An Atheist Speaks

I don’t seem to be able to get an answer from Andrew Sullivan. Maybe you can answer. What is it about religion that is so good? I see it as purely evil because it is full of lies. There is no reason to think Heaven or God or anything unearthly “exists” in any sense. And these delusions have for centuries caused fear, self-loathing, guilt and cynicism in far too much of the world.

Christianity is better than Islam only because it is weaker and has survived only because it has not insisted on dictating to civil power. I don’t get it. I used to feel good when I went to the local Congregational Church and sang hymns. But then the minister would get up in the pulpit and say things that made no sense. I saw through the philosophy when I was fourteen. That was thirty-nine years ago. I’ve never felt the need to go back. How can you defend spending resources – I’m thinking of the tax breaks churches get – on such stupid lies?? And was the Magna Charta really the advance it’s been made out to be?

This is far too simplistic. And, of course, a theist can just as easily reply that atheism is “purely evil” because atheism is full of lies (think Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.) The fine atheistic enterprises undertaken by these morally advanced people don’t bode well for atheism as the escape from humans who lie.

As to reasons to believe in God, there are lots of them, the most elementary of them sketched out by Christian thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to Peter Kreeft. Why, I’ve even delineated them from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in my book Making Senses Out of Scripture. They’re not all that complicated. Basically, we’ve got two big pieces of data: the physical world and the human person which, as St. Thomas shows, are not explicable apart from God. I will leave you to check out those sources for the longer arguments.

Against this, St. Thomas lists your objection (the problem of evil: eg. in lying bishops and terrorist Muslims, fear, self-loathing, the hymn “Anthem”, the theme to “Enterprise”) as one of the only two arguments there are against the existence of God. He also mentions the other argument you try to make, but don’t articulate very well (“It is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.”) He also answers them, and with probably considerably more thought than a fourteen year old can be expected to muster.

Beyond the truth of theism is the question Jesus poses, “Who do you say that I am?” I think C.S. Lewis summarizes things well when he says that the difficulty of giving an explanation for the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that is not harder than the Christian explanation is very great. You can read him yourself in his excellent little book Miracles or his classic Mere Christianity.

So there you have it: resources. If you are asking your question in order to find something out, they will satisfy you. If you are asking your question in order to keep from finding something out, then nothing I say will change your mind.

Finally, I’m not particular about tax breaks, nor do I hold a brief for Congregationalism or whatever it was your pastor used to say, but I do think it might be a good thing to revisit the simplistic conclusions of your Inner Fourteen Year Old. Anybody who says anything is “purely evil” is indeed still a high school sophomore. Anybody who can look at the legacy of any religious tradition and see nothing there but “pure evil” is making it clear that they have their eyes slammed tightly shut. Though all struggle under the burden of sin (my own communion obviously included) none of the world’s great religious traditions–East or West–are “purely evil”. If you believe they are, you are, not to put too fine a point on it, a fool. Now is the time to abandon such folly and grow past the simplistic dogma a fourteen year old boy bound you to 39 years ago.