Hating God

Atheists often get told that we hate God.

Which is funny, because that’s like saying we hate unicorns and Bigfoot and Zeus.

But we can (feel free to substitute a less emotionally-charged word here) hate the concept of God. We can hate what it does to people.

As one girl writes:

I hate the concept of a god who would create imperfect humanity, tempt them when they don’t know the difference between good and evil, and then punish them and their descendents forever because they disobeyed when they didn’t even yet know what that was. I hate a god who would condone genocide and rape. I hate a god who would have rebellious teenagers and gay people stoned. I hate a god who would have the power to create the universe, but not the motivation to intervene in it to prevent suffering. I hate a god who would punish someone infinitely for a finite crime.

I hate what the concept of a god does to people. I hate how it makes them kill others who do not believe the same things as they do. I hate how it stifles their intellectual curiosity. I hate how it represses their natural sexuality. I hate how it wastes their time and their lives.

Not that every religious person is violent or sexually repressed or even believes in the idea of Hell.

But there is a long list of problems that results directly because of a belief in one god or another… and it seems fair to place blame on the dogmatic versions of faith that many religious leaders tell their congregations to follow.

  • Wes

    I think apologists like to use the “hate god” trope because they think it implies that atheists actually do believe in god, but are just being petulant and rebellious. It’s a way of demeaning atheists.

    It also might derive from that subset of atheists who become atheists because something bad happened in their lives, and become “angry at God”. But most atheists I know don’t fit this mold.

    Personally, I think it might make sense to say one “hates God” in the same sense that one “hates Jar-Jar Binks”. It’s perfectly possible to hate a fictional character insofar as you hate the representation or portrayal of the character. And if I say “I hate Jar-Jar”, that doesn’t mean I think Jar-Jar is real. It means I think the Star Wars prequels were awful and the Jar-Jar character was obnoxious. So the girl you quote has a valid point: she doesn’t believe in God, but she finds the portrayals of God to be contemptible.

  • http://mnatheists.org Bjorn Watland

    I had a discussion with a man while at a gay pride festival in Rochester, MN. Most people visiting the Minnesota Atheists booth were quiet, more perusing the fliers and laughing at our buttons. One man seemed to echo a point about moderate and liberal Christians. He said, as a Christian, I can agree with you on all of this stuff, supporting reason, supporting evolution and science education, on poking fun at how people treat the idea of God, (we have a button which says, “God Loves You!* *Some Restrictions May Apply, which he liked) and supporting humanity and I don’t have to be an atheist. “It seems to me that your mostly arguing against conservative Christianity,” he said.

    I have heard it said before, in some book, that the God atheists reject, is the same God moderate and liberal Christians reject. Maybe God has a reality as an abstract thing, not some physical being, but as a construct in people’s minds, which is different for each person.

  • Ron in Houston

    Well, clearly that person hates the God of Christian theology.

    Besides it’s not some mythical God that’s the problem, it’s people that are the problem. Religion makes some people do great humanitarian acts, it also makes some people do cruel things. It really depends on the person and their internal psyche. If you’re filled with anger and hate you’re going to do cruelty in the name of religion. If you’re filled with compassion then you’re going to hear the call to help your fellow man. God or religion is really a straw man here.

    Besides, if you let anger and hatred infect you, you’re as Yoda would say on the path to the dark side.

  • http://ghostsofminnesota.blogspot.com Ghost of Minnesota

    I’m not sure if hating the concept of God works either. Isn’t it kind of like hating the concept of Darth Vader? Yeah, he’s is an evil bastitch who was responsible for the deaths of untold billions, but he’s also fictional. We’ll conveniently ignore, for now, the fact that he’s a much cooler fictional character than God.

    I don’t hate God, I don’t hate the concept of God, and I don’t hate people who believe in God. I just hate it when people who believe in God try to force me to adhere to their arbitrary moral standard, which absurdly forbids many acts that are not only fun, but don’t actually hurt anyone.

  • chancelikely

    My riposte is usually that I hate God the way I hate Voldemort (although Wes’s example of Jar Jar Binks is superb). Every once in a while, taking this angle actually raises the level of the conversation, since the question “Can you hate a fictional character?” doesn’t exactly have a clear-cut answer.

  • John

    God’s a big poo-poo-head!

    I’m just sayin’ what you’re all thinkin’.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Damn unicorns, always crapping on my lawn… never know if they’re a horse or a rhinoceros… I hate those things…

  • mikespeir

    I can’t imagine hating God. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t notions of God or gods that are hateful.) In fact, I find the idea eminently intriguing. Forget “space”; if there were a God, he would be the “final frontier.” I can’t conceive of anything so inexhaustibly interesting.

  • Steven

    Still, is it entirely fair to place the blame on religion? As I understand it, one of the concepts that is central to Christianity is the notion of free will.
    Although they may be strongly influenced by parents, peers, and society at large, each believer is still responsible for choosing to accept the tenets and beliefs of their religion.
    What really puzzles me is why anyone would choose to accept a worldview that denigrates many of their fellow human beings and requires that they feel bad about natural human behaviour.
    I’m sure there are some benefits, but the cost seems high. Without any religion in my life I seem to have most of the benefits (sense of wonder, love for my family, etc.) plus I don’t have to feel guilty about every wayward thought.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim D.

    (1) Thanks for linking to that blog; I agree with this person 100% on this post, and I’ll definitely be reading more in the future :)

    (2) I like to compare religion to nuclear power. In the right hands, and with the right degree of intelligence and education and common sense, it can do wonderful things and make life much easier in many ways. However, when you just allow any idiot to come in and play around with it and do whatever he/she wants, it becomes a weapon capable of mass destruction.

  • Miko

    Cectic already has the final word on this subject:

    http://cectic.com/010.html

  • Darryl

    I’m agreeing with Ron on this one. It’s all about the people. Bad people find the bad things of religion; good people, the good. Only a primitive and brutal people could have fabricated the God of the Bible, and the Christian fundamentalism that we know.

  • http://www.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Religion serves as a psychological tool to amplify ones own tendencies through projection (to God). If one is basically good, then religion tends to amplifying that goodness. If one has certain negative prejudices, then religion serves to amplify those prejudices by believing that it is the prejudice or will of God. For example a belief that “God hates homosexuals or atheists” can serve to cause people to act to a greater extent on their own hatred. Any “group think” can cause this. Religion is merely the most effective.

  • Larry Huffman

    I agree…I had a religious guy tell me in a debate, “You just hate god!”…and when I replied, “I do not believe in god” he said, “Yes you do. You hate god, which is why you are trying to deny his existence. You do not want to live by his rules and so you hate him, and you found the best way to deal with him is deny him.”

    I have to admit…it made me pause for a moment. I even complimented him for posing such a concept, though still totally misguided and lacking any knowledge of why I actually do not believe in god.

    I do hate the concept of the christian god…and the Islamic god…and the jewish god. There are other gods, that while fictitious, I can hardly say I hate them or the concept of them. Monotheistic gods are by their very nature, bad for society as a whole.The things I hate about the concept of the christian god, for example, are the elitest attitudes it fosters among the followers…the propensity for violence and killing that the book they follow very clearly prescribes as the correct way…the utter illogic of so much of the entire story and how the religion very overtly tells it’s followers to check their brains at the door in order to believe (by creating a totally new definition for the word faith…one only found in context of religion), while condemning those who do use reason and logic to determine their path (which is tantamount to not believing). There is more…

    To the chrisitan, I would say that I hate the concept of their god, because I have read the bible, all of it…multiple times…even the parts most followers ignore. I am fully aware of history and how this very holy book was used by holy men to bring the world down (yes down…the world was far more enlightened under polytheistic Rome than under christian Rome) to an utterly dark time…all in the name of their very god. I would tell them that any concept that can cause such misery and pain as their god, justly deserves to be hated, and it would have been totally within the rights of society to purge the belief system from the world at the time, considering the untold suffering it caused. And further…A reason (1…there are more) for me to actively hope for the demise of the christian religion (which is part and parcel to hating the concept of their god) is because the book that they so rabidly follow still commands them to treat their fellow man such. The book and commandments have never changed. The followers merely ignore them…but if they follow rabidly, and if the right circumstances occur, and the right charismatic leader gets control they could very easily be back to following their bible by being murderous, once again. The verses are there…their bible supports them…they just need the right time and leader.

    This is irregardless of how passive or benign the specific followers are. It could very easily be pointed out that there were certainly plenty who viewed christianity as they did back in the dark ages…but not the leadership of the church, and certainly not the bible…the bible fully supported the dark ages…the very same bible they have now…unchanged.

    And…just to address those who roll their eyes at an inquisition or dark ages reference. Yes, I understand you are tired of them…but lets be real here. When you look at the pros and cons of anything…you review what has happened and what could happen. The relevence in this case is the bible. IF…the dark ages had occured, and the church decided that the whole thing was wrong…apologized, made restitution and made changes to the bible to make sure the doctrine of hate that caused the misery were done away with…well yes, I would say it should be ignored as a past that has been prevented from recurring. BUT…that did not happen. The practices just tapered off. Some practices were condemned but mostly they just stopped. The church never really apologized, not as it needed to. It never made restitution. And…it never once changed the verses in the bible that prompted such hatred. It is all still there, in commandment form.

    So yes…I hate the concept fo the christian god, with a passion.

    And to address the guy who told me I really believed in god and hated him and so stating my nonbelief instead: When I realized that I had lost my belief in god, I was in very good standing with god, I had thought. I was not having moral dilemmas, or having issues with my own conduct. I was merely having more and more questions go unresolved…and I was clergy. I had people comming to me on a daily basis, and all day Sunday, needing my spiritual support. I loved god. I will admit fully and willingly…I loved god and jesus even after I realized I no longer believed. Loved my former notion of them. it took me some time to come to grips with the decision to follow my own mental capacities and not the book I had loved so much. So…those chrisitans who view atheists as terrible people who just hate god and really believe but choose not to. Maybe some have that view…but for me personally…no, I hate the concept of a god I fully reject any belief in whatsoever. I do not believe in a god or gods. I do not believe in the christian god…and while I cannot say with certainty that there are no gods…(as that would be impossible to prove)…I can say without reservation that the christian god in it’s convoluted, contradictory and ignorant form as portrayed in the bible…most certainly does not exist. The bible proves he does not when it describes him with certain adjectives and then records his actions which show the god to be utterly and completely HUMAN.

    So…to bring this full circle…when an atheist says he hates god or the concept of god…he really is saying that he hates a man made institution that has been used for centuries to control the minds and actions of people…that has been the prime factor in more misery and violence than any other single institution or nation ever in the long history (longer than 6000 years) of the world.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    This idea that there are actually good people and bad people and that religion has nothing to do with it is intriguing. However I’m skeptical. Can we really pigeonhole people into such simplistic categories as “good” and “bad”? In my experience most people are a mixture of both.

    Likewise, don’t we have to ask what it is that causes people to become “good” or “bad” (so far as those categories are useful at all)? And if we do that, then don’t we have to admit the role that religions – through their practices, their belief systems, and the socialization that occurs within religious communities – have in shaping our “psyches” and whether we become “good” or “bad” people?

  • Siamang

    Mike,

    I’m reminded of the old Bill Cosby routine about cocaine. Only time I ever heard the Cos utter a swear word.

    He mimics a conversation he had with someone…

    “But why do drugs? Why do cocaine? What’s the point of doing cocaine?”

    (Cosby assumes a snotty voice, replying as the other person): “It *intensifies your personality.”

    Cosby allows the perfect moment of pause, then delivers the zinger: “Yes… but what if you’re an asshole?”

    I think perhaps the point that Jeff is making is not to shoehorn all people into “100% good” or “100% evil”, rather that religion tends to intensify whatever it is you are.

    I’d say that intensification is bound to be the result of anytime you decide to hang out with a lot of like-minded people… religion doesn’t even necessarily have to enter into it. I’m sure that hanging around other atheists online has intensified my atheism. Likewise when I was posting on a lot of political blogs, it intensified my political activism.

  • Ron in Houston

    Hi Mike

    One of the issues of abandoning God is that things like “good’ and “bad” all descend into relativism. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. The “just war” doctrine of Augustine is nothing more than an exercise in relativism.

    Only the theist can resolve the world into black and white or good and bad.

    I will support as a general proposition that you don’t have the right to harm me. However, if I threaten the existence of your family, then I’d say you have the right to do whatever is necessary.

    So, while it’s in many ways a slippery slope, relativism is somewhat of a philosophical necessity.

  • Ron in Houston

    Jeff

    You’ve hit on a very interesting point. When I examine the bible, I can argue that Jesus was very compassionate. However, I can also argue that he was a major league asshat. Which one I pick is largely dependent on my own psychology. It’s also the reason there is so much schism between different Christian faiths.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I think perhaps the point that Jeff is making is not to shoehorn all people into “100% good” or “100% evil”, rather that religion tends to intensify whatever it is you are.

    Indeed, but my other point was that religion does in fact play a role in shaping “whatever it is you are” in the first place. The way some of you guys are talking you’d think that we all have some kind of inherent nature and that some of us are just born as “good people” and others as “bad”. As a postmodern existentialist, I reject that kind of determinism. What we are is formed throughout our lives through the complex interplay of all the different factors and influences that enter into our experience. And since religion very often is one of the major factors, it certainly can play a significant role in shaping whether we become good or bad people. Thus, IMHO, the fact that you can find both good and bad religious people doesn’t mean that religion is irrelevant to character formation. Rather it is indicative of the fact that religion itself is diverse and there are good and bad (or perhaps we should say “better and worse”) forms of it which therefore help to shape better or worse people. Again, IMHO.

  • Wes

    Bjorn Watland said,

    July 15, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I had a discussion with a man while at a gay pride festival in Rochester, MN. Most people visiting the Minnesota Atheists booth were quiet, more perusing the fliers and laughing at our buttons. One man seemed to echo a point about moderate and liberal Christians. He said, as a Christian, I can agree with you on all of this stuff, supporting reason, supporting evolution and science education, on poking fun at how people treat the idea of God, (we have a button which says, “God Loves You!* *Some Restrictions May Apply, which he liked) and supporting humanity and I don’t have to be an atheist. “It seems to me that your mostly arguing against conservative Christianity,” he said.

    I have heard it said before, in some book, that the God atheists reject, is the same God moderate and liberal Christians reject. Maybe God has a reality as an abstract thing, not some physical being, but as a construct in people’s minds, which is different for each person.

    If I may be perfectly frank for a moment, I find the “My God is real because I pretend He’s real” God of the more attenuated faiths to be about as obnoxious as Jar-Jar, who’s also an imaginary being that only exists in people’s minds. Saying “God is whatever any individual might happen to make-believe He is” is equivalent to saying “God is a fictional being.” Why not just admit you’re an atheist? You can still enjoy religion and be an atheist (many atheists do), just like you can still enjoy a good novel or movie while not believing it’s real. But denying that you’re an atheist while simultaneously acknowledging your God is a figment of your imagination seems to stem entirely from anti-atheist bigotry: Atheist = Bad person, so I don’t want to be one even if I believe that God is imaginary.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Who decides what’s “good” and what’s “bad”? Homosexuality is good or bad to some people. Idolizing a piece of bread/cracker is good or bad to some people. Killing probably is never good, but can be less bad depending on which side you’re on. What I consider good may be what you consider bad. And whose choice? Do we choose God?

    I would like to look at the whole concept of “choice” or “belief” in terms of love or lack of love; trust or lack of trust; light or lack of light; life or lack of life… The choice is pretty much a no brainer.

    Where things get messed up is when we try to set standards for ourselves and also impose those standards on others. Light and darkness or life and death speak for themselves.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    I’m not sure if the reason most theists talk about atheists hating God is because they want to demean atheists by suggesting that they really do believe in God and that they are just disobeying him because of trauma or frustration in their lives, or if they do it because they really can’t imagine somebody not believing in their God. We all know how arrogant many theists can be, and how hard it can be for them to even contemplate the possibility that they may be wrong.

    It’s probably a little of both. Some theists may do it for the first reason, some for the latter, and some theists may do it for both reasons.

    Either way, it’s despicable (or at least annoying).

  • Darryl

    Mike, I agree with Jeff, Ron, and Siamang. We’re not developing a science of morality here, just making what to me is an obvious conclusion about how people use religion. We did not go as deep into this line of thought as you seem to want to go. You’re probably correct that their is an interaction between personality and belief/practice systems that is conditioned by the substance of the religion itself. I for one think that not all religions are created equal–some are more pernicious than others, and some contain more for negative types to feed on. Consider the synthesis of Christianity with white supremacism. Such a religion is objectively more destructive and “bad” than your emerging church business. Regardless, my experience of the variance of mindset among people of a single religion is reasonably explained by the idea previously mentioned.

  • Siamang

    The way some of you guys are talking you’d think that we all have some kind of inherent nature and that some of us are just born as “good people” and others as “bad”.

    Recent findings in biology are steering me closer to that idea.

    I think it all has influence upon us. It’s just that I am learning that the biological is quite a bit more insistent than I ever thought it was.

  • http://www.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    It is a cycle. Religion can amplify pre-existing prejudices as well as shape a person in the first place. So I agree with Mike on this point. Religion can therefore be both good and bad. What I “hate” is not religion itself, but Holy books. I hate the idea that people can write a book which lists their cultural norms and prejudices and then have those prejudices elevated way out of proportion to “divine” proclamations for millennium to come that then shapes all future generations.

    For example, people have pointed to the bible to justify the following:
    - Slave ownership in America (many American Southerners fought hard truly believing that God was on their side)
    - Homosexuality is an abomination (most Christians today)
    - dark-skinned people are inferior (Mormons of yester-year)
    - Atheists are agents of the devil (I’ve heard this from many Baptists)
    - don’t associate with Atheists (I’ve heard this repeatedly in church)
    - women play a lesser role (Hierarchal structure of the Catholic church)
    - eating shrimp is an abomination (OK, that is a parody, but it is in the bible)

    Political parties and organizations also have this feature of amplifying and shaping prejudices. Religions just do it much more so because religious adherents believe that these prejudices come from GOD and therefore are not really prejudices but THE LAW.

    P.S. I think the Emerging Church is a positive development in Christianity.

  • cipher

    I had a religious guy tell me in a debate, “You just hate god!”…and when I replied, “I do not believe in god” he said, “Yes you do. You hate god, which is why you are trying to deny his existence. You do not want to live by his rules and so you hate him, and you found the best way to deal with him is deny him.”

    Larry,

    Fundamentalists are fixated on authority, hierarchy, chains of command. They’re simply incapable of seeing reality through any other kind of lens. If you try to tell him, “I don’t see reality in the same way that you do”, his only possible response is to see it as rebellion.

    Which leads me to,

    As a postmodern existentialist, I reject that kind of determinism. What we are is formed throughout our lives through the complex interplay of all the different factors and influences that enter into our experience. And since religion very often is one of the major factors, it certainly can play a significant role in shaping whether we become good or bad people.

    Mike, I’ll say it again – if I were a Christian, I’d have to accuse you of not being one!

    I know that Baylor isn’t a haven for fundies (or such is my impression), but I’m beginning to wonder whether or not you’d really be better of in the religion dept. of a secular university. We have plenty of them up here in the godless, liberal Northeast, and the summers aren’t as unbearable.

  • Ron in Houston

    Hi Mike

    Christians tend to have an inherent bias against determinism because by its very nature it tends to undermine the doctrine of free will. However, consider this hypothetical: I don’t consider myself a violent person. However, suppose that I get a traumatic brain injury that damages my frontal lobe. Because of that injury I become violent and go out and hurt somone. I say the violent behavior is determined by the brain injury and not by some inherent nature, soul, or whatever.

    A whole lot of people are uncomfortable with determinism. If you read Steven Pinker’s “Blank Slate,” he talks about how determinism seems to almost drive people into fits.

    The whole issue of determinism vs. free will is fascinating to me. It’s even getting more fascinating with some of the scientific research going on.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    If I “knew” there was a God I would hate him. That’s assuming that he was the omnipotent and indifferent God that I’ve been told about. Able to do anything but unwilling to act. The hippy who helped lepers I probably wouldn’t have too much of an argument with. The problem with being told that we hate God is that we need to know which one they’re talking about. The genocidal, jealous God or the peace and love God? The lightning bolt hurling god, Zeus, who regularly inpregnates women against their will or the blood drinking gods of the Aztecs?

  • Old Beezle

    I hate the god that everyone claims is our all-loving father and then behaves more like a deadbeat dad whom you only hear about through rumors.

    I hate the god that creates arbitrary tests to prove that you love him.

    I hate the god who values conformity over self-expression.

    I hate the god that gives us a mind and then tells us to only use it to think about him.

    I hate the god that man has created in his own twisted image. I hate THAT “god”.

  • Siamang

    To go back to this comment and take another swing at it…

    Mike Clawson wrote:

    The way some of you guys are talking you’d think that we all have some kind of inherent nature and that some of us are just born as “good people” and others as “bad”. As a postmodern existentialist, I reject that kind of determinism.

    I would like to think I would reject it if the clinical data wasn’t there to support it, and accept it if it indeed did support it.

    Whether you’ve chosen to call yourself a “postmodern existentialist” or not has no bearing on the facts. The nature of the operation of the human brain doesn’t bow to the tenets of a philosophical stance.

    For example, a recent study showed that people taking a survey on moral values made harsher judgements of others if there was artificial “fart smell” in the room, or if there were gross discarded food wrappers in the room. It wasn’t all-or-nothing. It wasn’t the only cause. But it WAS statistically quite significant. This is fascinating to me. It could merely be that the anti-gay rights movement in this country is a certain size thanks to some people who have hair triggers to the gag reflex.

    I’m not going to fall in line with one pole or the other on this one. I’m not going to state an absolute case either way. But I will say that wherever the data goes, so go I. My philosophical stance is “always respect reality”. I don’t choose a stance on free will vs determinism based on some ancient Greek sitting back in his armchair and waxing poetic.

    I want to know what the human mind REALLY does. Not what someone THOUGHT the human mind did back when they thought that the heart was a thinking organ.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Siamang, you’re treating my statement that I’m a “postmodern existentialist” as if it were another religious dogma that I am blindly “choosing” without any reference to the kind of data you mention. But quite to the contrary, I used the phrase “postmodern existentialist” simply as a short hand to let you know the conclusions that I have come to after considering the issues and questions you raise, including the kind of scientific studies you bring up. “Postmodernism” and “existentialism” are not mere philosophical stances that have no bearing on the facts. They are instead a way of understanding and interpreting the facts. But don’t assume that just because they have a label, that somehow makes them an irrational appeal to some philosophical authority (and btw, your reference to the Greeks is a tad anachronistic – existentialism is at most about 150 years old, and postmodernism about 40), after all your own philosophical stance also has a label. It’s called “Scientific Realism” or “Logical Positivism”, but that doesn’t mean that just because you align yourself with those philosophies that I would assume that you were just blindly following some 1920′s Viennese academic sitting in their coffee shop and waxing rationalistic, and not actually thinking through your philosophical beliefs for yourself.

  • Siamang

    Then why didn’t you write it this way:

    As a postmodern existentialist, Based on the data, I reject that kind of determinism.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Then why didn’t you write it this way:

    As a postmodern existentialist, Based on the data, I reject that kind of determinism.

    Because I’m not a logical positivist, thus IMHO there are more factors to consider than mere “data”. Scientific studies are part of the picture, but I don’t think they are capable of telling the whole story.

    Besides, by using the terms “postmodern existentialist” I was trying to communicate two things: 1) by existentialist I meant that I reject the notion that we have an inborn, inherent “nature”, whether by this you mean the religious notion of an essential “soul” or whether the scientific version of this idea which claims that genetics and biology are all that really matter in who we are and who we become. And 2) by postmodern I meant that I am not simply a “free will” existentialist (a la Kierkegaard or Sartre) who thinks that we have absolute freedom over our own nature and who we become. Rather I recognize that we are all products, as I said, of a complex interplay of our biology, our genes, our socialization, our psychology, our experiences, our families, our cultures, our societies, and yes, our own choices and desires as well. When it comes to the “nature vs. nurture” debate I’m firmly in the both/and camp. Thus the studies you mention are all part of the picture, but are not the whole picture.

    As for determinism and free will, I’m not really interested in revisiting those debates, having had more than my fill of them back during freshman year of college. :) However, I will say that IMHO, the complexity of all these factors that go into making us who we are basically makes determinism irrelevant, since even if we are ultimately determined, there’s no way we could ever sort out all the factors to actually show how we are determined with any specificity.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Christians tend to have an inherent bias against determinism because by its very nature it tends to undermine the doctrine of free will.

    Not really. There’s a whole branch of the Christian church known as Calvinists (aka Reformed) who are basically determinists. In fact, Christians have perfected this debate between determinism and free will over the centuries and you will find plenty of them on either side of the issue.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “As a postmodern existentialist, I reject that kind of determinism. What we are is formed throughout our lives through the complex interplay of all the different factors and influences that enter into our experience. And since religion very often is one of the major factors, it certainly can play a significant role in shaping whether we become good or bad people.”

    Mike, I’ll say it again – if I were a Christian, I’d have to accuse you of not being one!

    Really? How come? You might be surprised to know that I came by both my existentialist and postmodern ideas at a conservative evangelical school. Not to mention that the original existentialist (Kierkegaard) was a Christian and their are also plenty of Christian postmodernists as well (e.g. Westphal, Benson, Marion, Walsh – not to mention the whole of the emerging church).

    I know that Baylor isn’t a haven for fundies (or such is my impression), but I’m beginning to wonder whether or not you’d really be better of in the religion dept. of a secular university. We have plenty of them up here in the godless, liberal Northeast, and the summers aren’t as unbearable.

    Oh, I’m definitely open to working at a secular university once I have my PhD. (In fact, in some ways I’d prefer it.) However where I actually do my studies is somewhat constrained by what schools are within driving distance of Austin.

  • Siamang

    However, I will say that IMHO, the complexity of all these factors that go into making us who we are basically makes determinism irrelevant, since even if we are ultimately determined, there’s no way we could ever sort out all the factors to actually show how we are determined with any specificity.

    I might say ‘living is the process by which we become what we are.’

    I’ve been thinking about this more and more as these debates in the cognitive sciences wrestle over more and more new findings. This is a very fertile area of current study.

  • Darryl

    However, I will say that IMHO, the complexity of all these factors that go into making us who we are basically makes determinism irrelevant, since even if we are ultimately determined, there’s no way we could ever sort out all the factors to actually show how we are determined with any specificity.

    It’s good that researchers don’t have your view, otherwise we wouldn’t know as much as we know, or will know, about behavior. Don’t decide what is possible to know about a subject because it seems complex to you. I am not prepared to put limits upon what we may be able to do or know. Furthermore, what I know already gives me hope that we have barely scratched the surface of knowledge. The advance of computer technologies coupled with our growing knowledge of the brain and other physical systems and our development of complex-systems theory may one day tell us all we basically need to know about why we act as we do. Wouldn’t a world be great wherein we could adjust our parenting techniques so as to exclude hatred, xenophobia, envy, greed, etc.?

  • http://www.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I wanted to point out that atheism is not synonymous with “logical positivism”. Although some atheists ascribe to logical positivism, others do not. Logical positivism has been a convenient stance over the last century for the advance of science and as a guard against vitalism and unsupported supernatural beliefs. But in the big picture, nature may be bigger than what can be understood from the logical positivist world-view. Some, like Mike, feel this leaves room for God. Others, like me, feel that this leaves room for science to expand and grow past logical positivism to explore the purely natural world and there is still no need for a God belief.

  • cipher

    Mike,

    Because, as you say, you aren’t a ““free will” existentialist (a la Kierkegaard or Sartre) who thinks that we have absolute freedom over our own nature and who we become.” If you can make statements like,

    What we are is formed throughout our lives through the complex interplay of all the different factors and influences that enter into our experience

    and

    I recognize that we are all products, as I said, of a complex interplay of our biology, our genes, our socialization, our psychology, our experiences, our families, our cultures, our societies, and yes, our own choices and desires as well.

    then, in the view of many Christians, by definition, you wouldn’t be one. Theists in general – and Christians in particular (Muslims are much more vague about this) – have to rely on the notion of “free will”, in some sort of absolute sense. If we are not absolutely free, then personal responsibility becomes much harder to assign, and God has no right to judge us. Frankly, this has been one of my main grievances against Christianity for as long as I can remember.

    In fact, it seems somewhat at odds with what you’ve told us in the past. I know you don’t emphasize sin and judgment in your theology, but you have indicated (or I’ve inferred) that you believe in judgment of a sort, and that our actions in this life, and the kind of persons we “make ourselves” into, affect the state in which we find ourselves in the afterlife. Whether or not you believe this state is eternal, you haven’t said (and I’m not trying to put you on the spot). I’m not saying there’s no free will or personal responsibility (I’m not a great believer in it, myself, but I’m not arguing that here) – but, if the things that happen to us are largely beyond our control, and they influence our development profoundly, how can we be held “accountable” in the Christian sense?

    If I’ve had a horrible life, and I die a bitter, angry, broken person as a result, is it reasonable of God to condemn me to a state of separation from him? This is, as I see it, the fundamental problem with all theodicy (even among the Buddhists) – we get punished for having experienced pain. If I’ve learned nothing else in life, I’ve learned that this is one of the most ubiquitously human tendencies; it seems to underlie nearly everything we do – blaming the victim. I think it’s an ancient coping mechanism – we fear the pain and suffering of others, because we’re afraid that what is happening to them may happen to us, so we convince ourselves that the other person is suffering because he or she “broke the rules”. As long as I don’t break them, I won’t suffer. I know you’ll probably tell me that this was part of Jesus’ message – not to fear becoming involved intimately in the suffering of others, and to suspend our natural tendency to judge – but, in Christian theology, it would appear that God isn’t so understanding, particularly when it comes to assigning our postmortem state.

    I’m definitely open to working at a secular university once I have my PhD. (In fact, in some ways I’d prefer it.) However where I actually do my studies is somewhat constrained by what schools are within driving distance of Austin.

    Is there a UT at Austin? In any case, if you come North afterward, bring those two Jewish professors from Baylor with you. They’re probably lost!

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Some, like Mike, feel this leaves room for God. Others, like me, feel that this leaves room for science to expand and grow past logical positivism to explore the purely natural world and there is still no need for a God belief.

    Jeff, I don’t think that’s an either/or thing. God is just a word to most people. No one seems to be able to define the God that is the who and the what and the how. Perhaps God is everything that the word does not imply. I know that may not make any sense, but I’m just thinking out loud as usual.

    Cipher,

    You do make a lot of sense in your arguments. And the God that I believe does not fit into your perceived Christian theology. Free will, to me, is the freedom to live… freedom to be. We are human “beings“, not human “doings“.

    What you describe in your long pagraph… don’t you think that the secular world rejects pain as well? Aren’t those people condemned by the society as a whole? We tend to impose the same reward/punishment mindset on each other and call it God. That’s what Jesus frees us from, the way I see it.

  • cipher

    What you describe in your long pagraph… don’t you think that the secular world rejects pain as well? Aren’t those people condemned by the society as a whole?

    That’s my point, if I understand you.

    We tend to impose the same reward/punishment mindset on each other and call it God. That’s what Jesus frees us from, the way I see it.

    It’s a matter of perspective, Linda. If one subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Bible, a harsh, judgmental God is hard to avoid. You want to believe that Jesus sets us free from that? Fine – but I don’t really think that’s what the text says. And, in the OT, it’s made perfectly clear – God claims to be the origin of all phenomena, good and bad.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Sorry, cipher,

    That IS what the text says (the way I see it). If the OT religion was the way God had intended, then there’s nothing to be free from, is there? Why did Jesus challenge the pharisees over and over again? Why do you think he was killed?

    But I believe even that was part of the plan. We have no idea what freedom is unless we’ve been in bondage. We have no idea what light is unless we’ve been in the dark. We don’t know the value of life until we’ve seen death. So, in that sense, I suppose bad is in the plan as well as the good. But many times, bad becomes part of the good after you’ve been through it.

    But we have to get our idea of God out of the box that we put him in. God is not the conductor that stands with a wand who controls the orchestra. He’s not even the composer. Rather, I like to think of God as the music that is being played in the mind of the composer. And we cannot possibly know what that sounds like unless you have every part written, organized, and played at the same time. We are in those parts… one note (or even each rest in between the notes) is so very insignificant and has no meaning by itself. But if we just play it, express it, the way it comes out… then we’ll begin to hear the music. And no one can deny that it’s real… that it exists.

    That’s just the picture (or music) in my mind of who God is. My perspective, as you pointed out…

  • cipher

    Linda,

    That’s fine. I don’t see it that way, but I don’t like to argue with liberal theists.

    I would point out that even if I could accept the existence of God, I can never see the Bible as divinely authored. Too many internal inconsistencies, too many historical inaccuracies, of which the business about the Pharisees is a good example. I don’t accept that these “debates” took place as reported. There are serious problems with the Gospel accounts, from the perspective of anyone who has an understanding of Jewish history.

  • Allytude

    I like the gods as characters- the white-beared Judeo-Christian guy, the several million worshipped by Hindus, and the rest of them- Greek, Roman and norse and Egyptian also- but I detest how illogical and superstitious belief in these characters maes people. How evil people become if they think they are being “religious” How closed and narrow minded they are… God/gods as characters- hey they are cool dudes- but as the saviors of humanity the belief system sucks.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I might say ‘living is the process by which we become what we are.’

    Yes, that is an existentialist position and is more or less what I was trying to say too.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I wanted to point out that atheism is not synonymous with “logical positivism”. Although some atheists ascribe to logical positivism, others do not.

    That is a good point Jeff. Though to be honest I have found that it tends to be the most common point of view among atheists.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Theists in general – and Christians in particular (Muslims are much more vague about this) – have to rely on the notion of “free will”, in some sort of absolute sense.

    As I said before, this is not always the case. There are plenty of Christian determinists who deny the existence of free will. We call them Calvinists.

    In fact, it seems somewhat at odds with what you’ve told us in the past. I know you don’t emphasize sin and judgment in your theology, but you have indicated (or I’ve inferred) that you believe in judgment of a sort, and that our actions in this life, and the kind of persons we “make ourselves” into, affect the state in which we find ourselves in the afterlife. Whether or not you believe this state is eternal, you haven’t said (and I’m not trying to put you on the spot). I’m not saying there’s no free will or personal responsibility (I’m not a great believer in it, myself, but I’m not arguing that here) – but, if the things that happen to us are largely beyond our control, and they influence our development profoundly, how can we be held “accountable” in the Christian sense?

    Just to clarify, I didn’t say that I don’t believe in free will, I just don’t think it’s the whole picture either. I don’t believe in the radical freedom of Kierkegaard or Sartre but I do think we have some control over who we become.

    If I’ve had a horrible life, and I die a bitter, angry, broken person as a result, is it reasonable of God to condemn me to a state of separation from him? This is, as I see it, the fundamental problem with all theodicy (even among the Buddhists) – we get punished for having experienced pain. If I’ve learned nothing else in life, I’ve learned that this is one of the most ubiquitously human tendencies; it seems to underlie nearly everything we do – blaming the victim. I think it’s an ancient coping mechanism – we fear the pain and suffering of others, because we’re afraid that what is happening to them may happen to us, so we convince ourselves that the other person is suffering because he or she “broke the rules”. As long as I don’t break them, I won’t suffer. I know you’ll probably tell me that this was part of Jesus’ message – not to fear becoming involved intimately in the suffering of others, and to suspend our natural tendency to judge – but, in Christian theology, it would appear that God isn’t so understanding, particularly when it comes to assigning our postmortem state.

    I really don’t want to get into all this with you again since we’ve already covered that ground and since you’ve just said that you don’t really like talking to “liberals” like me anyway. But to put it simply, I agree with your concern and I don’t think God operates that way. IMHO God is infinitely compassionate and is more interested in healing the wounded, not punishing them.

    (Okay, I guess that’s everybody’s cue to tell me one more time how I’m not really a Christian because my “liberal” views of the Bible and theology don’t line up with fundamentalism.)

    Is there a UT at Austin?

    Yep, but I didn’t get in since they don’t really have what I want to study anyway.

  • cipher

    I really don’t want to get into all this with you again since we’ve already covered that ground and since you’ve just said that you don’t really like talking to “liberals” like me anyway.

    Noooo – what I said was that I don’t like arguing with liberal theists, reason being that I don’t have the anger toward them that I have toward fundamentalists.

    There are plenty of Christian determinists who deny the existence of free will. We call them Calvinists.

    Touche! (Although, even Calvinists feel that we somehow “deserve” eternal damnation, even though God has predestined most of us for it.)

  • http://www.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    …atheism is not synonymous with “logical positivism”.

    That is a good point Jeff. Though to be honest I have found that it tends to be the most common point of view among atheists.

    In the academic circles I run in, we have vicious arguments about logical positivism. For example, can measurements resulting in numbers fully explain reality? All the participants are atheists and you are right that most are logical positivists. But there is an emerging group of atheists that want to expand the foundations of science. Ironically, I find some intuitive common ground with the theists concerning the stance of logical positivism. Although, I think the theists take the easy way out in positing a supreme being.

    Perhaps the “Emerging Christians” and the “Emerging Atheists” should form a combined church. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Ironically, I find some intuitive common ground with the theists concerning the stance of logical positivism.

    I know what you mean. I remember even from the first time I met Hemant (when he visited our church for the original eBay Atheist project) thinking that the biggest difference in our worldviews was not our beliefs about God (or lack thereof) but our epistemology.

    Perhaps the “Emerging Christians” and the “Emerging Atheists” should form a combined church. :)

    Great idea! Actually, I know at least one postmodern atheist who attends Emergent events on a regular basis. Oh, and there’s an atheist who’s now a regular attender at my friend’s emerging church in downtown Chicago (he even participates in the liturgy occasionally – last time I was there he did the scripture reading.) And we have several atheists and almost-atheists who come to the monthly Emergent cohort discussions downtown too. So yeah, seems your idea is already happening. :)

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Actually, Mike, if I remember my high school systematic theology course correctly, Calvinism is the deterministic model of Lordship Theology (loosely described as “actions prove salvation”), Arminianism being the free-will Lordship counterpart. One who ascribes to a deterministic theology but accepts Free Grace (looslely described as “actions don’t matter”), could hardly be considered a Calvinist (unless they really liked TULIs!!).

    Although to be honest, I never had a big problem reconciling free will and determinism. All other things being equal, the complex biological system that is me is free to make whatever choice it sees most fit in any given situation. My self-awareness allows me to predict what I might normally do in a situation and choose to act differently.

  • cipher

    Mike,

    I just came across this statement from George Whitefield. It was being quoted by a hard-core five point Calvinist.

    “Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do his good pleasure.”

    So, apparently, some Calvinists believe in free will. This is an expansion of what I was trying to say earlier – Calvinists believe in free will when it works to humanity’s disadvantage, but stop believing in it when it would work to our advantage. This really rather supports my contention; even those Christians who claim not to believe in free will actually do believe in it, to a degree, when they can use the concept as an excuse to damn humanity.

    You aren’t dispensing with free will entirely, but you’re certainly knocking it off of its pedestal, and you’re doing it in an attempt to be “lenient” (I can’t think of a better word at the moment). Many (I think most) Christians would find that “un-Christian”.