Why I, a Christian, Am in Favor of the OK Capitol Satanic Monument

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Recently, new attention has been brought to the separation-of-church-and-state debate when, in response to a Ten Commandments monument placed at the Capitol Building in Oklahoma City in 2012, the Satanic Temple in NYC began an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to put up their own monument.  Then, a few weeks ago, they garnered more attention when they released the design for their Satanic monument: Baphomet, a goat-headed creature with wings, sitting in front of a pentagram with two children at its sides — an album cover-worthy image of any one of my favorite metal bands from the 1980’s.

Basically, the Satanic Temple’s argument goes like this: Either take down the Ten Commandments or we have the right to put up the Satanic monument.

The organization American Atheists had a similar strategy when a group of private citizens raised money and placed a Ten Commandments monument outside a courthouse in Florida.  When the Ten Commandments monument wasn’t removed, American Atheists raised money and placed their own monument at the courthouse in the summer of 2013.

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Granted, maintaining a separation of church and state in a country that guarantees freedom of speech and religion, a democratic country (therefore, ruled by the people – people primarily with religious convictions), is tricky business – actually, I would say impossible – but I humbly forgo the bulk of the debate about the correct implications and interpretations of those crucial characteristics of our country here.  I’m not the right guy for that debate.

(Though I would like to throw out one question before moving on: Why do people in NYC have any say about public land in OK?)

Yet concerning the case of the proposed (threatened–?) Satanic monument at the OK Capitol Building, I would like to weigh in.  So, I say thus:

Put it up.

Here are my reasons why I think a Satanic monument in OK is… well, OK:

(1) It’s only fair.

If we live in a democratic country with freedom of religion and speech and if a group of private citizens decide to put up a monument to honor Satan, then they have the right.  To quote someone much more famous than me: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”  If they want to erect said monument on public, instead of private, land and other faiths have been allowed to erect monuments to their faith on this public land, again, it’s only fair.  So, let them put it up.

(2) Religious monuments – especially Satanic ones – will promote discussions about religion, faith, and God.

Where I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that any publicity is good publicity, any controversy gives Christians an opportunity to speak about their faith.  I doubt the Ten Commandments monument in OK would’ve made national news or caught the interest of social media, yet the Satanic Temple in NYC has given Christians a platform to discuss their faith.  Thanks.  Put it up.

(3) If Satan exists, so does God.

By erecting a monument to Satan, the Satanic Temple of NYC is affirming God, the Bible, and a realm of our existence that transcends the physical world.  And what better reminder of the presence of a holy, good, and just God than a symbolic idol of evil set up for all to see?  Put it up.

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(4) Satanist should be allowed to have monuments on public land, but atheists should not.

Now, this isn’t because I have anything personal against atheists, but I say this according to their own logic.  Many atheists have made it perfectly clear that atheism is not a religion.  I agree.  Furthermore, outspoken atheists have made it very clear that those of us who believe in God are the ones with beliefs, not them, and the burden of proving the existence of God is on us.  If fact, many atheists even resent being labeled “atheists” because it implies there is a God to disbelieve.  A quote in Psychology Today sums up their argument nicely: “I refuse to identify according to what I reject.  I don’t believe in astrology or unicorns, but I don’t label myself according to that – so why should I identify according to my rejection of god-belief?”  Fair enough.  Thus, atheists don’t exist.

So, please immediately remove the American Atheists monument at the courthouse in Florida.

One may argue that groups without religious affiliations also have the right to put up monuments, but that doesn’t concern us here since the belief-formally-known-as-atheism doesn’t exist.  How can we have a monument to something that doesn’t exist or to something that’s not a belief?  A monument to nothing?  Absurdity.  So, take it down.

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(5) Their true goal is more about stifling faith than promoting freedom of speech.

The true goal of many of these aggressive secular groups is to banish all things of faith from sight, as seen in the case of the 13-foot cross set up by a group of marines (not some government institution) at Camp Pendleton in California to commemorate their fellow soldiers who had been killed or injured in combat.  The atheist group MAAF demanded the cross be taken down even though I know of no reports that other faiths had been forbidden from erecting similar monuments.

The true strategy of some of these groups is not to put up a monument to counter every religious monument in the country (because, let’s be honest, they would fail miserably), but to encourage other groups to erect monuments and so clutter up public land that local governments will ban all such monuments.  In an article on the American Atheists monument in Florida, the New York Times reports, “But building monuments to atheism from sea to shining sea is not really their goal. They figure that once atheists join the fray, every other group under the sun will demand the same privilege — including some that Christians might find objectionable, like pagans and Satanists.  In the end, the atheists hope, local governments and school boards will decide that it is simpler to say no to everyone.”  Furthermore, many of these “Satanist” groups are not Satan-worshippers; they’re simply angry atheists.  Go to their websites and read their beliefs to see.

So, put it up.  Let the great monument contest begin!  Let’s make America so cluttered with monuments that it’ll rival ancient Rome.  Heck, once we banish monuments to the belief-formerly-known-as-atheism, militant unbelievers will react by pretending they worship spaghetti monsters and such to mock those with faith in God, but let them put their idols up anyway.  Their monuments won’t serve as a mockery of belief in God, but a mockery of our Constitution and the freedom of faith and speech it protects.

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(6) There’s no neutral stance.

Whether you like it or not, or you think you care about it or not, there is no neutral stance when it comes to the God debate.  Militant atheists and so-called Satanists want the world to believe that Christians and others who believe in God are the ones forcing their beliefs on others.  But no culture in the entire history of the world has ever been atheistic.  Interestingly, all these diverse faiths have a belief in a creator, an afterlife, a sense of their own sins being offensive to their creator, and a need for reconciliation.  That means if the naturalistic atheist is right, and humans evolved solely by a long series of random, happy accidents and spread throughout the world into thousands of diverse cultures, we’re to believe they all developed some sort of understanding of God by sheer coincidence.  It seems to me if the militant atheists were right, belief in God would be the exception, not the norm, yet atheism is the exception — vastly.

If outspoken atheists want to convince us that unbelief in God is the true state of humans, then they’re going to have to explain away the search to understand God by every culture since the dawn of man.  No matter what the situation, humans always return to pursuing God.  Even in Communist countries where religion was outlawed, people have continued to search for God despite the high risk of harsh persecution.  Ironically, even ardent atheists can’t help but return to the patterns of religion as seen by the movements to start atheist churches, by the presence of atheist chaplains at colleges and in the military, and, yes, even the making of symbols of their beliefs in the form of monuments.

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The greatest irony is certain atheists want us to believe we’re all the product of random, mindless chance — we’re stardust that became creatures; we’re an advanced accident of cells — but they want us to believe life still has meaning.  Meaning can’t come from random, mindless forces.  If the atheistic materialist is right, freewill, love, and even your mind don’t exist; they’re just illusions; they’re all just chemicals firing off in your brain.  You’re not thinking; you’re just responding to stimuli.  So, if this upsets you, don’t be mad at me because I can’t help writing this.  I’m just a flesh computer and this is how I’m programmed.

Militant Atheists desperately want their rights, but why does a cosmic accident deserve any rights?  If I shove a person into traffic instead of listening to him, it’s just one accident running into another.  The chemicals in my brain made me do it; it’s nothing personal.  And can you prove your rights please? — Because I have never seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or felt a right before and if I can’t see, touch, taste, smell, or see it, I don’t believe in it — because no strictly material process can birth immaterial things – like rights.

There’s no neutral stance.  So, put up the Satanic monument.  Let’s remind everyone that there’s a spiritual war going on.  Let the Satanists slap nominal, cultural Christianity in the face and say, “Decide what you believe and pick a side, but you can’t be lukewarm anymore.”  Let’s throw a bucket of cold water on those Christians who stay safe in their Christian bubbles and remind them of the adversity that’s out there – yes, there’s opposition; yes, there’s hostility; and yes, there’s even evil.  Put it up.

I want to be perfectly clear that I am NOT labeling atheists as evil.

Many of my friends don’t follow God but are fantastic, beautiful, loving, thoughtful people.  But I have this to say: Just like the nominal, cultural Christians, you have to make a choice.  And I want you to see that the way you live right now in your unbelief is in a way that shows there’s a God.  You live as people who believe there’s meaning to life, that people have rights and value, that there’s beauty in the world, and that friends are worth dying for.  Your thoughts aren’t the thoughts of something that somehow became living from lifeless, mindless matter and developed by chance into an advanced accident that ponders its own existence.  You are more than flesh machines.

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There is no neutral stance in scripture.  Jesus clearly stated whoever is not with him is against him (Matt 12:30; Luke 9:50, 11:23).  He wasn’t the all-affirming hippy modern Americans try to make him out to be.  Jesus speaks of hell more than any other person in the Bible; he understood the cost of sin so much that he was tortured and died because of it.

There is no “grey-area” in scripture.  We all fall short of godliness.  We are all sinners, and sin separates us from a perfectly good, just God.  But God became man, lived the perfect life we never could, and took the punishment when he didn’t need to — for us — so we could be united with him.  This is a free gift, but all gifts must be accepted.  That’s all you need to do; you don’t have to earn it and you don’t have to be “good” in order to accept it because none of us, Christians included, are wholly good.

There is no neutral stance.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).  We are either slaves to sin or we are set free through Christ.

Some people who are opposed to God have honest intellectual questions that need answering.  I understand that.  I was an atheist longer than I have been a Christian.  Christians need to be ready to gently and humbly answer them, and if they can’t, they should be honest about it and find someone who can.

Some people are opposed to belief in God because of emotional reasons.  The church has hurt many.  Christians need to humbly acknowledge this and give apologies.  But those hurt must also realize that Christians are imperfect sinners too.  Just as we find the sick in hospitals, we find sinners in churches.  Christians need to do a better job of representing God, but also remember they aren’t God.  Don’t reject God because of Christians.

Finally, some reject God for reasons of their will — because admitting there is a God is admitting that there is more to life than what they want to believe.  Admitting there is a God brings with it a certain responsibility, a certain way of understanding the world, and a humbling and admitting you’re not the center of the universe.

A person may reject God for any of these reasons or for all of them.  When I was an atheist, my rejection of God was a combination of all three.

So, put up the Satanist monument.  Let’s start the discussion.  Let the “Satanists” shove Satan in our collective faces because, to quote something said in a movie by someone a lot more famous than me: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

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Atheist Church. Seriously. (Part 4) Atheism’s Favorite Myth & “Idol Worship”

**Why do some atheists think science disproves God?  What do these atheists worship?  Isn’t science just one part of a bigger picture?* 

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(This continues my response to an article titled “Church without God – by Design” about the Humanist Community at Harvard University, an “atheist church.”  Read Part 1Part 2, Part 2.5, and Part 3.)

(If this is your first time reading something here, please first read a short explanation about the purpose of this blog.)

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Christians and Jews believe that a long time ago God gave this command: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Exodus 20:4)

Thus, Christians and Jews take idolatry seriously.  Of course, when God gave this command to ancient Israel, he was speaking of literal idolatry.  The pagan religions that surrounded Israel carved images of earthly creatures and humanoid gods and worshipped them.  Israel was a truly unique nation in that they worshipped a God who had no form, so they were to remain separate and distinct from these other religions.

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In the New Testament, Paul addresses idolatry in his letter to the Romans:  “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse… Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures… For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (1:20-25).

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Thus, the expression “worshipping the creation rather than the Creator” was introduced into Christian phraseology.  Today, when Christians speak of idolatry, we are rarely talking about literal idol worship, but the “worship” of material things over God.  So, if someone has an unhealthy preoccupation with money, a Christian may say that money has become that person’s “idol.”  If a person loves food but doesn’t see it as a blessing from God, he is “worshipping the creation, not the Creator.”

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But concerning the Humanist Community, the atheist “church” from the article, it seems that we’ve come full-circle to the original meaning of idolatry again.

In the article, we’re told “Before the main event, kids are invited to what some parents refer to as ‘Sunday school,’ where Tony Debono, a biologist [from] Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaches the youngsters about evolution, DNA and cells.”

Oddly, we’re also told, “Each service has a message – compassion, evolution or acceptance – after which congregants engage in a lengthy discussion.”  Evolution?  When I first read this, I felt like this was one of those games on kids’ TV programs:  compassion, evolution or acceptance – which one of these things is not like the others?

Recently, a movie documentary was given limited showings titled The Unbelievers, which stars Richard Dawkins, everyone’s favorite atheist, and Lawrence Krauss as “they speak publicly around the globe about the importance of science and reason in the modern world.”  I have yet to see the movie (and I recently learned it was never picked up for distribution), but William Lane Craig on his podcast portrayed it as Dawkins and Krauss sitting in front of audiences stroking the figurative ego of science.

So, it seems, yes, we’ve gone full-circle: Some atheists — some of the same people who mock the religious for worshipping a higher power — have started publicly worshipping the creation instead of the Creator.

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To be perfectly clear, I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching science.  Why would I?  Why would anyone?  Science is fascinating and helps us to understand the world we live in.  To be against science would be as preposterous as saying you’re against math or history or language.

Further, whenever I watch a TV program, read a book, or visit a museum concerning some aspect of science and I’m reminded of just how fascinating the physical world is, I can see how anyone could develop a deep love for science, and I wish I had time to learn more.

But what’s the deal with science being taught at the Humanist Community’s “church” service?  Further, why are so many atheists so preoccupied with praising science?  Is anyone out there actually protesting “science”?  Is anyone out there saying, “Bah!  Science is a big waste of time!  Let’s kick it out of schools and universities!”  As a teacher who has worked for over 13 years in a public school focused on engineering, I can say that the emphasis on science and math is in no danger and, in fact, has increased in recent years.  There is no conspiracy to destroy science.  No one is making one peep against science, nor should they.

So, what’s behind some atheists’ engrossment with science?  After all, according to the article, the Humanist Community claims it isn’t out to bash religion or God at their services, and The Unbelievers is just a movie praising the accomplishments of science, right?

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But wait: if The Unbelievers is just a movie about science, then to what unbelief is the title referring?  If this is not obvious to you, then the movie poster makes it perfectly transparent: the silhouetted outlines of Dawkins and Krauss walking away from a cross, the symbol of Christianity.  The same underlining message is in the Humanist Community’s praise of science.  And that message is this:

If someone embraces science they can’t also embrace God.

This is atheism’s favorite myth.

And as hard as many atheists try to convince the world that science and God can’t coexist, this type of thinking is logically disjointed and a shortsighted misunderstanding of Christianity.

So, next, we’ll start looking closer at atheism’s favorite myth…

NEXT:  Christianity + Science = BFF*

*Best Friends Forever

My favorite idol

OK, I DO HAVE A FAVORITE IDOL

Interview: Ian J. Keeney, director of The Meaning & former Satanist, Atheist/Christian relations & “The War on Religion” (Part 1 of 2)

*Can atheists & Christians have civil discussions?  Is there some middle ground they can agree on?*

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**My interview with Ian J. Keeney, director of the documentary The Meaning, where we discuss his film, how he became a Christian, and atheist/Christian relations **

A review on IMDb describes The Meaning as “a comprehensive study into the lives of people of various belief systems. The pacing of the film runs smoothly, considering the enormity of this project.  Name the last time you saw a film that had this much jam-packed into an hour and forty-five minutes.  In your travels, you come across motorcycle gangs turned “Holy Rollers”, surfers for Christ, rappers in the ‘hood talking about Jesus, university professors who believe God created Evolution, crazed Disney World naysayers, transgendered women, Catholic monks, animal rights activists, and former self-proclaimed “Vegan Satanists”—I mean, my God, Ian out did Geraldo on this one!”

 (Watch The Meaning trailer here.)

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The first time I learned of Ian J. Keeney it was memorable.  It was baptism day at our church, and several people I’ve never seen before were setting up professional movie cameras.  Was a celebrity getting baptized at our small, unassuming church?  Then Ian, who I had never met, stood up to be baptized, and while giving his testimony he tells the whole church that he used to be a “Satanist.”  Later, I would find out Ian worked in the film/TV industry and the people with the cameras were his friends.  I would also find out later that a Satanist isn’t the same as a Satan-worshipper.  Satanist was  a title some atheists who are extremely hostile towards Christianity give themselves.  Ian immediately went on my list of people I’d like to know.

Ian is the one person I know that can truly be labeled a Renaissance Man.  He writes movies, novels, poetry, and music.  Not only that, but he shoots and edits his own films, he records his own music, and he performs his poetry and music live.  You would think someone with this much creativity would be bursting with emotion and exuberance at all times, but Ian is laid-back and reserved – a guy anyone can sit down and have a decent talk with.  Even if the discussion goes into deep waters, Ian’s friendly demeanor and humor never waivers.

The following interview discusses his documentary The Meaning, Christian/atheist issues, and how he went from a Satanist to a Christian.

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Steve: Tell us about your documentary, The Meaning.  What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

Ian: The Meaning is a film about the so-called “War on Religion” in the United States (or even, the world) and what that means for Christians and atheists particularly. What I hope to accomplish with this film is to open some hearts and minds for Christians and atheists to meet in the middle and discuss their concerns, rather than resorting to quips on billboards and bumper stickers.

Steve: It’s great that you worked with people of varying beliefs (and unbeliefs) about God on The Meaning.  It seems the project was a success, but was there any butting of heads on any aspect of the film?

Ian: There was not one time we ever clashed on set. Some of the most interesting conversations happened once the cameras stopped rolling. The whole tone of the movie is to be open, share ideas and never come to the conversation thinking, “I have to make this person believe my point of view.” When people are open to sharing ideas in a non-threatening manner without an agenda, there’s really no reason why there should be any butting of heads. It’s when the Christian starts trying to “sell” Jesus or the atheist tries to belittle your belief, that’s when things get ugly.

Steve: Did you purposely have atheists help make The Meaning to keep yourself honest — so you couldn’t be accused of editing the film in Christianity’s favor? 

Ian: I would not have made this movie if I were not able to include people of varying beliefs because one of my main concerns is that this is never viewed as a film with an agenda slanted toward atheism or Christianity. It’s simply a platform for sharing ideas – something I don’t think Christians and atheists do often enough. If I’m saying atheists and Christians should be more open to discussions with each other for understanding, how could I say that if I didn’t invite others along for this discussion and give them an equal voice?

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Steve: I know one of the big things you want to do is promote an open, honest dialogue between Christians and nonbelievers.  We both agree that people can disagree on “big” topics, but still remain friends and have discussions about things they disagree on without hard feelings and putting down each other.  But why do you think this is so hard for people to do?

Ian: I think there are several factors to this. For one, I think it’s human nature for people to always want to be right. It’s so hard for someone to admit that they’re wrong. Secondly, I believe there are a lot of misinformed people out there on both sides of the conversation just regurgitating something someone heard from someone else who heard something on TV. It’s important before we take a stance on anything that we have our facts straight and know the sources of those facts. Family Guy is not a reliable source.

There is also a conundrum with the fact that the Bible says to go in all the world and preach the gospel. The problem with that is, a lot of people don’t want to hear the gospel. Imagine you’re sitting peacefully at home having your coffee and cereal watching Joel Osteen on TV when there comes a knock on your door. It’s an atheist. He has a booklet and pamphlets to tell you why there is no God. Jesus is a lie and you need to just let it go. You’d probably be irritated by this unannounced guest just as much as most atheists would feel when someone comes like a door-to-door salesman but instead of selling vacuum cleaners, he’s selling Jesus. I think it’s important to try to put ourselves in each others shoes. We can’t communicate with someone we don’t understand.

Steve: Good points.  I’d just like to add no one should watch Joel Osteen.  I’m saying that in a joking manner, but I’m serious.

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Steve: Talk a little about The Meaning’s Facebook page and the interactions on there.

Ian: We have a Facebook page for the movie and I use that as a way to keep this conversation going. I want this to be more than just a movie. If I’m trying to open a dialogue between Christians and atheists, I can’t just show a movie in a dark quiet theater and then say, “Thanks for coming. Now go home.” Whenever possible, we interact with our audience personally after the film and hold a Q&A. I don’t want it to stop there. You can continue to interact with us through Facebook and others who are there to discuss what’s going on in the world today. I try to keep things light and humorous sometimes too because I find value in laughter. These topics can be difficult enough, so a little comic relief is needed.

Steve: I’ve had some really great discussions on the Facebook page with people on both sides of the fence of belief and recommend people visit it.  Unfortunately, the disconnected nature of the internet — the lack of personal, face-to-face connection — sometimes makes people defensive and even rude, and I know this is what you don’t want to promote, Ian. 

This may sound funny, but I would recommend people to jump into conversations on your Facebook page because it’s a great way to discipline ourselves in interacting with people of differing views.  It’s a great way to practice having an honest conversation and not a debate where you’re just trying to one-up the other guy.  It’s a great place to practice being fair-minded and to practice disagreeing with someone with grace and patience, especially if the other person does get rude.  If nothing else, since it takes place in “internet-time,” it teaches you not to respond immediately with your gut or emotion.  If someone writes something you disagree with and you feel yourself getting heated, don’t write back right away.  Take some time to calm down and think clearly, and then think out a rational, fair response.  If you care about the subject, it’s a challenge not to get emotionally involved — trust me — but it’s a great exercise in self-discipline. 

Tell us about your radio show/podcast.

 Ian: The radio show is an extension of The Meaning as well (BlogTalkRadio.com/DiscoverTheMeaning). We have several episodes up now and we have more scheduled for release very soon. On the show I talk with people in depth. You get a half hour long interview with all types of different people from theologians to atheists, musicians to poets.

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NEXT: (PART 2) We’ll get into DEEP waters with Ian J. Keeney about how he went from a Satanist to a Christian, about atheist/Christian issues, and more about his documentary The Meaning.)

IN THE MEANTIME:

For info on the upcoming showings of The Meaning, including one in Paterson, NJ click here.  

Making an independent film and getting it in front of audiences takes a lot of $$$.  Find out about The Meaning‘s fundraising campaign by clicking here.

To contact Ian J. Keeney or to learn more, click one of the following: The Meaning’s Facebook page, Ian’s Facebook page, The Meaning’s official site, Ian J. Keeney’s official site.

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Atheist Church. Seriously. (Part 3) Dear Nothing, Thanks For Something.

* Do people have an innate sense of thankfulness?  Can we be thankful to nothing?*

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(This continues my response to an article titled “Church without God – by Design” about the Humanist Community at Harvard University, an “atheist church.”  Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 2.5)

(If this is your first time reading something here, please first read a short explanation about the purpose of this blog.)

Perhaps the most ironic part from the article “Church without God – by Design” is the section about a Sunday morning song performed at the Humanist Community written and performed by Shelley Segal from her recording “An Atheist Album.”  Segal sings a song named “Gratitude” (but not the Beastie Boys song of the same name) in which she sings the following lyrics:

I don’t believe in a great power to say thank you to.  But that won’t take away from my gratitude.”

Go ahead and accuse me of being overly nitpicky, and I realize this is only one line of the entire song, but in order to show gratitude there has to be someone to receive that gratitude.  Someone may play with the wording and say she isn’t showing gratitude, but she only has gratitude, yet that changes nothing.  To have gratitude also clearly implies a recipient.  So, Segal says she has gratitude.  But to whom?

Once when I was young, I was in a wooded park outside Philadelphia, and I came too close to the edge of a long drop overlooking a river and I slipped on some loose stones.  I fell on my back and started sliding towards the edge.  Luckily, I had the good sense to flatten out, and I stopped.  I stood up, looked at how close I’d come to going over that edge and falling hundreds of feet.  You bet I was thankful.  But to whom?

Gratitude is a personal feeling, but it implies someone receives those feelings, which also implies that same someone has  first done something to bring about those feelings.  It’s similar with remorse.  I can’t say I’m sorry to no one, nor can I feel sorry for no reason.  Likewise, I can’t feel love without a recipient, nor can I feel loved without reason.

Witness this conversation:

Me: “I’m in love.”

You: “With whom?”

Me: “No one.”

You: “Huh?”

Me: “I feel loved.”

You: “By whom?”

Me: “No one.”

You: “I’m leaving.”

A similar conversation about gratitude would be equally absurd:

Me: “I’m thankful for this beautiful day.”

You: “Thankful to whom?”

Me: “No one.”

You: “Uh…”

Me: “I feel grateful for my good health.”

You: “Grateful to whom?”

Me: “No one.”

You: “I’m not talking to you anymore.”

You thank someone.  You are grateful towards someone.  You receive gratitude from someone because you did something to warrant that response.

I suppose we could argue that a person can be thankful towards nonliving objects in some fashion, but I would disagree there too.  I could say I’m thankful my clunker car started on a cold morning, but when you get down to it, it’s the creators of my car — the engineers, the people on the assembly line — or the mechanics who keep it running smoothly — to whom I’m thankful, not the car itself.

I once heard a woman who was into some New Age thought thank the universe for a narrowly avoided car accident.  When I was an atheist, this would’ve seemed sillier to me than thanking God since at least a person thanking God is thanking something they believe is a someone – a someone that has some sort of mind.  The universe, on the other hand, is a vast, primarily empty thing.  And what did the mindless universe do to deserve thanks?  Moreover, can you imagine how goofy we’d sound if we started thanking all nonliving things that assist us?  “Thank you, bookshelf, for holding my books.”  “Thank you, computer, for diligently saving all my Word documents.  You have my utmost gratitude.”

So, no, I don’t think we can show true gratitude to nonliving things, but even if I agree that we can, Segal is not even grateful to the universe.  She is grateful to nothing.  And nothing is nothing.  The dictionary on my laptop defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.  How can you show appreciation and return kindness to nothing?  And how can nothing show you kindness in the first place?

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Perhaps the next time an secular humanist finds him- or herself wanting to thank someone for something even though there’s really no one to thank (according to their atheist worldview), perhaps relieved would serve as a better word.  I was relieved my car started.  I was relieved I didn’t fall off that cliff.  I’m relieved I have good health and not bad health.  Shelley Segal can sing:

I don’t believe in a great power to say thank you to.  But that won’t take away from my relief.”

But wait.  Relief from what?  Maybe Segal should just say she feels lucky.  But, then again, believing in luck is silly.

Clearly, what I’m writing here isn’t as weighty as the other issues I’ve addressed in this series, and, really, it’s just me being an overly-analytical English teacher and pointing out the problem with the language in Segal’s lyrics with (what I hope comes across as) some tongue-in-cheek, good-natured humor.  But perhaps there is a higher message we can get from this.  Does our innate sense of gratitude — even when there’s no appropriate human to give that gratitude to — point us to some higher truth?

NEXT:  Atheist Church. Seriously.  (Part 4) Atheism’s Favorite Myth

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Atheist Church. Seriously. (Part 2) Random, Meaningless Morals

*Can life be the product of random, mindless forces & still have meaning?  Can (or should) atheists have morals?  Are we just advanced computers dancing to our DNA?  What’s a “humanist” anyway?*

(This continues my response to an article titled “Church without God – by Design” about the Humanist Community at Harvard University, an “atheist church.”)

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At the Humanist Community, as we’re told in the article, each service has a message.  On the day the writer attended, “Chaplain” Epstein spoke on compassion.  We’re also told acceptance is a regular subject matter.  So, what’s going on here?  What’s up with all this love and peace stuff, and what’s a “humanist” anyway?

The term “humanist” is becoming a popular term for self-identification among atheists for a number of reasons.  First, they want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes often associated with atheists.  Often, atheists are stereotyped as depraved and narcissistic.  More recently, many atheists also want to distance themselves from the so-called New Atheist movement – spearheaded by writers like Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, and, everyone’s favorite atheist, Richard Dawkins – known for angry, aggressive, and bigoted verbal assaults on all things religious.

Additionally, many atheists don’t like the label “atheist” because it defines them by their unbelief.  Since God doesn’t exist – according to their view – why should they be labeled for not believing in a non-existent thing?  To them, it’s no more absurd than being labeled an aunicornist (for not believing in unicorns) or an asasquatchist (for not believing in sasquatch).

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As I pointed out in Part 1 of my “Atheist Church” series, all groups with shared beliefs have those in their group who are more intolerant or more tolerant to those outside their group, whether religious or not, and atheists are no exception.  Unlike the New Atheist movement, humanists want to be the peacemakers and bridge-builders of the atheist community – a kinder, gentler atheism.

So, humanists don’t believe in God (but don’t want to be defined by this), and they want everyone to know they highly value compassion, kindness, and morality.  And, like much with the Humanist Community, it’s hard to criticize and not come off as a bully.  Yet, we must be honest: if one takes atheism to its logical conclusion, things like compassion, acceptance, and morality are meaningless.

I’ve often come across arguments from atheists that go something like this:

Christians say atheists are immoral because we don’t believe in God.  It’s disturbing that Christians need the wrath of God hanging over their heads to behave.  Christians are only moral because they fear God.  I am moral without God.

I thought the same way when I was an atheist.  But atheism taken to its logical conclusion eliminates meaning and morality.  Yes, there are hypocrites who call themselves Christians and behave morally solely because of the fear of God, and there are those who mistakenly believe Christianity is only about behaving yourself so you’re not sent to hell.  But Christianity understood correctly and taken to its logical conclusion leads to meaning, compassion, and worth.

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This idea was explored in an online discussion I had primarily with an atheist who I later learned preferred to be called a “secular humanist.”  The discussion began when a mutual friend, a Christian, posted a comment on Facebook asking his Christian friends to refrain from stereotyping all atheists as immoral.  When I joined the dialogue, the post had received many responses from both theists and atheists.

In response to some of the comments, I explained that the good news of Jesus Christ was not “Be good or you’re going to hell” or even “Be good and you’ll go to heaven.”  I explained that this was a major misunderstanding about Christianity.  Where we spend eternity has to do with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins and whether we accept that gift or not.  No one earns his or her way into God’s presence.  I also posted that I agreed that stereotyping all atheists as immoral is wrong, but I finished with the following comment:

“…I was once an atheist (with morals), but I will say atheists do have the challenge of explaining why they have these morals and how they fit into their worldview.  For example, if we are only physical creatures, and passing on our genes is the motivation of our existence, then rape could be considered an acceptable way of doing this, and I know of no one who believes rape is moral.  I’m no philosopher, so maybe there’s a big hole in that idea that I’m missing, so I’m interested in hearing peoples’ thoughts.”

I immediately received pushback, but I didn’t feel like my point was being understood, so I reiterated that I agreed that atheists could be just as moral as anyone else, but that atheists can’t explain why they have morals.  The secular humanist said that doing good is its own reward; it gives you a good feeling inside.  Interestingly, he also brought up that humans have an innate sense of morality.

I wrote in reply:

“…I appreciate your comments.  Someone can’t argue someone else into being a Christian (esp on Facebook), so I’m not trying to do that… Still, I don’t think my “why?” questions are being addressed.  Why does doing “good” things make you feel good?  By what standard are they “good”?  You said we have an innate sense of good & bad, but why do we have it?  I’m not asking these questions, hoping you will suddenly answer “God!”  I really want to know, so I can understand your view of the world.”

The idea of being moral to make the world a better place for your children and grandchildren was brought up.  I thought this was the strongest point in the secular humanist’s favor.

I replied:

“…But the question still remains: “Why?” Again, if we’re just physical creatures whose only motivation is to pass on our genes, then isn’t the best thing I can do for my kids is make sure they have a lot of sex?  If it’s all about genes, why do firefighters risk their lives to help perfect strangers?  Why are people willing to die for their friends?  Why care if a species goes extinct or a bus of children (none of your own, of course) die in a horrible traffic accident?”

Much of the pushback were the same arguments already addressed, so I wrote:

“For much of this discussion I feel like we’re stating the same thing, which is that we have an innate sense of morality.  We both agree on that.  We also agree that one does not have to be a Christian to have this innate sense of morality.  Further, you admit that you do not know where this innate sense of morality comes from.

“Following this innate morality and not knowing why is illogical.  Why do we call a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his platoon heroic?  Really, when you get down to it, it’s illogical; did the dead soldier benefit from his act?  It’s especially illogical if he has no idea why he did it.  Just like gun rights advocates point to the Constitution as a higher law, many philosophers believe our innate sense of morality points to a higher law, and if there is a higher law, there must be a higher authority.  The Bible confirms that ALL people have this moral law in their hearts*, and this moral law points towards God.

“…I’ll just say this and leave it here for now: When I was an atheist, I considered myself moral, similar to yourself, but I found when I applied the naturalistic philosophy to my life, it did make me less moral, especially in the sense of making me much more self-centered.  Yet, this revolted some innate sense in me.  Life makes much more sense with God, and since I’ve become a Christian, Jesus Christ has made me a better man.”

(*Romans 2:14-15: “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law [of God] do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”)

This post is not about my debate, but about humanists at the “atheist church” preaching compassion and acceptance as moral truths.  But if life is just the product of random chance, as atheists believe, then morals are illusions.  Meaning and morals can’t come from blind, directionless, mindless forces.

If we are simply at the mercy of the physical, then all our beliefs and feelings are just chemicals firing off in our brains.  Freewill is an illusion.  We live only by impulse and reaction, not decision.  Thus, the love I feel and have vowed for my wife is an illusion.  At worst, my “love” towards her is wholly selfish for what I receive from the relationship.  At best, my “love” makes me want to treat her well and make the world a better place so my genes have a better chance of spreading.  But this is still not love.  Unconditional love, meaning, and morals cannot come from life if life was created by random chance and if we’re just flesh robots and advanced computers.

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Richard Dawkins, everyone’s favorite atheist, wrote, “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”  But Dawkins also famously wrote, “The universe we observe has … no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares.  DNA just is.  And we dance to its music.”  So, which is it?  Life has meaning or life is meaningless?  You can’t have it both ways.

So, where I would much rather have some humanists over on a summer night for some beers and board games than the super-villain-like Dawkins, I still have to say the same thing to my secular humanist friends: You can’t have it both ways.

NEXT:  Atheist Church.  Seriously. (Part 3) Dear Nothing, Thanks For Something.

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Atheist Church. Seriously. (Part 1) I Believe I Don’t Have Beliefs

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You know life is getting tough when atheists start having church.

In an article posted on CNN.com on June 22, 2013, titled “Church without God – by Design,” the author reports on a “church” started by atheists in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I originally read the article way back in June, but I found it interesting for so many reasons I kept finding myself thinking about it again.

The Humanist Community, as it’s called, meets at Harvard University on Sundays.  Songs are sung, the offering plate is passed, and they even call those gathered there a “congregation.”  Greg Epstein, the founder and “chaplain,” states the church “doesn’t require and it doesn’t even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”  The article continues, “Humanists boast a proud freethinking streak, and some at the Harvard event said they don’t want to be associated with any sort of dogma or belief system – or even a system based on disbelief.”  Eventually, Epstein says, they want baby-naming ceremonies, funerals and weddings to be part of what they do. Concerning reflecting a traditional church, Epstein said, “We can learn from the positive while learning how to get rid of the negative.”

The motivation behind starting this “church” is an admiral one: to build community.  The founders see the positives found in faith-based communities and want to give atheists and other non-religious types a place to go to find that quality of community.  In this time of rabid individualism, fractured families, and social media, it’s hard to criticize something that wants to build face-to-face fellowship.

If it’s possible to have church without God, the Humanist Community has done it.  Yet, it probably will not come as a surprise to you, the reader, that I, a Christian, find all of this undeniably ironic.  Despite what the author claims, a godless congregation is, in fact, an oxymoron.

To be fair, it doesn’t appear from the article that Epstein designated the Humanist Community a “church.”  “Church” appears to be the article writer’s label.  But — to keep in the spirit of fairness — it was Epstein — not the author or me — who made the decision to call the Humanist Community a “congregation” and Epstein a “chaplain.”

That being said, let’s look closer at a few ironic claims of the Humanist Community.

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#1 – I Believe I Don’t Have Beliefs

Can an atheist church really be one that doesn’t “imply a specific set of beliefs about anything”?  The article certainly implies that all are welcome no matter what their standing is on religion, but that’s nothing special; it’s the same with Christian churches.  The author even notes that the messages given at their gatherings are not about bashing God or religion.  But the name the Humanist Community itself clearly implies a set of beliefs, as does all the information about the Humanist Community the article reports.  I think it’s admirable that Epstein, the founder, wants to build a positive community, but let’s state the obvious: his vision stems from beliefs, and to create such a community, it must be based on a set of beliefs.

My only point here is that if you take a position about anything, you are communicating an opinion and, thus, a belief.  It may not be a religious belief, but it’s still a belief.  Many people try to paint only people who hold to specific religious faiths as having beliefs and atheists as free-thinkers who don’t subscribe to any beliefs.  This is not just false, but impossible.

Simply, having any belief means a person has decided certain things are good and others are bad.  Thus, the nature of belief is to say anyone with a contradictory belief is wrong.  Even if a person says, “I accept every view of every person on the earth as valid” that is still a belief, and that person is saying everyone who does not accept every belief of every person on earth as valid is wrong.  This doesn’t mean disagreement has to be in a confrontational or rude manner, but disagreement is the logical outcome of all beliefs and opinions.

So, let’s get away from this mindset that Christians and people of other faiths are the only ones with beliefs that conflict with others.  Let’s be honest: those who criticize Christianity do so because they don’t agree with it (which they have every right to do, and at times have good reason to do), yet to say Christians are judgmental, close-minded, self-righteous, unwelcoming, or unsympathetic simply because they have unwavering beliefs on certain issues is self-defeating because in order to make that statement one must have beliefs and pronounce a judgment.

In my college-aged years, I was heavily involved in the underground hardcore/punk music scene.  I spent most weekends traveling to punk shows all over New Jersey, Philadelphia, and even Boston and Washington DC.  Some of the bands I was introduced to through this scene are still some of my all-time favorite bands.  I also played in bands and wrote a ‘zine.  (If you have never heard of a ‘zine, think of a blog made with material called paper, ink, glue, and staples.)  The scene was in total rebellion to anything embraced by mainstream America or seen as traditional, whether it be politics, music, fashion, or gender roles.  This group of diverse individuals created their own music scene, which included a whole subculture.  Anti-racism, anti-sexism, and animal rights were favorite subjects for songs.  Social justice was good; government and religion was bad.

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One would look at this community and definitely think this is a scene of extremely tolerant, accepting, and open-minded individuals, and, in many ways, it was.  But it also contained some of the most intolerant, judgmental, and close-minded people I’ve ever known towards those who didn’t live up to the standards of their scene.  Of course all groups have their less radical and more radical individuals, but if someone would’ve walked into some of these punk shows handing out Republican or even Democrat publicity, Bible tracts, or Britney Spears CDs, I would’ve been honestly scared for their safety.

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Every group of people that hold shared beliefs forms a figurative fence around themselves.  This figurative fence, by nature, keeps others out.  These communities are made of individuals, and some in these communities are more open to those outside their fence, and others are not.  This is not a characteristic of only the religious, but it’s even a characteristic of a free-thinking music scene populated predominately by atheists and agnostics that value individualism over anything else.

That being said, Epstein, the founder of the Humanist Community, says they got “rid of the negative” of regular churches.  Clearly, the only “negative” they can really be rid of in their “church” is God since the other negatives Epstein could mean have nothing to do with God but human nature.  So, in order to get “rid of the negative” he would need to have a congregation without people.  The issue isn’t God.  It’s us.

Moreover, unless the Humanist Community stares wordlessly at each other for their hour-long gatherings on Sundays, it’s impossible to have a “church” that doesn’t “imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”  I’ve heard this argument dozens of times from atheists – the claim that they don’t have beliefs, and because they don’t have beliefs they are the beacon of tolerance, compassion, and understanding.  Maybe their beliefs are not traditional religious beliefs, but they are philosophical beliefs that form a view of the world; thus, they are beliefs just the same.  This sort of language from atheists is so prevalent it has become downright Orwellian.

NEXT:  Atheist Church.  Seriously. (Part 2) Random, Meaningless Morals

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