I have been thinking recently about relations between Christians and atheists, and the gulf of animosity between the two. I’ll go ahead and share some of my thoughts on the dynamics involved.

There was a Pew poll last year which highlighted something we already knew: Americans have a very negative view of atheists. On a scale of 1 to 100 representing negative to positive emotions, Americans ranked atheists a chilly 41, only one percentage point above the most negatively perceived religious group, Muslims, who got a rating of 40. This is 8 points below the third most disliked group, Mormons, who got a rating of 48. When it comes to atheists’ and evangelicals’ rankings of each other, there is a mutual dislike between the two. Both groups ranked each other worse than any other group. Atheists gave evangelical Christians a score of 28, while evangelical Christians gave atheists a score of 25.

Religious Tension Even more alarming than these numbers are the studies which have suggested that Americans distrust atheists less than rapists (!) I find this incredibly saddening. It is also unjustified.

Just the other day I was having a conversation on one of my Twitter accounts with someone who I’ve followed since before I left the faith. We had brief conversations before, but we were more like Twitter acquantainces. I didn’t intend on turning it into a debate but as you know, sometimes certain personalities can’t resist sparring. I didn’t mind it, as I enjoy a good, respectful (key word) debate. But it took a turn which annoyed and angered me. I took a bunch of screenshots so you could see it. Keep in mind that Twitter convos can be somewhat hard to follow, depending on which tweet is replied to, the order can be confusing.

Tweet1 Tweet2 Tweet3 Tweet4 Tweet5 Tweet6

This man revealed his biases about atheists, by trying to suggest we are okay with rape and murder. As much as I find this thinking offensive, I feel sorry for him. I personally am not easily hurt by fundies’ opinions; this case is no exception. From his perspective, he really thinks I’m going to Hell. Can I blame him for not having tact? It’s unfortunate when people embrace false beliefs which require unbending devotion. Having been on both sides I know that there are many factors which lead someone to accept these stereotypes and biases. Fear of punishment, mixed with indoctrination is a potent combination.

Now it would be unfair of me to say that this guy is representative of most Christians. Most of my followers on that account are Christians I’ve known since before my conversion, and immediately several of them started to chime in with apologies for what this guy said. It truly is nice to be reminded of the amount of love within Christianity. That sounds strange as an atheist, but I believe it. There are great Christians; some of the best people I know are believers. There are also great atheists; something I hope more Christians would see. People are individuals. Stereotyping is wrong; regardless of what a person believes or doesn’t believe. I listed some stats on my feed regarding atheism and crime which I thought I’d share here. uq3hYhp

There is evidence that atheists are overwhelmingly peaceful and law-abiding. 2013 data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons shows that atheists make up only 0.07% of the prison population; Protestants on the other hand make up 28.7% and Catholics 24%. Atheists make up 2.4% of the American population according to a 2012 Pew poll.This means that atheists are 34 times less likely to be incarcerated than those who do not identify as atheists. The caricature of lawless, conscience-devoid atheists running wild is absurdly inaccurate. We have consciences, and societies don’t necessarily crumble due to a decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, there is considerable evidence that secular societs fare better than religious ones.

All of this however, has nothing to do with the truth value of Christianity or the debate of it. But what it does show is that the negative stereotypes of atheists are simply invalid; in addition to being unproductive to society. We don’t need more Phil Robertsons saying “You lose your religion, you lose your morals.” And on the flip side we don’t need more New Atheists in the vein of Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens agitating Christians (as much as I can appreciate some of their work.) What we need now is respectful dialogue and a more positive approach on both sides to help restore some civility between the two groups.

I might add that there are still a few statistics that favor religiosity as well; such as higher charitable donations. However it is not surprising that giving would increase if you pass around an offering plate once a week and urge people that it is their duty to give.

Some atheists caricature Christians as stupid and intolerant. Some Christians caricature atheists as immoral and obnoxious. These stereotypes will continue to hinder forward progress in relations between the two groups if both sides don’t commit to changing the focus. It shouldn’t be ‘us vs. them.’ We can disagree respectfully, and commit to loving each other regardless. We may not gather together and sing kumbaya on the weekends, but we can learn to respect each other and not stir up animosity. We have a long way to go, and I’m a work in progress myself.


Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


10721328_278062212388486_378808137_nMy name is Zach Van Houten and I am a secular Humanist with progressive values who enjoys good discussions with intelligent people. I was a passionate conservative Christian from childhood until I found intellectual freedom in November of 2014. I take an interest in Humanism, general philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, eastern religious philosophy, atheism, politics, Biblical studies, and most importantly, the life cycle of sea turtles. Email me at meinperspective@gmail.com if you’d like to offer tips on how I can make myself less boring or start up a convo about the weather.


© Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Atheist logo by Chookbeatle via DeviantArt – image modified by me.
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36 thoughts on “Atheists vs. Evangelicals – Negative Stereotypes and Mutual Dislike

  1. An interesting post. As a person who until recently wholly subscribed to the Christian world view I can appreciate why Christians think this way. I think it comes back to the influence of Augustian/Calvanist theology about the total depravity of humanity. Hence the basis of this theology is that there is no intrinsic good in humanity. Humanity is fallen and the fall is total, the only good comes from God. That is the essence of the Calvanist World View, which now predominates in conservative Christian circles.

    Now what would puzzle me as a Christian was why I would see some people with no faith who I knew were really nice decent people, better people in many respects than most Christians I knew. It is what I call the Albert Schweitzer principle. However this apparent conflict would be explained away based on applying Paul’s teaching ‘that even my righteous deeds were as filthy rags’. Thus the Christian theology is that a good deed done apart from Christ is of no worth.

    What always puzzled me as a Christian was why ‘good’ people who were not Christian apparently received the same eternal punishment as outright nasty people.

    I do think that many of these issues are more pronounced in America than other Western countries. I live in Australia which has a more secular culture and there is nowhere near the tension between Christians and Atheists that seem to exist in America.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No doubt the issues are more pronounced in America because “we’re a CHRISTIAN nation”, doncha know???? Yuk.

      Visited Australia several years back and loved it. Wish I had the wherewithall to move there. But alas. Too old and too poor.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks for commenting Peter! I also am a fairly recent convert (since November actually,) so I also get where Xians are coming from. In fact, I don’t think I’ve fully gotten to the place where I comprehend the fact that I am on the other side now. haha. It’s surreal given my prior beliefs.

      I agree that the Calvinist worldview is predominant right now. I actually think Calvinism is often a bridge to atheism. Most deconverts I know were Calvinists. I leaned Calvinist for a time and then went hardcore Arminian and wrote a book about it last year (unpublished due to my change in beliefs.)

      I agree with you about the cognitive dissonance of good nonbelievers. I couldn’t really make sense of it either so that played a large role in my deconversion. And it continues to convince me today.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The interesting thing is that for many years, until apparently the mid 20th century, it was the Arminian view that was predominate in America. Having been a Bible student I find that there are many verses to support each of the views. I used to see this as a ‘tension’ in the Bible. Indeed I would teach others that it is these areas of ‘tension’ that we come to better understand the Holy Mysteries.

        Looking at matters through new eyes I winder if the better explanation for this tension is that they are actually contradictions.

        Neil Carter on his blog, ‘Godless in Dixie’ has an interesting post where he differentiates between the ‘nones’ and the ‘dones’. That is a very helpful differentiation in my view. Some years ago I worked with a lady who was a very wonderful person, but not a Christian. In my zeal I tried to convert her, in the end she said we could only remain friends if I desisted from these endevours. I agreed to her request. I subsequently found that she had been raised in an environment that had a cult like attention to the teaching of Derek Prince. Clearly she was a ‘done’. I now look back and wince at my approach and admire even more her patience with me.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “Looking at matters through new eyes I wonder if the better explanation for this tension is that they are actually contradictions.” Yes, contradictions do abound. There are verses which support both views. I think the Calvinist view is much less airtight than Reformed Christians think it is.

        Yeah, when it comes to religion, I would probably consider myself “done,” but only in an intellectual way. I actually appreciate the idea of spirituality and the community aspect of church; I go to a UU church right now, which can lean new-agey at times, but never explicitly. I guess I am a sympathetics atheist who is convinced in my current views.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. “I think it comes back to the influence of Augustian/Calvanist theology about the total depravity of humanity. Hence the basis of this theology is that there is no intrinsic good in humanity. Humanity is fallen and the fall is total, the only good comes from God. That is the essence of the Calvanist World View, which now predominates in conservative Christian circles.”

      I think you’re right. That is what they teach. I found that there is much good in humanity but I did not find it until after I left Christianity. I also found that morality had more to do with biology than theology.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Arguments such as this only serve to remind me of those religious fanatics who kill and rape innocent men, women and children in keeping with the edicts of their religion. Apart from these lunatics, there are also people like Dennis Rader, the BTK strangler who murdered (at least) ten people in Sedgwick County, between 1974 and 1991. He was a member of Christ Lutheran Church and had been elected president of the church council. Obviously his religious beliefs did not stop him from committing these atrocious acts.

    Theists need to stop insisting that religion provides a moral compass that atheists lack, since the evidence does not support such a conclusion, but I strongly agree with your view that “What we need now is respectful dialogue and a more positive approach on both sides to help restore some civility between the two groups.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ditto. Thanks for reading Gus.

      I have wrestled with the balance between speaking my mind on religion and respecting and loving religious people. And I think it comes down to what we likewise expect from them. I wouldn’t expect theists to hide their beliefs or sugar coat them to appease me. I also however, would not like to be stereotyped, as my personal brand of beliefs is nuanced, and I don’t like ppl making assumptions. There are so many kind people on both sides, that’s one benefit to having been a Christian before and leaving. I can see how good people disagree. I think respectful disagreement and advocation of positive secular values is the way to go.

      Like

  3. Great post, Zach. I find your friend’s strategy to be highly frustrating. The indoctrinated ex-Christian side of me gets flustered, because I used to think the same way he does. But as soon as I take a deep breath and actually think, I get my footing.

    First, while he thinks he is being loving in trying to reconvert you, his methods are anything but loving. He is a lawyer in a courtroom presenting arguments (not evidence) in an attempt to corner you and get to the “gotcha!” moment.

    Second, I refuse to play this “just give me a yes or no” game. The fact is that this difficult situation he attempts to put you is is exactly the same difficult situation he is already in. We are all in the same boat – using our reason to discern what is right and wrong. Not even Christians really get their morals from God, unless they want to go as far as Divine Command Theory. But even with DCT, if he thought God told him to sack the neighboring town and take all the virgins as spoils, would he do it? Even “morality comes from the character of God.” List out those character qualities. I bet he could give reasons why those qualities are good without just saying “God says so.” For a person who does not hold to DCT, they have to deal with the genocide, slavery, and misogyny of the Bible, things which lead me to believe that there is no consistent morality to be found in the Bible. For a person who holds to DCT, they cannot use that as evidence of God’s existence because they are defining morality in terms of God. They are assuming God exists in the first place.

    Your friend is probably a decent person, yet due to lack of actual evidence for God has to resort to coercion and dishonest arguments (he may not realize they are dishonest, but if the dishonesty has been pointed out and he persists, then he is). The argument is dishonest because it makes it look like atheists have this big problem that Christians don’t have, when in fact we are all in the same predicament – we have to use reason to discern what is right and wrong. You were simply being intellectually honest, and he chose to twist that into you being a moral monster. He is ignoring or hiding the problems with his view of morality. In fact, the moral monster is the fictional God character in the Bible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ditto Charles! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I especially liked when you wrote: “But even with DCT, if he thought God told him to sack the neighboring town and take all the virgins as spoils, would he do it?”

      Another guy chimed in on this topic and was saying he believed in absolute morality, as found in the Bible. My question to him was: “If God told you to kill a child, would you do it?” He really hasn’t answered it. I shared a verse in which God specifically commanded the killing of Amalekite men, women, and children. There’s no good answer to that question for a theist.

      When this guy (the one in my post) was presenting the questions, he was presupposing absolute morality to begin with, and I called him out on it. He was asking if it could ever be right to rape a child. That presupposes that there is a universal right and wrong. So I took issue with the phrasing. The morality argument does not scare me in the least, it is merely an ad populam argument or an appeal to emotion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard of that. He’s off his rocker. I do think some of the headlines are a little deceiving though. He was using an crass and disturbing analogy to support a weak argumentum ad populam against secular morality. I don’t think he was saying that he approved of it. But it’s still eery

        Like

  4. Zack, you wrote: “I might add that there are still a few statistics that favor religiosity as well; such as higher charitable donations. However it is not surprising that giving would increase if you pass around an offering plate once a week and urge people that it is their duty to give.” (Emphasis mine)

    And to that I say, AMEN! (Or as one blogger puts it AWOMEN!)

    Great post, BTW.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The differences in worldviews between Christians and atheists is extreme and this is why it is so difficult for them to understand each other. Even as a former Christian I don’t get it. If I encountered my younger self, I probably would not want to be around him because I remember what I was like back then. I can’t go back to being a subscriber to the Divine Command Theory any longer. Morality was the biggest factor in my deconversion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Even as a former Christian I don’t get it. If I encountered my younger self, I probably would not want to be around him because I remember what I was like back then.”

      Ditto. I don’t understand my old self either. lol

      Liked by 1 person

    2. What you say is so true. However I would venture to say that those who were once in one camp and moved to the other are better placed to see both perspectives. This is because they have seriously considered both the theistic and non theistic world views.

      What I would be interested to know is whether there is a definite trend one way or the other. I am aware form these forums of many ex-theist’s. What I am wondering is whether there are other sites full of people who have moved the other way. I am really discounting people converted in their teens who really were more likely agnostic, I am thinking of people who were full blown committed atheists who then came to faith.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good questions. I would have the same curiosity. There are some who move the other way. I have a friend who went from fundamentalist pastor to atheist for 2 and a half years then back to Xianity in a more liberal way. I also know a couple of people who say they were atheists and I assume they mean they were not merely agnostics.

        But overall, given the way ppl describe the change, I never really see the changes being made on an intellectual level.

        Like

  6. Hi Zach

    I was reviewing your interchange with ‘Ikindanormal’ and noted with interest that when you raised some of the direct commands from God in the Bible to kill children and enslave women he really did not address the issue. He deflected it by saying it was a red herring. But it really is the key issue, because it demonstrates a problem with the morality derived from the Bible when it is applied by zealots. That is, they can justify the most horrific acts on the basis they think they are following God’s commands.

    This by definition shows a problem. That is the morality from the Bible says murder is wrong if initiated by humanity, but good if commanded by God. Often religious people of various faiths have killed because they thought they were doing God’s will. Our normal friend would no doubt argue that these people were mistaken in thinking they heard God tell them to murder, but it becomes very subjective in determining who is the voice in someone’s head. The reality is that some people can find justification for such action in the pages of the Bible. Indeed the Crusaders used the Bible as justification when they spent three days slaughtering the civilian population of Jerusalem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are correct. He called it a red herring, but it really is a relevant point. I wrote about it in one of my previous posts here “The Christian Delusion of Absolute Morality”.

      Another guy had tried to jump in, and I came up with a great question to pose. “If God commanded you to kill a child, would you do it?”. The guy never really answered it, and started to make some sort of distinction regarding whether the child was innocent or not. But there is really no way to say that you would kill a child if you felt it was God’s will and then argue that you are morally superior. It’s absurd.

      Like

  7. Interesting blog post. Certainly, Mr. K Normal could have handled his side a bit more evenly, but he did raise a point that you seemed to sidestep. In response to his question of raping a child you would not say that it was absolutely wrong, which makes sense given your stance on relative morality, but then you seemed to indicate that only mentally ill people would do such a thing. It seems an inconsistent response. How exactly do you determine what is and what isn’t moral?

    I mean no offense, nor do I want to convince you. I just really want to understand how you understand this issue. If you will dialog with me, I promise to be polite.

    Jen, a Christian entering the secular lion’s den 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I appreciate your polite comment. It fits the spirit of the blog post; that is, respectful dialogue. It’s a good question. I’ll elaborate a bit on my view. 🙂

      So the question of whether raping a child is absolutely wrong is a ‘gotcha’ sort of question. Those questions are interesting however, since they force a person to define their views of morality carefully. I love to ask people those sort of questions too. The obvious caveat though is that most people do not approve of rape; regardless of their view of morality. That’s what I found disrespectful about the way my friend on Twitter responded to me. Those sort of questions are theoretical; just as when I push Christians to define their views of Old Testament violence. I don’t believe Christians support violence; rather it is a theoretical/philosophical question.

      I believe morality is subjective/relative. That is my conclusion after looking at religious and secular ethical systems. I believe morality is a social construct; only existent in human minds. Because of that, the question ‘is raping a child wrong?’ can only be given a subjective answer. Yes I believe it is wrong in a subjective way. I can’t prove however that there is a cosmic law that is broken when it is committed however. I don’t have to say it is acceptable either; which is a totally separate question.

      What I can say though is that as humans in developed societies, we have recognized that rape is repulsive. And because of that, we have created laws which make it illegal. So in an objective sense, raping a child is illegal. And that provides a deterrant. If someone is reliant on a divine decree to avoid raping children, I tend to think they have deeper psychological issues.

      Now, I do believe in hedonic calculus. But I don’t believe hedonic calculus should necessarily be used at the expense of our sensibilities. If it turned out that raping a child would prevent the raping of 200 children, I wouldn’t want to think that the only moral choice is to rape the child (a utilitarian view). I tend to think such a choice would not have a right or wrong answer. It just sucks. That’s why it’s hard to make objective statements of morality.

      War is a good example. Every time we send troops into war, we are sending men to their deaths. We are sacrificing lives. In fact, the story of the crucifixion is one of Jesus being tortured and killed for other people; a utilitarian choice made by God the Father. I don’t know if I could allow my son to be tortured and killed to save the world. I wouldn’t want to think that not doing so is wrong due to hedonic calculus.

      I believe that asking whether ‘raping a child is wrong’ or not is question begging if a person is wanting an objective answer. Until I am convinced that there is an absolute objective standard for morality, I can only answer the question subjectively, based on my own feelings and convictions (I wrote about why I don’t believe in objective morality here: https://thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/the-christian-delusion-of-absolute-and-objective-morality and here: https://thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/the-law-and-sin/). The best distinction to make is that I don’t have to approve of any action; and I can reject it on subjective grounds, as I do raping a child. However, using hedonic calculus, raping a child clearly leads to more pain than pleasure in almost every coneceivable scenario. And that’s the best case against child rape.

      As far as defining what is and isn’t moral objectively, I think that’s an impossible task. Ultimately, I think morality is not purely utilitarian, but also artistic. What I mean is that often it is the beauty of a life lived with conviction that impresses us. The utilitarian view is limited because we cannot foresee all the consequences of our actions. And it would sometimes require us to act in ways which we find repulsive.

      I think it’s best that each person develop their own sense of moral virtues and heuristics (rules-of-thumb) and mostly live by those. That’s one reason why religion is so successful. It gives us a system of morality which is widely accepted in a society. It gives us rules to live by which eliminate gray areas (not all, but most). That’s one reason why I believe it’s hard for people to imagine life without religion. Without religion, we need philosophy. And philosophy is difficult in theory and practice.

      Like

      1. Thank you very much for your insightful reply. I very much appreciate it, and I understand now why the raping children question seemed inappropriate to you. It falls along the lines of “When did you stop beating your wife?” I think a better question might have been, “When is it okay to rape a child?” (although I might choose something not so emotionally loaded, like “When is it okay to steal from someone?”)

        The question your response begs though is where do you get your own personal sense of morals? How do you determine what is right or wrong? I think what you have explained leads one into a trap, and I’d like to understand why you don’t think so.

        The trap is simply this: One cannot look at western societies since the time of Christ without realizing that for most of us, Christian morality has set the framework for our societies. We were born into it, and so it has fundamentally shaped our sense of internal ethics. A famous Hindu guru once said that a man is as free as a donkey tied to a tree. His point was that everything about our internal lives, from morals to likes and dislikes, to sense of self and dignity are built on past experiences. If all that is built on past experiences, then we have no control over it and are essentially slaves to our past experiences. To a Christian, that statement is partly true, except unlike the guru we think it’s a specific tree: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I don’t know how you can escape that (either the tree or past experience) to become “free thinking”.

        If you are able to escape it, then you have just the other extreme problem, which of course is nihilism. To believe that we can steer the course and avoid this is, in my not so humble opinion, absolute folly for the simple reason that if the human experience truly and completely ends at death, then there is no reason not to go for whatever one wants as long as one can get away with it. I think this area of “we can do it” is probably where your understanding has to lie, and if it is, then I fear you have not followed your thinking to its logical conclusion which is that we are after all “striving after the wind”.

        Thank you again for your time. I am greatly enjoying our conversation. I recognize that you are much better read in philosophy than I, and as there is nothing new under the sun, I’m sure everything I’ve said could be summed up in a much more abbreviated fashion. I appreciate your patience!

        Jen

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sorry for the late reply Jen. I didn’t get any email notification on this.

        As far as where I get my morals, that is a very good question. I believe like Sartre did, that who we consider ourselves to be cannot be separated from culture and era. In the sense that identities and behavior are linked with the conditioning of our lives as a part of a larger social structure, as you alluded to.

        Furthermore, I also believe that each person has certain natural tendencies towards different ethical philosophies, whether they know it or not. Some people are selfish egoists or nihilists (not saying all who hold those philosophies are selfish), some are consequentialists (I lean towards consequentialism), some are deontologists (especially those of a religious bent), and some may lean towards virtue ethics, and focus on becoming a better person without any rules for living.

        Some people seem to gravitate towards ethics and morality, and want to do good. Others are inherently selfish. Some brutally ideological, or coldly rational.

        I’ve developed many ideas of how to live my life, but I consider myself uncommitted to any one theory or tradition. I admire many different approaches and try to learn from them.

        Christian morality is given more credit than it’s due, in my opinion, for what essentially are the liberal values which emerged during the enlightenment and subsequently the modern and postmodern eras. Values such as religious tolerance, individual liberty, feminism, racial equality, LGBTQ equality, etc. have been improvements on the views of the ancients who wrote the Bible, which includes religious intolerance, slavery, mysoginy, genocide, and persecution of gays.

        Most of the moral teachings of Christianity which still influence us can also be found in Buddhism, Greek philosophy, and other religions which existed at the time. Christianity made some contributions, but most of the enduring moral teachings were by no means unique.

        So I tend to think that religious morality, while useful for many, is flawed, and hence we have improved it over time and adapted to encorporate many values from liberal philosophy.

        This is a good discussion, and these are good questions. 🙂

        Like

  8. Thank you, Zach. I am grateful for your honesty, and I have found myself nodding in a weird agreement with you on a few things. I have been for a while pondering the way that modern culture has informed our understanding of Christ and his mission and our mission. As I read older teachers I almost feel sometimes that even the Christianity of 100 years ago is far removed from the Christianity of today, and I see that you (relative) and I(absolute) are each good representatives of those two groups at least in an epistemological sense, and so I find the exchange refreshing indeed!

    Of course, I can’t pass up your comments on Christianity!

    You said:
    “Christian morality is given more credit than it’s due, in my opinion, for what essentially are the liberal values which emerged during the enlightenment and subsequently the modern and postmodern eras. Values such as religious tolerance, individual liberty, feminism, racial equality, LGBTQ equality, etc. have been improvements on the views of the ancients who wrote the Bible, which includes religious intolerance, slavery, mysoginy, genocide, and persecution of gays.”

    Since last week I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric from the Christian side of the dangers of redefining marriage between two men or two women as just the beginning. Next stop: polygamy. Next stop: NAMBLA marriage Next stop: inter-species marriage. I agree that it’s somewhat extreme, but then gay marriage would have been considered extreme even 50 years ago. So my question is this: Where do you see this liberty moving to? What is the ultimate outcome you and like-minded people hope for? Are we headed for Walden? Brave New World? Metropolis?

    Finally, I want to address something I’ve seen several places in your blog comments regarding the morality of God. This puts us in danger of dividing the conversation, which I don’t want to do but I also am keen to understand about God committing genocide. Briefly, I would say for a Christian that God as creator has the perfect right/sovereignty to do with his creation as he pleases. As an atheist, I think I’ve seen here that the atheist might say it’s inconsistent/immoral to tell humans not to kill but then to wipe out an entire nation. I’m not intending to put words in your mouth at all, just trying to summarize to get to the juicy bit! The question is, wherefore justice? How does justice figure into a relativistic framework? (And if you want to expound on why it is morally wrong for God to bring judgment on a nation, I’d like to understand your view, especially since this seems to have been a watershed understanding for you.)

    I so appreciate the tone of this conversation. I hope that I have expressed myself clearly without giving offense on sometimes possibly touchy subjects.

    Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jen,

      I also agree that the convo has been very respectful, and that is definitely refreshing. I tend to match tone for tone, so if someone gets sarcastic to me, I often respond sarcastically. But ultimately I have zero problem with respectful disagreement and dialogue (my opinion is merely my own, and I support each person’s journey to find truth, wherever it leads). It’s easier to take a sharper tone in writing to no one in particular, but when another person is respectful it makes the whole experience much more beneficial. The goal of dialogue is to learn about the other person’s views, and hopefully refine your own.

      You asked what the ultimate outcome of liberty is, and I assume you are referring to the outcome of current liberalism or progressivism. That’s a very good question, and one which is difficult to answer. Essentially, I believe there is no foreseeable end. There will never be a perfect society, and for that reason we should always be seeking to improve and promote values such as equality, peace, and freedom, wherever they lead.

      That being said, I tend to think the era of human civilization may be drawing to a close. Global warming poses the greatest threat to human life (the predictions do not look good at all), followed closely by what I see as the inevitability of nuclear warfare. It seems to me only a matter of time before either one or the other ends things, or at least erodes civilization as we know it. The best we can hope for is that we live long enough to not experience that ourselves.

      Hope for a better world is most likely temporary, unfortunately. Being a Humanist does not include unwavering faith in the rationality and goodness of humans. I am skeptical. Although humans are rational and good to a finite degree, which should be celebrated. Might as well make the best of what we have, fight back that which threatens our values, and then return to dust, to borrow the biblical phrase.

      As far as how values fit into a relativistic framework, I would say first that the term relativism in some senses can apply to my worldview, but not entirely. I don’t call myself a relativist because that lumps me in with those who believe for example that genital mutilation by Muslims is moral because it is moral relative to their culture. In a descriptive sense it is true that they view it as a punishment which they have a moral obligation to inflict. But I refuse to call something moral or good if I do not believe it is. I do not value the arbitrary and inhumane demands of the Islamic religion, hence I see nothing but an example of pointless suffering. By applying hedonic calculus I conclude that the suffering caused by that is not worth it. Hence I call it very immoral according to my values.

      I believe in moral constructivism. This means that we build our morality. I choose to live a certain way, and let my values dictate what ethical ideas I accept. In this way my morality is a construct which I am building.

      I also believe in moral nonrealism. Which means that morality is subjective and non-absolute. It is subjective like taste in food is subjective. This does not mean I have to say that all food is delicious merely if it is popular in another culture. The pursuit of producing and valuing good food is a worthwhile endeavor, despite it’s subjectivity. And for the most part, people tend to have similar understandings of what is delicious food and what is not.

      I don’t appeal to absolutes when discussing what is right or wrong. I don’t believe moral absolutes can be defended rationally. I discuss moral questions in terms of consequences. Hence I am generally a consequentialist. A person’s values generally dictate what consequences they find to be desirable. Hence moral disagreement is inevitable, as we cannot make people value the same things.

      As far as God’s sovereignty and justice, I think it’s another case of different values and understandings of justice.

      When you mention God’s sovereignty, that is really irrelevant to His morality. It is essentially a ‘might makes right’ view of God to say He can do what He wants. Of course if He were to exist, I cannot necessarily fault someone in such a position of vulnerability to such a being. I know how that works because I obviously shared that view as well.

      However, this does not answer the question of whether He would be worthy of worship, or whether the claims about God’s character in the Bible would have have any meaning.

      As C.S. Lewis once said: “if good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the ‘righteous Lord.'” Leibniz likewise said that “this opinion would hardly distinguish God from the devil.”.

      So either there is an object standard for morality which God’s actions can be judged by or God’s goodness is an illusion. Merely a way to describe an amoral being whom we do not understand.

      Regarding retributive justice. I see it as a means to an end. What I mean is that there is no point in creating a law to punish criminals if the law does not actually act as a deterrent (this includes the fact that locking up a criminal prevents repeat offenses during the time served). A omnipotent God has no need of punishment in order to deter anyone, and seems to not be keen on preventing evil. God could simply change everyone’s hearts if he wanted to do that. Or simply enforce laws Himself and lock up criminals to prevent crime. But the way I see it, the universe is a place where justice is nonexistent unless humans establish it.

      I also believe that the punishment should fit the crime (i.e. lex talionis) by being proportional to the crime committed. All the children of a nation being killed in genocide does not fit the crime, even assuming there was a crime committed to begin with (pre-adolescent children are incapable of criminality). Also eternal torture in Hell does not fit the crime of non-belief or even rebellion against God. Many of the things ascribed to God’s justice do not fit this criteria in my opinion.

      That’s how I see things from my perspective.

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  9. Zach,

    Thanks again for this insight. I didn’t realize until I read this post that I had misrepresented you by saying you were a relativist. It is a distinction I now appreciate, and I apologize if I caused offense.

    Well, I only have one more question for you, and I know this is a question you can’t possibly answer fully, nor do I expect you to, but here goes anyway! When you look across the people in your generation, would you say that they have a similar outlook as you? Specifically, I’m asking about the general trend of the future. I know that somewhere after WWII, this outlook that man would do himself in has made steady inroads into our society. I don’t know if it’s global or not, but I see it very strongly in Americans, especially the last two or so generations. I confess I find this sense of pragmatic hopelessness so opposed to my own view that I am not sure how to even ask intelligent questions about it. I look forward to your insight very much.

    I do have one comment on lex talionis. My own understanding is that there is no such thing as a finite crime. A semi-extreme example to prove the point. A young boy’s mother is killed by a mugger. Is it a finite crime? It certainly happened in a finite time period. It was also a finite act – it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, we can say that there were many finite aspects to the crime, but can we say that the results of that crime were finite? No, we cannot. The repercussions of that crime are both infinite and eternal. From the moment of that crime onward, that little boy will never have a mother. All of his experiences going forward will be bereft of his mother’s love, his mother’s correction, his mother’s encouragement. This will affect how he chooses a wife and how he raises his children. In a very Biblical way, this one incident changes his seed from then on. And what of his father and all his relations or the people his mother worked with? I’m sure you see my point. A crime cannot be finite. It is by its nature infinite and eternal.

    Now, we can say that we can only deal with the crime itself, i.e. murder, theft, lying, etc. To say that we could demand justice on more than the act is impossible because we don’t know the total sum of the repercussions. I agree completely. This is why true justice can never be delivered on earth. It would take One who knew all and saw all to deliver justice appropriately.

    I certainly understand your point about innocent children being killed and how that seems unjust. I agree that to our eyes 2 or 3000 years later and in our culture it seems terrible. I have trouble even killing bugs. I wonder though if the problem is not in what God did, for I cannot deny Scripture, but in our understanding. You see, if we admit that God is able to deliver justice whenever he sees fit, then it makes us downright puny in the scheme of things. If you glance back at what you’ve written, you’ll see that your entire understanding of the world has humans at the center. We have the power to destroy humanity, after all. Taking away our power and giving it to another, especially a just other, is very difficult for us, and I include myself here.

    Is what He did justice? I must answer, yes, it was. I will tell you my understanding on this difficult subject so far. From what I can glean from Scripture God sees humanity not only as individuals, but also as what I call the seed within the tree. If you hold an apple seed in your hand, you have in your hand a living tree. All the information is contained within that seed. Planted, a tree will grow. It’s characteristics come from the two trees that pollinated each other. If you have a grove of trees, you can predict pretty closely what kind of apples a tree 5, 10 generations down the line will produce. You know that the Scripture says that only good fruit can come from good trees, and only bad fruit can come from bad trees. This is a poor example, but I believe humanity is like that also. I can see it in many aspects of Torah law. We also know it’s true from living in towns where there always seems to be at least one bad family that just produces bad kids who make bad marriages and have more bad kids. We even have a saying, “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree,” because it’s so true. This is an incomplete answer I know, but it is my understanding so far.

    So God can see 1000 generations and knows who is naughty and who is nice. Does that justify Him wiping out one little kid along with the rest of the Edomites? That little kid hasn’t even had the chance to sin yet. Is God the originator of the pre-crime division? Can we say He knows that little kid is going to commit a crime and that gives Him the right to wipe him out? While the answer is yes, I think that is the wrong explanation. I believe my tree analogy is better. Or another would be that God sees us as a living stream. A polluted stream is polluted through and through, whether it creates new little kid tributaries or not, those tributaries will also be polluted. In other words, we are not just individuals, but like it or not, we are the fruit of many generations and God very possibly sees us in a much larger and more intricate way. It’s a exceedingly incomplete answer, I know, but it’s what I can explain in this limited forum.

    I thank you again for the chance to exchange understandings.

    Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t take it as a misrepresentation at all to say I’m a relativist. The term itself is loaded, and has stereotypes associate with it that I prefer to avoid, but in the purest sense I do agree with certain relativistic concepts. I’m also nearly unoffendable. You’d have to be very intentionally trying to offend me to do that. 😉

      You wrote: “When you look across the people in your generation, would you say that they have a similar outlook as you? Specifically, I’m asking about the general trend of the future.”

      I don’t really feel like I know. I grew up homeschooled, generally never been around people my age very much. I see our generation as disillusioned with authority, whether it be political, parental, religious, etc. There is still a lot of spirituality for many, but it seems to be more liberal than conservative. There are however more non-religious young people than in other demographics (like a third of us).

      I still feel different from many people my age, and many people in general, due to my abnormal childhood and young adulthood. There is much more pessimism and disillusionment though, definitely. Just directed in different ways depending on the person.

      The trend for the future is projected to be more like indifference. I think the main current is recreational escapism. That is, young people look for ways to escape reality through video games, social media, etc. due to a lack of faith in civilization and it’s trajectory. Including all the various facets of it.

      As far as lex talionis, that is an interesting point about infinite crimes. I find some truth to that, in how you said that a person who is killed essentially has their entire reality stripped from them and their family suffers as well. However, the concept of infinity is not well understood, and there is no way to actually establish it as a truth; since we cannot observe something infinite empirically. It can be argued that mathematics, specifically numbers can continue forever, but I actually think that misunderstands the nature of mathematics. But that’s a separate issue.

      Further, the concepts of duration and hedonistic intensity should be examined as different aspects. There are varying levels of pain. And for that reason, an infinite duration of pleasure would not be punishment. But an infinite duration of pain is punishment. Death itself, especially for a Christian, can amount to a instant journey to Heaven. Arguably not even a bad thing from the Christian’s perspective. The killer, if punished by infinite duration of pain (is the intensity of burning infinite as well?) would suffer to a infinitely greater degree than the person he killed. Any pain inflicted for a finite amount of time will always be less than any pain inflicted over a infinite duration of time. For that reason, mathematically it’s impossible for lex talionis to apply to punishment in Hell. I wrote about that here when I was a Christian: https://boldlybiblical.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/proportional-punishment/

      I do recognize that one can trust in God as a perfect Judge. It’s an intriguing concept. However, I find it at odds with my understanding of the punishments specified in the Bible. It all appears to be inequitable from my point of view. It’s assuming the conclusion.

      You wrote: “If you glance back at what you’ve written, you’ll see that your entire understanding of the world has humans at the center. We have the power to destroy humanity, after all. Taking away our power and giving it to another, especially a just other, is very difficult for us, and I include myself here.”

      Yes, I personally do not have a lot of faith in humanity. If a just God were to exist, I would have no problem with surrending to such a being. It would be a good thing. My problem has to do with where the evidence seems to point. However, retributional punishment still is a problem for me philosophically.

      You wrote: “So God can see 1000 generations and knows who is naughty and who is nice. Does that justify Him wiping out one little kid along with the rest of the Edomites? That little kid hasn’t even had the chance to sin yet. Is God the originator of the pre-crime division? Can we say He knows that little kid is going to commit a crime and that gives Him the right to wipe him out? While the answer is yes, I think that is the wrong explanation. I believe my tree analogy is better. Or another would be that God sees us as a living stream. A polluted stream is polluted through and through, whether it creates new little kid tributaries or not, those tributaries will also be polluted. In other words, we are not just individuals, but like it or not, we are the fruit of many generations and God very possibly sees us in a much larger and more intricate way. It’s a exceedingly incomplete answer, I know, but it’s what I can explain in this limited forum.”

      I remember myself making a very similar argument. I had believed that God was a consequentialist; choosing the lesser evil so to speak. However, I came to believe that an omnipotent God does not need to choose a lesser evil, since He could merely change hearts, or have designed the universe in such a way that lesser evils were not needed. So it’s hard for me to look at genocide, especially of children, and see justice. All I see is that God would have had to have wanted to command genocide, since He didn’t need it. My article on here called “Everything Happens For A Reason” contains that argument (if you check it out be warned, it’s a very blunt post).

      Those are some of my philosophical objections. If God is defined as love in a vaguer sense, I could theoretically be at peace with that conception of Him. But the anthropomorphic version of Him in the Bible carries a lot of baggage for many, due to logical and philosophical issues.

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  10. Zach,

    Thanks for that insight. I should have recognized that you were home schooled. My bet is that you get along quite well with older generations like myself. I live in the back mountains of Montana, where homeschooling is rampant. The two families near me who home schooled, three of the four children turned their backs on God. If I may rant for just a moment … If parents spent more time in the Word actively seeking Truth instead of memorizing proof texts and blindly spouting bad doctrine, they would be able to prepare their children for this world and explain the apparent paradoxes in Scripture. Sadly, their response to so many of their children’s
    questions seems to be, “Don’t ask questions like that, Johnny. Just trust in Jesus.” It’s stupid. If the Bible is not objectively true, then all is lost. Christians had better step up and seek the truth in Scripture instead of taking Kierkegaardian faith leaps right into deep, deep doctrinal darkness. I’m done ranting now.

    Regarding eternal and infinity:

    We can have no full understanding of eternity or infinity, and in this regard I agree with you. However, while we cannot have an experience of them, I do believe our imaginations are good enough to dimly perceive what they might be like.

    Retribution/justice:

    I’ve read some of your older thoughts on hell. You may not be interested now, but a lot of the understanding of hell cleared up for me after I started looking at some of the Targum writings and what were probably common myths about Gehenna at the time of Christ. Here’s a good link: https://creationconcept.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/jewish-fables-about-gehenna/. I don’t agree with the author, but I enjoyed his Targum selections. My understanding so far is that we are not to know details of the afterlife. Most of what Jesus said to the destroyed Pharisees was about how their understanding of “who gets to heaven” was profoundly wrong. You can see from the Targum examples that many Jews were rather ethno-centered. “I’ve got a golden ticket!” mentality. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus point was not to let us know two thousand years later the particulars of heaven and hell, but to tell those people in that time that they were not assured of a golden ticket just because they were children of Abraham.

    It seems that most people who have a problem with God and hell are actually striking out (often rightly so) against MAN’s conception of heaven and hell, because Scripture is not that clear. It gives hints certainly, but it’s not so precisely defined as we make it out to be. Not to mention that man has completely conflated Hades, Gehenna and the Lake of Fire into one catchall hell, which only serves to make Scripture non-nonsensical. I guess I’m just in a ranting mood today.

    Anyway, my point is that Scripture is not clear about the “one size fits all” sentencing that humans have imposed on it. We don’t know, and I’m not sure why so many people believe they do. I rather like C.S. Lewis’s description of what happens in the Lake of Fire in his book “The Problem of Pain”, but like the rest it’s still conjecture. It seems much more logical that what should be stressed is that God is promising His people that in the new heavens and earth, they won’t have to worry about being harmed. All the bad people will be gone. It’s only those who don’t believe that need to worry about what the Lake of Fire actually is, and they are not the target audience of Scripture. Besides, if one doesn’t believe in Godly punishment, then what’s the point of describing it in detail?

    Regarding Everything for a Reason:

    Your article reminds me of Micah’s concubine in Judges 19. Both are horrific acts. In actual fact, you can find many horrendous acts of man against man in Scripture itself. No need to look to the news at all! I want to take some time to firm up my argument and will reply directly in that article.

    Finally, I would like to take a moment to address one thing I saw in your post which is indirectly implied in your section on God being a consequentialist and sometimes choosing the lesser of two evils. (Thanks for capitalizing God, by the way. I appreciate very much that even though you have no belief at this time that you are so respectful.)

    The assumed question is can God do evil?

    I submit the answer is no. Biblical evil by definition is turning away from God or rebelling against God. This is an objective truth within the Biblical framework, not a baggage-loaded invective such as, “You are evil! You’re going to hell!” No, evil is a description of someone or some philosophy that rebels against God or places oneself or humanity in place of God.

    For example, from a Biblical perspective humanism is evil in that it removes God from society and places humanity as the supreme lawmaker and judge. Evolution is evil because it replaces God with chance (in part at least), A murderer is evil because in the act of murder he has destroyed an image of God.

    Logically, God cannot do evil since he cannot rebel against himself. Evil is something only humans can do. Scripture has said that the inclination of humanity is evil, something which you and I have both observed and can avow to as a general trend most of the time (see your previous note as reference). Our disagreement seems to be over whether God is evil or not.

    I’ve looked for some humanist definitions of evil, but there doesn’t seem to be much agreement. Interestingly, the one thing the few websites I looked at had in common was they spent an inordinate amount of time fighting against the idea that evil and a good/loving God could co-exist.

    This is all from me on this article. I will respond to the “Everything for a Reason” one at a later date. I thank you, Zach. It has a been a pure pleasure to share understandings with you, and I’ve learned a great deal.

    Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, definitely has been a pleasure.

      There does seem to be a trend with homeschooled children to have a firm stance one way or another on faith. Some are very boldly Christian, some are boldly atheist, but few seem to be disinterested in the issue. I think you are correct that the way in which theology is presented makes a huge difference. For me I think it was the lack of emphasis on questioning and the dogmatic nature of it that turned me away. I still have a soft spot for the good aspects of religion, and for that reason do feel a connection with looser, liberal versions of faith.

      Essentially atheism for me, is for the mind, but religion is for the heart. Neither one seems to have truly figured out how to include both positive elements to their full degree, and I’m not sure we will see a perfect synthesis anytime soon.

      This is not to imply that there aren’t intelligent versions of Christianity (you seem very philosophically and theologically informed). For example, some of the smartest people I know are involved in what’s called the conditionalist movement within Christianity. I am somewhat hesitant to ever debate any of them, as they know their stuff.

      I also do not want to imply that there aren’t emotionally fulfilling versions of atheism. Humanism is a good outlook, and I can see how the idea of a enormous universe can inspire awe. Further there is a lot of freedom in being a nonbeliever which can be therapeutic.

      In short, I still have many intellectual difficulties when it comes to understanding theology (I will check out that link though). But likewise, I have emotional difficulties when it comes to connecting with atheism. I encourage each person to follow their own path, and I think it’s good to share thoughts as we go. Thanks for sharing yours. 🙂

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