example the some of the five points that you claim Christians express cannot be applied to all Christians. First your claim that they make silly time and space arguments is true for some, yet not all Christians do this. For those who do it is simply a way of trying to explain “biblical inconsistencies, particularly those in the book of Geniuses. [sic].” However, one must realize that the books of the bible where not written to our civilization, especially the Old testament literature. The Mosaic books were written to a civilization that believed the sky was a firmament on top of mountains that held back the cosmic waters, thus looking for the Old Testament to match up with modern scientific knowledge of time, evolution, and dinosaurs is ridiculous. I also do not fully understand your forth bullet point that claims to be one of them one must behave with outward expression. Maybe this is an aspect of modern Christian culture, yet in the bible it says (Matthew 6:16-18) “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Clearly any such requirements of outward expression is just a development of modern culture rather than a foundational point of the faith. Lastly, in response to your third point that everyone believes that other people should live by their legislation. Even progressive intellectuals who value freedom of thought and expression do so; they believe that it would be best for society to live under legislation that exhibits a liberal/progressive ideal. I mean, don’t you think society would be better off living under Marxist legislation? This point cannot be leveled at Christians specifically becuase it is true of all people.
    However, I do agree with you that religious educational institutions can be narrow minded.
    I have homework to do and this ate up too much time already! Too bad we cannot discuss this on a run like old times….we miss you down here in H-Town.

    • Thanks for doing a lot of my work for me, Cameron.
      I would push back on all five of Carson’s markers of Christianity. Those describe a (fairly small) subset of Christians: fundamentalists. To take these markers of Christians as indicative of the whole would be tantamount to viewing al-Qaeda as representing the norm for Muslims.

      1. The Inerrancy of Scripture. This is a fairly new debate, a reaction to the encroachment of the Enlightenment and the new criticism coming out of 19th century Germany. Some folks don’t like it when you speak of Genesis as “myth.” However, there are plenty of ancient Jews and Christians who would not have made the claim that the Bible was “inerrant.” For example, Augustine argued against the idea of a six-day creation (though I think he argued for a single day of creation…).

      2. Space, Time, and Dinosaurs. Now you have the comment on your blog post about the Nye/Ham debate where even Pat Robertson denies new Earth creationism, so we can put this to bed.

      3. Legislation. There is an irony here. Fundamentalists are often scared of Muslims and Sharia. Yet, some of them seek (or have sought) the same sort of thing. Still, I don’t think this need to legislate a Christian vision of morality is terribly widespread. There are, of course, moral/ethical ideas that all Christians would agree should be legislated: Don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.

      4. Outward behavior as a symbol of belonging to the group. It depends on what you mean by this. As a Christian, I believe that my faith should be manifested in good works (see James 2). All Christians should strive to do good. This doesn’t mean you’ve got to put an ichthus on the bumper of your car or wear a Bonds-style cross on your ear. You should be seeking justice, though. At the heart of Jesus’s countercultural message is the idea that we don’t need to play into the system that has propped up oppressors and created ridiculous social boundaries.

      5. Nonreligious people are immoral. I do believe that. I also believe that religious people are immoral. I also know both religious and nonreligious folks who strive to be moral. That’s just the way it goes. We’re doing our best (hopefully).

  3. Well, Cameron, the time and space proclamation extends beyond dinosaurs. And you are right, not all Christians believe the earth is just over 3,000 years old or however long some claim. As for the outward expression — we are on the same page and we do agree, but it is this claim that is problematic in that in many Christian circles one is deemed that according to the norms of Christian behavior; if one does not hold to such norm, they become in some ways an outcast. It is the last point regarding legislation that we are most at odds over. This is in part a product of the cultural wars you discussed in your paper last year. This dates back to the 1960s and became a reality by 1973. As for religious education institutions, I am most bothered by the extent of exposure left out. That is very troubling.

    I miss you more than you could possibly realize. Trust me on this. Our runs were beyond wonderful my friend. You have such a great mind.

  4. I’m interested in hearing more about this: “There are many atheist who are just bitter. They hate themselves and thus force their own sense of disdain for humanity on to others.”

    • The two that come to mind here are Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens; I have read their works and have concluded that they are in part not seeking to explore answers so much as to make profit. Why not explore to the extent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking? Some might say they too sought to gain from this. But, there arguments were far more intelligent to me. Thoughts?

  5. I think Sean’s video loses credibility because he tends to caricature religious thought and belief in a number of statements and yet lift up agnosticism/atheism to some nebulously higher moral plane.

    It is, unfortunately, easily convenient (as well as conveniently easy) for critics of religion to pick out examples of violence in history perpetrated in its name. But I rarely hear those same critics acknowledge that the greatest violence in history (in terms of numbers killed) was actually perpetrated in the 20th century by communist leaders in China, The Soviet Union, North Korea and Cambodia who actually outlawed religion and enforced atheism on their people at the point of a gun.

    So what’s my point? Assuming for the moment that the true ideals of marxist/communist theory are not represented by these societies, then I submit that simply because these historically abhorrent figures misrepresent the message they proclaim, that does not necessarily invalidate the message itself. Religious, agnostic and atheist people alike can be evil just because they are human; they don’t need any other excuse.

    Now as to your lists, as others have indicated, I think you are pulling arguments from the “extreme” views of both Christians and atheists, and that they are not representative of the general views of each. Yes, there are individuals on both sides that go out of the way to goad and belittle others to the point of absurdity, but so what?

    As to religious schools, denominations and dogma, et al, I think any such institution has the right to determine and establish for itself the essentials of what it believes and what it requires its adherents to accept/teach in order to be a participant, however narrow minded and didactic we perceive it to be. Hopefully, those restrictions are few, especially in an educational setting. But if they aren’t, ultimately we all have free will to choose to participate or not, or to walk away when it all gets to be “over the top”. Right or wrong, parents are paying for an education at these schools with certain expectations. Those who educate may not like such a yoke placed upon them, but they either know or should have known the “rules of the game” going in. To otherwise require a religious institution to accept something that potentially goes against what it holds as a tenet of its faith is a hazardous path to walk.

    • What a great response justanyjon. I do understand the power of the purse as it relates to dollars and cents; however, it would seem allow one to encounter a diverse view of knowledge would serve one best in the long run. I would never support proselytizing one’s view; but, allowing various individuals to be exposed should serve a greater purpose.

      As for the list — yes both are a bit extreme; I used them because they are the ones I hear the most in casual conversations. That being the case, I do not support the norm that religious people or their religion is bad because individuals or groups commit acts of atrocity in the name of religion. Hence, that is one of the reasons I thought it was worth noting. As you stated, all people can be evil; we have seen various members of different ideologies commit to such evils. On the flip side, we have seen members and groups of the religious sect and non-believing sect do wonderful things.

  6. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate irony and paradox. In this context, I have enjoyed what Michael Dowd has written where he thanks God for the new atheists. Google “New Atheists are God’s Prophets”. Whereas Michael is, for some, a way far out progressive, Roger E. Olson is considered to be a reasonably orthodox Christian scholar of the traditional side of things. He has a blog post over at Patheos that you can google titled “Thank God for Atheists.” I am also reminded of something Brian McLaren wrote when he said that quite a few of the religious liberals he knew were former fundamentalists who had been hurt.

    • Thank you Steve for introducing me to these folks; I am not versed on them, but I am constantly seeking to diversify my library with works that challenge me and my thinking. I cannot imagine my world being one centered around single thought process. I need more.

  7. Here is a video I thought was interesting by an atheist and he explains why he does not call himself an agnostic. I have watched a lot of debates between theists and atheist. This is an interesting topic.

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