One more point where I agree with many atheists

Just a (not so) quick follow up to my previous post.

I have heard it said (by some on both sides of The Question) that even if God does not exist, people shouldn’t “pick on” religion.  After all, they say, it’s produced such nice things in the world and so many people are comforted by it — even if it’s false, shouldn’t it be considered a helpful, harmless delusion?

Now, often when someone says this, whether a “religious type” or an atheist (and again, I have heard it from both), the rancor from others tends to begin shooting out like magma from volcanic vents…  “What about the crusades?  They certainly weren’t helpful or harmless!”  “Oh yeah?  Well what about Stalin and the slaughters performed by secular, godless tyrannies?  They’re even worse!”  etc., etc., etc.

It’s not to say that there aren’t points to be made in such thoughts.  I think that anyone who subscribes to a belief that was used to justify the actions on either side of the Crusades ought to feel compelled to thoroughly examine those beliefs and to take a hard, honest look at that time in history (as well as some others).  Also, I think that those who dismiss the acts of Stalin and others and say things like, “Well, they weren’t really atheists/godless/nonreligious/etc.” will ultimately find themselves on horrendously shaky ground and risk defining “atheism” out of existence.

And in the other direction, too: Those who use the Crusades as “proof” of the falsity of Christianity show a pathetic level of understanding about the diversity present in what is called “Christianity” (for example, I am a Christian, but I do not subscribe at all to the beliefs on display in the Crusades, nor was my church in that age any part of them), and those who say that Stalin’s atrocities prove atheism is “wrong” might as well say that Hiroshima proves that “E=mc²” is false.  These facts provide bits of information and evidence of certain larger truths, to be sure, but they are not the “silver bullets” they are often depicted to be.

[OK, I’ve wandered too far astray from what I was trying to say.  Back on track!]

My point is, though not an atheist myself, I definitely agree with those atheists I have heard or read who take issue with the belief that religion should be left alone because it seems nice and harmless, even if it is false.  Like them, I would prefer to live in a world in which truth prevails, however painful that truth may be.

For instance, while I vehemently disagree with Richard Dawkins and the astonishing overreach that is the Darwinism über alles approach to reality, I can understand his passion.  He believes (wrongly) with absolute (though misplaced) conviction that there is no God, and he feels compelled to evangelize the world with that “truth.”  He seems to truly believe that it is better for the world to know the truth than to live in deception or delusion.  I believe that, too — I just disagree with him as to which side of the argument is lost in deception/delusion.

Carl Sagan, as I have noted before in other posts on this blog, was once my hero.  The religion he stood for was the religion I wanted — and one cannot watch his magnificent (though ultimately flawed) television series Cosmos and say with full sincerely that he had no religion.  Naturalism and Darwinism were, to him, as much a religion as Catholicism or Buddhism is to others, and watching his program and reading his writings as a child I stood within the walls of the cathedral he built and gazed about in open mouthed wonder, walking from station to station and peering in awe at the statues of the saints he offered for veneration.

I have since learned better, and now I look forward to seeing Mr. Sagan in the second resurrection (Revelation 20:11, Ezekiel 37)  where he can truly begin to see a wondrous purpose to the Cosmos that he never understood in this life — the unseen side of the Great Tapestry.  But though we stand on different sides of The Question, I completely share his sentiment when he said, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

Best to let the discussion be animated and passionate than to allow delusion to persist without confrontation, methinks.  Not that we can’t be civil, and not that there aren’t times to be not-so-civil.  But I don’t want a world that only seems “kind” to me if, in reality, it is unkind.  I don’t want a deception designed to keep me reassured when I should be in doubt.  I want the truth.

And it seems to me that if we can’t have a society in which all do not already know the truth — deeply and fully — then the best available alternative is a society in which all devoted to seeking the truth with open minds and willing hearts.

3 thoughts on “One more point where I agree with many atheists

  1. Shabbat shalom, Mr. Smith!

    To Dr. Sagan (and had I the chance, the equally late Sir Arthur C. Clarke), I’d be tempted to say: “Don’t be so sure you know where to draw the line. If you can believe, contrary to all the physical evidence, that the Cosmos has existed forever or else created itself, then who’s operating within a comforting delusion? Denying the implications of the Laws of Thermodynamics and their parallels in information theory may be a convenient way of avoiding God’s claims on you, but it doesn’t ‘fly’ in the ‘real world’ you claim to live in.”

    Jewish humorist (and lover of Yiddish) Leo Rosten probably put it best: “Maybe an atheist can’t find God for the same reason that a thief can’t find a policeman.” But then, that’s true of humans generally, isn’t it? I consider Romans 8:7 to be one of the strongest evidences of the Bible’s accuracy and authority, because every one of us demonstrates the truth of that verse in big or little ways every day of our lives (unless our willingness to be led of the Holy Spirit is phenomenal indeed). When we come to terms with that fact, then the rest of the evidences for God’s existence fall into line in one’s mind easily and naturally.

    שבת שלום
    יוחנן רכב

  2. Ed Ewert

    [you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Jn 8:32]

    The word of God says here that the Truth has value in one’s life.

    [If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 1Co 15:32]

    If the dead do not rise, if God did not exist, etc, then the truth, the search for truth, might be primarily just for entertainment purposes, some sort of self-induldgence, such as thinking of oneself as a Truth Seeker, a deeply wise and noble being.

    For many, I think that the Truth (the so-called Truth) is merely an idol, involving self-worship by the keepers of this Truth, and worship by others towards the keepers of the Truth. For instance, to reject darwinism is to reject the belief that someone like Dawkins is of superior intellect and wisdom, which would not be well accepted by a Keeper of the Truth such as Dawkins.

    Of course, understanding the truth of God is a gift from God, and so we have no reason to be prideful when we understand God’s truth, as if it was our own brilliant intellect and wisdom that allowed us to understand. While the wisdom of the world leads to much intellectual vanity, the wisdom of God should engender within us humble gratitude.

  3. Immanuel Kant discussed ‘truth’ in his paper “The Critique of Pure Reason.” Is the truth what the individual perceives, or does truth exist outside the individual. In short, does an “a priori” exist or not?

    Truth is not a false idol of self worship. And rejecting darwinism is not a vain attempt to deny someone has superior intellect. Although I concede that might be the case of some.

    Truth is both practical and real. One can deny that the Earth is round all he wants, but that does not prove the Earth is flat. Truth exists outside the perception of the individual. An “a priori” does exist.

    Faith in God is not a philosophical theory or exercise. It’s practical and real. Until we start practicing those things which God tells us, then we cannot experience the reality. It remains an intellectual game. And that merely reinforces the original, skeptical premise.

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