The good news that there is no God

 

Your destiny — and that of your parents, your siblings, your children, your work, your planet, your galaxy, and your universe. And there won’t even be anybody to notice the flat line, which will, in any event, have long since disappeared.

 

I confess that I’ve never understood the exultation and evangelical zeal that some claim to feel as atheists.

 

Let me be clear:  I can easily understand coming to the conclusion that there is no God.  The world is full of seemingly pointless suffering, painfully unanswered questions, dubious religious claims, historically shaky scriptural stories, theologically-motivated wars and oppression, and the like.  Moreover, naturalistic theories such as evolution seem (at first glance, anyway) to have undercut arguments from design for the existence of an intelligent creator.

 

I just don’t see how there being no God would be good news, worthy of celebration and of proselytizing on its behalf.  (You may have heard the old joke about what you get when you cross an atheist with . . . umm, let’s say, a Jehovah’s Witness:  Somebody who goes door to door for no apparent reason.)

 

Sure.  The demise of God would seem to allow certain freedoms.  Mormons, specifically, would get an extra day each week, ten percent of their gross income back, tea, coffee, wine, beer, brandy, cigarettes, and release from an increasingly unfashionable and always demanding sexual ethic.  No more impossible demands like loving your neighbor as you love yourself, turning the other cheek, losing your life in order to save it, and being perfect like your Father in Heaven.  Catholic priests could abandon their vows of chastity.  Monks could forsake their vows of poverty and their chanting and, instead, participate in rave parties, follow the Kardashians, and subscribe to Cigar Aficionado.  Once-Orthodox Jews could enjoy bacon bits in their salads.

 

But God’s absence also seems to deprive the acts undertaken with such freedom of any lasting significance.  They become as trivial morally as many of them already were in other respects.  Faithful spouses and utterly unfaithful playboys will rot alike, along with their partners, unremembered and irrelevant.  And, if atheism is true, whatever good things it confers (no time-consuming church responsibilities! no boring Sunday meetings! no guilt after getting drunk or spending quality time with pornographic videos! cocktail parties!) come at the high price of living in a universe that is entirely indifferent, one that could, in fact, easily be described as hostile except that it is completely unconscious and lacks any purposes or intentions at all.  Lost loved ones will remain lost forever.  Children will die, and will then be as if they had never lived.  Everything human — the pyramids, happy families, Beethoven’s symphonies, children’s songs, the plays of Shakespeare, memories of holidays at the beach, the sculptures and paintings of Michelangelo — will perish, and there will be nobody, anywhere, to remember them.

 

I recall an odd conversation from some years back with an ex-Mormon atheist who particularly despised the Latter-day Saint belief in the eternal nature of families — which, in her construal of the doctrine, decreed everlasting divorce of non-Mormon spouses and never-ending separation of non-Mormon parents and children.  Somehow, she preferred her own vision of the future, which denies conscious existence of any kind to everybody after death, without regard to creed, and, thus, declares that the grave portends permanent separation for all.  Ashes can be commingled, I suppose, and bodies might be permitted to decompose side by side, but that seems to offer little comfort.

 

Bertrand Russell, who actually believed this, faced it squarely and put it eloquently:

 

“That man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.

“Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding dispair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

 

Again, I can easily imagine coming to the sad and solemn conclusion that Russell’s vision of the universe is true.  But I see essentially nothing in it to make one happy that it’s true.

 

Fortunately, it isn’t true.

 

There’s no cosmic requirement that the truth must be bad.

 

Posted from Arlington, Virginia

 

 

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  • Lucy Mcgee

    I must confess, I’ve never understood the musings of religious leaders who espouse belief systems where they can claim to speak for God, who claim to understand God, and who are actively teaching the belief of a mass human extinction in the name of Him, while amassing fortunes all the while (I’m thinking the men and women who preach on TBN). I fail to understand the hysteria and excitement roused by prophets of doom who roll out apocalyptic messages as found in the Book of Revelation, or deny scientific understanding because they are fixated on the inerrancy of the Book of Genesis. I truly don’t understand the hubris, self aggrandizement and greed of those who claim, with absolute certainty, that they have all the answers to human difficulties. I fail to understand those who are convinced that a majority of the planet’s population are going to suffer for all eternity. I don’t like it one bit; absolute belief can be dangerous.

    It seems to me that the writers of biblical texts, hundreds of generations ago, knew well of human oppression, violence, greed, hatred and the fear of our mortality. They understood the human yearning to lead a life of meaning, the fear of death and loneliness, the greed and lust and ambition that would drive humans to treat others horribly. These writers also understood courage, kindness, compassion and love.

    What bothers me greatly, are those Christians who ask people to turn over moral choices and responsibilities to them; who tell people how to act and live and at the same time, elevate themselves above the masses. They become idols. Some teach hatred. There are many examples of those within the Christian right these days who, for example, decry Islam; every Muslim is a potential terrorist. People like Kamal Saleem and his ilk (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/03/kamal-saleem-former-terrorist-islamophobia) make a nice living teaching hatred and suspicion and are paid in part, by our tax dollars. The guy worked for Pat Robertson’s CBN. There are those within the “Tea Party” who are fundamentally opposed to anything that conflicts with their cherry picking biblical view (see Wild Bill for America for a taste of Tea Party rhetoric).

    Christian religions have zero monopoly on a life lived well, or the future progress of humans on earth. For those who believe that they will remain for all eternity in the afterglow of some apocalyptic conflagration, then good for them. But please don’t live your lives in such a way as to hasten the End Days as you disregard your fellow humans who believe planet earth is all we have and desire it to be a place where countless future generations can enjoy life. Please have some regard for those of faith and those without who organize their lives in an attempt to save our planet.

  • jafnhar

    The LDS Church has largely set aside the hell-fire and damnation idea, so it’s
    understandable you might forget that belief in God isn’t all harps and angels
    for everyone, but even without the threat of eternal damnation (which some
    Church Fathers concluded must be the fate of the vast majority of humanity)
    it’s just nice to not worry about an all-seeing, all-knowing judge watching not
    only every move, but reading every thought. Did I just have a sinful thought? Is
    that thought orthodox? Do I need to repent for that? It can drive you nuts.

    Personally, on the social side, I just got tired of people telling me what to think or
    trying to filter every idea through orthodoxy. Incidentally, while on an
    earlier thread I had given my definition of a Christian (“anyone who says
    they’re a Christian”), that definition will always be unsatisfactory to an
    actual believer. What’s the point of having a club if anyone can join just by
    saying “I’m in!”? Policing thought is an inevitable part of joining a
    church, if not believing in God.
    Of course, every society will police thought and action to a certain degree. But
    why submit to it voluntarily? Well, if it makes you happier, I suppose that’s a reason. It didn’t work for me, though.

    • brotheroflogan

      I hear what you are saying about the mind filtering. It can drive you nuts. It has driven me nuts before. When I was younger, my dad told me I had to repent for “every sin.” That gave me a lot of anxiety because I was sure there were things I had forgotten about. I wish my dad had also taught me the extent and power of God’s mercy and grace at the same time.
      I avoid being driven nuts by realizing that God is not like a neighborhood bully who will make fun of me, but is someone who is absolutely safe to be around, notwithstanding my folly. I mean, He may put me through the refiner’s fire at times, but I can be assured that His love will sustain me and even bring me joy through my trials.

    • DanielPeterson

      It works for me. And your experience is entirely foreign to me.

      • jafnhar

        Great. I should add that my experience with religion is not exclusively LDS and I didn’t mean to imply that the above comment is directed solely at the LDS – just some of the problems of theistic beliefs as I’ve experienced it in modern America.

        My personal opinion is that particular beliefs about god is irrelevant and the existence of God is irrelevant to what humans have to do to get by. In any case, if God exists then neither the word god can describe it nnorot can the word exist describe what it does.

    • RaymondSwenson

      Atheists like Russell assert that the mundane world with all its problems, both caused by nature and caused by people, is “the best of all possible worlds” because it is the ONLY possible world. Your degree of satisfaction in such a world is dependent entirely on your personal circumstances. The millions condemned to the living hell of their mortal lives are told they have no hope. Even compassion becomes a mere personal choice, not a duty. There is no point to self-sacrifice, and so there will be less of it.

      When I was a freshman in college, one of our exam questions tasked us to analyze the philosophy of behaviorist B.F. Skinner, as expressed in his utopia, Walden II. My conclusion was that if Skinner really believed that his philosophy would work, he should have tried to create his society in real life. Frankly each experiment I have heard of involving creating an officially atheist society has exacerbated every negative aspect of human societies. In particular, freedom to disagree is the first casualty. If atheists think they can create a fair and beneficial society, let’s see them put it into practice, and demonstrate.on a purely materialist basis that it is a more desirable state.

  • Guest

    PS. I’ve come to notice that you’ve had few visitors comments here on Patheos, but often get quite a response on your Facebook page where you link to your Patheos blog. So you post here, and Facebook gets the profits. Seems odd that you’d do that to the folks who created this wonderful site. Do they understand and enjoy this or what?

    • Lucy Mcgee

      Sorry, I figured it out.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I’ve often wondered why someone so certain in their faith would be inclined to assert that they know the mind of someone irreligious? You’ve been writing on this subject for decades. I’ve read your same musings, offered in various forms, for over a year. Your Bertrand Russell quote is almost meaningless given the entirety of his essay. You leave out much.

    For you, a believer in an eternal life of bliss and godhood, it seems almost ridiculous to believe that when one dies, that’s it. You fashion your life for a cosmic myth of eternal reward where Beethoven’s symphonies will be available forever and at the same time believe that you, after the Resurrection, will exist in an exalted Celestial Kingdom. I’ve read the King Follett sermon numerous times. Please correct me if I’m mistaken.

    And yet, there are billions of people who will never hear or read the LDS message or care one whit. It strikes me as interesting that an all knowing God would relegate this most important message in 2013, to a group of believers numbering about 0.2% of the world’s population.

    • brotheroflogan

      And why does it matter if they’ve never heard of it in this life? You do understand Mormon beliefs about the spirit world and why we do work for the dead? I also would ask you to consider the work during the Millenium. A thousand years of salvation’s work will cover a lot of people given that almost everyone will hear the gospel. I don’t know what the world population will be, but I’m guessing that many billions of people will live during that time period.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        Your comment is interesting and bizarre since I’m sure you know, deep down, there is no possibility in ever evangelizing the planet’s entire population or baptizing every dead human who has lived. Therefor, billions will never hear your message or be saved. If a creative force or Heavenly Father were to hatch a plan of salvation for humanity, I could think of much better ways of approaching this, couldn’t you?

        • Anyotheruser

          Everyone *will* have the opportunity to hear the message. That’s outright LDS doctrine, and something entirely possible in a framework that includes the righteous dead teaching others.

          Your comment is basically insisting “Since I don’t believe it, deep down, you can’t *really* believe that idea. Thus I will respond as if that idea didn’t exist”.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Anyone can just make stuff up, write it down and market it to the public. Something you believe as “entirely possible” exists in your imagination but there is nothing provable in your assertion. But it is a nice fantasy.

          • Anyotheruser

            All utterly irrelevant to the point – you’re insisting that ‘deep down’, *we* can’t believe LDS doctrine (that everyone will have an opportunity to hear the message), on no greater basis than you can’t. Your statement wasn’t just claiming that LDS believes were false, it was claiming that ‘deep down’ we don’t believe them either.

          • DanielPeterson

            It’s (literally, logically) absurd for you, Lucy McGee, to denounce our theology as ridiculous on the flat and simple grounds that you disbelieve it.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            And it’s just as absurd for you (literally and logically) to claim that EVERYONE will hear the LDS message. This is your imagination at work but has nothing whatever to do with reality, in my opinion.

          • DanielPeterson

            Actually, it’s not. You’re simply saying that you don’t believe Mormon claims.

            But you’re CASTING it as if it’s a logical problem within our system of beliefs, which it isn’t.

            Don’t pretend that you find the rest of our beliefs (e.g., the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, seerstones, etc.) plausible up until this point.

            But the fact that you aren’t a Mormon has never been a secret.

          • kiwi57

            Thank you for admitting that the above is only your opinion.
            It also appears to be your opinion that you have some kind of unique grasp on “reality.”

            I don’t agree.

            It is neither literally nor logically absurd to claim that everyone will hear the LDS message. It is simply contrary to what you believe. You demonstrate considerable hubris when you assume that your opinion is the gold standard for logical belief.

        • brotheroflogan

          I do not know why you say it is bizarre, since, after all, I believe in miracles. In Joseph Smith’s day, there was no internet and the church started with just 6 members. Who knows what is in store for us.
          And if Jesus does come again, perhaps mass evangelism will be more simple.
          But why does God do it so slowly, through flawed human tools? I don’t know the whole answer. But I know that I have never understood God or man better than when I was a full time missionary. I never felt the spirit more or more often confronted the serious issues of life more directly (love, hate, suffering etc) than when I was a full time missionary. I believe that missionary work is as much for the missionary as it is for the convert. And the bonds of love that develop between missionary and convert is something special. So no, I do not have that good an imagination.

        • RaymondSwenson

          Any scientist, atheist or not, will agree that there have only been a finite number of human beings on earth. If you believe, as Mormons do,that proselyting of the living spirits of the dead was.initiated by Jesus Christ between his death and resurrection, then the geometric progression of teaching those people the gospel has had almost two thousand years to move forward. One of the strengths of this progression is that none of the converts disappear, so that Peter, Paul and Mary have been preaching for the whole time, and the number who have been taught the Gospel has been growing exponentially. This system gives each person freedom to choose in mortal life, and freedom to repent in the next. All will be resurrected to overcome every physical inadequacy. The purpose of the process, to give every person the.maximum potential for real long term happiness, is moving forward.

          The difference between your plan of salvation and the one put in motion by God is that his is real, and will really save,but yours is a fiction that can never be implemented. Rejecting the only real hope for humanity because you think you are smarter than God demonstrates that your assumption is in error.

        • kiwi57

          Lucy Mcgee,

          When you say something like: “I’m sure you know, deep down, there is no possibility in ever evangelizing the planet’s entire population or baptizing every dead human who has lived,” you are communicating two things:

          1) The conscious accusation that the believer is a liar.

          2) The unintentional admission that you are too mentally lazy to make the effort to grasp the fact that it is possible for others to actually believe what you do not.

          I assure you that believing Latter-day Saints “deep down” are confident that “the planet’s entire population” will ultimately hear the Gospel, and that “every dead human who has lived” will ultimately have the opportunity to accept a baptism performed on their behalf.

          Your inability to grasp the fact that we do believe it may reflect poorly upon someone, but it isn’t us.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I was initially under the assumption that these proxy baptisms had to be accomplished by living humans with priesthood authority, and didn’t understand that, as Mr. Swenson pointed out, this could all occur in the “spirit world” beginning with Peter, Paul and Mary in a geometric progression. So I wonder why the LDS faithful and authorities go to such great lengths to amass genealogical information for these baptisms and perform them? And why is this belief only practiced by 0.2% of the planet’s population, when it seems a critical element in the eternal future of all human spirits for everlasting redemption? Couldn’t the creative force of a 14+ billion year old universe, containing billions of galaxies, come up with a better plan for the salvation of human souls than relying on a physical ritual? Why bother?

            If my “mental laziness” means I don’t believe in superstition then I should also make clear that the entire notion espoused by the Christian Right, with their self assurance of some cosmic cataclysm and “rapture” of the faithful as the rest of humanity suffers for all eternity, is in my mind vulgar, and just one example of a self aggrandizing belief system based on nothing but myth. The bizarre self assurance and teaching of these charlatans was my very first introduction to religion with consequence, back in the early 80′s. I didn’t like it then, and I like it less today.

            We have amazing imaginations. There are countless examples throughout history of people using this human proclivity to convince others they speak for God or something else; you see it each day on TBN. I’ve seen it within my extended family of evangelicals who deny science. It is hard to understand.

          • kiwi57

            No, what takes place in the Spirit World is the teaching. The proxy baptisms are in fact done here, by mortals.
            It’s a very big job, but we’re getting on with it. And we have help.

            As for your mental laziness: it doesn’t consist in what you do or don’t believe. It consists in the lack of any effort to grasp the fact that it is possible for people to genuinely believe things you don’t. I know this is a difficult concept for complacent materialists to grasp, but your easy assumptions are not self-evidently and compellingly true from every possible perspective.

            Years ago, Hugh W. Nibley described what he called “The gas law of learning,” which is that any amount of information, however small, expands to fill any intellectual vacuum, however large. Which is another way of saying that as soon as someone knows a tiny little bit about something, they start to suppose that they know everything about it. You demonstrate this in many of your posts.

            What is required here is a little humility. You might want to consider that what you dismiss with a derisive snort is not only believed, but actually held to be something of an intellectual treasure, by people who are not only vastly better-informed on the subject, but who may even be more intelligent than you are. Difficult though that may be for you to imagine.

            Jesus has decreed that nobody can enter the Kingdom of Heaven without baptism; but most of God’s children die without baptism. Now it happens that Jesus is the one who makes our salvation possible; therefore it happens on His terms, or not at all. Given that some of us are humble enough to know that we don’t have the authority to apply the Kobayashi Maru solution — i.e. to change the rules to suit our casual assumptions and superficial disdain for “ritual” — it turns out that Baptism for the Dead is a remarkably elegant solution to that particular dilemma.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I have no humility when people assert they look forward to the destruction of the planet in the name of their religious superstition and who claim to understand and speak for God and who assert, often stridently, that those who don’t follow their particular teachings are outcast in this life and the next, except when they submit to an authoritarian complex of beliefs in order to be “saved”. I’ve heard this most of my life.

            I don’t appreciate the hubris and religious elitism found in the proclamations of the religious right; those who claim to know God’s will and who claim to speak for God. You might want to pay attention, as you snort out, in your high minded certainty that others with apocalyptic views, will just as soon see you forever burn in hell because of differences in theology. I wonder how well informed and intelligent those Christian right detractors are who discount you as a theological cult?

            There have been, and will continue to be, extremely intelligent humans who will lead others down various paths because they offer a compelling message that resonates within imagination. The desire to believe in magic and superstition is alive and well in all of us.

          • kiwi57

            Lucy Mcgee: “I have no humility when people assert they look forward to the destruction of the planet in the name of their religious superstition”

            Something that is not currently under discussion. You seem inordinately fond of waving that one around.

            Indeed, you seem to be using it as something akin to a magic talisman, like a crucifix to ward off vampires. I fail to see that it serves any other purpose.

            As far as Mormonism is concerned, it’s not only a silly caricature, it’s an inaccurate one. We don’t “look forward to the destruction of the planet.” We look forward to its apotheosis.

            The fact is that those who accept atheistic materialism are the ones who genuinely “look forward to the destruction of the planet,” if not as a desirable event, then at least as an inescapable one. All the talk about “saving the planet” is at best just postponing the inevitable. In the normal course of astronomical events, the sun will eventually expand, or explode, or burn out and go cold, and then there will be no possibility of life on earth continuing.

            Lucy Mcgee: “and who claim to understand and speak for God and who assert, often stridently, that those who don’t follow their particular teachings are outcast in this life and the next, except when they submit to an authoritarian complex of beliefs in order to be ‘saved’. I’ve heard this most of my life.”

            And so that gives you carte blanche to assume that believers “deep down” are actually lying, does it?

            Lucy Mcgee: “I don’t appreciate the hubris and religious elitism found in the proclamations of the religious right; those who claim to know God’s will and who claim to speak for God.”

            You demonstrate a considerable amount of hubris in your own right, when you claim to know the minds of others whose beliefs you clearly do not understand.

            Lucy Mcgee: “You might want to pay attention, as you snort out, in your high minded certainty that others with apocalyptic views, will just as soon see you forever burn in hell because of differences in theology. I wonder how well informed and intelligent those Christian right detractors are who discount you as a theological cult?”

            Indeed, they are every bit as ill-informed and hubristic as you are.

            What you fail to grasp, in your haste to throw your ill-aimed verbal darts, is that I’m not attacking your beliefs. I’m simply explaining to you how it is that believing something you do not is not an error in logic; and how it is that people really do believe things you do not. Including, but not limited to, “deep down.”

            So instead of working yourself up into a state of increasingly high dudgeon that anyone would dare to disagree with you, how about you simply admit that you got it wrong?

            Because you did.

            Lucy Mcgee: “There have been, and will continue to be, extremely intelligent humans who will lead others down various paths because they offer a compelling message that resonates within imagination. The desire to believe in magic and superstition is alive and well in all of us.”

            Perhaps that explains materialstic atheism.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I don’t in any way believe in apocalyptic visions, or the prophesies on which they depend. It is difficult to understand how someone looking forward to the planet’s “apotheosis”, would be interested in long term world peace, the reduction of world military complexes, elimination of nuclear weapons, drastically reducing greenhouse emissions and working frantically toward sustainability, better means of food distribution and conservation.

            If religions bring people together to solve our planetary problems then I’d applaud that. But that, it seems to me, isn’t what is happening in our predominately religious world, although there are glimmers of hope, just not much among the Christian right, or some Islamic sects.

            I hope you understand, that as someone who has never been religious, I find this End Times theology unsettling to say the least. Imagine yourself, never having been exposed to your LDS teachings, reading and hearing apocalyptic drumbeats. I should most likely take my concerns elsewhere since I’m pretty sure Dr. Peterson is by now pretty tired of my comments.

            Just for fun, since you are using the label, please define “materialistic atheism”.

            By the way, were you ever able to see the Frontline documentary on Oswald. Just curious.

          • DanielPeterson

            Your difficulty in understanding “how someone looking forward to the planet’s “apotheosis”, would be interested in long term world peace, the reduction of world military complexes, elimination of nuclear weapons, drastically reducing greenhouse emissions and working frantically toward sustainability, better means of food distribution and conservation” is a problem that you need to work on.

            Latter-day Saints (not to mention many other Christians) are, in fact, interested and involved in all of these things.

            It’s pure (and offensive) secularist mythology that they alone, or with unique intensity, care about the welfare of humanity.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Please explain why those looking forward to the End Times would care about such things, or point me toward some LDS writing that explains how one can look forward to both. I’ve read comments made on your very blog, by those who are awaiting this apotheosis, which to some can’t happen quickly enough. So why care about the planet’s future, if you believe you know it already?

          • DanielPeterson

            I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but I have a huge number of things on my to-do list, and I really don’t have time to compile a bibliography for you.

            You might try looking for things by Hugh Nibley, who combined both an unusually strong interest in eschatology, even among Latter-day Saints, with a strong commitment to environmentalism. He’ll do for starters.

            And, by the way, it’s really on you to demonstrate that we lack interest in taking care of the earth and serving humanity. You’ve declared that we ought not to care about such things, and have implied that we actually don’t. Prove it.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            My question was why care, if you believe the end of life as we know it is imminent and will happen any time now? I never wrote that you don’t care about such things, just why would you? There is a big difference.

          • DanielPeterson

            First of all, we have no idea when the end will come, and, even though we’re religious and therefore irrational, we see no particular reason to destroy the world in which we live and in which our posterity will live.

            Secondly, from the first chapters of Genesis we’ve been commanded to take good care of things, to tend them and to keep them. And the Savior, in the New Testament, says that the servants who are doing their jobs when he arrives will have their reward. There is no command in scripture to simply kick back and allow the world to go to Hell while we wait for the apocalypse. (“Blessed are the peacemakers,” etc.)

            Thirdly, we’re actually not a different species from our superior and more rational neighbors. Like them, although lesser, we’re human.

            I find your whole line of reasoning on this, frankly, smugly insulting.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Dr. Peterson, I found this: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/elder-nash-stegner-symposium which was truly helpful. I apologize for insulting you.

    • DanielPeterson

      1) Where have I presumed to “know the mind of someone irreligious”?

      2) I didn’t, it’s true, quote the entirety of Lord Russell’s essay. I see no reason why I should have. And the quotation that I did give certainly isn’t “almost meaningless.” That’s a silly claim.

      3) Yes, I do believe in eternal life. But you’re mistaken that I find the notion of death as final and irredeemable oblivion “almost ridiculous.” Are you presuming to know the mind of someone religious?

      4) Latter-day Saints believe that there will be NOBODY “who will never hear or read the LDS message.”

  • Kevin Winters

    Speaking for myself, as a Buddhist atheist, I think it shortsighted to say that love and compassion are meaningless without the existence of an eternal being who will punish you for not having them, that they are mere choices and conveniences without any merit or consequence. I cultivate and have compassion because its opposite creates suffering, for myself and others, that it is a form of violence with the natural results of such. Recent work on the psychology of violence points this out: without specifically training in dehumanizing the other, the result is war veterans who suffer from PTSD because recognizing the violence you have just done in taking a life is quite naturally heart breaking and devastating. I can’t say that this devastation is due to some act of a divine being giving me a conscience, but I can say that such is the natural result. Similarly, using others for monetary or sexual gain is a source of suffering, for myself and them. I can’t say *why* such is the case (though I can give some decent arguments), but it *is* the case, so my actions have consequences. To say that, because these consequences lack ETERNAL significance, they are therefore meaningless seems misguided to me.

    As for the bigger question, on why there being no God is “good news”, it’s hard to say. Given how some people represent God and/or act in his/her/its name, I am *very* much gladdened by the prospect that such a being doesn’t exist. I am glad to know that if I can show just a little more kindness in my life that lightens the load of someone else’s burden, that I don’t need to attribute any other significance beyond that local help and the effect it has on their physical and psychological well being to make the act *really* meaningful. I like the fact that I can see my role as a teacher and servant to others as having lasting significance, in that it can influence how they relate to and treat others in a way that encourages happiness and decreases suffering and that, simply because they are human beings worthy of respect, love, and compassion, that that is enough for the act to be vastly meaningful.

    I understand that doesn’t quite answer your question, as the ultimate aim of the question is to find some ultimate eternal undying significance to actions, which an atheist simply cannot give. But I would strongly argue that the non-existence of an eternal being who gives and takes rewards based on whatever system or logic doesn’t logically entail that life is meaningless, that we can do whatever we want without any significant consequences, etc. Nihilism is one possibility within the sphere of atheist thought, but it is by far not the only one.

    My two cents.

    • DanielPeterson

      “I think it shortsighted to say that love and compassion are meaningless without the existence of an eternal being who will punish you for not having them, that they are mere choices and conveniences without any merit or consequence.”

      So do I.

      • Kevin Winters

        But you make the claim that, without God, all actions become “trivial morally”. So I take your agreement with my statement to be that you don’t accept the depiction of God as a punisher, not with my claim that actions can be morally meaningful without God or eternity.

        I’m unclear on exactly why adding God and eternity into the equation somehow makes an action morally meaningful and their lack makes it morally trivial. The latter is the case only if you accept some form of reductionism and individualism, but if you reject it by positing some form of interdependence or holism then there are some potential resources for stating that actions are morally significant.

        It seems that Mormon theology at least has the possibility that God himself is subject to a moral order that he did not create. As such, it is possible for that moral order to exist without God. Such isn’t too dissimilar to my view, though I would appeal to the concrete results of our actions rather than some abstract eternal moral order.

        • DanielPeterson

          They’re trivial in the sense that, within a very few years, they will have made precisely no difference.

          • Kevin Winters

            First, I think we can all think of single acts that have very long-term effects: Isaac and Ishmael, Buddha, Christ, a missionary bringing the Gospel to a family that ends with third, fourth, fifth, and sixth generation members, an act of kindness that helps someone turn their life around (with all the multiplying effect that comes with that), an act of violence that creates a long-standing rift between groups or families, etc. Yes, eventually they will die out, but a single act can reverberate for generations, centuries, or millennia.

            Second, beyond the above, I still fail to see how the lack of eternal significance or the presence of a divine being has any effect on the moral meaning of any given act. And if it is the case that morality and happiness are tied together (and I think a decent case can be made for that), then atheism does not necessarily leave us in a bleak, lifeless, meaningless, and ultimately depressing world. Instead, we are left in a world that is made even more meaningful because of our limited time in it. In the very least, that is not horrible news…but for some of us, it feels good.

          • DanielPeterson

            You’re correct, of course, that the effects of a very few acts might last for two or three thousand years. Most don’t last even a generation. The vast majority of those who have already lived are, already, as if they never had. Their joys, sorrows, ambitions, dreams, and sacrifices are completely forgotten and irrelevant. And, within a few millennia, nothing human at all will have made even the slightest difference.

            I’m happy that this feels good to you, though I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed in the (non-) end.

          • Kevin Winters

            It’s not so much that I enjoy that all things will pass away (that’s simply a basic fact which my thoughts and feelings don’t influence), but that I enjoy knowing that I am helping another human being who is worthy of my love and compassion without any felt need to seek any eternal reward or acknowledgment. That they are sentient and that what I have done has helped them in some way is sufficient for me, without having to seek anything beyond it to somehow give it added significance. It’s just not immediately clear to me why adding an eternal accounting of my actions, so that they don’t pass away, adds anything of significance to the moral content of my actions, or from the fact that they are causes of happiness for myself and others.


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