The Errors of Faith

In midtown Manhattan yesterday, I happened to notice the following breathtakingly arrogant slogan on a church’s bulletin board:

“The errors of faith are better than the best thoughts of unbelief.” —Thomas Russell

This quote is probably of ancient vintage (both Thomas Russells listed on Wikipedia lived during the 1700s), which explains, though it does not excuse, its repulsive, hate-laden attitude. But what I find truly amazing is that a church in the year 2006, in liberal New York City, would openly endorse this kind of medieval bigotry. The posting of this quote confirms the thesis, unfortunately, that atheists are the last group in America against whom it is still considered acceptable to discriminate. Just try to imagine if this sort of hate had been directed against a different group: “The errors of Christians are better than the best thoughts of Jews,” or, “The errors of whites are better than the best thoughts of blacks.” The outrage that would ensue requires no description from me. Yet when the target is changed to atheists, this church feels free to announce its prejudice to the world during the midtown lunch rush.

The towering arrogance and conceited pride that radiates from Russell’s words goes a long way toward explaining why atheists and religious groups are still so far apart. This church boldly stated its belief that an atheist who calls for peace, compassion, justice and humanity is worse than a murderous religious fanatic who calls for torture and slavery in the name of God. They seem almost proud to share a pedestal with suicide bombers, Taliban theocrats and terrorist killers like the 9/11 hijackers (for whatever else might be said about these groups, one cannot deny the strength of their faith), so long as they do not have to share their space with any of those dreaded, despised atheists. In Russell’s eyes, and apparently in the eyes of this church as well, the mere profession of belief in an invisible sky-being, no matter how starkly irrational that belief is or what hatred and atrocities go along with it, suffices to raise a person to a level well above that of any nonbeliever, regardless of what works that nonbeliever has done or whatever love and care that nonbeliever might show towards their fellow living beings. Whether a person professes belief in God, in their eyes, is the only thing about them that matters and and the sole determinant of their moral worth, and that is a truly vile and despicable view.

Nevertheless, I am never one to shrink from a challenge. I will meet Russell on his own terms and see if his words hold truth. Let us consider some of the worst errors of faith and some of the best thoughts of unbelief, and let us see how they stack up against each other.

First, here is what I consider to be one of the best thoughts of unbelief: an excerpt from Robert Green Ingersoll’s beautiful and profound eulogy for his brother, Ebon:

This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock; but in the sunshine he was vine and flower. He was the friend of all heroic souls. He climbed the heights, and left all superstitions far below, while on his forehead fell the golden dawning of the grander day.

He loved the beautiful, and was with color, form, and music touched to tears. He sided with the weak, the poor, and wronged, and lovingly gave alms. With loyal heart and with the purest hands he faithfully discharged all public trusts.

He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote these words: “For Justice all place a temple, and all season, summer.” He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest. He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.

And here is one of the errors of faith: a passage from the Bible in which the great prophet Moses commands the mass slaughter and sexual enslavement of children:

Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army — the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds — who returned from the battle.

“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

Here is another of the best thoughts of unbelief, a statement by the atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair explaining her opposition to mandatory state-led prayer in public schools:

Your petitioners are atheists, and they define their lifestyle as follows:

An atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An atheist thinks that heaven is something for which we should work for now — here on earth — for all men together to enjoy. An atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, subdue and enjoy it. An atheist thinks that only in knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

Therefore, he seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to ‘know’ a god. An atheist knows that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist knows that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.

He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life. He knows that we cannot rely on a god nor channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter. He knows that we are our brothers’ keepers in that we are, first, keepers of our lives; that we are responsible persons, that the job is here and the time is now.

And here is another error of faith, the Scottish preacher John Knox, in 1558, defending his thesis that women should never be permitted to hold any position of authority or power over men, and that any who disagree should be put to death:

And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be. Man, I say, in many other cases, does in this behalf see very clearly. For the causes are so manifest, that they cannot be hid. For who can deny but it is repugnant to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong? And finally, that the foolish, mad, and frenetic shall govern the discreet, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority.

And here is another thought of unbelief, the astronomer Carl Sagan reflecting on a picture, taken from billions of miles out in deep space, that shows the entire planet Earth as nothing but a lonely twinkle of pale blue in a vast ocean of night:

We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

And the faithful believer Rev. John Furniss, in a religious tract written especially for children, describing the suffering of an infant condemned to an eternity of agony in Hell:

The little child is in this red hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out. See how it turns and twists itself about in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor of the oven. You can see on the face of this little child what you see on the faces of all in hell – despair, desperate and horrible! The same law which is for others is also for children. If children, knowingly and willingly, break God’s commandments, they must also be punished like others. This child committed very bad mortal sins, knowing well the harm of what it was doing, and knowing that hell would be the punishment. God was very good to this child. Very likely God saw that this child would get worse and worse, and would never repent, and so it would have to be punished much more in hell. So God, in His mercy, called it out of the world in its early childhood.

And the novelist Zora Neale Hurston:

Strong, self-determining men are notorious for their lack of reverence.

…Prayer seems to me a cry of weakness, and an attempt to avoid, by trickery, the rules of the game as laid down. I do not choose to admit weakness. I accept the challenge of responsibility. Life, as it is, does not frighten me, since I have made my peace with the universe as I find it, and bow to its laws. The ever-sleepless sea in its bed, crying out ‘How long?’ to Time; million-formed and never motionless flame; the contemplation of these two aspects alone, affords me sufficient food for ten spans of my expected lifetime. It seems to me that organized creeds are collections of words around a wish. I feel no need for such. However, I would not, by word or deed, attempt to deprive another of the consolation it affords. It is simply not for me. Somebody else may have my rapturous glance at the archangels. The springing of the yellow line of morning out of the misty deep of dawn, is glory enough for me. I know that nothing is destructible; things merely change forms. When the consciousness we know as life ceases, I know that I shall still be part and parcel of the world. I was a part before the sun rolled into shape and burst forth in the glory of change. I was, when the earth was hurled out from its fiery rim. I shall return with the earth to Father Sun, and still exist in substance when the sun has lost its fire, and disintegrated into infinity to perhaps become a part of the whirling rubble of space. Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.

This seems to be to be more than sufficient answer to Russell’s insult. In return, I challenge any believers who endorse his sentiment to proclaim that they find these errors of faith superior to the thoughts of unbelievers I have cited. Who would you rather share a world with, Robert Ingersoll or the murdering Moses? Whose view of the human spirit is more noble, Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s or John Knox’s? Who has a grander and more beautiful vision of the cosmos, Carl Sagan and Zora Hurston or John Furniss?

I will not return Russell’s insult; I do not believe that even the worst atheists are better than the best theists. On the contrary, actions are more important than belief, and I would much rather live life in the company of kind, loving and good-hearted people regardless of their beliefs. But, on the other hand, beliefs inevitably contaminate actions; and a person who believes things that are spiteful and bigoted will almost inevitably begin to act in tune with those thoughts. Moral belief is the only reliable way to give rise to moral action; and the texts and writings of many religions contain and endorse so many evils and cruelties that it is almost more surprising when followers of those texts do not act in such a way.

Perhaps the church which I saw did not intend to display such an ugly prejudice. Perhaps they simply found the quote and thought it would make a snappy advertisement without considering that there were real people who actually identify themselves as unbelievers and who would view that statement as the insult it is. But unintentional prejudice is prejudice nonetheless, and if the administrators of that church did not know that there are many real atheists out there, then they should have known. It is my hope that sites like this one can dispel the darkness of ignorance and bring in its place the enlightenment of understanding that atheists, too, are real people who do not appreciate being maligned.

UPDATE: I recently came across a more famous theologian who shares this opinion, namely Thomas Aquinas:

“Therefore it is clear that the sin of unbelief is greater than any sin that occurs in the perversion of morals.”

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • SpeirM

    “The errors of faith are better than the best thoughts of unbelief.”

    We don’t have the context, of course, but I didn’t take it quite the way you did. I didn’t think of it in terms of deeds but of concepts. Looking at it that way, they could hardly be said to believe at all if they didn’t think like that.

    But, naturally, concepts are the seeds of deeds, so either way….

  • dhagrow

    The Moses bit may be deeds, but Knox and Furniss? Those are evil thoughts inspired by religion. Also, I can’t think of a context that would change the meaning of the quote.

  • SpeirM

    “I can’t think of a context that would change the meaning of the quote.”

    I’m a little wary about making that kind of judgment. Context can affect a quote in amazing ways.

    But, like I said, my first impression was different. Put a slightly different way, if Christians, say, didn’t believe their ideas were superior to the contrary ones of unbelievers, they could hardly be called believers. The Russell quote need mean nothing more than that implies.

    Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if to discover it was intended exactly the way Adam took it.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    I’m sorry, I can’t picture a context where “the errors of faith” are anything but errors. They aren’t saying the best ideas of faith are better than the best thoughts of unbelief. They’re saying even their mistakes are better than the best any unbeliever can hope to come up with. Every “thought of unbelief” is bad. It is breathtakingly arrogant. It precludes any discussion, for how can you discuss things with someone who can never be as right as you are when you’re wrong, let alone when you’re right? What would be the point?

  • King Aardvark

    I would like to see the original quote in context too. My first impression was the same as yours, but I can see where SpeirM is coming from.

    That being said, I think you’ll find that for many Christians unbelief is the worst sin of all, and I’ve even talked to a Pastor who said that a repentant Christian axe-murderer is better than the most peaceful, loving athiest.

    Regardless, it was a very elegant post.

  • SpeirM

    I don’t really disagree with you, Ridger. It’s just that “errors” isn’t very specific. Erroneous what? “Thoughts” is more specific. So my assumption was that if it was the “thoughts” of the unbeliever that was intended, it must also be the erroneous thoughts of faith that was meant. Russell would’ve been comparing thoughts with thoughts, not deeds with thoughts.

    Adam seems to be paraphrasing Russell this way: “The worst of faith is better than the best of unbelief.” It can hardly be said that that’s an unjustifiable reading. And, like I mentioned, deeds spring from thoughts, so the distinction may be overly nice, anyway.

    Just to complicate things a bit further, we’re all familiar with a favorite ploy of Christians; that is, that “true” Christians would never be behind the kinds of atrocities and unkind thinking Adam mentions. If Russell were here, he might might well say that such things could never spring from true faith. I’m certainly not defending that way of thinking, of course, but it’s entirely possible that Russell intended to exclude these things. We don’t know because we don’t have the context.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    That might be so, SpeirM, but then what would Russell be considering “errors of faith”, if “true Christians” don’t commit them?

    I don’t know – I agree we need some context to accurately judge. Unfortunately, poking around the Web I find 29 pages with the quote, but none expand on it. One even attributes it to Goethe!

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    “The errors of faith are better than the best thoughts of unbelief.” – Thomas Russell

    For those who are concerned about context in relation to the above quote, I would point out that it’s the church which decided to advertise this quote without any context. While the original person who came up with this line may have meant it in some other context, it would be legitimate to conclude that this church feels the quote is sufficient to have meaning on it’s own. This church is willing to be identified by this quote by advertising it to the public.

    I think the quote is evidence of what a significant number of the religious feel – that religious faith is better than no faith, even when that faith is wrong. The worst thing one can do to many of these people is negate faith, which is why the atheist is so disliked by many of the religious. Even when a particular religion makes claims that are in opposition to another faith, they are still part of the same club. As long as there is agreement that faith is legitimate, the game can keep going. But the atheist shows up and it’s game over – which is why atheists are considered such a threat.

  • SpeirM

    ‘That might be so, SpeirM, but then what would Russell be considering “errors of faith”, if “true Christians” don’t commit them?’

    That’s a good point, of course. I just imagine Russell would have set some bounds. For instance, I doubt he would have considered Islamic faith better than the thoughts of unbelievers. (From a Christian standpoint, Muslims are unbelievers.) But Christians pare it down more finely than that. Was Russell a Protestant? If so, there’s a good chance he would have excluded Roman Catholic faith, too. In other words, he might very well have had a certain range of acceptability for “errors of faith” in mind. Probably did, in fact. When the errors became too egregious, he would have simply defined them away by insisting they weren’t the product of true faith. Kinda disingenuous, but that really is the thinking of many Christians.

  • MConsonni

    The context of the quote is irrelevant. The church chose to present this quote aside from its original context, therefore the quote was to be understood how it was represented on that board.

  • SpeirM

    “The church chose to present this quote aside from its original context, therefore the quote was to be understood how it was represented on that board.”

    But outside of the context, the meaning isn’t entirely clear. How did the church understand it? We don’t know.

  • http://keep-it-simple-stupid.blogspot.com/ oku

    The context is here:
    books.google.com…
    It is indeed written by Thomas Russell. It’s on page 135. Here is the index:
    books.google.com…

  • ex machina

    I read the few pages of the context and, wow, same old crap after all, huh.

  • SpeirM

    Good research.

    The next page is most telling, I think. I wish I could copy an excerpt and paste it here. Beginning with “There is a class of men…” (by which he seems to mean those who think like most of us here), read to the end of the paragraph. It would appear that Russell is placing faith in the same class of ideals as honor, justice, and humanity. While it’s absurd to think that a man who has no faith would have no sense of honor, justice, or humanity, either, it’s clear he’s not arguing against those things. He just makes the mistake of thinking they’re all of a kind.

  • Archi Medez

    Adam mentions that

    “…atheists are the last group in America against whom it is still considered acceptable to discriminate.”

    First, I will just add a handy link that summarizes some statistics on bigotry against atheists in the U.S.
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/atheist5.htm

    If stats were available for Canada and most European countries, I guess that we’d see somewhat more tolerance for atheists there.

    Another point to consider: Tolerance for religious people in atheist countries such as China might not be very flattering either. (I don’t know the what those stats are viz general public opinion, or even if there are any such stats).

    oku,

    You may know this, but to deal with those long URLs, you can convert them to text using *{a href=”http://www.religioustolerance.org/atheist5.htm”}insert text here{/a}

    *use “greater than” and “less than” signs where I’ve used the squiggly brackets. The link will appear like this: Religious Tolerance

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com Chris Hallquist

    Honestly, you needn’t be any more offended by this quote than a church board that said “We’re a bunch of morons.” Because that’s what they’re telling reasonable people who see that quote.

  • Archi Medez

    Re anti-atheism as bigotry. Yes, the slogan does suggest bigotry, and yes, most Americans are bigoted against atheists. This is not quite the same kind of bigotry as against homosexuals, blacks, and others, but is more like bigotry against left-wingers, right-wingers, etc. People can and should be held responsible for their beliefs or lack of beliefs. Atheists can generally defend their beliefs about religion (specifically their lack of belief in god/gods), their moral beliefs, etc. Religious people tend to run into problems in defending their beliefs and have to resort to illicit tactics such as appeals to faith, authority, force, etc.

  • SpeirM

    He speaks favorably of the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. I wish he would have said something about the witch trials. If he had spoken favorably or had even tried to rationalize them in some way, I’d pretty much be blown out of the water. At any rate, I can’t see that he mentions them, which means that he didn’t see fit to condemn them. That’s not much better.

  • Archi Medez

    Yes, atheists are certainly discriminated against in the U.S. I think it’s important to distinguish between ideologically-based bigotry and other forms of it that are directed against some inherent characteristic (e.g., racism, homophobia).

  • Archi Medez

    I think the quote in question assumes that those who have faith have the right kind of intentions. That is, they are acting on the basis of pleasing God, including when they make mistakes. Kind of like a kid who tries to please his/her parents and makes some kind of blunder. Depending on the sort of parents the kid has, the parents might favour that kid’s well-intentioned mistakes over the actions of a kid who is ungrateful and disrespectful of the parents. I suppose Russells was thinking along those lines.

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    I find truly amazing is that a church in the year 2005, in liberal New York City, would openly endorse this kind of medieval bigotry.

    Erm, as far as I know, it’s actually 2006! Still, makes me feel less bad about sometimes not knowing what day it is..

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Gah. So it is – serves me right for typing faster than I was thinking. I’ve corrected the typo, thanks. (I usually get the date right on my checks, honest!)

    The context of the quote is irrelevant. The church chose to present this quote aside from its original context, therefore the quote was to be understood how it was represented on that board.

    That’s a very good point, and I agree. Regardless of how Russell meant his words to be interpreted (although given the time in which he lived, I strongly suspect he meant them in exactly the way I saw them presented – and great catch in finding them, oku), the way in which the church presented them seems to me paramount in determining their intent.

    I think the quote in question assumes that those who have faith have the right kind of intentions. That is, they are acting on the basis of pleasing God, including when they make mistakes. Kind of like a kid who tries to please his/her parents and makes some kind of blunder.

    That’s probably true as well, and I suspect that is the context in which Russell meant it. Of course, this still assumes that a lack of faith can only arise from evil or insincere intentions, so the bigoted meaning of the quote remains.

    Incidentally, does anyone else have any favorite inspiring passages penned by unbelievers (or horrifying passages penned by believers) of their own to share? If so, feel free to bring them forward; my own list here is hardly exhaustive.

  • SpeirM

    “Of course, this still assumes that a lack of faith can only arise from evil or insincere intentions, so the bigoted meaning of the quote remains.”

    And if you look at the text oku pointed us to you see that Russell seems to be making that very point. Again, he strongly suggests that those without faith would also be lacking honor, justice, and humanity.

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  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com/ Michael Bains

    Another excellent essay, Adam. As usual, I enjoyed reading the comments here too.

    L8

  • lemmiwinks

    If stats were available for Canada and most European countries, I guess that we’d see somewhat more tolerance for atheists there.

    I don’t know about the statistics however as a Canadian I do know that I have never experienced any discrimination here for my atheism. We can actually elect non-religious politicians in Canada, something which seems impossible to our friends down South. Almost all of the people that I know would fall under the atheist/deist category. Mainly only older people (50+) still go to church around here in my experience.

    In fact I remember an election for our prime minister a few years back in which one of the candidates was a young Earth creationist and he was quite widely mocked across the country after saying he believed that humans co-existed with dinosaurs before flood. There were many Flintstones jokes, and the guy when on to lose the election by a quite large margin (Stockwell Day I think was his name).

  • Jeff T

    I am currently reading about the Middle East situation and feel that despite the great beauty in the words of Carl Sagan, Robert Ingersoll, and Adam that humanity is in deep trouble due to the ‘errors of faith’. It is hard to believe that humanity is capable of such atrocity in this age of reason. The only explanation that I can come up with is that a few minds will rise above the surface of the ocean of violence & deceipt that the rest of humanity seems content to drown in. But, it will not be enough to save us.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hello Jeff,

    I understand the temptation to despair in the face of all the darkness of ignorance and unreason that we are confronted with. I feel it myself at times as well, and wrote about it earlier this month in a post titled The Roar of Many Waters. But I maintain that despite all this, there is reason to hope.

    For one thing, I would point out that humanity used to be far more religious and more superstitious than it is now. If we take the long perspective of history, we see irrational beliefs steadily declining, not growing. True, the level of credulity is still high today, but compared to what it was a thousand or even a hundred years ago, we have come a long way indeed (though we have a long way yet to go as well). As painfully slow as progress tends to be, I believe we are gradually winning the battle.

  • jake3988

    The last group? Yeah, probably. But, we still have to work out their discrimination of women and homosexuals first. But I do feel, like other things before this, they’ll mellow out. But with Atheists, I truely feel we’ll ALWAYS be discriminated against.

    A president who admits he’s atheist will never be voted into office. I truely believe that, unfortunately.

  • http://www.stevesmyth.net/ spsmyth

    I am currently reading about the Middle East situation and feel that despite the great beauty in the words of Carl Sagan, Robert Ingersoll, and Adam that humanity is in deep trouble due to the ‘errors of faith’. It is hard to believe that humanity is capable of such atrocity in this age of reason. The only explanation that I can come up with is that a few minds will rise above the surface of the ocean of violence & deceipt that the rest of humanity seems content to drown in. But, it will not be enough to save us.

    Wonderful site. It is not hard to believe that humanity is capable of such atrocities. These fundamentalist terrorists want to oppress their people the same way that others have tried to oppress other groups; by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt and what a great way to do it, through religious dogma. Osama and his ilk prefer that the rest of the world live in conditions that resemble the fourth century while they have access to generators, satellite TV, dialysis machines, etc.

    Steve

  • Becky

    (Ebonmuse wrote:I will not return Russell’s insult; I do not believe that even the worst atheists are better than the best theists. On the contrary, actions are more important than belief, and I would much rather live life in the company of kind, loving and good-hearted people regardless of their beliefs. But, on the other hand, beliefs inevitably contaminate actions; and a person who believes things that are spiteful and bigoted will almost inevitably begin to act in tune with those thoughts. Moral belief is the only reliable way to give rise to moral action; and the texts and writings of many religions contain and endorse so many evils and cruelties that it is almost more surprising when followers of those texts do not act in such a way.)

    Once again, as Thomas Paine said, “Serving a mean god makes a mean man”. Ebon, I am with you 100%. I don’t care what someone believes or does not believe as long as they treat their fellowman with kindness of heart and no malice of mind. The only thing worse than this smug hateful comment is to hear one of them tell you they will pray for you. ugh..

  • Mark
  • Dutch

    Oh come on

    “This quote is probably of ancient vintage (both Thomas Russells listed on Wikipedia lived during the 1700s), which explains, though it does not excuse, its repulsive, hate-laden attitude. But what I find truly amazing is that a church in the year 2006, in liberal New York.”

    Geez, how you can spin that Russell statement in those terms escapes me. It is, after all, posted on a church. “Hate laden” May I propose that it is perhaps you that should lighten-up. Why do atheists seem to hate believers? I can understand that could occur if in the name of God people kill and/or hurt others, but this church in “liberal” New York. How about looking at all the suffering that religion has alleviated. Countless millions being helped by churches. Knights of Columbus etc.

    Dutch

    ps, I would like to donate to an atheist group to help starving, hurting people.

  • OMGF

    Geez, how you can spin that Russell statement in those terms escapes me. It is, after all, posted on a church.

    I’m sorry. Are you trying to say that anything from a church can’t be hate laden? Why don’t you tell that to Fred Phillips?

    Why do atheists seem to hate believers?

    Why do you assume that we do? I don’t hate believers. I find them misguided. I dislike their evil teachings as well, but I have nothing against the people themselves for the most part. I’m sure you’re a decent person, as are most people. I just don’t agree with the teachings of your religion, which I find to be hateful.

    I can understand that could occur if in the name of God people kill and/or hurt others, but this church in “liberal” New York. How about looking at all the suffering that religion has alleviated. Countless millions being helped by churches. Knights of Columbus etc.

    People do hurt and kill others in the name of god. It has happened all throughout history and continues to happen today. And, the countless millions that are supposedly helped are generally forced to be evangelized to; the help comes with a catch. Also, many of those charities are run in such a way that a lot of the money donated does not go to those who need it.

    ps, I would like to donate to an atheist group to help starving, hurting people.

    There are lots of secular groups out there you can choose from.

  • Friday

    Nah – he doesnt want to donate to an atheist group – he is just being a smart arse.

    Trying to imply that because he doesnt know of any such groups – therefore there ARE no such groups.

    But of course if you are indeed serious – a quick Google of ‘Secular Charities’ should provide a few links for you (depending on what country you are in).

  • OMGF

    Nah – he doesnt want to donate to an atheist group – he is just being a smart arse.

    Yeah, I know, but I thought I would show how easy it is to answer his snarky comment.

  • Dutch

    An apology,

    I was wrong about atheists not donating – I am truly sorry.

    I was merely amazed at the venom this article, an article based on a simple sign at a church, could generate.

    You have your beliefs, I have mine, and in the end we are all connected to each other.

    Have a great day, Dutch

  • Dutch

    Off topic, I think,

    For a great laugh, search “Youtube” for “achmed the dead terrorist” by Jeff Dunham. It is very funny.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Dutch, I suggest a thought experiment: imagine an atheist group put up a sign saying, “The errors of atheists are better than the best thoughts of people who believe in God.” Still don’t think you’d see anything wrong with that?

  • OMGF

    Dutch,

    I was merely amazed at the venom this article…

    Please don’t stereotype. Not all atheists are angry. When an atheist criticizes religion, it is not necessarily venomous.

  • lpetrich

    I think that we ought to congratulate Dutch on:

    Revealing his “source of knowledge”
    Acknowledging how small his church is

    In any case, one wonders why a supposedly onmimax entity who wants humanity to accept The Truth would not communicate it in a plain, simple, and unmistakable way to everybody in the world. And do so in the way that I am doing here, but direct-to-consciousness and in some way much clearer than dreams. Which should not be too hard for an allegedly omnipotent being.

  • Randall

    Because if it were to be completely convincing, that would override our free will, which God cannot do without violating his own nature.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    The Bible contains multiple instances of God providing people with “completely convincing” proofs of his existence, which does not seem to have taken away the free will of those individuals involved.

  • theistscientist

    and Mr. ebonmouse, …those “completely convincing” proofs convinced the Israelites/the 500/the progenitors of the lst century church, and propelled the faith to the Christian church today. And continues to completely convince missionaries, evangelists, scientists such as myself,that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Theistscientist,

    Surely, if god wanted me to believe in him (judeo-christian or otherwise), if it really cared, could god not just appear to me, unmistakable? Apperently he also seems to be very big, perhaps he could appear to many many people at once, or maybe lots of people often. So what exactly is with the game of hide and seek?

  • Randall

    Because they aren’t direct-to-consciousness communications that leave absolutely no doubt, which is what I assumed lpetrich was asking for and which would be impossible. Certainly miracles are acceptable methods for God to communicate his presence, but I wouldn’t consider them “completely convincing” in the sense that they leave no doubt. Maybe we are just using different definitions of “completely convincing.”

  • Randall

    Mrnaglfar,

    Why would God want to put on a large-scale miracle for the majority of the world – not the sort of communication which lpetrich mentioned, but the burning-bush sort of miracle. God wants people to grow closer to Him; history does not support the conclusion that miracles cause an increase in belief. What good would it do God to communicate his presence, by miracle, on a large scale?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    history does not support the conclusion that miracles cause an increase in belief.

    What makes you say that?

  • OMGF

    Because they aren’t direct-to-consciousness communications that leave absolutely no doubt, which is what I assumed lpetrich was asking for and which would be impossible.

    Impossible? For an omnipotent god? Ha.

    Seriously though, how does having more knowledge limit our free will? Shouldn’t god care more that we follow him than that we simply believe in him?

  • Randall

    “Impossible? For an omnipotent god? Ha.”

    Yep. God can’t contradict his own nature. Doesn’t mean he isn’t omnipotent, just requires that he be be self-consistent, which is true of everything.

    “Seriously though, how does having more knowledge limit our free will? Shouldn’t god care more that we follow him than that we simply believe in him?”

    Certainly, which is a major reason that miracles are of limited use to God. All they can ensure is that more people believe in his existence. They don’t bring anyone any closer to following Him. Pure belief by itself means nothing; the Adversary believes in God too.

    Having God directly communicate his presence would impinge upon our free will. We would have no choice but to believe; or there would still be room for doubt, and God would not be “completely convincing.” To convince completely means overpowering our capacity for doubt, which is part of our free choice.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    Yep. God can’t contradict his own nature. Doesn’t mean he isn’t omnipotent, just requires that he be be self-consistent, which is true of everything.

    Actually, if god does not have the power to contradict his own nature then he is, in fact, not all powerful. Of course, how do we know what god’s nature is? We don’t know what the spirit is that you think he’s made of, of if that spirit even exists or what it’s properties are, and now it has a nature too that I can only assume we don’t understand as well?

    They don’t bring anyone any closer to following Him. Pure belief by itself means nothing; the Adversary believes in God too.

    Perhaps he could proform a miracle that would impart his will then? Maybe send lightning down to carve it’s will into everyone’s front lawn? Make the paint peel off the wall so as to reveal a specific message? Doesn’t seem like that should be too hard.

    To convince completely means overpowering our capacity for doubt, which is part of our free choice.

    So then free will is more important than god’s will? You don’t seem to be using that doubt you think god is jumping through hurdles to leave us. More importantly, how do you know all this?

  • OMGF

    Randall,
    First off, choices are only free if one has all the knowledge at hand. How can I make a free choice if god hides evidence from me?

    Second, you say:

    Pure belief by itself means nothing; the Adversary believes in God too.

    If that is the case, then our following god is much more important of a choice than simple belief. If this is what god bases our eternal afterlife upon, then shouldn’t he show himself to us so that we can make a free choice to follow him or not?

    Having God directly communicate his presence would impinge upon our free will. We would have no choice but to believe; or there would still be room for doubt, and God would not be “completely convincing.” To convince completely means overpowering our capacity for doubt, which is part of our free choice.

    god certainly didn’t give us free will to doubt that we live on Earth, that the sun shines, etc. We don’t have total free will according to your definition, and it is god’s fault, is it not?

  • lpetrich

    Randall, I’m yet another one here who finds that interference-with-free-will argument appallingly dumb.

    And consider this: Jesus Christ taught that one ought to amputate parts of one’s body that make one commit sins. So if free will makes one commit sins, then it is not great at all, and ought to be gotten rid of.

    Furthermore, if there is a Heaven, will God be hiding from its inhabitants in order to protect their precious free wills?

  • Randall

    “Actually, if god does not have the power to contradict his own nature then he is, in fact, not all powerful.”

    Power is the capacity to perform one’s will. If God is all-powerful, then he can do whatever his will is. If God is completely good, then he will not renege on his gift of free will. The requirement to be consistent with oneself is basic logic; it doesn’t limit God’s power, his ability to accomplish his will, in any way.

    “”Perhaps he could proform a miracle that would impart his will then? Maybe send lightning down to carve it’s will into everyone’s front lawn? Make the paint peel off the wall so as to reveal a specific message? Doesn’t seem like that should be too hard.”

    And what would the point be? He has already done this, on a smaller scale; what would an increase in the scale do?

    “So then free will is more important than god’s will? You don’t seem to be using that doubt you think god is jumping through hurdles to leave us. More importantly, how do you know all this?”

    I don’t understand; could you please clarify? As to how I know – this is what I believe, based on reason, experience, learning, and observation. Can I prove it? No. But that isn’t what “know” means. This is what I believe, and what Catholicism teaches, and what I would like to make as clear as possible.

    “First off, choices are only free if one has all the knowledge at hand. How can I make a free choice if god hides evidence from me?”

    None of us are omniscient; are you saying that none of our choices are free? You don’t have all the information about our presidential candidates, but you will still make a free choice regarding who to vote for, or not vote for. A free choice can be made based on the information available, even if that information is not complete; the fact that it may not be the best choice does not mean that it is not a free choice.

    With that said, what evidence do you think is being hidden that would allow you to reach a better decision?

    “If that is the case, then our following god is much more important of a choice than simple belief. If this is what god bases our eternal afterlife upon, then shouldn’t he show himself to us so that we can make a free choice to follow him or not?”

    God does not decide where we go after death. That is a result of our choices. Heaven is union with God; Hell is absence of God; purgatory is a state of cleansing. We have all the relevant information about who God is, what union with God means, and how to live on earth so as to attain that union. Simply put, God has told us what we need to do to be with him. If God were to show himself to us in all his power, and to prove his existence undeniably, we would no longer have a free choice as to belief in his existence; at that point, it would be about accepting a truth, not making a choice.

    “God certainly didn’t give us free will to doubt that we live on Earth, that the sun shines, etc. We don’t have total free will according to your definition, and it is god’s fault, is it not?”

    We can doubt that, if we want. I can say all I like that the sun is not shining; perhaps if I repeat this enough, I can convince myself of it. “Total free will” does not mean “total power to do whatever we will” – it means “total freedom to do whatever we can.”

    Lpetrich:

    “And consider this: Jesus Christ taught that one ought to amputate parts of one’s body that make one commit sins. So if free will makes one commit sins, then it is not great at all, and ought to be gotten rid of.”

    Ebonmuse, in his excellent post “How Not to Convert an Atheist,” notes that (this is from memory, so forgive me if it’s off): “The worst way to attempt to convert an atheist is to put up your version of his argument and then to argue against that.” I will try not to do this in my arguments; I would ask that you do the same for mine.

    You are arguing against a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. I agree that this is a false interpretation. I do not interpret the Bible literally; nor does Catholicism, which I practice, teach that we should do so. The passage you reference, as it has been explained to me by theologians, priests, and plain old common sense, is metaphorical, meaning that we are supposed to remove whatever tempts us to sin. I agree that we should choose not to sin and to abandon our free will insofar as it causes us to sin, but I doubt that many people would disagree with that.

    “Furthermore, if there is a Heaven, will God be hiding from its inhabitants in order to protect their precious free wills?”

    Heaven is a state of total union with God, in which the inhabitants have surrendered their free will in order to do God’s will. Their free will cannot be taken away, since they have chosen voluntarily to give it up. God will have no reason to hide from its inhabitants, nor they from him.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Heaven is a state of total union with God, in which the inhabitants have surrendered their free will in order to do God’s will. Their free will cannot be taken away, since they have chosen voluntarily to give it up.

    Randall, this theology makes no sense. You say repeatedly that God won’t give convincing proof of his existence, because that would take away our free will and he doesn’t want to do that. And yet, if we do choose to believe in him, the supreme reward is… to give up our free will? Why on earth do you believe God is so concerned about preserving people’s free will if the end result is going to be that we lose it anyway?

    I addressed this point in an essay on Ebon Musings, “Those Old Pearly Gates“:

    And yet the ultimate reward, the thing we desire and God desires for us, is to lose our free will and become mindless slaves to the Almighty? This does not make sense. It is not compatible with the high value God supposedly places on free will; so high, in fact, that he allows most of humanity to damn itself just so the fraction of people who worship him as he directs can be said to genuinely love him. If it is that important to God that we freely choose him, then how can he be content to be surrounded for all eternity by human automata chanting his praises, endlessly, like broken records? Would this not represent the undoing of everything he sought to achieve by creating free will in the first place? Indeed, if he is content with this, then the creation of this mortal world was entirely unnecessary. Why not just throw out free will entirely and begin with Heaven, and not have to create a Hell at all?

  • theistscientist

    Mr. Ebon, as an aside , I wanted to complement you on such a professional, intellectual and polite forum.Leadership goes from the top down. I left IIDb because of the lack of professionalism, your posters here are a very skilled and ethical group. Having been at this over ten years I can tell you how rare that is. I never thought I would find such an erudite group of non theists. Nicely done.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    If God is completely good, then he will not renege on his gift of free will.

    According to the bible god kills a lot of innocent people. Is that killing good? Of course, if he really is all good, then he is not powerful enough to do evil, or you need to call the evil he does good; It’s circular.

    And what would the point be? He has already done this, on a smaller scale; what would an increase in the scale do?

    Simple. Doing it on a large scale would (a) dramatically increase the numbers of believers to almost 100%, so at least they’re starting from there, and (b) give everyone an unmistakable, clear view of what god wanted them to do. Then they could choose to follow it or not with actually evidence. No one loses free will, so it sounds like a win win to me.

    I don’t understand; could you please clarify?

    According to you:
    1) God is all good
    2) God wants people to follow his plan
    3) People have free will not follow god’s plan, whatever that happens to be

    My question is do you feel 3 is more important than 2, that god would rather have people have free will then have his plan followed? Of course, if it’s god’s plan and he knows everything, then surely it’s going to happen anyway right? Though if God knows everything then we don’t have free will. If he doesn’t know everything he’s not all powerful, and the bible clearly states he is all powerful and all knowing.

    So I suppose the bigger question here is one that’s been raised by me before; if god knows everything, how would you decide we still have free will? God already knows our own future before we do, what we will do and why we’ll do it. Also, god surely knows his own future as well, by definition, so is he all powerful enough to change his mind?
    It’s all very confusing and I never got a good answer to it.

    With that said, what evidence do you think is being hidden that would allow you to reach a better decision?

    The very basis for the decision; Does god exist, if so, which one(s), and what particular plan did they have in mind? It’s like voting for a presidental canditate you’ve never heard policy for before and you’re not even sure if they’re running for office.

    God does not decide where we go after death. That is a result of our choices. Heaven is union with God; Hell is absence of God; purgatory is a state of cleansing.

    Surely, god decided on that system, so yes, he is deciding our options in the matter.

    We have all the relevant information about who God is, what union with God means, and how to live on earth so as to attain that union. Simply put, God has told us what we need to do to be with him. If God were to show himself to us in all his power, and to prove his existence undeniably, we would no longer have a free choice as to belief in his existence; at that point, it would be about accepting a truth, not making a choice.

    This is outlandish. We don’t have information as to what god is supposed to be or if he even exists. There are over 3000 christian denominations alone, so it’s obviously not that clear what god wants or how to attain union with him. If god proved his existance, we’d suddenly lose all free will? That’s absurd logic. It still is about accepting things now, except now the only difference is there’s no logically reason to accept them. Why does the choice to follow god have to be totally uniformed, and if it does, why do people even care about supposed miracles?

    I do not interpret the Bible literally; nor does Catholicism, which I practice, teach that we should do so.

    No True Scotman? The church never seemed to have any issues quoting the bible when it worked for them. Interpretations are even more dangerous, because you can interpret anything you want into the bible (side note, you have to interpret it, since to take it literally means contradiction, mass killing, and generally being insane. For a book of ‘divine inspiration’ it’s awfully logically shaky. Like that part about the world being 6000 years old or so, the rampant incest that must have taken place somehow leaving us with MORE generic diversity). Interpretation is a nice way of saying “reading my own ideas into the book”.

    Ebon hit on the freewill point, so I’ll leave it.

    I would like to point out that none of this argument, which you’ve pointed out, contains any evidence. You have no way of providing any support outside of “this is what I believe”. Which is all well and good, but the counterargument to that (ie. “You’re mistaken”) is not one that can rationally argue.

  • Dutch

    Again, the Bible is spiritual…Archaeology will never uncover, Christ’s burial robe, the crufix, Noah’s Ark, The Garden of eden, Since The Garden is in heaven(paradise) where then was Adam created? That question is for any Christian lurker. answer that question honestly, and only using The Bible, and you are under way to understanding.
    God, being absolute love created Adam, to give Adam everything He(God) has.and I mean everything. Think what that means. Adam ate from the wrong tree, the knowledge of good and evil. How can you have knowledge unless you experience evil as a doer and receiver. To know it so throughly is to experience it as all living things have since the existence of our universe(the grave). It will be like that Schwarzeneggar movie were a vacation was implanted in his brain. Christ’s body was laid in a grave(the known world). We are His body.

    I try to grasp some understanding of The Unified Field Theory, or sometimes called “the theory of everything.” Science’s quest to attempt a theory that explains everything. from a website;
    “Such a theory could potentially unlock all the secrets of nature and make a myriad of wonders possible, including such benefits as time travel and an inexhaustible source of clean energy, among many others. According to Michio Katu, a theoretical physicist at City College, City University of New York, those in pursuit of a unified field theory seek “an equation an inch long that would allow us to read the mind of God.”
    I don’t know, but I wonder if/when they will get there, they will ask why did the universe form at all.

    Yes, theistscientist, these people are polite.

    Dutch