Stan Nelson, a columnist for the Pueblo Chieftain Online, wrote an article about atheism a couple weeks ago and said this:
The truth is that atheism and religion stand on the same, blood-soaked level, one as culpable as the other. But the reason for that is atheism and religion are not strict opposites. Atheism is not the opposite of religion, but of faith, specifically in God or, for that matter, any god or gods. Religion is the demonstration of faith, defined in prosaic terms in James’ epistle: “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
So we’re left with the dismal fact that religion and atheism can kill, because as practical belief systems, they allow such abuse, even if they should not. Investigation and experience tell us, however, that faith can and does save life, sometimes in a quite practical sense, in too many examples to list here.
Does atheism do that?
Austin Cline was quick to point out the inaccuracies in a letter to Nelson:
It would be more accurate to say that atheism is not the opposite of religion, but the opposite of theism – or, more accurately, the lack of theism.
Atheism is not a belief system. Atheism is not a religion, an ideology, a world view, or anything like that. If this seems wrong, consider the fact that theism is also not a belief system, religion, ideology, world view, or anything like that. Theism and atheism are single data points or positions: theism is the presence of a belief in the existence of at least one god of some sort, atheism is the absence of any sort of belief.
As for the atheism saving someone’s life column, Cline wrote this:
You’re comparing apples and oranges here: specific types of theistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) against a mere data point that is part of various belief systems (atheism). Does the absence of belief in angels save a life? Does the absence of belief in aliens save a life? Those are nonsensical questions. It would also be nonsensical to ask if the mere presence of such beliefs save life. The same is true about the presence or absence of belief in gods.
Did the letter make a difference?
Nelson’s latest column shows that he picked up on some of the information:
Speaking of definitions, an apology and a concession must be offered to Austin Cline, who is the contributing author for the section on atheism and agnosticism for the informational Web site about.com. The mistake made was to identify atheism as a belief system. It can be, as Cline pointed out, a component of a belief system, but should not be considered a belief system unto itself. Cline’s depth and latitude should be deferred to, at least in that regard.
So if a columnist writes something inaccurate about atheism, let this be an example of how an email from you can set things straight.
Nelson also shares this tragic story he received from one atheist:
“In an article you wrote, you asked whether atheism has ever saved a life,” wrote Jameson Sawyer. “Yes. Mine.”
Sawyer is from Bowling Green, a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, and has suffered from multiple sclerosis since 2003. And last year was a bad one for him.
“I was in a dark place mentally,” he wrote, “my fiance and I had broken up after five years, my multiple sclerosis was acting up, and due to it, I was rapidly becoming paraplegic, with no feeling in my legs and unable to even stand, let alone walk. I was basically bedridden. I will be totally honest here, I was contemplating suicide.”
Friends prayed for him. However, Sawyer gives the credit for his decision to carry on with life to modern medicine, therapy, his own considerable grit and two other very important things.
One was his dedication to others. Sawyer was a team captain for the MS Walk in Toledo that year. As the day approached, he lay on his bed with a deadly combination of pills in his hands and his teammates on his mind.
Though “the pain was amazing,” he wrote, “I thought about how my act would affect my own family and friends. I thought about how it would affect the people with MS who I’d be depriving of my ability to raise funds and awareness for the fight.”
So his decision to choose life was made. “I’m too much of an actor. I’m not ready for the final curtain call.”
He put the pills away and did his job at the MS Walk, on wheels and in pain.
“I had a mission to do, and it needed to be done,” he wrote.
Whether you are atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or whatever, you cannot read that and not feel the tug of connection, of sympathy – not pity – and triumph that can be shared.
The other important thing was corollary to the first. If you believe, as Sawyer does, that you’re put here for other people, then you have to know the ground rules. He did, in his own way.
“As an atheist, I believe (with evidence to back it up) that this life is the only one we get. Getting off this ride now means you don’t get another ride.”
Nelson doesn’t agree with everything Sawyer writes, but he shares the story with the hope that other Christians can also learn from it.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Stan Nelson, Pueblo Chieftain Online, God, religion, Christian, Austin Cline, Judaism, Islam, Jameson Sawyer, Buddhist, Muslim[/tags]