The Mistake Atheists Make

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
- G.K Chesterton

I‘m not convinced of atheism, but I’m not half as skeptical of it as atheists are. The aggressive promotion of something NOT existing, if not pathologically insecure, is at least a little odd. For instance, I rarely work to set up a million dollar ad campaigns advocating the glory of life without unicorns, as the recent “Good Without God” campaign did for the glories of life without God, in New York City. But atheists are quite timid; they lack the courage to deny something and leave it alone. Like the child who, after having claimed to have won the argument, keeps on returning to say “and another thing!”: It doesn’t speak volumes about their confidence in atheism. Maybe Christians should take it upon ourselves to affirm these insecure, hyperactive folk in their earth-shaking ideas; they’ll fell less of a need to advertise.

These thoughts came to me regarding the Fransiscans who traveled on the New York subways to ask Manhattan natives what they thought about the massive posters proclaiming that “millions of atheists are good without god!” There is an obvious irony here, that if if Christians were to post similiar proclamations of how good we were with God, well that’s pride, and that’s not good. Duh, atheists. Self-defeating statements are a no-no. But in actual fact, Christians make no pretence of being good. As one native told the friars, in a wonderful accent I’m sure, “Father, I can’t be good with God.” And thus the difference between pride and humility is succintly summarized.

People that fault Christians for being sinners are both right and wrong at the same time. They are right because, yes, we are bad Catholics, and awful Protestants too. We are sinful and hypocritical. But they are utterly wrong in seeing Christianity as a sort of medicine; you take it and all the sins go away. Entering into Christianity is not entering into a sterilized hospital, but into a  both wonderful and terrifying battle. Its as if atheists were standing to the side, cleaning their nails, watching us fight and scoffing at all the blood we’re getting on ourselves, all the dirt on our armor and all the tactical mistakes we’re making. The Christian life is tough as shit. The fact our atheists brothers have not the courage to enter into it makes their apathetic “goodness without God” seem ridiculous. What goodness? You haven’t killed anyone lately? Haven’t committed genocide like all those Christian dictators, Stalin and Zedong and the like? Right, I’ll fetch your cookie. You deserve it. Better yet, you deserve a damn poster campaign, all over America, because you guys are just awe-inspiringly good. But while we’re at it, how’s your fight against the sin of pride coming? Lust? Never heard of ‘em?

The first step to any 12-step-I-drink-like-a-Catholic program is admitting you have a problem. Christians need to stop the false pretence that our religion will somehow make us super-duper people. We need to admit that we sin, that we need forgiveness, that we will fight all our lives to be saints, not just “find Jesus” one day and that’s it, we’re heaven-bound. In the end, God will make us holy, if we let Him. But it will not be in the poster-perfect way the secular world would hope. Sometimes God shames us in our sin, reveals  it to the world that we might run away from it. Sometimes God removes the spiritual and emotional beauty of our faith so that we’ll learn to depend on him alone. Sometimes God allows our very bodies to broken down so that our souls will be built up. It is messy because it is a battle.

  • J.P.

    Good post. I've been enjoying your blog since I came across it via Mark Shea's. Keep it up.I especially liked the battlefield analogy, with atheists scoffing at the blood. And you're right: Christianity isn't a magic medicine that makes problems go away. That was sort of the whole point of the Cross, yes? Jesus didn't come and (1) overthrow the Romans and (2) make everyone magically holy. What he did was to transform suffering from a tool of the devil into an immense power for good.But Christians, as well as atheists, will need to work hard to internalize this understanding in their lives. I am still working on it.

  • badcatholicblog

    exactly, the struggle is still there, but now it is glorified!thanks for your interest.

  • Cade

    Despite a vocal minority, many atheists aren't interested in trumpeting their superiority. Yes, Christopher Hitchens has his poorly-titled "god is not Great", and brilliant biologist turned misguided theologian Dawkins wrote "The God Delusion", but the overwhelming majority of disbelievers are primarily concerned with avoiding persecution.In much the same way the early Church was punished for their beliefs, so are atheists now. They are attacked as being amoral, sinful, and ignorant. It is a common argument that without belief in God, there can be no morality, and these ad campaigns are trying to demonstrate that there is, in fact, a large non-believing community: one that does not regularly eat babies and fornicate with barn animals.It can be very hard for atheists to find community. The United States is a predominantly Christian nation, and minority religious groups fight an uphill battle. The billboards let non-believers know that they are not alone, and give them hope. Imagine if the reverse was true; if a <10% segment of the country followed Christ and his teachings, and most of those who did had to keep quiet about it lest they face derision and scrutiny. Wouldn't you want a billboard telling you it was ok to stick to your beliefs? To not cave to the pressures around you?If your belief in God is strong, the beliefs of others should not matter. Attacking the "Good without God" campaign as being self-righteous is unfair, and a misrepresentation. They're not "Better without God" (Dawkins et al notwithstanding), just trying to say that disbelief does not imply amorality.

  • badcatholicblog

    @CadeI understand where you're coming from, and I do admit that the post was inspired more so by the new atheists, or "brights" as they would like to be called, rather than folks like yourself. But I'm afraid that, strictly by my own experience, I've found most atheists are interested in trumpeting superiority. Thats just the way it's turned out for me, whether or not its an accurate representation of atheists.But the problem is that, while you're correct in saying that atheists are a minority, they seem to have no minority of power. Never before, in all of American history, has secularization been such an overwhelmingly powerful force. This predominantly Christian nation is very much subject to the beliefs of atheists, and perhaps that is why we bristle at the atheistic campaigns around the country.As or disbelief implying amorality, sure, it is not the case. But understand that as Christians we believe that it is the open door to amorality, for "if God is not, anything is permissible.", the point of the post being that it takes more than not eating babies and not fornicating with barn animals to make a moral man.

  • ProfFeathr

    WE don't have unicornists trying to change the way I think, or the laws that I have to live with. I am every bit as confident that there is no god as I am that there are no unicorns, however those who believe in god do try to change the rules that I live with every day. From controlling what I put into my body, to what I chose to watch. The christian agenda is to completely and thoroughly control MY life. Is it any wonder that we push back? I would like to sleep in on the weekend with out the outreach program coming to my door to convert me. What would you think if I came to your door next Saturday with Dawkins book under my arm and tried to convert YOU? Would YOU be offended? Or are you to week in your faith to even think that others might think differently? There is very little Christian tolerance for any idea that disagrees with “scripture”. Yes I am mad about having religion pusher down my throat every time I turn around and I want it to quit.

  • badcatholicblog

    Religion pushed down your throat? be terrible.Now granted, the door-to-door folk are annoying. We Catholics have to deal with consumerist Christianity as well. But really, stop playing the I'm so oppressed because I'm getting up early on the weekend spiel. You have to deal with Christians trying to convert you, we have to deal with "secularists" divorcing our country it's faith and legally changing the very nature of human life, marriage, religious freedom, freedom of worship, on and on.

  • Dave

    The "stop worrying and get on with your life" thing is particularly puzzling to me. I was an atheist for ten years, and I was very good at not worrying. So good that I did all kinds of very unwise stuff. Shockingly, stopping worrying and getting on with my life did not make me happy – in fact the pointlessness of it all nearly killed me. What I particularly remember, when I look back on those years, was the numbness that just kept accumulating. Nothing that I did mattered. I'd be dead and buried in a few years anyway, and that would be that. Go. Eat, drink, be merry. Except… it just didn't work. I ate. I drank. I made lots of merry with lots of people. And I just got more and more… numb. Thank God that I don't have to live like that any more. I just pray that not too many people are led down that same horrific path by campaigns like this.

  • Cade

    @BadCatholic,That was a thoughtful reply, and it is appreciated. Far too often these sorts of things turn into yelling matches that get nowhere. On that note I don't really want to enter a back-and-forth: you have your beliefs, and I have mine. I, for one, am fine with that.As for atheists proclaiming their superiority, yeah, a great many of them do. Most visibly it can be seen on the internet. This is not a blog I frequent; I was led here by a post on, a forum comprised seemingly of very vocal, very angry, very arrogant teenagers. While there are other vocal angry atheists, I think they are, as a whole, disproportionally spoken-for by the angry, bitter minority.Also, I think it's safe to say that the overwhelming bulk of Christians consider themselves 'superior' to atheists. Perhaps not morally, as you point out in your post, but in terms of understanding a fundamental Truth that is being missed by others. By the same token, many atheists feel you are 'deluded' and wasting a great deal of thought and time. You can understand why each side might feel wiser than the other, regardless of whether it's justified.As for America being secularized, well, I think we have a difference of opinion. I don't know, specifically, what you're referencing, but i can take a guess. I would hazard the notion that it involves things people like myself would deem 'civil rights', like abortion, gay marriage, freedom FROM religion in public places (most contentiously public schools), and the like. I don't want to get into a debate about the importance of any of these items individually — I think it's a matter of opinion and personal beliefs, and I don't particularly want impose mine upon you. But the reasoning behind the more-liberal end of all of these issues is that your beliefs should not be imposed upon me. Yes, we are a largely-christian nation, but we are not ALL christians, and your version of morality should not prevent my gay friend from getting married, just as Dawkins' version of morality should not be allowed to outlaw summer bible camps. Bibles in schools is another issue, one I hesitate to bring up because I just don't think we're going to agree.As for Athiests being powerful, I would note that thus far not a single president since the founding fathers has openly professed to be a non-christian. And as for the other two branches of government, the entire Supreme Court body is Christian, and Pete Stark (D-CA) is the only open atheist in the entire House and Senate (Although Ted Kaufman (D-Del) is a "humanist").

  • Cade

    Finally, I understand that you view atheism as an open invitation to amorality, and Dave, above, has personal experience to reinforce this notion. From my own experiences, I've never noticed much of a difference between the behaviors of atheists and christians, and think they follow a similar moral compass (with some slight alterations). On a personal note, I think that virtually everyone, on either side, agrees with the bulk of Jesus' teachings because they feel instinctively 'right', and we can feel inside the wrongness of straying from that path. Of course, I think that's because of our evolution as community-oriented mammals with an aim to the survival of the group as a whole, whereas you think it requires intimate knowledge from a book written thousands of years in the past. But that's a difference of opinion, and again, irrelevant. I, for one, would much rather be judged by my actions rather than my beliefs, and I'd like to extend to you the same courtesy.Essentially, I want to say that the bulk of atheists aren't interested in forcing atheism down your throats. They just don't want public policy dictated from the ideology of one religious viewpoint, when we a re a pluralistic society. Many times, people forget that we in America are not a democracy, we are a constitutional democracy, an important distinction. We have a constitution that guarantees individual freedoms regardless of race religion or creed, and despite being a minority group oppressed by the will of the majority. So if you're against abortion, don't have one. If you're against gay marriage, don't marry someone of your gender. And if you want your children to grow up christian please, by all means, take them to church and Sunday School. But don't make my kids pray or learn the Gospels during 4th period — I wouldn't appreciate that any more than you would want them being taught the Book of Mormon. I feel like only now are we achieving a multicultural society that truly approaches being 'equal' for all its members. If that screws things up for some, well, I'm sorry you feel that way.

  • Paul

    @ Cade"As for Athiests being powerful, I would note that thus far not a single president since the founding fathers has openly professed to be a non-christian."Atheists may not be powerful, but Atheistic thinking is thriving (exhibit A. your comment). Our society is becoming increasingly more secular by the day. The belief in buzz words like "pluralism," "tolerance," and "open-mindedness" is spreading like a disease, and the underlying principle of all these beliefs is the rejection of objective reality. For example, your statement, "So if you're against abortion, don't have one." An individual's opinion of a human fetus does not make that fetus any more or less human. Either it is a living human being, or it isn't. Either abortion kills an innocent living human being, or it doesn't. What if I said, "So if you're against rape, don't rape anyone"? My opinion of rape does not make the action any more or less heinous. The problem with "tolerance" is that human beings can, and have, tolerated the torture and murder of billions of fellow human beings throughout our history. Please do not be so open-minded that your brain falls out, people will get killed.

  • badcatholicblog

    @CadeI considered responding to all your points, but I respect that you don't want a yelling match.I will pray for you, and if you ever want to have an actual debate let me know, I'd enjoy the discussion.

  • paredolia

    An interesting book to read is "The Loser Letters" by Mary Eberstadt. She nails a fascinating point with regard to atheists (and in my experience a lot of lefties including myself at one point). The whole "enjoy your life without icky bad religion telling you to keep it in your pants" meme assumes that WE HAVEN'T BEEN LIVING WITH THE NASTY OUTFALL OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION FOR THE LAST FORTY YEARS. (caps aren't shouting just for emphasis because this point is huge). Atheists and Society for a Free Crotch leftists still imagine that we're living in a world in which sexuality is taboo and in which religion and bourgeois society promotes puritanism, sexual shame and oppression. They keep telling us that they want to free us from the shackles of evil abstinence philosophies so we can have as much sex as possible without feeling bad about it. The truth is Catholicism doesn't promote shame around sex as much as a healthy respect for it, respect which includes imposing some limitations. Anything that is healthy has limits. A healthy diet includes the limitation of not eating peanut butter cups for breakfast lunch and dinner. Most of us who were born after 1970 have seen the consequences of the breaking down of sexual boundaries and absolute sexualization of everything and its not so enjoyable as one might think.

  • midnightblues

    I apologize for commenting on such an old post, but I think you miss the point that those who create ad campaigns are trying to make.Take, for example, the "Good without God" posters. The point that, I think, they are trying to make is that God is not required for one to be good. Far too many people assume that Atheists are soulless, evil, people. Regardless as to whether or not you agree to either of these points, I believe that's the point trying to be made. Ultimately, a refutation (albeit in a small, poster sized form) of the statement that Atheist's cannot be good, or something along those lines.They aren't claiming to be better than anyone.

  • -fabi-

    Hey Marc you can use this if you want… I figure if I don't get to you might. I had a conversation with this guy who thought there is not point in having conversations about religious beliefs (or the lack there of) because it almost always devolves into a fruitless fight, ending friendships etc… at some point I said, "Well, if a conversation is getting heated in a way that talking is no longer fruitful then at that point conversation on the matter should stop and the christian should pray and the atheist shouldn't sweat it because nothing matters in the end anyways."

  • Jim

    "Good without God"…how does an Atheist define "good" anyway? Utilitarianism? Not breaking the arbitrary laws of the particular nation one belongs to? I thought they didn't want to have Christian value systems imposed upon them, yet they snatch that value system up and put it on themselves, but only if they get to wear it the way they want to?So…Christians and other religious are delusional idiots, but you care about how we evaluate your level of virtue? I'm not understanding the campaign aside from making a handful of Atheists feel good about themselves to leave the house long enough to buy Dawkins' or Dennett's latest book. It's Atheism's Stuart Smalley affirmation – "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonnit, people like me!"Evaluating the "goodness" of Christians versus the "goodness" of Atheists in practice is pointless: There are committed and effective Atheists as well as those who fall into it without the slightest knowledge of what it entails – too busy watching TV to care to sort out all this "God business". There are committed and effective Christians as well as those who fall into it without the slightest knowledge of what it entails – too busy watching TV to care to sort out all this "God business".This makes for an awful lot of Christians and Atheists who look exactly the same when one witnesses the lives of either.Panem et Circem.

  • Jim

    What one ought to evaluate is the end result of what that system of belief(or non-belief) will accomplish *if carried out to the fullest*.In recent decades Catholicism has produced Mother Theresa, Baptists have Martin Luther King Jr., Hinduism produced Mohandas Gandhi, Buddhism's famous recent example is Thich Quang Duc.What pinnacles of virtue represent a life of ardent Atheism?Mao Zedong. China does a great job of repressing religion.Benito Mussolini declared his atheism from his youth.We have Alfred Kinsey, in no small part, to thank for the Sexual Devolution that has made sex so dull for so many.Gene Roddenberry I can respect, but he's no shining example of virtue.Carl Sagan was a great scientist, but no Ghandi.Maybe there's a lack of Atheist leaders in America because they're too virtuous to get involved in corrupt politics, or maybe the belief system doesn't really instil the drive to lead. It's certainly not because of a lack of popularity. Compare the pro-Atheist articles in the New York Times to the pro-Catholic or pro-Christian ones. How many devout Christian characters do you find in lead roles on TV shows?Atheists may be in the minority, but I'm not so convinced that they're oppressed.

  • Championsforlife

    You are an amazing writer, and I’m grateful you’re on God’s side.

  • Witness4jesus51

    When we stand up for our faith in God is it Him who is speaking and not ourselves. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit in putting this statement in perspective. On ward christian soldier.

  • Acuriousperson

    Hello. Would like to know views on deists. thx

  • Steen

    The ads you are referencing, are actually targeted at people that are already atheists but feel alone. Atheists actually don’t care whether you see those ads or not, they are meant to comfort other atheists and give them a sense of community. Like it or not, the best good that Richard Dawkins provides is a symbolic “reaching out” to atheists in communities where they are the minority. Yes, he pisses off a lot of theists, but he also lets otherwise isolated people know “Yes, there are other people in the world that think like you. You are not alone.”

    And believe me, I have met many people comforted by the fact that Richard Dawkins exists, because they grew up in very religious communities and did not know that there were others that thought the same way.

    I know it *sounds* like Dawkins is directing his statements at theists, but really it’s all for the atheists out there.