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Do I Only Have to Reject One More God to be an Atheist?

There is one particular atheist argument that I hear quite regularly that inspires within me a desire to smack the smug person who says it right in the back of the head, as though he were Tony DiNozzo and I were Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

The argument runs a bit like this:

You are an atheist to thousands of gods.  I’m only an atheist to one more god than you are.

The speaker is acting as if I only have to take one small step and I’ll be free of this Vulcan mind-meld of Christianity and I can live my life like a “normal” person.  But atheism isn’t just lacking belief in one less god than the Christian.  Atheism is lacking a belief in any sort of deity.  In other words, atheism is rejecting the Divine.  Let’s explore that for a moment, because it is far deeper than rejecting “just another god.”

People all over the world have long considered themselves separated from Something greater than they ever could be.  Somehow, there’s a way for us to reunite with our original goodness and be in the presence of that Something.  Most religions of the world have tried to build a bridge back to that Something by defining sets of acceptable versus unacceptable behavior.  Living a good, moral life means that you can reconnect with this Something in the afterlife.  Follow the code and you’re golden.

Atheism asserts that this Greater-than-Human Something is an illusion.  A psychosis at worst, a mild delusion at best.  Perhaps it conferred an evolutionary benefit to our ancestors when they began to talk and walk upright, so it stuck with us.  Despite the fact that every culture to ever walk the face of the earth–even isolated ones–has a word for an Almighty Creator God with some kind of story of separation from this Almighty One, this is a human illusion that just doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t matter that everyone seems to be looking for it.  It’s not there to be found.

I’m hoping that the sarcasm was evident there.  Human needs always have an extant fulfillment.  We need air to breathe, and it exists.  We need water to drink, and it exists.  We need food to eat, and lo! it also exists.  We need to be connected to something greater than ourselves–so it makes sense that this Greater Something exists.

The atheist isn’t asking me to take one small step and reject another nonexistent god.  He’s asking me to reject the whole concept and package of Divinity Itself.  That’s a big step, and the atheist is seriously trivializing it by making an absurd statement.

In Mark 3:22-30, some Pharisees witness a miracle performed by Jesus.  This is the work of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Pharisees didn’t recognize the work of the Spirit, saying instead it was the work of Satan.  Jesus declared that they have committed blasphemy against the Spirit, which is eternal and unforgivable.

This Unforgivable Sin isn’t necessarily action or words.  It can be that.  But you don’t really commit the Unforgivable Sin by uttering a single phrase in a 30 second YouTube video.  The Unforgivable Sin is one of omission; it isn’t a single word or phrase uttered one day, but a pattern of failure to see the work of God in the world around you.

While the Pharisees credited Satan with the work of exorcism and were thus guilty of blasphemy against the Spirit, I really fail to see how this differs from a scientist who looks at a DNA molecule and ascribe it to natural forces unguided by the hand of the Divine.  In the case of the scientist, he looks at an obvious language and writes it off as a lucky chance that amino acids chained themselves together that way.

He is exchanging the truth of God for a lie; worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).  Instead of seeing the creation as pointing to the Creator, this scientist isn’t looking past the creation.  He’s looking for repeatable, explainable, fully natural law to explain why this DNA is present, and why the creature looks or acts the way it does.  Instead of believing this creature somehow pays homage to a Creator, he sees it as another link in a giant evolutionary tree.

What happens to people who are caught in this pattern?  They become futile in their thinking, they become fools despite claims to be wise; their foolish hearts are darkened (Rom 1:21-23).  They can’t understand spiritual knowledge (Eph 4:17-19).

Looking at creation as powerful evidence of a Creator is a step in the right direction.  Even though mankind has worshiped millions of gods through thousands of religions, at least these religions have recognition of a Higher Power and a Creative Being greater than man.

Atheists don’t recognize the authority of anything except blind natural forces that inevitably shaped the universe as it is, the earth as it is, and life as it is.  They look at the universe and just stop, not recognizing Divine Authority outside of the universe.

You’re not asking me, the Christian, to reject one more nonexistent god.  It’s bigger than that.  You’re asking me to discount any sort of Divine Authority.  You’re asking me to view the very movements of God as a pure natural force.  No personality behind it, no guidance, nothing of the sort.  Other religions may have failed to identify the One True God, but they are at least searching for him.  You’ve stopped, and you’re asking me not only to stop searching for God, but to view his very actions as something other than what they are.  That is the essence of the Unforgivable Sin, and a society that goes down that path isn’t a pretty picture (see Rom 1:24-32).

Rejecting “one more god” is not a baby step toward utopia.  It’s a leg in the mire of immorality.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on March 26, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Morality, Religion, Sin, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. “There is one particular atheist argument that I hear quite regularly”

    I don’t think it’s an argument, so much, as a way of trying to get you to relate to us atheists. It may succeed in that and it may fail. But it isn’t an ‘argument for atheism’.

    • Whatever it is, I think it fails quite spectacularly. As I’ve tried to show here, I don’t think that the atheist who says this is thinking deep enough regarding the nature of divinity.

  2. “Human needs always have an extant fulfillment. We need air to breathe, and it exists. We need water to drink, and it exists. We need food to eat, and lo! it also exists. We need to be connected to something greater than ourselves–so it makes sense that this Greater Something exists.”

    That is the most laughable statement I’ve seen you make yet. Prove that we NEED to be connected to something greater than ourselves.

    • Do you know what the motivational experts say is a great way to motivate employees? Inform them of the company’s goals and activities. It seems elementary. Almost trite. But think about it.

      Employees are basically cogs in a machine. They do a specialized job that contributes X to the overall organization. Managers don’t usually explain what X is to the employee who contributes it. That employee is always frustrated, unhappy, and begins to look for another job.

      To solve that problem, the manager need only tell this employee what X is, and how it positively impacted the organization as a whole. Then, the employee is happier and his job satisfaction is multiplied several times over. Knowing that his contribution does more than just produce a piece of paper with some words on it (for office guys), or a sandwich (if you’re a fast food guy like me), or a completed engine manifold (for an assembly line guy), the employee feels like he’s making a difference and he feels more integral to the company.

      In other words, the more connected the employee feels, the greater his job satisfaction. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.” The employee who understands the contribution made by his job may even want to do his job better.

      However, if the atheist is correct, then we humans are cogs in a machine that has no overall goal. In fact, this machine we are in literally lacks a reason to exist in the first place. We’re running a race that doesn’t matter. This means there’s no hope. We live in a universe that exists by chance, has no reason or purpose other than it just is, and will die a heat death then become cold, dark lifeless lumps expanding forever into nothing. How uplifting!

      C.S. Lewis again: “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” Yet, as I’ve said, we humans yearn to be connected to something greater. That need can be tapped to motivate employees on the job site. That need drives philosophy and theology; without it, neither discipline would ever have been explored.

      It should seem to me that this need has its fulfillment in the Divine. Otherwise, we’re living an absurd existence.

      • Again, prove that this needs exists.

      • You’re probably looking for some sort of empirical evidence. All I have are the following items that point to a single conclusion–that the need for humans to connect to something greater than their lonely, individual selves is real and people from diverse cultures througout history have sought to fulfill this need you for some inexplicable reason deny:

        * Pointless existence without it
        * Modern business theory assumes it and utilizes it to motivate employees
        * Religion, theology and philosophy are built around the need by telling you how to fulfill it
        * Every culture in the world believes in divinity and seeks to connect to it via religion
        * Even the lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs look for connectivity with people, culture, and family
        * Formulation of society indicates some sort of human need for connectivity; otherwise we’d all live as hermits

        Anything I missed?

  3. K, let’s go through this point by point.

    Pointless existence without it

    So?

    Modern business theory assumes it and utilizes it to motivate employees

    Because, in this instance, the business is bigger than any single individual. How does this help your argument?

    Religion, theology and philosophy are built around the need by telling you how to fulfill it.
    Every culture in the world believes in divinity and seeks to connect to it via religion

    Well I guess you got me there… C’mon, man.

    Even the lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs look for connectivity with people, culture, and family

    Formulation of society indicates some sort of human need for connectivity; otherwise we’d all live as hermits

    And if you were arguing for a basic human need to connect with other people then maybe this would have helped your case.

    And I’m fairly certain there are people who live very happy lives as hermits. If this sort of connectedness was actually necessary, these folks wouldn’t survive, in the same way a bloke would perish without water or air. Sure, living without any societal interactions could be considerably more difficult than the alternative, but it is possible. Try living without air for a length of time. Please.

    • And I’m fairly certain there are people who live very happy lives as hermits. If this sort of connectedness was actually necessary, these folks wouldn’t survive, in the same way a bloke would perish without water or air.

      Maslow lists sex as a physical need, on the lowest level of the pyramid. Last I checked, we don’t die without sex. A base, physical need isn’t necessarily something we’d die if we don’t have, but it is something that we’re going to seek if we don’t have it. Notice in Galatians that the fruit of the flesh (“sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” [5:19-21]) result from base (lower) needs not being met.

      Yet the fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [5:22-23]) is evidenced when those base needs are met or tempered, and the mind pursues higher virtues. Connectedness is at the base of most needs.

      Your assertion that hermits can be happy doesn’t affect my argument much. If everyone was a hermit, and if “No man is an island” wasn’t such a famous quote, then maybe you’d have something. Out of curiosity, when you go to the local bookstore, how many books on relationships do you find, verses books on throwing it all away and becoming a hermit? I’m curious.

      And, finally, none of this proves that connectedness to God is a base need, but if you accept that relationships are a base need, then a relationship with God is the next logical step. Otherwise, why does religion exist, if not seek a higher and more spiritual relationship?

      Sure, living without any societal interactions could be considerably more difficult than the alternative, but it is possible. Try living without air for a length of time. Please.

      Proving my point! It’s difficult and the people who pursue life as a hermit do so against the grain of their nature. It can be done, and I’m not denying that. But the small number of people that do it testifies to the fact that humans have in them a need to be connected to something.

      In the final sentences was also a veiled request for me to drop dead. Abusive or threatening language toward me or anyone else that comments here won’t be tolerated. I’ll now be keeping a record of our communications to show the police if the harassment continues or increases. Consider this strike one. Two more strikes = banned.

      • Oh teh noes. Banned from such a wonderful and informative site. I don’t possibly know how I can cope with that. And I’m sure the police would take me asking you “go without breathing for a length of time” as a very serious threat. You have a very broad definition of “harassment,” but, as you have an equally broad definition of “need,” I suppose this isn’t at all unexpected. Good day.

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  5. You make an excellent point if you’re talking specifically about explicit atheism.   Going from believing in one god to disbelief in the existence of gods altogether *is* a vastly different thing from going from believing in two to one gods, or seven to six. For exactly the reasons you said.

    Implicit atheism, on the other hand, is exactly like the quote says (and I suspect much more common than the explicit variety).

    I find Christianity about as plausible as belief in Thor, Vishnu or Pele. None of the specific religions that I know of seem particularly credible to me. (Personally I find any religion which has God creating the entire universe then playing favourites with one particular tribe or nation especially implausible).  But rejecting particular religious theories –  even all of them – is not at all the same thing as rejecting the possibility of divinity altogether.

    It just means accepting that we don’t yet know as much about the divine as we’d like to. And accepting that it’s better to say “we don’t know yet” than it is to buy into answers which are almost certainly wrong.

    If there is some sort of divine being then 2000+ year old, heavily-edited religious folk tales, legal codes and speculations aren’t a reliable source of information about what it’s like. At the very least, no more so than the Vedas, ancient Egyptian and Greek myth, etc.

    Letting go of faulty preconceptions about god is not at all the same thing as closing the door on the divine. It leaves us ready and open to discovering and accepting the divine as it actually is.

    If there is a divine creator then everything we learn about the universe around us teaches us more about them.  Discovering that life evolved on this planet over time, disproving the old religious belief that they were all created simultaneously in a garden isn’t an affront to the creator. It’s taking a step closer to knowing and understanding them. Science is a better way to understand the mind of god than any religion which considers religious texts more accurate than the lessons actually writ in Creation.

    How can you be open to the god that actually exists *without* being willing to reject that one last non-existent god?

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