Saturday, November 18, 2006

Rejecting the concept of God

Since loosing my faith, a number of Christians that I’ve interacted with through email have implored me not to give up on God, with comments such as: “nothing and no-one should stop you from serving God”, “God still loves you”, and “I would plead with you to continue to follow Christ”. I know that those who wrote these comments mean well, and I truly appreciate their concern. However, I’m always somewhat perplexed when I read these kind of comments, simply because they are based on a faulty premise: the premise that I, an atheist, still believe – deep down inside – that there is actually a God out there who wants me to serve or follow him; that there is a supernatural being who I can “go back” to.

If I’m a person who still believes in God (as some Christians would believe), why don’t I follow him? Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their apologetic work I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, provide an answer that fits well with this faulty premise. When speaking about atheists, they write:

“. . . many believe that accepting the truth of Christianity would require them [atheists] to change their thinking, friends, priorities, lifestyle, or morals, and they are not quite willing to give up control over their lives in order to make those changes” (pg 30).

So, according to the Christian paradigm, I, an ex-Christian and atheist, still believe, deep down inside, that there is indeed a God out there, and atheism is simply an excuse for me to live a life free from the moral constraints that God has imposed on humans.

Is this true?

The simple answer is no.

Let me spell this out clearly: I did not leave Christianity because I wanted to snub God or his laws, or because I wanted to live a life of reckless abandon. I did not leave because I was angry with God, or for any other emotional reason. I left Christianity simply because I stopped believing the incredible claims of the Bible. I did not reject God as an actual, personal being (like a wife rejects her husband). Rather, I rejected the concept of God (like a growing child rejects the concept of Santa Claus). I did not turn away from God; I simply stopped believing in his existence. This is the subtle difference that some Christians have difficulty grasping.

How can I be angry at something I don’t believe exists? How can I reject the love of a being I don’t even seriously consider as being real? When a Christian asks me a question like: “Why did you turn your back on God’s love?”, I do not have an answer. It is like someone asking me: “Why did you turn your back on Apollo’s love?” The question makes no sense to me, simply because it assumes that I still have some sort of belief in the supernatural being under discussion. How can I turn away from God when I don’t even believe that there is something to turn away from in the first place?

In order to reject the love of a specific being – or express any kind of emotion associated with that being – you have to first acquire the prerequisite of belief in the existence of that being. Without this belief as a foundation, all talk of said being in terms of relationship, emotional rejection or anger is meaningless.

20 comments:

MomSquared said...

Thank you for this. I had a friend tell me the other day that she understands why I'm angry with god (presumably the judeo-christian god) and I'm just baffled. How can I be angry at something that doesn't exist.

Dar said...

I receive comments like this all the time, from my parents, my sister, and those who knew me as a child. They ask "what happened to you to make you lose your faith?" I usually respond with "what happened to you that makes you beleive?"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, my favourite is "don't blame God for the Christians; you must've left because of the church". No, I didn't. I rejected to concept, not the church or the 'God' of it.

I suppose it's difficult to understand. See, atheism requires at least some logical cognition; theism on the other hand, requires blind, illogical faith. Which do you think will end up as mainstream?

As always, excellent entry my friend.

Joe E. Holman said...

Nice blog you got here! Keep up the good work!

mommywindow said...

I completely agree with you and with Dar's reply of "what happened to you that makes you beleive?" Why is free will such a bad thing! Why do so many Christians feel it is their personal duty to "save" us?

r10b said...

Why do so many Christians feel it is their personal duty to "save" us?

Such a question can come only from a person who knows very little about Christianity. It is not (despite the world's desire that it be so) a personal preference that one should keep to himself, like a preference for Michael Bolton over Van Morrison -- not that anybody would do that!

I agree that many Christians deal ineffectively with non-Christians, especially atheists (and vice versa); but "I'm OK, you're OK" is not an honest option. If what I believe is true, then what you believe is false. If what I believe is true, I fear for you. If I fear for you and don't give a damn, what does that say about me?

On the other hand, once people hear and understand the message of Christ there is no need for further cajoling, begging, threatening, or (least of all) ridicule. See this passage for an example of Jesus delivering the message and letting the unconverted hearer walk away. This is even clearer.

I assume everybody at this blog has heard the Gospel, so when I chime in it is only an attempt to respond to what I see as a distorted view of Christian thought.

As to Kevin's point, it's a good one. It's not for Kevin to keep the faith; that's my job.

beepbeepitsme said...

The realization that the christian faith hinges upon my ability to believe that a "talking snake" influenced a woman which led to the supposed fall of mankind into sin, is certainly one of the major stumbling blocks for me.

Sin, by the way, from which we can only be saved if we believe that a snake talked in the first place.

R10B said...

The realization that the christian faith hinges upon my ability to believe that a "talking snake" influenced a woman which led to the supposed fall of mankind into sin, is certainly one of the major stumbling blocks for me.

1) Where in the Bible (or in any orthodox confession of faith) does it say that, to become a Christian, a person has to believe that a snake talked a woman into eating an apple?

2) The supposed fall of mankind into sin? You don't see evidence of evil in the world (and in yourself)? I do.

Skywolf said...

Evidence of evil is not necessarily evidence of sin. I was brought up in the Christian religion... I'm still not altogether sure what 'sin' is. I believe in good and evil - indeed, you only have to look at the world to do that - but I don't believe that either one is unnatural as such. Of course, attaining good in the world is something to which we should all aspire, but where is the line between 'evil' and 'sin'?

Surely, for sin to have occurred in the first place, evil must already have existed. Eve didn't invent evil by eating a banned piece of fruit, did she? As far as I understand the legend, the consumption of that fruit simply opened her eyes to the evil that already existed in the world. So I don't see that evil is evidence of sin (whatever sin really is). Perhaps sin is encouraged by evil; perhaps evil is brought about by sin - but they are not one and the same.

In order to believe in the 'fall' of mankind into sin, you also have to believe that mankind had somewhere to fall from in the first place. Personally, I don't believe that. I don't believe that mankind was, at any time, a perfect species free from sin and the effects of evil in the world. I believe the rejection of evil can only be a good thing, and seeking a purely good life is a noble goal, but I don't believe humanity 'fell' from anywhere in order to have to get back to an evil-free existence. Good and evil have always existed side by side. The concept of good itself would have no meaning whatsoever if there was no concept of evil to contrast with and highlight it.

r10b said...

Skywolf...

Thanks for the thoughtful response. Let me see if I can answer, or at least suggest some avenues of thought for you to persue.

I was brought up in the Christian religion... I'm still not altogether sure what 'sin' is...where is the line between 'evil' and 'sin'?

You were not taught about sin, or did you just not find what was taught acceptable? Hopefully it was not the first. The traditional definition of sin is "any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God." At it's root all sin is choosing our way over God's way. In short, idolatry. See Deuteronomy 5.

I don't think sin and evil are different to any significant degree. All sinful thoughts, acts, or motives are evil. All evil thoughts, acts, or motives are sinful. Trying to separate sin and evil is, to me, an exercise in semantics (or pedantics).

Evil is commonly thought of as a thing. It is not. No things are evil. In Confessions Augustine wrote that all being is good, ontologically, since all being is either the Creator or his creation. Let me quote from Peter Kreeft,

"For instance, a sword is not evil. Even the stroke of the sword that chops off your head is not evil in its being — in fact, unless it is a "good" stroke, it will not chop your head off. Where is the evil? It is in the will, the choice, the intent, the movement of the soul, which puts a wrong order into the physical world of things and acts: the order between the sword and an innocent's neck rather than a murderer's neck or an innocent's bonds."

Surely, for sin to have occurred in the first place, evil must already have existed.

That thought has interesting implications as to the origin of the universe and self-consciousness. But that's another topic.

The concept of good itself would have no meaning whatsoever if there was no concept of evil to contrast with and highlight it.

I agree that evil and good go together conceptually, but they are not two sides of a coin. One is not necessitated by the other. For sure, if there were no evil (or no good) the concepts of good and evil would be unknown, but if a person is good (she obeys God) it is not required that somewhere else another person is evil (he disobeys).

Think of love and hate.

Would it be possible to have a world where everybody loved each other? That's what John Lennon dreamed about, and he was not the only one :). But if evil and good are linked in the way you say they are, then everybody loving each other is not just an unlikely idealistic dream, but a logical impossibility. Love, I think you will agree, does not require hate to exist. Likewise Good does not require Evil to exist. If you can accept that, then it's reasonable to think that God did indeed, as Genesis says, create a world that was in all ways good.

And that's where free will comes into the picture. I've already gone on too long but let me suggest that unless God gave us the freedom to disobey (doing evil) then obedience (doing good) would be meaningless. Good and evil are linked just like obedience and disobedience are. It's not that both must exist, but that every moral choice must be one or the other and to be human there must be the freedom to choose either.

Skywolf said...

Thanks for your detailed reply. :)

My point regarding good and evil was, basically, that if there was no evil in the world, no one would appreciate good. I'm not saying that you can't have a good act unless there is an evil one to counterbalance it... I'm saying that if everything in the world was purely good, and there wasn't a negative thought, influence, or action in the entire universe, how would we appreciate the good that was present? If good was simply 'the way things are', it wouldn't be remarkable or noteworthy or even noticeable. It would just be. Perhaps the world would be beautiful and running smoothly and full of contented people, but is there any purpose to any of this if no one can appreciate it? I'm not suggesting there's a right or wrong answer here - it's just something worth considering.

At it's root all sin is choosing our way over God's way.

Indeed. This is what I understand sin to be in terms of what I was taught as a child (and I didn't mean to imply that I have no real concept of what sin supposedly is - I just have difficulty grasping its definition). Christians, and possibly other religions, define sin as being something that goes against God's will. But surely, sin is then relative? I do not, personally, think that any human being has the right to suppose what God's will is. The Ten Commandments seem to be the only example in the Bible of an absolute, direct-from-God definition of how to behave. But they aren't a full list of moral dilemmas. They don't give a full account of how God would wish humanity to react in every situation. And other Biblical examples of rights and wrongs seem mainly, to me, to be based on the traditions and customs of the time or on the opinions of people writing the Bible's chapters. Even when the entire Bible is taken at face value to be the pure Word of God, problems arise as to what defines 'God's will'. Not only in terms of translation and interpretation, but in terms of the actual laws of the time, the Bible cannot present a fully comprehensive list of what God does and doesn't want.

If we're talking basic morals here, then most people have a pretty clear view of what's right and wrong. But many religious people take instances from the Bible and declare something a 'sin', when it is often up to the individual's decision as to whether such a thing is 'sinful' or not. Is a lady wearing makeup 'sinful'? Is eating bacon 'sinful? Is wearing mixed fabrics 'sinful'? These are all ancient laws recorded in the Old Testament. If a modern person recognises the fact that such things are no longer relevant to our society, does that also give them free reign to decide what other Biblical teachings are no longer relevant? In which case, how do we determine 'God's will'?

I may be losing my thread here slightly, but my main point is that certain so-called 'sins' are up to individuals to determine. If I wear a bikini to the beach, some people might call me 'sinful'. Do I consider myself to be causing dismay to the ruler of the universe by doing so? No. I don't consider such a trivial thing a sin. If I see a person killing an animal for pleasure, I consider such a thing horrific, and would consider myself to have 'sinned' if I could ever do such a thing. But Christian hunters aren't exactly a rare breed, are they? Do they consider their recreational activities 'sinful'? Any God I might choose to worship would be dismayed by anything being killed purely for the pleasure of another being. But this is obviously not always considered a concern to others.

So... to sum up this lengthy missive, I do not necessarily believe that sin is something that is absolute. If, as you say, it's anything that chooses a person's way over God's way, that all depends on the definition of 'God's way'. And everyone seems to have their own idea about what the 'way of God' is. I do not consider women wearing skimpy clothes to be 'evil'. Unnecessary, perhaps. Foolish, maybe. But evil? No. However, I do consider any act of killing for pleasure to be an evil thing. But not everyone would agree with me. So if sin is relative to the person in question, and evil can be also, who draws the line? I have yet to see any definitive and absolute answers from God on this one.

r10b said...

if everything in the world was purely good, and there wasn't a negative thought, influence, or action in the entire universe, how would we appreciate the good that was present?

So it's good that there's evil?

But surely, sin is then relative?

Relative to what/who?

If I wear a bikini to the beach, some people might call me 'sinful'.

"Some people" don't matter. We're talking about God's opinion not man's. Sin is sin against God not against some human-devised (thus subjective) code of conduct.

I do not, personally, think that any human being has the right to suppose what God's will is.

On the contrary.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. — 1 Peter 4:1-2

And,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. — Romans 12:2

I could give hundreds of other references. Of course, these commands are directed at Christians. Non-Christians have no means to obey the will of God.

I have yet to see any definitive and absolute answers from God on [what qualifies as sin].

God does not often reveal himself to us with definitives and absolutes. Those who choose (are chosen?) to trust (and obey) God do not get a pamphlet with all the do's and don't listed. That would lead to people consulting the list instead getting to know God personally (renewing the mind, see Romans 12). A definitive list would also lead to the practice of comparing how I'm doing with how you are doing, practice for which the Pharasees of Jesus' time where known; and which today is just as rampant.

My goal as a Christian is obedience to God driven by a loving desire to know Him. That desire is the result of the mercy He has shown me by forgiving my sins through Christ. It does not matter what anyone else thinks of what I do. The Word of God and the Spirit of God within me are (should be) my guides.

***

P.S. Earlier you said that you didn't think evil just popped into existence when Eve "ate the apple." I think you are right. The serpent's temptation was evil. And Satan and his follower angels were cast out of Heaven well before that. So yes, evil existed before that Fall of Man, but it was only then that the consequences of evil (separation from God) fell on the human race.

Anonymous said...

r10B/skywolf

A few quick comments/thoughts:

1. The concept of heaven I have been taught is that it will be pure joy, without evil and sin. But if it takes evil and sin to appreciate and know joy, how will we have joy in heaven?
2. Be careful in quoting Deuteronomy; it contains too many stories and messages of violence and wrath and punishment, and if you accept the "good" quotes why shouldn't you also accept the violent ones?
3. Bible quotes to atheists have as much meaning as if you were saying, "Zues says...," or "Oden says..." And if you accept the bible as inspired, how do you choose between it and the Koran, Greek mythology, The Book of Mormon, and all of the others?

Jim

r10b said...

But if it takes evil and sin to appreciate and know joy, how will we have joy in heaven?

As I said, I don't agree with the premise that in order to be good there must be evil. I understand that the terms exist as an inseparable pair, but in actuality there can be only good or only evil. When you make love do you consider that it feels good only because you also know how it feels to hit your thumb with a hammer? If you never experienced pain would you enjoy sex? I think you would. Our joy in Heaven will be the result of our reunion with our Creator and our freedom from slavery to evil.

Be careful in quoting Deuteronomy; it contains too many stories and messages of violence and wrath and punishment...

Violence, wrath and punishment are true attributes of a Holy God. I accept all of what the Bible teaches about God. That's one of the reasons that the skeptic's claims that Christians are merely engaging in Freudian wish fulfillment are weak. Belief in the God of the Bible cuts both ways.

Bible quotes to atheists have as much meaning as if you were saying, "Zeus says...

I agree. I mentioned them to prove that the Bible directly addresses the issue skywolf brought up, and that those who believe the Bible know that we can (and should) know God's will. Why is an atheist even discussing whether or not we can know God's will? No answer would be sufficient since the question itself is an absurdity. Nonetheless, she asked, so I told her. She can do with it as she likes.

And if you accept the bible as inspired, how do you choose between it and the Koran, Greek mythology, The Book of Mormon, and all of the others?

By how much they align with what I know to be true. All those others you mentioned have some elements of truth in them. The Bible has, by far, the most; though I don't claim to have all the answers.

Thanks for asking, Jim.

r10b said...

EDIT:

I don't agree with the premise that in order to be good there must be evil.

I meant: ...in order for good to be there must be evil.

Anonymous said...

One of the biggest surprises in my christian walk, has been my occasional need to Apologize for God. Actually appologizing for what appears to be neglect on His part. Why is this? I do not know, but I find myself holding a faith that I can not always defend. It would be nice if God actually spoke for Himself...

wd said...

"One of the biggest surprises in my christian walk, has been my occasional need to Apologize for God. Actually appologizing for what appears to be neglect on His part."

Exactly. I have lately begun to see the Old Testament as a history of a politician drunk with power, and the New Testament as a very shrewd marketing tactic to change His image. Which isn't as cynical as it sounds, and here's why: it was brilliant. I always wondered about the verse about no one coming to the Father except through Christ. A friend of mine says it never made sense to him that Christ would have made such a blanket statement and I would have agreed with him until recently.

What I've come to believe instead is that its meaning is this: God appears to be such a bastard sometimes that were it NOT for Jesus' "damage control," we'd have nothing to do with Him, period. I'm at a point where God really the jealous lover He said He was and it's mostly like a bad marriage, and the only reason I stay is the child. Christ gets me every time.

So all I ever say to God anymore is, "Smart move. Seriously."

Andre, he who is Canadian said...

'I did not reject God as an actual, personal being (like a wife rejects her husband). Rather, I rejected the concept of God (like a growing child rejects the concept of Santa Claus).'

To be honest, I've done _both_.

I don't believe in him, and think a tribe of Iron Age Middle-Eastern sheepherders believing they know the truest, deepest nature of reality to be the _height_ of arrogance. (Though, like you, I'm an... agnostictheist? While I don't believe, it's less a 'there is no god!' and more a 'damn, those are some mighty tall claims you're makin' there, got any evidence or can I get back to lookin' and waitin' for real answers?')

And, furthermore, if the sheepherders are right, and a being does exist as described in the bible... I would resort to physical violence (probably get splattered, but it's more about making my opinion known). Seriously, he's an asshole - judgemental, narrow-minded, hypocritical, attention whoring murderous sociopath. God, as described in his own bible, is evil by the standards of modern morality, so if he existed, I'd still reject him.

Though, that's me, and as long as he doesn't exist, I won't be obliged by my own moral code to take action against him, and everyone else can believe what they will - so long as they don't try to push belief, or behaviour mandated by said belief, on anyone else.

(Yeah, I just now discovered your blog and am replying to a four-year-old article. No idea why, and sorry for the thread necromancy. ^^; )

Ilse said...

quote from above:
"3. Bible quotes to atheists have as much meaning as if you were saying, "Zues says...," or "Oden says..." And if you accept the bible as inspired, how do you choose between it and the Koran, Greek mythology, The Book of Mormon, and all of the others?"

This is actually the main reason for me to leave Islam (and not entering christianity or any other religion). The problem is, we are living so many years after all of this has happened and it is based on assumed revelation to people we don't even know, no matter how much inspiring the texts may be. According to Islam, all the doubts and suffering you, Kevin, are going through in leaving your faith wouldn't even matter since both christians and atheists will go to hell, atheists for not recognising God, christians for committing shirk (associating Jesus with God). According to Christianity it would be the other way around, my failure to recognize Jesus as the Son of God would lead me to hell. Well, I am a simple gal just wanting to do good, don't want to offend God or anything but how on earth am I supposed to know which one of the both (only talking about two of the many) would be the truth? There is no way for me to know. You can say well ask God for guidance, I did so many times, many people do and some of them turn into Christians, others into Muslims. This simple fact, and the statistics of most people simply turning into the belief system of their parents, tells me that it is more probable that God isn't at work here, it's simply man-made or whatever. Christians will tell you belief is a matter of choice and maybe of fighting against disbelief, muslims will tell you the same. So in reality it isn't that simple and we are all relying on texts written down (and supposedly inspired by God) of centuries ago. The absurdity of being punished for simply believing with all your heart for something else than the truth to be true, led me to become an agnostic.

Michael Gormley said...

How can I be angry at something I don’t believe exists? How can I reject the love of a being I don’t even seriously consider as being real?

Atheists are usually very proud (pride was the great sin of the devil) about their "freethinking".

They feel morally superior to those of us who try to follow the Church's teachings as found in the bible.

They say that they "think for themselves", as though that is some kind of virtue. Hitler thought for himself, as did Stalin.

Believe me, salvation is not a do-it - yourself activity. You won't ever get into heaven singing "I Did It My Way", for sure.

And the real problem with freethinking is that it always seems to degenerate into "me-thinking".

In other words, the ego takes over, and the thought of doing for others out of love always seems to take a back seat to "What's in it for me?"

Remember, as CS Lewis once said, "Hell is full of people who said "My Will Be Done".

Heaven is full of people who said "Thy Will Be Done."

Proverbs 3:5 says it best - Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.