Anglican Samizdat

June 28, 2009

Atheist evangelism

Filed under: Atheism,The fall of the West — David @ 4:27 pm
Tags: ,

Atheists learn from Proverbs 22:6:

An atheist summer camp for children is to be held in the UK for the first time this year, offering a “godless alternative” to similar religious events under canvas.

The purpose of Camp Quest UK, supported by the atheist and sceptic author Richard Dawkins, is to encourage critical thinking and provide children with a summer camp “free of religious dogma”.

On the Camp Quest website we find this:

The Amsterdam Declaration:
Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself. The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:

Humanism is ethical.

Humanism is rational

Humanism supports democracy and human rights.

Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility.

Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination

Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living

This religious dogma sounds very much as if it has been lifted straight out Judeo-Christian ethics; the difference is, the humanist version really is irrational because it expects adherence to a set of rules whose reason for being has been removed. Without a Lawmaker, what possible reason is there for Kim Jong-il, for example, to embrace democracy and human rights, when it suits him better not to?

It is probably vain to hope that the atheist summer camp will point this out as part of its critical thinking.

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15 Comments

  1. LOL yes, of course, we all need God in our lives to treat others well and live lives that benefit society and aid society in advancement. I feel kind of sad for people who need the idea of a punishing parent to be “good”.

    Comment by Candi — June 30, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

  2. Candi,

    If there is no God, there is no absolute standard for what is “good”. With no absolute standard we are left with personal standards: if I happen to obtain pleasure by hurting people and I see my pleasure as the highest “good” then, without God, you cannot convincingly argue that I should not hurt people.

    Dostoevsky summed it up in The Brothers Karamazov with “If there is no God, anything is permitted”.

    Richard Dawkins in River out of Eden said, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” If I am a product of blind pitiless indifference, why would I be anything other than pitiless and indifferent?

    Jean-Paul Sartre, an atheist who at least attempted (without success) to be ethically consistent, admitted that without God there is no good or evil so we have to make something up: but no one person’s “good” would be better than another’s.

    Comment by David — June 30, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  3. That is the standard religious argument, but I’ve rarely seen it proven in reality. Most atheists are big believers in personal responsibility; that is, God isn’t going to wipe away your sins or save the planet, so you have to be careful to be good and help people yourself.

    Certainly, there are lunatic atheists out there, but as there are also lunatic Christians, I don’t see how that should reflect on the group as a whole.

    Also: Kim Jong-il is not an atheist. He has set himself up as God, and you’ll find a lot of North Koreans who believe he created the world and can control the weather. Hardly Christian ideology, but nowhere near to atheist ideals either.

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

  4. David,

    That’s the argument I keep hearing from Christians, but I’ve yet to see any evidence to back it up. Why are prisoners in the USA so disproportionately religious if religion helps one to be good, and less than 1% atheist/agnostic when the American population is about 15% atheist/agnostic if atheism lets people be bad? Why are countries with high amounts of non-religious people like Japan, France, and Norway among the most modern, with the best care of its citizens, if the highly atheist/agnostic governments didn’t take care of their people?

    I’m honestly asking you this. I’ve heard that argument over and over, and I’m not an atheist myself, so I take no personal offense to it. But I would like to see more of an argument than, “The Bible says so” when real atheists all over the world have been proving themselves to be exceptionally moral and just.

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  5. Liz,

    The point I was attempting to make was not so much that the behaviour of atheists is necessarily worse than theists – I don’t think it is.

    What I am saying is that, for an atheist the concept of “good” is a personal, non-absolute concept: one atheist’s “good” could be the complete opposite of another’s and without an absolute standard there is no meaningful way to choose between them. When you say, for example, “save the planet”, why is it better to save the planet than not to?

    I do believe there are absolute standards of good and evil and that they are built in to every person – so from that perspective, regardless of religious belief, people generally do tend to have the same view on what is good or evil. I would claim that this is evidence for God – a lawmaker – Dawkins would say it is a product of evolution – pitiless indifference.

    Going back to whether Christianity makes you a better person or not – it should, but I would agree that as Christians we are not always particularly good representatives for what we believe.

    Your point about the secular societies that are democratic and compassionate is true – but the principles upon which they are built were derived from a Christian world-view. The explicitly atheistic societies of the 20C – the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, North Korea – have been amongst the most brutal in history.

    Re. Kim Jong-il the “Juche Idea” is an ideology, not a religion.

    Comment by David — June 30, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  6. David,

    You say that good is non-absolute for atheists, but then admit that atheistic behavior is not worse than that of theists. So what’s the problem? If you don’t understand why it’s not better to save the planet if God doesn’t tell you to, but see that atheists are saving the planet anyway in just as many charities and human rights groups as religious people, where’s the trouble?

    As for countries being based on a Christian world view, of the examples I gave, Japan is not at all based on a Christian world view. France and Norway had Christianity in their pasts, and still have believers now, but the point remains that you have a lot of non-religious people choosing to do the right thing without checking whether it’s okay with God. Gay rights and abortions are more prominent there, for example, because they don’t consider themselves bound by Christian rules.

    As to bloody atheist countries, you’re right, they exist; in an earlier post I did say that there are lunatic atheists out there. There are lunatic Christians as well. For example, the conflicts in Ireland are all about religion. Hitler often talked about doing what he did for God, and executed people based on whether they were dirty by Christian standards. Do you think he should be held up as an example of Christian behavior?

    (BTW, on Kim Jong and Juche. To be fair, I don’t know if Kim Jong-il ever called himself a God–I’ll research that–but his people consider him one and worship him as one, attributing acts of nature to him and following his name in the way Christians follow Jesus. Kim himself believes he’s going to be replaced by “triplets” and thus has had all triplets in the country rounded up and kept under watch, an obvious superstitious reaction. Again, not Christian, but not atheist.)

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  7. Liz,

    You say that good is non-absolute for atheists, but then admit that atheistic behavior is not worse than that of theists. So what’s the problem?

    The problem is atheists are being illogical: they behave as if good and evil have meaning. If they are correct about the absence of God, they should accept the consequence of their belief; Jean-Paul Satre was one of the few atheists to – more or less – do this.

    Why are atheists “saving the planet”? For an atheist that is presumably an act of evolutionary genetic predetermination; if Dawkins is right, there is no human choice, no freedom, no such thing as mind other than the mechanism that exists in the brain. The concept of “good” is meaningless. Indeed “belief” or the absence thereof is meaningless since both would be a product of nothing more than a random combining of molecules.

    Japan is not at all based on a Christian world view.

    The rebuilding of Japan after WW2 was based on principles of democracy and freedom both of which are derived from Christianity. Much the same is true for the rest of what used to be called Christendom; the cultures have abandoned their roots but they are still running on the values derived from Christianity.

    The conflicts in Ireland, in spite of the name they may bear, are contrary to Christian principles, not in accord with them. The atrocities of atheist regimes are not at all in conflict with atheism since atheism cannot logically appeal to a standard of good or evil; and the horrors committed by atheist regimes are, as one would expect, far in excess of anything perpetrated by Christendom – even Christopher Hitchens admits this (although, perversely, he still tries to blame them on a belief in God).

    Comment by David — June 30, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

  8. David,

    Interesting. Again, talking personally and by research, a lot of atheists are involved in social work and charity, again because they believe there is no God to save them, so they must save themselves and others. I remember asking an atheist friend how she defined good without God, and she said she didn’t know why she needed a God to force her to be good. She helped people because she wanted to.

    Which is where my question to you began. With atheists who follow laws and are encouraged by their atheism to do good works–which is many of them–what’s the problem? They are helping to save the planet by doing the work themselves, instead of waiting for God to do it for them, is what I meant by “saving the world”. At the very least, we can go back to how low the crime rate is among them in America and note that they tend to be much less…destructive, perhaps?

    On Japan: Having lived there for many years, I can say very conclusively that Christianity has nothing at all to do with the value system there. There is a saying there: “You are Shinto when you’re born, Christian when you’re married, Buddhist when you die.” The idea of choosing just one religion, or of using it for values, is not really taken seriously there. The government system is very, very different to ours, and the values imparted on them after WWII were economic, not religious. They learned capitalism, something that is not rooted in Christianity, given the sin of moneylending. Traditional marriage, relationships, and religion are based on old Japanese ideas, not Christian ones.

    If you say that the conflicts in Ireland are not really Christian despite the name they bear and the fact that they’re done in God’s name, then by that logic, you cannot blame Stalin or Pol Pot on atheism, as their actions were as repugnant to atheists as Irish terrorists acts are to most Christians. Keep in mind that the bible is as open to interpretation as any atheist value system. Having worked at a shelter, I met a lot of very hardcore gangsters, all of whom were very religious. When I asked them about how they reconciled their beliefs with their violence, they were quick to point out that scripture informed their morals, too. “God said not to kill, but he never said not to make war.” “God wants me to protect my family.” “God wiped out the whole world in the flood, he’s wrathful and hate is His value.” “Jesus said he came to earth to give a sword.” Your version of Christianity isn’t the version that another person might get from reading the bible or going to church. It’s open to interpretation. What makes yours right over theirs?

    For example, Jesus ordered slaves to obey their masters, while Leviticus talked about the proper way to bargain for slaves. Do you think slavery is justified? If not, and obviously I hope you don’t, you’re interpreting what the bible said in a different way, based on your culture, experience and values. Even religious scholars don’t agree on what “good” is according to God. If Christians have the one text–the Bible–and can’t agree, then don’t you think the decision of what’s good has something to do with contemporary ideas, values, and culture as well as God? If not, why not?

    As for atheist regimes being in excess of Christiandom, I note you ignored my information about Hitler. Also, what about the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, or the inquisition? Are those not bad? If they’re better than Salin or Pol Pot’s regimes, how so?

    Also, I note that you did not respond to my saying that countries you say are based on Christian values are doing things that Christians find questionable, such as abortions and advancements in gay rights. Why do you think that is, if they’re based on Christian values as you say? Or do you think abortions and gay rights are part of Christian values? There are Christians who think so, after all.

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  9. Before you reply, let me take this part back:

    <>

    “Destructive” was absolutely, 100% the wrong word to use. Obviously, as I said, there are maniac atheists out there just like maniac religious people, and they’re just as destructive as any other type of violently crazy person.

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

  10. Liz,

    I think you have evaded the crux of the problem: determining the meaning of “good” when there are no absolutes.

    Let’s try something different. Assume we are friends walking down the street together and we are both atheists. It’s night and the street is deserted. An old lady approaches and I decide kill her and steal her purse; as far as I am concerned this is a good thing to do because I want her money. As two atheists, what would you say to me to convince me that what I am about to do is not good?

    Comment by David — June 30, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  11. David, you’ve once again ignored all my questions. I’ve asked you about the relativity of logic within Christianity, and my best guess at this point is that you have no answer and are trying to re-direct the conversation to try and fool me into going on the defensive. I’ve given you examples of how atheists do NOT do things like kill old ladies for money just because of their atheism, and yet you have avoided those examples as well.

    A shame. I was hoping to have a real discussion with you; you’re polite, and seemed erudite. As a religious person myself, I’m growing increasingly frustrated with how only atheists will openly question even their own ideals and answer questions.

    Let me leave you with this: Ask yourself why you can’t answer my questions, and why you seem to need to avoid all of my points. If your faith leaves you on such shaky footing that you can’t even have a real conversation, maybe it’s not as strong as you thought it was.

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  12. Oh, bugger, sorry, missed one point: You say I’ve evaded the problem about determining good. In my experience, atheists determine good by what does not hurt people, what is good for people, and what is culturally relevant. That is, goodness is both a matter of inate reasoning and logic; slavery is obviously bad because it hurts people. Charity is obviously good because some people need help, and if God isn’t going to do it, then we have to. Robbing an old lady for her money is bad because it would hurt her, because I don’t want someone doing it to me, and because it’s against the law and I’ll get in trouble for it.

    In other words, they can determine goodness, and just don’t feel the need of a stern parental figure breathing over their shoulders. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it; it just means they determine morals in a different way than you do.

    Comment by Liz — June 30, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

  13. Liz,

    I was actually trying to redirect the discussion to what I believe the central issue is; however, I’ll attempt to respond to your points although I fear there will be some repetition.

    you’re polite, and seemed erudite

    Carefully cultivated illusions.

    I remember asking an atheist friend how she defined good without God, and she said she didn’t know why she needed a God to force her to be good.

    This is an answer to the question “what makes you be good” not the question I am asking which is how, as an atheist, do you determine what the meaning of “good” is.

    With atheists who follow laws and are encouraged by their atheism to do good works–which is many of them–what’s the problem? They are helping to save the planet by doing the work themselves, instead of waiting for God to do it for them, is what I meant by “saving the world”

    We are back to the original conundrum: how does an atheist determine what “laws” are or “good works” are (you have defined that in your last post and I will get to it). Atheists may be saving the planet, but why is that better than not saving the planet?

    On Japan: Having lived there for many years, I can say very conclusively that Christianity has nothing at all to do with the value system there

    I beg to differ: the value of human freedom is derived from the Christian belief that man is created in God’s image and from that comes freedom of trade, human dignity and democracy.

    If you say that the conflicts in Ireland are not really Christian despite the name they bear and the fact that they’re done in God’s name, then by that logic, you cannot blame Stalin or Pol Pot on atheism, as their actions were as repugnant to atheists as Irish terrorists acts are to most Christians.

    The Irish problems are not Christian because murder is explicitly forbidden by Christianity; whether they are done in the name of Christianity is neither here nor there. Pol Pot’s actions are, I am sure, repugnant to most atheists but they are not repugnant to atheism itself since atheism does not maintain a coherent ethical system – the moral code of people like Dawkins and Hitchens is humanistic (although I would argue that is isn’t particularly coherent either).

    Your version of Christianity isn’t the version that another person might get from reading the bible or going to church. It’s open to interpretation. What makes yours right over theirs?

    If Christianity is true then there is really only one version; different people may have a more accurate or less accurate understanding of it but that doesn’t produce “different versions”.

    For example, Jesus ordered slaves to obey their masters,

    That was St. Paul (Eph 6:5, Col 3:22). I won’t go into detail here, but Paul also laid the groundwork for ending slavery.

    don’t you think the decision of what’s good has something to do with contemporary ideas, values, and culture as well as God? If not, why not

    No. I think good and evil are absolutes that are determined by God. The reason for that is that I start from the given that God exists and work logically from there; Dawkins starts from the assumption that there is no God, but I believe his reasoning is illogical and somewhat dishonest.

    I note you ignored my information about Hitler

    Well depending on what references you choose to view as reliable Hitler could have been a Satanist, atheist, Catholic or theist. A most convincing case can be made for his being a Darwinist.

    Also, what about the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, or the inquisition? Are those not bad? If they’re better than Salin or Pol Pot’s regimes, how so?

    Yes they were bad but hardly in the same league as the modern atheist regimes which killed hundreds of millions of people.

    Also, I note that you did not respond to my saying that countries you say are based on Christian values are doing things that Christians find questionable,

    I would agree: I think that Western civilisation, although based on Christian principles, has largely abandoned those principles and will eventually pay the price – disintegration.

    In my experience, atheists determine good by what does not hurt people, what is good for people, and what is culturally relevant.

    No doubt. But this gets us back to the root of the problem for an atheist: why is it bad to hurt people? Atheists pride themselves on being rational but to say, “hurting people is bad” is an unprovable non-rational aphorism of the same nature (although less self-evident in my view) as the statement “God exists”.

    Comment by David — June 30, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

  14. God created sin and the capacity for evil, if he exists, as a creator he is both sides of this coin.

    Humans are social creatures, killing one another is counter productive to the “Hive” as a whole, it’s generally looked down upon, and would be with or without god.

    Some people don’t go on murderous rampages due to fear of Divine Retribution.
    Some people don’t go on murderous rampages due to fear of punishment from breaking a law.
    Some people don’t go on murderous rampages because it makes no sense to do so.

    Many “Judeo-Christian” values existed long before Judaism or Christianity.

    Comment by Tim — July 1, 2009 @ 10:07 am

  15. Nearly all organized religions have slaughtered people for little or no reason.

    Many murderers use religion as a justification for their crimes, if you can justify something, it’s much easier to do.

    The “I wouldn’t want X to happen to me, so I wouldn’t do X to him.” mentality can quickly become, “God would want me to do X to him.”

    Remove god from the equation, and you have a person who has to work harder to justify what he’s about to do, and will only have a small fraction of the people still ready to do it with him.

    Comment by Tim — July 1, 2009 @ 10:18 am


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