I’ve mentioned it before, but many religious evangelists and apologists cite “the atheist worldview” as something to be scared of, worried about, and blotted out. It has never really bothered me, as my world view is in no way colored by religious leanings unless perhaps subconsciously; thing is, I hadn’t considered it from enough angles.
On Creation Today, they posted a story from a Christian who was “re-saved” after becoming “bored with atheism”. Those were his words, “I became bored with atheism.” That opened a whole new avenue of research for me, and I realized that reading books by exceptional atheists with whom I share a great deal of common thought really doesn’t capture the breadth of beliefs in the atheist culture. So I went digging down another rabbit hole, and came out knowing more–and that is the greatest compliment I can pay to any venture.
I had paid lip service, in the past, to the different kinds of atheism, but I can honestly say that I understand it now much more clearly than I did even a week ago. I watched the documentary “The Case for Christ,” which many people (for reasons unclear to me) have said is a convincing argument for becoming Christian. It also opened my eyes to the views of certain atheists, and I feel like I finally understand the vitriol one sees on the legendary reddit sub-site (subreddit, to those who reddit) /r/atheism.
The type of atheist that Lee Strobel (Case for Christ) and Mark Sebert (linked Creation today de-re-conversion story) are is that of what I am going to term (and perhaps there is a better term used by more learned people) a religious atheist. They believe atheism as a dogma, and while they don’t really strive to understand the underlying ideas, they believe (often with far more overt conviction) that there is no God. This is not a lack of belief in God, this is a group of people believing there is no God simply because very smart people told them so, much as a congregation believes in God because someone very smart wrote the Bible.
A primary reasoned cited by Lee Strobel for his conversion to Christianity, for example, is something I have written about sarcastically in the past; that of the mathematical chances of Jesus fulfilling prophecy (See my earlier post, The Mathematics of Prophecy). If you are an atheist and are able to take the idea of Jesus as a historical construct in the Gospels, you are not an atheist for what I will term the right reasons (though with trepidation, as I do not like to call anyone outright wrong) as it does not take a very thorough look into history to understand that while portions of the Gospels may be true their bulk is historically invalid. The culling of the innocents by Herod sounds like the kind of thing that would bear mention in at least one other history book, but it is invalid. The Census taken that was the excuse given for Jospeh’s presence in Bethlehem happened many years after Herod died (The census wasn’t taken until 6AD, and wasn’t even a census ordered by Caesar–it was merely a small, provincial census), therefore Herod would not even have been around to order the culling of the innocents anyway. What I just did, in only a few lines, was taken a huge chunk out of the historicity of the Gospels and simplified your calculation for Jesus’ “chances of fulfilling prophecy” greatly.
An atheist who can be convinced by this fallacious reasoning (taking the Bible as historically accurate) was never an intellectually honest atheist. Mark Sebert cited that he “became an atheist” (which I don’t believe is the way most atheists would describe themselves; for me, I would say “the long period over which I questioned my belief in God”) because he “wanted to be a free thinker.” That’s right, “I wanted to be a free thinker, so I thought how other people thought. I mean, I can’t see a problem with that.”
To me, and at least to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, one does not “believe in atheism”, one “does not believe in God.” To further expound that point, as Mark Sebert said “there was so much more going on than a dictionary definition, that is ‘the lack of belief in God or gods,” I have looked at data, at history, at science. I did not begin to believe in atheism, I lost my belief in God. I did not lose my belief in God because Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens told me to, I lost my belief in God because I read books about science and history, because I read the Bible and found the narrative lacking, because when speaking with a Pastor about my issues with faith, he was unable to answer my questions and replied instead “I can see that you are digging holes and then looking for holes, but you really just have to have faith.”
This was deeply unsatisfactory to me; I wasn’t digging holes, I was walking through a minefield and looking for dirt to fill the holes I kept falling into. This brings me to another class of atheist, and this next statement is going to sound highly egotistical, but I can think of no better way to word it. Lee Strobel and Mark Sebert were religious atheists; I would describe myself as a rational atheist. The rational atheist, which generally contains the vast majority of those in the upper echelons of scientific discourse share(and here is the ego, for I would like, if you would let me, to count myself as sharing beliefs with them, beliefs that I came to independently), is one who comes to atheism through an extended search through the evidence for both sides. Lee Strobel stresses repeatedly “I was a hard core atheist. I didn’t want to hear about Christianity, I didn’t want to talk about the Bible, I thought it was all just stupid superstition.”
The view taken by atheists such as Strobel is not the view of almost any rational atheist. Extensively in their books, Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins cite chapter of verse of the Bible. Frequently in my blog I have done the same; I do not avoid Christianity, and I don’t even want to take Christianity from anyone. I don’t want to “make anyone become an atheist”. I became an atheist of a sort, there is no doubt about that, but the loss of religion is something that takes a serious toll of anyone who was brought up in the fold. What I ultimately want is for Christians to examine their own beliefs, and at the very least discard the hateful parts of it. What I write here is not prompts to leave your faith, but prompts to think. If you lose your faith, I do not want it to be because I told you so, but because you internally decided it was the correct course of action. I am sorry if I have harmed anyone through my blog, in any case.
I read and immerse myself in the Christian Bible, or with those teaching the Christian Bible, nearly as much as I immerse myself in the works of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. I also immerse myself in books by people who do not profess their stance either way; to read a book on history, one does not need to believe or not believe, that is irrelevant; history is a study of what happened and when, and your opinion about those things does not change what has already passed. I do not avoid the teachings of Christians, I merely seek to find what it is that they see as evidence that makes them believe as they do. Often, I will say that their science is bad, their assumptions erroneous, but I will never insult them for their assumptions (though for the purposes of theatrics, I will make fun of the assumptions themselves very frequently). I love Eric Hovind, because he is clearly sincere in his beliefs. He gives me an almost pristine case study of what it is that the hardline Christians believe, and that is valuable to me.
Another thing that you will often see in religious atheists is that they do want, actively, to take away your religion. They will insult “the stupid Christians,” something I would never say. They will say the world would be better if “everyone thought as we think.” I do not believe this is so, because the underlying world view they take is dangerously exclusive. They are as likely to go to war as they would accuse Christians as being, and that is never what I want.
Richard Dawkins opened his book “The God Delusion” with a preface containing a line I think speaks volumes. “I will never go out of my way to offend, but I will also not dawn [white gloves] and handle [religion] with undue care and reverence.”
I know what I say offends the beliefs of many, but what I say is never meant to offend, as so often Christian comments, and atheist comments do. Again, I will stress that any atheist that will offend or insult Christians is no friend of mine.
Sometimes, I reread what I wrote in stream of consciousness style, and see that I ran off on a tangent. This happened, but I am going to leave it. Let’s get back on track as I near my conclusion, though, and I apologize for wandering off; what I wanted to clarify is the view of a rational atheist.
Now we come to the core of the Christian criticism of “the danger of the atheist world view.” There are those who very likely would take it to the extreme you do, whoever you are that spreads this dogma. In fact, I believe if those I have termed “religious atheists” become the norm, we will eventually end up with at least a small outbreak of people whose conscience was eroded by the fact that they fear no hell; it is, admittedly, something I worry about. Any faction, any faction, any faction, (I have repeated this three times for clarity) will have its extremists. Religious atheists have a strong militant dogma against religion, much as religious people have a strong dogma against atheists. Men have killed in the name of religion, no one can deny this; you can say they were misguided, they were extremists, they were wrong in their beliefs, but no matter how you try to justify it, they killed because, in their mind, their religion commanded it. I am afraid this works more for my side than it does for yours; there will be those who kill in the name of stamping religion out (and, in fact, many have done so). These are not rational atheists, these are those who embrace a dogma of atheism.
An extremist rational atheist would be someone along the lines of Richard Dawkins. At his most vitriolic and vehement, he will aggressively try to talk you out of your religion, but any well educated, intelligent, rational person would never kill you for your belief, other than in self defense. They may punish you for things you do because of your belief, but I’d say that is fair game.
The point of this long rant is this; there are different kinds of atheists, and I will stand beside many Christians in their criticism of those I would term religious atheists. They sully the name of atheism, poison the pool, and darken the hearts of Christians against anyone who doesn’t believe in God. They hurt our cause as much as you believe they are hurting yours.
You can have them. You can have people like Lee Strobel and Mark Seber. They do not bring anything to the table, and I know how you do so love to swell your numbers. You will take anyone, and that is fine for you, but I do not want people like that on my side of the fence, frankly.
If I were the only atheist left in the world, I would still be happy. That is a huge difference between you and I, theoretical Christian. I believe what I believe not because it is cool, or because someone told me to, or because there are others I admire who share my belief, but because I have walked a journey of discovery and this is where I am right now. Do you know what, though? The difference between you, who have planted a pole with a sign that reads “God” and chained yourself to it for all time, and me is this: I am still journeying. If your God is out there, I may find him. I may find Brahma, I may find Allah, or I may continue in my nonbelief until the end of my journey; death. But rest assured, I will keep journeying until I die.
And people who are on this same journey, this journey of discovery and learning, this journey, where anyone walking the road in good faith (and I chose these words more carefully than many I choose) is welcome to share in my journey and share insights and ideas, those people are those I want on my side of the fence. We do not fight, we discuss. We do not insult, we learn. If there are Christians walking this same journey and finding God, I still want them on my side of the fence, so I can enjoy their company and their reason. We can all learn together. We can make the world a better place.
You can have the religious atheists, for they have planted a pole that says “No God,” and chained themselves to it. They are not welcome on the road I travel, and I don’t want them on my side of the fence.
This is my world view. This is my manifesto.
It is different form my simple mission statement, which is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it, but the two are compatible.
This is my “atheist worldview”, if you are dead set on pigeonholing me into it. But I would call it a “rational worldview” or a “personal worldview”. I do not believe I have to share my worldview with anyone else; I am happy holding it in any case.
Thanks for reading, thank you for being part of my journey. I look forward to walking this journey with all of you.