The Secular Humanist’s Dilemma

1. Secular humanists define moral actions as “those which promote human flourishing.”

2. Countless studies have shown that religious individuals are happier, healthier, and more charitable with their time and money than non-religious individuals.

3. Therefore, secular humanists have a moral obligation to promote the spread of religion.

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The Atheist’s Disillusionment

PZ Myers is a pretty well-known biologist who blogs about his atheism. He recently posted an article, “The Atheist Disillusionment,” which gives a glimpse into the infighting within the modern atheist movement.

From the first sentence, it’s breathtakingly euphoric:

“I’ve been writing about atheism for about 10 years now. What has driven me is a combination of awe at the amazing insights produced by science, so much deeper and more substantial than any collection of myths, and a furious rage at the lies and injustice and corruption of humanity by religion.”

I’m not sure why Myers thinks there’s somehow a direct connection between atheism and science (considering modern science owes its very existence to the influence of religion). But it’s a common mistake.

He next discusses the importance of eliminating religion:

“We’re not only going to have to inspire and inform everyone about the beauty of the natural mechanisms that drive our world, and the error of seeking shortcuts in the falsehoods of antique traditions, but we’re also going to have to educate everyone about the Darwinian concepts of unity and diversity…”

The use of Darwinian concepts as a guideline for social engineering has a pretty impressive body count over the last 100 years. Not sure I’d advise going down that road.

“It’s not about wealthy white man meaning, after all, but something more universal…”

“…Being an American atheist means I’ve been an isolated, tiny, disparaged minority my whole life, living in a sea of people who fundamentally disagree with me, and I have not been discouraged.”

How does a wealthy white male go from privileged villain to persecuted minority in 2.7 seconds? I think PZ Myers has found a way!
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The rest of the article is a weird blend of SJW advocacy and anti-religious narcissism. Enjoy.
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In the Words of Leo Tolstoy

NOTICE: We’ve had a problem lately with slanderous and abusive comments. The site admins have decided to disable all comments for the foreseeable future. 

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“No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things which places life’s meaning in personal enjoyment.”

“Not only does the action of Governments not deter men from crimes; on the contrary, it increases crime by always disturbing and lowering the moral standard of society. Nor can this be otherwise, since always and everywhere a Government, by its very nature, must put in the place of the highest, eternal, religious law (not written in books but in the hearts of men, and binding on every one) its own unjust, man-made laws, the object of which is neither justice nor the common good of all but various considerations of home and foreign expediency.”

tolstoy

“Condemn me if you choose — I do that myself, — but condemn me, and not the path which I am following, and which I point out to those who ask me where, in my opinion, the path is.”

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

A Bad Reason for Disbelieving the Bible

A commenter on this blog recently wrote the following about the Bible:

“It’s clearly cobbled together in order to try and make a complete statement, but the sources are so diverse that it does not succeed. If Roman Catholics accept this mess cobbled together by committees (“OK guys, which books should we include? What do we want our Christianity to be? If there is a God then he hasn’t made that clear so we better do the job for him.”) It’s history has no more credibility than the Book or Mormon or the Scientology story – all made up by men.”

I’ve run into this argument a few times before. It denies the credibility of the Bible because of when and where it was put together (or “cobbled together,” for those who prefer emotive language). In other words, “the Bible obviously isn’t the inspired word of God, because we know that it was put together cobbled together by committees somewhere around 400 A.D.!”

This cold, hard logic comes as a crushing blow to all those silly Christians who believe the Bible (King James Version!) fell from the sky on a silver platter.

Except Christians don’t believe that.

Seriously though. I’m pretty sure there are exactly zero Christians who believe that.

Christians believe the books of the Bible were written over the span of hundreds of years by numerous individuals who were directly inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Christians believe God worked through these writers to deliver His message. So it’s not at all unreasonable to think that God could have worked through men on committees to ensure that the correct books were included in biblical canon.

TL;DR – Christians believe the Bible was inspired by God. And penned by human authors. And collected and distributed by humans. None of this is surprising or disturbing.

Imagine No Religion

“I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that’s how we have to set to work. It’s that, that we must begin with…

Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Every one will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it’s useless for him to repine at life’s being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave…

[Is] it possible that such a period will ever come? If it does, everything is determined and humanity is settled for ever. But as, owing to man’s inveterate stupidity, this cannot come about for at least a thousand years, every one who recognises the truth even now may legitimately order his life as he pleases, on the new principles. In that sense, ‘all things are lawful’ for him. What’s more, even if this period never comes to pass, since there is anyway no God and no immortality, the new man may well become the man-god, even if he is the only one in the whole world, and promoted to his new position, he may lightheartedly overstep all the barriers of the old morality of the old slave-man, if necessary. There is no law for God. Where God stands, the place is holy. Where I stand will be at once the foremost place…’all things are lawful’ and that’s the end of it!

That’s all very charming, but if you want to swindle why do you want a moral sanction for doing it? But that’s our modern Russian all over. He can’t bring himself to swindle without a moral sanction. He is so in love with truth.”

– The Devil (“The Brothers Karamazov”)

Tarkovsky Films and Christian Allegory

I’m an enthusiastic fan of foreign film – from the works of Andrei Tarkovsky to those of Akira Kurosawa. Tarkovsky’s films are especially noteworthy for their religious imagery, so I wasn’t at all surprised to come across this article on Christianity Today.

“The most revered Russian filmmaker since Sergei Eisenstein, Tarkovsky offers an unabashedly religious worldview, without which, he wrote, ‘people cease to feel any need for the beautiful or the spiritual, and consume films like bottles of Coca-Cola.'”

(Aside: For more on the relationship between art, beauty, and religion, I strongly recommend Roger Scruton’s documentary, “Why Beauty Matters“.)

tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky

The article goes on,

“The influence of Russian religious history is also evident in his use of the Holy Fool, an archetype of Russian literature—often characters of deep faith, seen as fools by the world, yet who see God’s reality as it truly is.

All his films deal with apocalyptic scenarios; indeed, one film idea he had was titled ‘The End of the World,’ yet he refused the label ‘pessimist.’ Indeed, he said of apocalyptic literature, ‘It would be wrong to consider that the Book of Revelation only contains within itself a concept of punishment, of retribution; it seems to me that what it contains above all, is hope.'”

For anyone interested, most of Tarkovsky’s films can be found free online. I’d recommend starting with my personal favorite, “The Stalker”. Gregory Schreck provides some fascinating historical context:

“Andrei Tarkovsky’s last film made in the Soviet Union, The Stalker (1977), illustrates the difficulty of properly interpreting his work, and rightly understood, underscores his Christian perception of life and struggle…[The] script approved by censors included a clear indictment of the United States and, seemingly, of capitalism. Yet the finished film, with obvious religious overtones, and with a protagonist who looks like a political prisoner right out of the Gulag, infuriated Soviet authorities. The Stalker turned out to be a condemnation of materialism, both East and West, and ultimately caused Tarkovsky to leave the Soviet Union to finish his career in exile.”

Why Do So Many Christians Favor “Small Government”?

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

– C.S. Lewis

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Anyone who tries to claim that the Bible prescribes his or her specific political opinions should be met with a certain degree of skepticism. The Bible does, however, hint at how Christians should interact with the societies in which they live (go read Acts 5:29 and Luke 20:25). It also provides strong caution against placing one’s confidence in Earthly governments (go read I Samuel 8 and Judges 8:22-23).

My purpose here is to address the common (and erroneous) claim that Christians who favor “small government” are, by definition, being hypocritical. Or as Jimmy Carter puts it,

jimmy carter

For one thing, I only know of maybe 2 or 3 people who oppose tax dollars going to help the poor. All of them are anarchists. So it’s not entirely clear who, exactly, Carter is addressing. But I’m pretty sure he’s just addressing anyone who favors a more limited welfare system than he does.

The real debate, if we’re being honest, is the extent to which – and the means by which – public assistance should be directed to the poor. The question is whether primary responsibility for assisting the poor should rest with government, or with individuals, churches, and private charities.

To many on the Left, conservatives who attempt to reduce the size of the welfare state are either acting out of greed, malice, or a lack of empathy for the poor. In reality, the conservative’s goal is to limit and decentralize power. The conservative understands that power leads to corruption, and that powerful, centralized governments have a long history of abusing human rights.

The conservative also recognizes the importance of individual responsibility and the dignity of providing for oneself and one’s family. In this sense, the conservative is concerned not only with the poor man’s physical needs, but also with his spiritual, non-material needs. Any form of government assistance should therefore have the aim of making the recipient self-sufficient, rather than perpetually reliant on public assistance.

Unfortunately, there’s an epidemic of young, progressive, “enlightened” individuals in this country who eagerly vote to expand the welfare state, and conclude that this makes them champions of the poor. Yet when asked, directly, what they’ve personally done for the poor, the only things they can come up with are Holding Benevolent Opinions, paying taxes, and maybe attending a charity walk.

I realize that sounds a tad anecdotal…but as it turns out, there’s solid data to back it up. According to research out of Syracuse University, “people who reject the idea that ‘government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality’ give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.” In the U.S., conservative states consistently see higher levels of charitable giving than liberal states.

In short: when a person considers his taxes to be a legitimate form of charity, he becomes less charitable.

The modern progressive, unwilling to recognize mankind’s fallen condition, sincerely believes that the State provides the means of realizing his egalitarian utopia. The Christian should know better. Those who place their faith in the strong arm of government walk a fine line between folly and idolatry.

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See also:

“Why Christians Make Great Libertarians” (part 1, part 2, part 3)