This post is specifically for you atheists out there.
For instance, a woman who I have never spoken to in my entire life recently sent me the following email through my account on LinkedIn:
“I have been reading your posts and I have to say that I am very disappointed. You exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The lie is that you can think your way toward knowledge. This is not true. God exists above our minds, you cannot find him with that tool. You have to open your heart. Do this, Michael, please, I implore, otherwise the fires will burn so hot around you that you will spend eternity begging God for the mercy you are spurning today.”
Now what is this woman saying exactly? First of all, she is speaking about knowing God with the “heart.” But what is the heart? Surely she doesn’t mean the blood-pumping organ, does she? No, of course not. She is referring to some deep place buried far within our consciousness, but this is still part of the mind, no? Furthermore, notice how she appeals to my fear of Hell to get me to see things her way. Notice how she takes the time to describe the agony of eternal torment. It’s almost as if she’s writing it with some perverse form of glee or something. At any rate, nothing in this email presents a rational argument for why I ought to change my mind and agree with her. It’s sheer intimidation, nothing more.
I share all of this to make the following point: it is best to avoid debates and dialogues with the Christian. First of all, they are not interested in actually considering your point of view, they are interested only in defeating it (true, they may say the same about you, but they forget that the majority of atheists used to be Christians and that we atheists are much more familiar with their stance than they are with ours). Second of all, the Christian is coming from a place of faith, not fact. You could therefore dish solid facts out all day long and he wouldn’t hear you. He can’t hear you. His faith is not based on any of that, so contradictions, inconsistencies, errors, and incoherent assertions—none of these move him nor can they. His faith is immune to such truths. Thus, you can only frustrate yourself by entering into a debate with him. It will be the spinning of wheels toward no productive end.
On this note, it is important to remember the reason behind the futility of trying to convince a Christian of that which you know. His stance is based on an authority outside of himself. In other words, the nature of religious faith is such that, once a person has accepted it, it does more than just wrap him in a cocoon; it penetrates every aspect of his outlook, his attitude, his priorities, and his very being. And yet, while this is going on inside of him, he actually then perceives that the authority is coming from the outside—from God and the pages of the book God has apparently given to him. Thus, he no longer trusts his own judgment or thinking; he lets God (and more accurately, God’s representatives: the Bible, church leaders, etc.) do his thinking and judging for him. Now, as an atheist, I do not believe this God is out there directing the Christian at all, but the Christian does believe this. Therefore, any material, data, evidence, or proof that anyone could show him wouldn’t matter. Why? Because evidence is not his authority. God is. How can anything compete with that? Any evidence the Christian may or may not witness must and will always be filtered through his faith. It has to. His authority is outside of himself. He must look to God. And, big surprise, God is not open to evidence that denies his own existence.
So, again, my advice is to avoid entering into dialogues with Christians. However, should you find yourself inexplicably drawn into one, it can sometimes be difficult to communicate your stance clearly and coherently in the face of his trained, patented, rehearsed onslaught of circular rhetoric. Thus, I shall help you. Below you will find common assertions the Christian will level at you. This is how you respond. After all, if he can have rehearsed, patented answers, so can you. All is fair in love and war, or so they say.
1. You cannot have a standard of morality without God.
If this is true, why have Christians been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history? Furthermore, why are many atheists some of the kindest people you could ever meet? Do humans really need a deity to tell us it is wrong to kill, steal, and lie? Hasn’t social evolution shown the human through need and experience what is good and what isn’t? Besides, there are several instances in the Old Testament where Yahweh literally asks his people to commit genocide in his name, even unto the point of killing infants. How can this God be your standard for morality if he is not also your example of morality? Is murder not murder if God requests it? This would mean God’s message to us regarding morality is a “do as I say, not as I do” thing. If a standard for morality is required then the human being himself is it, measured against the backdrop of his own history and evolution.
2. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best-documented event in human history, thus it is true.
Is that so? I beg to differ. Besides, why stop with the resurrection? Let’s just take the entire Jesus story, shall we? Here we have a man who claims to be God, who apparently backs this claim up by doing miracles; he changes water into wine, he feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, he raises Lazarus from the dead, he heals the sick and lame and blind, he curses fig trees, he enters Jerusalem like a king (in complete view of the Roman soldiers who are otherwise just standing around), he is arrested, he is crucified, there is an earthquake at the moment of his death and tombs open up, releasing resurrected zombies throughout the land; the temple veil inexplicably rips in half, and then…then Jesus rises from the dead, is seen by over 500 people before ascending bodily into heaven by soaring through the sky. Suppose all of this occurred. Well, not one single person at the time recorded it while it was happening. True, most people were illiterate, but not everyone was. And there were apparently very powerful people connected to the Jesus story—educated people. And yet the very first word about any of this doesn’t appear until the letters of Paul show up two decades later, and then in the gospels which show up four to six decades later. And this is the best-documented event in human history? This event isn’t even documented at all! And even when the gospels do show up, they are contradictory, erroneous, and fantastical. Plus, the writers admit that they are writing propaganda. This is not the best-documented event in history, and anyone who thinks so hasn’t the slightest clue about history. Imagine that none of the people in Dealy Plaza recorded a single word for posterity on November 22, 1963. Imagine also that nothing about the assassination of JFK showed up in the historical record until the mid-1980s. Would you call that the best documented event in history as well? It would seem, according to Christians, that only events that were not documented are eligible to be considered the best documented.
3. The apostles died for their faith, thus they knew it was true.
This is thrown around like a mantra. I have been investigating the deaths of the apostles for some time now. John died of old age. Thomas was accidently killed by a stray arrow. The account of Philip’s martyrdom comes from the same book, the Acts of Philip, which most Christians consider apocryphal and unorthodox (but they do select Philip’s martyrdom as true). Bartholomew was apparently beheaded not for his faith but for political dissent (thus, even if he had recanted his story he would most likely have been killed anyway). Matthew’s alleged martyrdom is based only on an oral tradition coming out of the Orthodox Church in the late second century, but there is no written account of his death. The deaths of Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot, too, are based on oral traditions and there is no written evidence to corroborate the truth of these claims. The only apostles that we know for a fact were murdered specifically for their faith in Jesus are Paul, Peter, and James. Paul was a liability to the Roman Empire in any case and may have been killed no matter what he said. At any rate, because we do not have hard data confirming the nature of their deaths, the proceedings of any trial or hearings, or any facts surrounding the details of their lives in the days before they were killed, isn’t it a little presumptuous to make some sort of blanket statement like, “they refused to recant their story even in the face of death?” For all we know, recanting wouldn’t have saved them anyway. Moreover, telling stories about the “martyrdom” of the apostles was a good way to bolster the faith of others among this fledgling movement in the late first century. The bottom line is that none of us know enough about the nature of these deaths to wield their stories as propaganda.
4. “Not all Christians are the same. We are the good ones.”
To give them their due credit, some Christians really are nicer and more loving than certain other ones. Some really do attempt to live by what the New Testament teaches (though this “teaching” is itself part of the problem). Some really do live lives that seem to set them apart from everyone else (though the same can be said of some atheists, too). Is it really acceptable, however, for these ostensibly “nicer” Christians to separate themselves from their not so nice counterparts? Wouldn’t this be the same as saying some Nazis were really nice guys, despite their political affiliations? Understand, I’m not attempting to compare Christians to Nazis; what I am attempting, however, is to demonstrate that to an outsider, a Nazi is a Nazi. It makes no difference if one Nazi happened to be a particularly kind individual; he still stood for something that, on the whole, represented abhorrent values and ideals.
Some Christians devise clever criteria by which they can set themselves apart from other Christians who behave in ways they find distasteful. This is fair, but it’s not necessarily accurate. You might be a particularly loving Christian, and your friend might be a particularly offensive Christian, but to the outsider you are both the same. The outsider does not understand your contrived distinctions. He does not, nor should he, give you the benefit of the doubt. He cannot give you the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because anyone who claims Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior immediately becomes his representative on Earth. That’s just as true for your offensive friend as it is for you. You might like to pretend otherwise, but the outsider has no such pretenses up his sleeve. He just sees what he sees.
“No,” the Christian says. “Not everyone who believes follows. And not everyone who follows believes.”
Is that so? Who are you to pronounce what may or may not be going on in another person’s heart and mind? For all you know, these offensive Christians have derived the justification for their behavior from the same book you look to for yours. In fact, this is likely the case. Pick any Christian anywhere and ask him what the basis is for what he does and how he lives and see if he does not point to the Bible. Moreover, you are judging him in much the same way he judges you. You say of him that he is not the true follower. He likely says the same of you. To the outsider, you are both the same. A Nazi is a Nazi. The problem with the “we are the rights ones” approach is that anyone who stands in the circle can say that about himself.
If you are a Christian, then you are, whether you like it or not, linked to every other person everywhere who also flaunts that title. You probably find this truth distasteful, and I don’t blame you, but it is nonetheless true. And let’s be honest; why do you make these distinctions? Isn’t it because you know that all over the world there are people doing all kinds of foul and awful things in the name of Jesus? Isn’t it because you also know that the same teaching you use to be kind and loving is the same one they are using to be rude and hateful? Isn’t it because you are embarrassed to belong to something that could be construed in this way? If so, then perhaps instead of devising clever distinctions you might do better to wonder why you belong to this community to begin with.
5. Free Will explains how God was able to create something sinful.
When you ask the Christian how a perfect God was able to create an imperfect being, he will say, “God created us perfect but then gave us free will, and we chose imperfection.” Okay, well, all you’re doing here is creating a “middle man.” The one who permits a choice is the one ultimately responsible. If I tell my daughter she is free to have sex when she is only 10 as long as she makes a decision that pleases me, and then she goes out and has sex when she is 10, aren’t I just as much to blame as she? Aren’t I complicit in her act? I made the act possible by allowing that she could choose it. The Christian cannot and will not see this, however. He refuses to see this. He knows that this argument is his undoing. There is absolutely no way to explain away God’s complicity in our sinfulness, thus negating his existence as God in the first place. He will say God wanted love and wanted us to choose him and such and such, but it still doesn’t explain away three basic theological problems that cannot be escaped: 1. God created humans, 2. God gave them a choice, and 3. God knew ahead of time, even while he was giving them a choice, what they would choose. He is complicit in our sinfulness. There is no way around it, and free will does not solve the problem; in fact, it only makes it worse. We still have to account for how a sinless God could create something that even had the ability to choose sin in the first place. For my part, there was no other piece of evidence that led to my atheism more so than this equation. Anyone who is honest with themselves in their heart and fairly weighs the implications of this conundrum cannot possibly conclude anything other than that the Christian God is bogus.
(more to follow soon)