Posted by Charity on December 30th, 2006

(As you can tell by the title, I decided to break this down into parts. I have so much to say and not enough time to put it into one cohesive post, so I am going to take this in parts.)

For whatever reason, I read a fair number of things written by atheists. I’m really not sure why.

It might be my ego wanting to make sure that I didn’t miss some really good reason to not believe in God that would leave me looking like a fool if I hadn’t heard about it.

It might be that I feel strongly that any belief worth having is worth challenging on a regular basis, which would also explain why most of my daily read are liberal blogs.

It might be that I know my boys will eventually face all of the leading criticisms against faith in God, and then some, so I want to be able to prepare them for it. After all, If I can’t respond to an atheist’s charge against my faith, how can I expect to answer the even tougher questions my children will come up with?

My guess is that all of those reasons play a factor.

At any rate, I think it’s time I addressed some of the more common things I read that atheists say that are untrue or otherwise irritating.

I began writing this inclusive of all religions, but I think I should just go ahead and get specific to my own beliefs. I am a Christian. Not just any Christian; one of those conservative evangelical Protestant nut-jobs that believes that God is the Creator and that I have a personal relationship with Jesus. I might as well be up front about it. I promise not to quote from the Bible, but I might throw in a line or two from a Christian rock song, for added lyrical value.

The classic non sequitur that find particularly annoying, mostly for the fact that it is a lazy refusal to engage in a meaningful dialogue, is that the only reason people are Christians is because their parents were. Not only is this completely dismissive of the capacity a person has to question one’s parents’ beliefs, but it completely ignores that fact that (1) many people raised Christian leave the church and (2) many people who are religious do not have the same beliefs as their parents.

I found this survey that indicated that “In the U.S. about half (48%) of adults who stated they have religious beliefs say they share the same as both of their parents.” I didn’t have time to dig into the reliability of that number, but I have always heard that, among evangelicals, there is a fairly hight percent who do not have the same beliefs as their parents.

Anecdotally, my husband and I do not share the religious beliefs of our parents and most of the people I know that are Christians do not either, including every person who has played a direct role in my walk, except one.

I was raised to distrust and avoid organized religion. And further, the one thing that has caused the largest rift between my mother and I, who have always been very, very close, is my strong commitment to Jesus. She is noticeably uncomfortable with it. Not that I shove it down her throat or anything, but I cannot talk about what is going on in our lives without it coming up because He plays a huge role in our lives. So, my faith has come at the expense of some very important relationships.

Other than the fact that it is just insulting and untrue in my case, this claim bothers me because my kids will hear it, but it will be applicable to them. They will have been raised going to church, praying to God, praising Jesus, and, yes, memorizing scripture. The Devil will have a foothold with this one when it comes to them, but I think they will be able to see through it. All the more reason why it is important for me to know what kind of crap they will be hearing in the world.

In part two, I will examine the charge that religion requires blind faith.

15 Responses to “Things Said by Atheists That Are Untrue or Otherwise Irritating (part one)”

  1. I guess this isn’t the most fiery way to open the debate, but , by and large, I agree with you. My mom is a devout Catholic, my grandma was a Southern Baptist. I went to an Episcopal school run by nuns for 5 years then another year in a Catholic school. Went to Sunday school, the whole nine yards. And none of the above had any effect on me, because I just didn’t find any of it remotely credible, even at an early age. That, and I didn’t seem to see any reason for it. But I’ll save my reasoning for your next posts on this. It’s good that you’re thinking it out instead of just trying to cram it all in one post, because it’s a complex subject.

    I also find it very commendable that you said “It might be my ego wanting to make sure that I didn’t miss some really good reason to not believe in God that would leave me looking like a fool if I hadn’t heard about it.” A person that doesn’t understand their opponent’s arguments doesn’t really fully understand their own. That’s why I’ve read a lot about religion, all kinds. And, yes, I have read the Bible, some parts several times. It’s probably the biggest single reason I’m an atheist.

    That said, although I do believe a parent should raise a child how he/she sees fit, I find something wrong about teaching a child about religion at such an early age, before their critical thinking skills have fully developed. Something about it seems unfair. They trust parents, just like they do about Santa Claus and will tend to believe it without thinking about it, or rather, before they have the skills to think about it reasonably. And it can create a lot of turmoil when they get older and start finding out that a lot of it doesn’t really jibe with the way the world really works.

  2. Yeah, I didn’t exactly come right out of the box, but many of the things atheists say that irritate me are the flippant or dismissive lines like this one.

    I think this will get progressively more intense.

    I share your concerns about raising kids, though. I have mixed feelings about it. When my three-year-old came home from church with a Bible verse memorized, I was kind of uncomfortable with it. I think that is too young.

    At the same time, I don’t really know what else to do because our life is really centered around Christ. Just as I said I can’t really avoid the topic with my mother, I certainly can’t avoid it with my kids.

    I just tell them that they can question me and to expect that they will question their faith. We all do. I tell them that they don’t need to be afraid to have doubts and come to us with them.

    We also don’t force them to come to church, though there are really limited options, since we always go.

    My oldest was 7 or 8 when I became a Christian and he was not down with it for a while. I told him that was okay. We were not church-goers at that time, either. He decided to get into it when he found out the girl next-door is a Christian. (Boys will do anything to make girls like them, huh?) I never pressured him, though. But one day he just started reading the Bible. I walk into his room and find him reading the Bible frequently. I think he has read it more than I have!

    It’s not like I am brainwashing them and not exposing them to other points of view. That would be setting them up to turn away from God when they left home.

  3. I find this conversation interesting as I am a revert to Christianity and a convert to Catholicism. Mr. Ryan’s analysis lays bare the differences between liberals (true liberals in the Enlightenment sense) and conservatives when it comes to faith and religion. This split between libertarians and traditionalists is one of many that makes their unity unsteady within the “Conservative Movement.” If you have time read up on how William F. Buckley, Jr. and Whittaker Chambers did a bang up job of pushing the Randians out of the Movement in the 1960′s. It is a fascinating glimpse into the stark contrast between libertarian atheism and conservative theism.

  4. As I went X-C skiing today (finally – yay!), I was thinking a lot about what will transpire here over the next few days, wanting to really choose my words carefully. Anyways, nypaleocon’s post tied into something else I was thinking… As you know, I’m very much a social libertarian, and economically I’m on the fence with a mix of capitalism and socialism. But more importantly, I’m a mental libertarian.

    Minds must be free, and religion, particularly Christianity is very antithetical to that freedom. It does not encourage us to think for ourselves, for everything is framed in the light of what God wants. It’s kind of striking to me how so many conservatives struggle so hard to be free of control from our government or of the will of other men but don’t think twice about surrendering their minds and very essences of their existence (what one might call a ‘soul’) to some mythological figure, with little historical or scientific evidence of its validity. It boggles my mind.

    One thing I hope you will post about is the idea of ethics and morality; does one believe one has to believe in God to be a moral person?

  5. I don’t agree that my mind is not free. I can choose whether or not to believe in God or follow God’s plan. Let me put it to you like this. If someone could see your future and gave you hints as to what you should do, or at least which direction you should head in, and you tested it out several times, and it always turned out to be sound advice, would you not begin to trust that person’s advice faithfully, even when it didn’t make sense?

    You’re probably saying: yeah, but you’re talking about a fairy tale here, not a real being. And that is where the real breakdown is between believers and non-believers (man, I hate those terms). I know what I know and you don’t know what you don’t know. (And you think the same of me.) Thus the breakdown.

  6. I hear Mr. Ryan’s arguments and while I disagree there is some validity to them…but only if one does not put forth a solid argument to the contrary.

    Where I work I have regular “debates” with three resident dissenters: an non-baptized Darwinian, an apostate, and a Jew–all atheists of whom use various forms of Enlightenment liberalism as a basis to reject faith.

    One in particular has argued that there is no such thing as truth except in what others have deemed to be true. He has stated that since others deem what is true and not true and what is valid tradition in matters of faith that both truth and tradition are unreliable and invalid.

    All three argue that there is no way to prove “logically” or using “reason” that a God exists.

    Taking the first argument I would put forward to him that if there is no truth except what others deem to be true then why is he is asking me to believe him? By his own standard the truth is subjective so it does not apply to “my truth” and only to his. Therefore for him to tell me with absolute certainty that truth is subjective is a relative notion in itself since, using his logic, truth by his standards is not absolute.

    To say that God does not exists also is subjective, if using the argument of my atheist friend. After all, why should I believe him when he says that God is a “fiction ” or a “construct” or a “historical figure”? What makes him an authority when he himself has stated that all truth is subjective (and for any Christian God is truth).

    Similarly the argument does not stand that Christ is a “mythological figure”. As G.K. Chesterton once said, Christ was either a lunatic, a liar, or the Son of God. After 2,000 years I am not inclined to believe the latter two. Furthermore, J.R.R. Tolkien addressed the whole argument of Christ as myth in a conversation with his friends C.S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson on September 19, 1931:

    “After dinner the three men went for a walk beside the river and discussed the nature and purpose of myth. Lewis explained that he felt the power of myths but that they were ultimately untrue. As he expressed it to Tolkien, myths are ‘lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver’.

    ‘No,’ said Tolkien. ‘They are not lies.’

    …Tolkien resumed, arguing that myths, far from being lies, were the best way of conveying truths which would otherwise be inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, whereas materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to the abyss and to the power of evil.

    …Building on this philosophy of myth, Tolkien and Dyson went on to express their belief that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened. This revelation changed Lewis’s whole conception of Christianity.

    …[F]ive years later, it seemed Tolkien was making sense of it all. He had shown that pagan myths were, in fact, God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using the images of their ‘mythopoeia’ to reveal fragments of His eternal truth. Yet most astonishing of all, Tolkien maintained that Christianity was exactly the same except for the enormous difference that the poet who invented it was God Himself, the images He used were real men and actual history. The death and resurrection of Christ was the old ‘dying god’ myth except that Christ was the real Dying God, with a precise and verifiable location in history and definite historical consequences. The old myth had become a fact while still retaining the character of a myth.”

    From Joseph Pearce’s “Tolkien: Man and Myth” published by Ignatius Press in 1998, pp, 57-59.

    Needless to say, Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, showed Lewis, a lapsed Anglican and atheist, the path back to Christ.

    I would argue that truth is absolute and that God does exist. But then, in a world that rejects absolutes and rejects God why make the argument beyond those who already know it to be true?

  7. Thanks for sharing, NYP. Very interesting.

  8. I don’t believe athiests exists! Hee-hee. (Contemplate that one for a bit, dear ones.)

    Christianity is not death to the intellect!!! Some of the most intellectually competent folks I know have come to a faith in Christ. These engineer-types are amazing at cognitive functioning.

    More another time…

  9. Interesting stuff on Tolkien there… I knew about the Catholic inferences but I didn’t know he was the one that led to Lewis’ conversion.

    In response to Charity, as to if I would trust someone’s advice and so on… yes, I might, but the difference here is that I’m not convinced that those things you’re experiencing are coming from forces outside of you… what’s to say they aren’t your own subconscious intuitions revealing themselves to you?

    When I ponder spirituality, I am often intrigued at the notion that spirituality may have a huge biochemical component. Many of the feelings of bliss, and the ‘oneness’ people feel in their ‘God moments’ can also be triggered biochemically. It’s not far fetched at all. Many cultures throughout history have eaten plants and such that bring on the same experiences. I have had an experience one time where I got further into my self than ever before, and at time the thoughts felt like they were from a different place, but it also felt like a very ‘psychological’ experience to me. Studies also show that in times of prayer, spiritual bliss, etc, certain parts of the brains are very stimulated that aren’t stimulated in normal states.

    I guess that my main point is that our minds are very fallible. I believe that sometimes when people see the Virgin Mary, for example.. they see the Virgin Mary…but there wasn’t anything there. There are so many things our minds are capable of that we haven’t figured out yet, and personally, having some of those experiences you mention, if I had them, I wouldn’t be so quick to feel that they came from elsewhere.

    And this all does tie back into the ‘subjective reality’ that nypaleocon mentioned. If it’s real to you, it’s real.

  10. I have thought that before too. That is what I told myself in the beginning of my experiences with God. The reason I stopped thinking it was myself was because sometimes things would fit together in a way that I could not have foreseen or planned. I would be led to do something that had an outcome I would not have expected. I cannot dismiss that as coming from within myself (unless I also think I have psychic powers).

    I am not trying to convince you that my experiences are real, or really coming from God. I can’t. Otherwise there would be no atheists. :)

  11. For an evangelical, Charity, you don’t seem to ‘evangelize’ very much. Which is commendable, because that’s where a huge part of my problem lies with the fundies.

    I’d like to talk about the idea of ‘coincidence’ for a minute here. because you seem to mention it often. I have always believed that one of the failings in human reasoning is that we underestimate the amount of coincidence that really occurs in our lives, and therefore we give it much more significance than we should. A few examples to illustrate this: how often does a friend or relative call or write you when you happen to be thinking about them at that particular time? It’s happened a lot to me. But how many times did they NOT call you when you were thinking abut them? Or how many times did they call you when you weren’t thinking about them? Those occurrences happened more often, but aren’t thought about.

    Another example: if you were to roll 2 sixes on a roll of the dice six times in a row, you might think you were lucky (below, ‘H’ means 2 sixes,”M’ means other combinations:

    MMMHHHHHHMHMH. You might think you were lucky, or some other force were at work. Let’s go and then look at what would happen if you rolled those dice a million times: you’d have many occurences of those sixes occuring:

    MHMHMMMHHHHHHMMMMMMHMHMMMM…(20,000 rolls later…) HHHHHHMMMMMHMHMHMH … (55,000 rolls later…)HHHHHHMMH and so on…

    But because we in our thinking tend to look at the small picture, we see those first hits and assign some unique significance to it. I guess I’m just saying that coincidence really does occur a lot more than we think it does so it’s not the most reliable and trustworthy way to acquire knowledge.

    I guess what I’m saying is that i I had some of the experiences you have, that alone wouldn’t convince me of its validity, because there isn’t anything that ‘God’ is the only possible answer. I’d want to exhaust all possible options before going that route.

  12. Hi J.D.,

    I have little time since I am pooped and ready for sleep but let me chime in a bit.

    In the Bible, there were people who actually experienced miracles — and that still didn’t have lasting impact for some of them. Miracles aren’t what produce lasting faith, I believe although scripture says that miracles will follow when believers are around.

    RE: another blog on shesright…I do agree with you that it does matter who wrote the scripture. Faith is a combination of the brain and heart. The brain sees that the object of one’s faith is worthy of surrendering one’s heart to…

    Often, in my own life and in other’s lives, I have wondered if the root of intellectual doubt really comes down to actually being willing to let go of control. Satisfying intellectual thirst is important, don’t get me wrong. But there are times when intellectual doubts are mere smokescreens to the deeper issue that inherently, we know that if there is a God that made me and the universe, then he would be worthy of my worship and thus surrender. It is hard to surrender especially if I know that some of my choices are not ones that the Creator might not appreciate or approve of. I remember a dear friend leveling with me once and saying that she knew if she surrendered her life to Christ, she would have to stop sleeping around. I appreciated and respected her honesty. I also understood that she understood the paradox — to gain and find your life, you surrender your life.

    Once you have a chance to check out Mere Christianity…J.D., let me know what you think. C.S. Lewis doesn’t use a stitch of Bible verses but goes through logic.

    I love your questions. You read my mantra: Christianity is not death to the intellect! A closed mind is a wonderful thing to lose. An open heart is a fabulous thing to gain.

    Good night dear ones!

  13. Polimama –
    we know that if there is a God that made me and the universe, then he would be worthy of my worship and thus surrender.

    Even if it did turn out he made you and the universe, why must I worship him? I don’t give the people that built my car or house any special status, nor do I worship my parents.

  14. J.D.,

    I loved your comment. You do not worship your parents but those who have parents who are loving parents usually respond with loving affection. Worship is similar to loving affection but at a deeper or higher level. I have more to answer…it is after midnight and you deserve something more coherent.

  15. J.D….

    If you have something valuable to you, you go by the owner’s manual for maintenance which speaks clearly that we were made to worship God. Humans naturally worship something or someone or themselves… Mentally and emotionally, we thrive with worshipping God.