Recommended Atheist Reading

This is kind of fun. Former atheist, now Catholic, scifi/fantasy writer John C. Wright offers his list of recommended atheist writers. It’s a bleak list for the most part, but if you are going to immerse yourself in the literature of negation, it’s better to read good writers, I suppose, than bag ladies screaming at the traffic like Dawkins.

I had the faith to be an atheist. It requires too huge an act of faith for me to look at the universe (and Jesus) and conclude “everything is soluble to me and my three pound piece of meat behind my eyes and it simple dogma that it’s all time, space, matter and energy”. But some people somehow manage, by sheer dint of will, to shut out the Mystery and embrace this supremely boring philosophy.

To be sure, many don’t know what they mean by “atheist” (20% of atheists say they believe in God) and many others make it pretty clear that they are furious at the God they say does not exist. But the Evangelical ones who manage to brass it past these obstacles are basically stuck with two boring negations they beat to death in short order. At some level, they seem to know this, so they typically pad the case with red herrings, non sequiturs and other fallacies to add some variety to the monotony. But the truth is, atheists will always be out at the end of the bell curve. The human person is built to worship something and even atheists can’t really resist the impulse for long. The choice is not whether, but what, you will worship.

  • Bob

    I think the unfairest criticism of atheists is that there is something boring or unsatisfactory about their “philosophy.” Religious folks often talk about atheism as if it were jyst another religion, and not a very good one. But that’s the thing. Its not a religion. Its not a philosophy. Atheists are just people who don’t believe in God. Nothing more. We need to stop thinking about atheists as if they are part of some “organization” with a charter or set of core values, like Catholics or Rotary Club members.
    I’m really surprised by how much atheism-bashing you’re doing lately. It’s very small-ball. Atheists are, what, 5% of the population? Maybe less? The real threat to the faith, Catholic or any other, are the faithful, not the faithless.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Nature abhors a vacuum; that their faith is not expressed in God or gods is a far cry from saying that they are faithless. For example, their faith may be directed towards the presumably limitless or largely unexploited potential of man, or toward the idea that there is nothing beyond the natural (we’ll save the conversation about the scope of empirical inquiry or the fallacy of an argument from ignorance for another time). Atheism is a type of theism, along with pantheism, polytheism, and monotheism. It in no way prohibits religion nor, as the internet amply proves, does it prohibit religious sentiment.

      Now, as to atheists not being “part of some ‘organization’ with a charter or set of core values” … well, spend some time on Google. See as an example the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

    • Brandon

      It’s fair to judge atheism as a philosophy and organization when that’s how they define themselves. Look at Atheists.org, AtheistAlliance.org, Secular.org – all are self-defined atheist organizations. AtheistScholar.org purports itself as a philosophical atheist organization to boot.

      • Another Bob

        So what? There are also many “self-defined Catholic organizations” that are in open defiance of many church teachings. I give you Catholics for Choice, the National Catholic Reporter, and, oh, about gajillion others. So, the existence of Catholics for Choice mean that “catholics” are “defining themselves” as pro-choice? I think not.
        Just as anyone can hijack the word “catholic,” likewise, anyone can start a web site with the word atheist. I could start one today called AtheistsforChrist.org. And this would mean what, exactly? That atheists are now Christians? No. It means I have an Internet connection, that’s all.
        Those organizations can CLAIM to represent atheists but my guess is that most actual atheists are not members of any of them.

        • Stu

          While I understand your point and believe there is some merit to it, I also find it somewhat of a convenient stance when it comes to discussions like this as it provides the atheist a bit of a dodge in putting forth what their coherent worldview and philosophy might be.

          Accordingly I have just taken to saying the Atheists and Atheism stand for nothing.

    • Dave P.

      Its not a religion. Its not a philosophy. Atheists are just people who don’t believe in God. Nothing more.

      Depends on the atheist and the level of doubt. Strong atheist or weak? Agnostic, which is true lack of belief because of doubt? Ignosticism, in which “God” must be defined first before stating belief or unbelief? Or apatheism, which states that if God exists, he is irrelevant, so it doesn’t matter? Any of those except the first can be considered lack of belief. Atheism, especially the strong kind, depends on a tenet of faith: there is no God.

      • Claude

        Atheism, especially the strong kind, depends on a tenet of faith: there is no God.

        I, an atheist (more properly, an agnostic), was challenged on an atheist site for making this distinction. For committed atheists, “atheism” means no belief in God, period.

        When I said that I did not identify with “militan atheism,” that is, atheism actively hostile toward religion, I was accused of being a bigot. Of course, Mark Shea called me a “cultural despiser” for pointing out the exodus in the US and Europe from the RCC. It’s culture war all day every day at Patheos.

        • Dave P.

          Since you identify as both atheist and agnostic, would it be accurate to say that you’re more apatheistic? I’m not trying to label you, mind, but just asking for a clarification of what you do and don’t believe, in a spirit of sincere and friendly inquiry.

          As far as militant atheists go…there was a gadfly called “Salvage” who frequented Jeff Miller’s blog before he got kicked off. He was to the point of attacking “weak atheists” and agnostics for daring to be doubtful. And his reasoning abilities left something to be desired.

          OTOH, “A Philosopher”, an atheist who comments on this blog, is a pleasure to read. And you’re not so bad yourself :-).

          • Claude

            Thank you, that was generous, and likewise!

            According to your scheme above, which I think is on the money, I am agnostic. That is, I’m convinced it is impossible to know whether or not there is a god or gods, and furthermore I don’t believe in God or gods. However, I don’t positively assert that there is no god/s, much less evangelize for atheism. At times, of course, I wonder, and in the highly unlikely event that I would become persuaded that God exists, I would have to consider that the existence of God is consequential.

            I shuttle between the terms atheist, agnostic, atheist/agnostic and unbeliever, depending on who I’m addressing. First, atheism is peripheral to my identity, so while I’m interested in precision, I don’t feel strongly enough about it to feel that I am compromising or being dishonest by alternating terms. If I am speaking with Christians and don’t wish to alienate them with the charged word “atheist,” I’ll go with “unbeliever” or “agnostic”; on the other hand, if I’m speaking with Christians and wish to be stark about our different premises, I’ll use “atheist.” And so on.

        • http://www.sff.net/people/john-c-wright/ John C Wright

          If it makes a difference to anyone, back when I was an atheist, I was an honest-to-no-God Atheist.
          When it came to the Christian God, I held that the concept was incoherent, that is, that no one being could be both, for example, omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent and create a world in which evil existed; or the no one being could both be omnipotent and make decisions. And so on.

          When it came to pagan gods, I was more of an agnostic: I neither believed they existed nor served them, but the claims that some powerful beings exist on the crown of Mount Olympus was not one that was inherently illogical. Pagan gods were not impossible, so my stance was merely that no evidence supporting any claim made for them.

          The supernatural in general I rejected as an incoherent concept, on that grounds that whatever existed, existed with a nature, and nothing could stand in relation to the cosmos as a designer stands to an artwork, because in order to exist, the designer would have to have a nature, that is, certain things were true of him and others were not, hence he would be bound by a certain laws or a certain context which defined what was possible and impossible for him.

          Along with this, on an emotional level, was a great deal of pride in myself and contempt for those I held to be irrational, who believed in fairytales no more convincing that stories of Santa Claus. On that level, I held that even if there were a god or gods, one should not bow down to them and serve them, as they had no authority over man, and no claim on our loyalty.

          In my day, we atheists did not indulge in defining various nuances of indifference, or coin new terms for each new shade of atheism. Agnostics were just atheists who were unwilling or unable to make up their minds given the evidence, but since they lived as if there were no God, we held them to be of our camp, merely weak.

      • Darren

        Dave P. Said;

        ”Atheism, especially the strong kind, depends on a tenet of faith: there is no God.”

        There are differing types and levels of Atheism, and I can speak only for myself, but my particular brand requires not a splinter of faith. In fact, my brand is less a rejection of God than it is a rejection of faith. Perhaps I should call myself an anti-faithiest.

        Really, this is just a result of my belief that ARIS 2008 is the way reality works.

        I should add that, being also a Skeptic, I fully recognize that Naturalism might turn out to be false, that all of external reality might be an illusion and I nothing more than a Boltzmann brain in a froth of random numbers. Maybe. But, external reality appears to exist. And this reality appears to abide by the rules we have discovered through Naturalism. If it is an illusion, it is an illusion with structure and rules and I might as well behave as though those rules are real until evidence begins to show up to the contrary. This is why I say it is a _belief_ in Naturalism, not _faith_ in Naturalism.

        Given the underpinning of Naturalism and my own observations of the (apparent) world, then God, as described by the competing strains of Theisms, simply drops down in probability to the level of Carl Sagan’s Dragon. Thus, Atheism.

        We are _still_ not at Faith, though. I can safely say there is no God, just as I can say there is no Dragon, but God, should he so impertinently choose to exist despite my doubts, is well within his rights to pop round and prove me wrong, just as the Dragon, should it exist, could suddenly decide to gobble me up for not believing.

        • Darren

          Oops, “ARIS 2008” should read “Methodological Naturalism”

    • Darren

      Bob said;

      ”Atheists are, what, 5% of the population?”

      ARIS 2008 counts ~15% as No Religious Preference, the hip new “Nones”. Out of that, we get 0.7% as actual Atheist.

      Combining Atheist and Agnostics (as was done in the past) and looking back at 1990 and 2001, we have 0.7% (1990), 0.9% (2001), and 1.6% (2008).

      Woohoo! Take _that_ LDS with your piddly little 1.4%!

      Considering that Atheists now have a whopping one, count him, one congressman to 534 Theists, that sounds about right… Watch out Christians! Only 353 representatives more and then it’s off to the reeducation camps with you all! Muh, hah, hah, hah…

      Just kidding.

    • The Deuce

      Its not a religion. Its not a philosophy. Atheists are just people who don’t believe in God. Nothing more.

      Bull. First of all, existence or nonexistence of God has serious metaphysical implications, and so atheism is inescapably a philosophy. That goes for all atheists. Secondly, it’s abundantly clear that for most atheists, it functions as a sort of religion as well, which correlates strongly with certain political and moral proclivities, and to which they have a tribalistic devotion. You may argue that Richard Dawkins et al and their acolytes aren’t worthy of attention, but you’re not going to convince anyone that they don’t exist.

      • Claude

        Well, for some atheists that may be true. For others like myself, atheism is precisely nothing more than a lack of belief in God. I do not feel any “tribal devotion” to atheism. I find Dawkins tedious and did not even finish The God Delusion. Organized atheism is involved in a number of political activities that I support; however, in that case I respond to the shared interest, not the atheism.

        Of course, I have this luxury since I do not live in a part of the country where Christianity is so dominant as to make life uncomfortable for non-Christians. I might become more militant if that were the case.

        • Darren

          I, too, find Dawkins rather tedious. Not being particularly angry, I don’t require my sense of self-rightous oppression fueled…

          He may have his place (or may not), but I much prefer David Hume and Carl Sagan. I have yet to hear Dawkins add anything productive to what those two have already said.

          • Stu

            Richard Dawkins benefits greatly by the phenomenon of English people sounding smart by nature of their accent.

            • James H, London

              Yes, but only in America.

              In the UK, he stands on his institution (Oxford).

    • Mark Shea

      For Evangelical Atheists, it is a religion, occupying the most important place in their thoughts. For many atheists, it doesn’t even rise to a philosophy and is more of a default position due to class, peer group and such sociological factors (“All the best people, meaning My Set, say there’s no God, so I will too.”). It’s not true that “atheists are just people who don’t believe in God”. They are lots of things, ranging from people who have never given the matter much thought to people with an evangelical and murderous zeal to destroy the Church. (Even PZ Myers was appalled by Hitchens when he let his hair down and talked about his zeal for putting a bullet in the brain of the religious if he could.) And despite the denialism of Evangelical Atheists, the murdering zeal of Communism and its atheistic utopianism are intimately related. No there is no organization (usually). But since I never claimed there is, so what?

      Do you have some sort of criterion for how many people have to believe nonsense or commit a sin before you will allow me to discuss it on my blog? Murderers are an even smaller percentage of the population than atheists. Since you seem to think I am picking on those who violate the first commandment by critiquing Evangelical atheism, am I picking on those who violate the fifth commandment by critiquing murder?

      • Bob

        A criterion? Consider this: if all the atheists in the world working together for a lifetime are ever able do one-tenth as much to harm to the church, with all their murderous church hating zeal, as most of the members of the USCCB did, without even trying, pretty much every day until about 2008, then perhaps you have a justification for your often childish onslaught.
        I might also point out that your hatred of atheists is at least equal to their hatred of religion, even though your power far surpasses theirs by virtue of sheer numbers.

        • Mark Shea

          I don’t hate atheists. Do over.

          • Bob

            Haha that’s funny. Oh wait. You actually believe that. Oh.

    • AlanGNixon

      Hear Hear Bob! It is showing your bias when one assumes that atheist writing must be bleak to be good. Atheists I’ve interviewed and researched have many things in their life that they consider as positive, even while having the courage to face the horror. Rejecting the idea of God does not require a person to give up anything else in this world, and there are so many things to love, be awed by and learn, every day.

  • Subsistent

    I daresay the notion that atheism is “boring” was promoted (maybe unintentionally) by the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre himself, who used “nausea/nausée” and “absurdity” as themes in his writings.

    • Claude

      As a cradle Catholic who has been atheist/agnostic for most of my life, I would agree that atheism is boring.

      You, a Christian, are commanded to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect so that you may win eternal life. I, an atheist, am just trying to pay off my mortgage and not screw up too badly before I’m good and dead forever.

      To be sure the Christians have a grander vision on their side.

      • Darren

        Claude said;

        ”You, a Christian, are commanded to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect so that you may win eternal life. I, an atheist, am just trying to pay off my mortgage and not screw up too badly before I’m good and dead forever.
        To be sure the Christians have a grander vision on their side.”

        Hold on a minute, there, partner. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

        Atheists, or at least non-Christians, have the entire breadth and sweep of Science Fiction to enliven our future. We have SETI, we have vast cosmic adventures (assuming we do not somehow annihilate ourselves first (or have it done for us)) in an unbounded future until the heat death of the Cosmos.

        If you are a Christian you have Jesus returning and the judgment of the world and the final battle then God hitting the Delete button on all of creation followed by an eternity of either cloud-sitting and harp-playing or roasting in the pit. No galactic civilizations, no star sagas, no alien civilizations, the best we might manage is a moon colony or two.

        I remember being a geeky Christian teen and feeling absolutely heartbroken about this, until I concluded that God would probably allow me to spend some of my Heavenly time building space-ships… :)

        • ivan_the_mad

          Heh, that’s not quite how Catholic eschatology works … and given how it does work, that and your first prospect aren’t exactly subject to an XOR :D

          For fun times related to that, read C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy.

          • Darren

            Ivan the Mad said:

            ”Heh, that’s not quite how Catholic eschatology works … and given how it does work, that and your first prospect aren’t exactly subject to an XOR.”

            Ah, you Catholics and your “it’s only a metaphor”. ;)

            Even after brushing up on Catholic eschatology after your comment, it is still very difficult for me to put bounds around it the way I could with the Standard Protestant model:

            What implications the existence of non-human aliens (do they sin, did Jesus come to them, etc.)?

            How does Revelation play out is we go so far into the future that the Mount of Olives has been obliterated by plate tectonics?

            What relevance the Final Judgments if Earth is only one, and perhaps not even the central, habitation of Man?

            What does the Organge Catholic Bible have to say?

            Are we really to have a reptilian Space Pope?

            :)

            • Noah D

              it is still very difficult for me to put bounds around it the way I could with the Standard Protestant model:

              That’s one of the fruits of heresy. The Catholic faith encompasses all those possibilities, quite nicely.

              And yes, assuming the Aan or the Drac or the Droyne are possessed of rational souls, one of them could become Pope, assuming all other requirements have been fulfilled.*

              Cardinal Sslith, as long as he gets a 2/3rds majority of the vote of the College of Cardinals, on whatever planet the Conclave is held, is Pope!

              *I have no idea how we’d deal with the ordination of members of a species whose genders don’t match up with human male/female. That’s probably worth a few centuries of discernment and Councils…or maybe they’ll already have an answer. I hereby invoke John C. Wright and Mike Flynn to speculate on that one…

              • Darren

                Thank you, sir. A smile to my face this brought.

                • Noah D

                  I am glad to have been able to do so!

            • ivan_the_mad

              C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet”, first in the space trilogy, is one speculation regarding your first question. (They don’t sin, IIRC, although they’re quite aware of Terra’s proclivity in that regard).

              Regarding your second and third, I suspect that you still approach this with a literalist reading of Revelation, to which Catholics are not beholden.

              Regarding the fourth, I’ve emailed House Atreides for clarification, but they’ve yet to respond.

              “Are we really to have a reptilian Space Pope?” Who’s to say we haven’t already? Surely you’ve watched V.

              • Darren

                Good catches ItM!

                The last was aimed at Futurama
                , though with the V reference you have officially out-geeked me. I will be watching to see if the next Holy Father sports Jan-Michael Vincent sunglasses, though…

                I will put the C.S. Lewis series on my reading list.

                • ivan_the_mad

                  Oh my, I’d completely missed the reference to Futurama. I am ashamed.

                  You won’t be sorry to read the space trilogy. I read that in grade school the same year that I read the tripods’ trilogy and LeGuin’s EarthSea trilogy. It was a real trio of trilogies*, I can tell you!

                  *I’M NOT SORRY! I’M NOT SORRY! as our host would say

            • Mark Shea

              Re: aliens. I presume you are familiar with Lewis’ “Religion and Rocketry“?

              Relatedly, as I point out here, what atheists seem to always forget is that Christianity already has, right from the start, had a theology that incorporates the reality of non-human created intelligent beings into its world view. We call them “angels” and their rebellious counterparts, “demons”. The eschatological faith of many atheists is that when ET is found, he will come in glory to confirm the atheist in his worldview by chuckling and saying, “Ah yes! Religion! We left that behind centuries ago.” The the Righteous will be taken up in glory in a fiery chari… I mean spacecraft while the unrighteous will depart in everlasting shame. In short, atheism owes a lot more to Christianity than it seems to realiize.

              In addition, if you are not familiar with novelist Michael Flynn (who has forgotten more about medieval science, technology, theology, culture, and philosophy than most of us will ever know) I recommend this essay, as well as his brilliant novel Eifelheim. The notion that medievals were simply superstitious rubes is one of the great fictions modernity tells itself in its stupid pride.

              • Darren

                Mark Shea said;

                ” I recommend this essay, as well as his brilliant novel Eifelheim. The notion that medievals were simply superstitious rubes is one of the great fictions modernity tells itself in its stupid pride.”

                Thank you, Mark, I have added it to my que.

                Sadly we Atheists, as a group, do not appear to be any more immune to historical myopia and the myth of progress than anyone else. It _should_ be obvious that if I am any smarter than my anatomically modern human ancestors of 150,000 BCE, then this is attributable to the vast resources that Culture has put at my disposal.

                • Mark Shea

                  Darren: Just a note to say, “I like you.” More like you, please.

                  • Darren

                    Mark, that is very kind of you…

                    Just wait until I well and truly disagree with you, though… ;)

        • Mark Shea

          Scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist.

        • Claude

          Atheists, or at least non-Christians, have the entire breadth and sweep of Science Fiction to enliven our future. We have SETI, we have vast cosmic adventures (assuming we do not somehow annihilate ourselves first (or have it done for us)) in an unbounded future until the heat death of the Cosmos.

          I don’t read science fiction but luckily a lot of people around here do. : )

          There does seem to be a pretty good chance we will annihilate ourselves and that it will indeed be “the fire next time.” In such moments Christian apocalypticism seems eerily prescient. However, if the clever monkeys figure out a way to avoid extinction and move on to new imperial adventures in space, it will be an achievement of the species. Though most of us can use the internet, how many of us have walked on the moon? Religionists can enjoy all the benefits of science we godless enjoy, but they, or at least may of them, get the bonus, albeit conditional, of blasting through the time/space matrix forever, and it is an offer that Christianity makes to everyone.

          an eternity…roasting in the pit

          Where in the Gospels does Jesus say Gehenna is for all eternity? I’m pretty sure the answer is nowhere. Revelation is thought to have been an allegory of contemporary events and not a futuristic vision. At any rate, Catholics, as ivan_the_mad pointed out, do not read Revelation literally. Although they do confess that Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” so there you have a point.

          • Darren

            Claude said;

            ”Where in the Gospels does Jesus say Gehenna is for all eternity? I’m pretty sure the answer is nowhere. Revelation is thought to have been an allegory of contemporary events and not a futuristic vision.”

            It most assuredly is the Protestant view. I will leave discussion of Modern Catholic notions of damnation for another day (trying to play nicer).

            So far as the odds that we annihilate ourselves… It’s what (metaphorically) keeps me awake at night. Fermi’s paradox greatly concerns me…

        • http://www.sff.net/people/john-c-wright/ John C Wright

          As a science fiction writing Christian, I object most strongly to this slander. Of course there will be galactic empires after the world is renewed and remade. What do you think the crowns and the thrones promised the faithful are for? The speed of light prevents mortals from ever visiting another star, much less entering into a conversation or a hymn or a dance with one. Those limitations do not apply to the glorified and risen saints, who can step to Alpha Centauri or to Andromeda or to the Corona Borealis Supercluster in a moment, and converse with the angels and artisans who designed these stars and galaxies and superclusters of galaxies. And we will be able to hear the music of the spheres.

          • Darren

            Well, it is hard for me to argue with that, considering that your Golden Age series devoured a week of my life (quite enjoyably).

            Ironic that as an Atheist and Transhumanist, I find your Golden Oecumene to be one of the most compelling visions of the post-singularity future. There are not many books that I have read that fundamentally changed the way I think, but yours was one.

            Now I’ve gone all fan-boy… ;)

        • Alister

          As a former agnostic turned Catholic convert and lifetime voracious science fiction reader, I object most strongly! Religion (especially Catholicism) and science can comfortably rest right next to each other in a harmonious whole. Indeed, science fiction hypotheticals open up whole new vistas of challenge for faith: My local priests have been bombarded with questions on how Catholics on board an interstellar spacecraft traveling at relativistic speeds would determine the passage of the liturgical year. Apparently everyone sticks to subjective time, so my star-hopping Catholics may just return to Earth orbit celebrating Easter, while the planet below is cranking up Advent. And both groups are correct.

      • ivan_the_mad

        You know, it’s possible to infer from your comment that, as a Christian, I am *not* subject to mortgage payments. I like this inference lots and lots and lots.

      • Subsistent

        On the theme of “be ye perfect/perfecti/teleioi” (Mt 5:48), a point of order: There’s been a SEMANTIC SHIFT in the word *perfect*, in English at least. It popularly now means “flawless”, as a healthy young tree shoot may be flawless. But its earlier meaning in Latin and Greek — and in English — was rather, “fulfilled”. And in this sense the flawless young tree shoot was still “imperfect”, because it had not yet reached its maturity; whereas a healthy mature tree was called “perfect”, EVEN IF IT WAS slightly FLAWED because one or two of its branches had been broken off.
        Accordingly, the Church, as I understand it, interprets this command of “perfection” as a call to tend toward one’s true fulfillment — “warts and all” — as one’s condition allows.

        • Claude

          I always love it when you show up.

          • Claude

            ^I’d like to add, since it’s hard to know sometimes how things will sound on the internet, that my sentiment was genuine, and it’s because I admire your erudition. May I ask if you went to seminary?

            • Subsistent

              Thank you Sir. No, I never went to seminary. I’m just an opinionated old geezer with varied interests.

              • Subsistent

                And one extremely lucky to have been raised by utterly dedicated parents.

    • Mark Shea

      I’ve never read Sartre. It’s just always been my own intuitive reaction. You can only bray “There is no God” so many times before it gets pretty dull.

  • Faith-Free

    The desire for worship is the masochistic wish to be a slave.

    • ivan_the_mad

      The stupid is strong with this one.

      • Faith-Free

        Take any of your hymns and substitute “Kim Jong Il” for “Jesus” and you’ll see what I mean.

        • http://signsshadows.blogspot.com/ Colin Gormley

          If Kim Jong Il was worthy of such praise you might have a point…

          • Faith-Free

            The North Koreans certainly think he is. Funnily enough, when NK refugees are approached by Christian missionaries after fleeing, a lot of them recoil from Christianity as all the talk of a Father who has a Son who are somehow one and the all-knowing all-powerful saviors of the world reminds them just a LITTLE too strongly of something else…

            • Dale Price

              Yeah, which is why North Koreans who flee to China seek out the Christians there.

              http://www.amazon.com/Escape-North-Korea-Underground-Railroad/dp/1594036330/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363188619&sr=1-1&keywords=escape+from+north+korea

              Not to mention the Christians have a network to get them out of that hell. To be fair, I’m sure Atheism+ and the New Atheism are hip-deep in planning to joing the same humanitarian endeavor. Any minute now…

              The Kims are a helpful reminder that humans will worship the State and its leaders, who are much more jealous gods, and far more effective at slaughter than any crusader.

              Sad that we need the reminder, but given that so many have forgotten Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., it’s necessary.

              • Faith-Free

                “Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot”

                Yeah, what of them? Infallible, authoritarian leaders with rigid inflexible dogmas in charge of a Byzantine unaccountable beaurocracy are YOUR bag, not mine!

                • Dale Price

                  Oh my Dawkins, but you’re funny. I have to admit, I was not expecting the “I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I?!?!?!!?” Maneuver.

                  What a discerning mind, comparing the Catholic bureaucracy with those of 20th Century atheist tyrants. Homo affectus in action.

            • Mark Shea

              And the way you know about this urban legend is…?

      • Faith-Free

        And did not Paul of Tarsus call himself a “slave of Christ”?

        Have fun in your chains. The rest of us will be enjoying the only life we get.

        • Allan

          No, your words don’t sound like the words of a man enjoying his life.

        • kmk

          I am a “slave” to my husband and children, my community, the mortgage, and probably health issues that will inevitably crop up as I age. My life is full of surrenders, no matter my faith–who’s not a slave? : )

        • kara

          So, by “enjoying the only life you get” you mean anonymously trolling websites dedicated to a faith you find no meaning in? Hm. Pass. I would find such an approach to life tedious and unfulfilling. You have fun with that, though.

        • Mark Shea

          Trolling comboxes to throw rocks at the faith you claim to be ignoring is enjoying life? Who knew? From here, it just looks like Christ-haunted obsession.

      • Sven

        Consider the posture Christians take when they pray:
        On their knees. Head lowered is submission. Hands together, as if they’re in shackles.
        It’s not a coincidence.

        • Dale Price

          Ah, so the atheist attack meme for today is “look at those craven submissives.” Who nevertheless frequently chose death to submission to earthly authority and somehow unseated the pagan tyrants of Rome.

          Which will lead to tomorrow’s attack meme, “look at those theocratic oppressors.”

          Yay.

          • Faith-Free

            Rome didn’t really systemically oppress Christians that much. Quit buying your church’s myths and read real history

            • Dale Price

              Ah, revisionism. Candida Moss, perhaps? The one who handwaves Tacitus away? It’s always a bit amusing to be told to read “real history” by people who uncritically scarf down material that reinforces their own biases.

              Compelling, and rich.

              Care to quantify “not that much”? How many would be enough for you?

        • Noah D

          It gets worse! When they’re ordained, the candidates for their ‘priesthood’ abase themselves most abjectly, by laying face down on the floor. The oldest posture of Christian prayer is standing with the hands upraised, as if in surrender! It’s all submission with them, all the time!

          (How did I do?) ;)

        • Mark Shea

          Um, actually the normal posture of prayer is standing. You should really get to know something about the thing you hate. Americans kneel for the consecration of the Eucharist.

        • Stu

          Yes, I am oppressed by the structure of the Church.

          Just like a steam locomotive is oppressed by the structure of the rails as it barrels down the track.

        • j. blum

          So all submission is bad, and servile. All hail the Self-Created Lord of Himself, who never did bow to nobody!

    • Dave P.

      Then you must be a slave to yourself. And the Self is the most pitiless and merciless of masters.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    Mark,

    In other news, a Montana man was apparently arrested for “enhanced parenting.”

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/montana-man-admits-waterboarding-children-article-1.1286845

  • Bob

    OK, so 1.7% of the population, of which 20% actually claim a belief in God, so they only THINK they’re atheists. That gets us down to 1.4%. Of the 1.4%, maybe half are the angry militant type who write things like “The desire for worship is the masochistic wish to be a slave” in hopes of goading someone into a ridiculous debate. The other half are folks like Claude. Regular people, basically, just not believing in the whole God thing.
    I am baffled by the apparent obsession with this small group of people.
    The thing to do with the Militants is to ignore them. They’re only talking to each other. The thing to do with the Claudes is to engage them in an honest and fair discussion.
    The thing not do is become driven to angry distraction; hurl insults; suggest they sure do seem kinda autistic-y; call them names; find them guilty-by-association (or even non-association) with what some “atheist” group said. And so on.
    What a lot of the Patheos Catholic writers want to do (not just Mark) is smear. And that’s sad, because (as I said before) it’s small.

  • Sven

    I’m curious what you mean when you say atheists “shut out the Mystery”?
    Science aims to solve the mysteries of the universe.
    Religion says there isn’t a mystery. God did it.
    Who is “shutting out the mystery” here?

    • ivan_the_mad

      Check your premises.

    • kmk

      Life is full of mysteries–my premise as a Christian Catholic is that this immense Creator of the universe, time, space, etc, who humbled Himself to become one of us (Jesus) so that He would be readily accessible to each one of us –that He is a fascinating , amazing person who invites us to explore both physical and spiritual mysteries–and we will discover some things, and not be able to grasp most things, and in heaven, we will be invited “further up and higher in” (CS Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia, the last chapters of “The Last Battle>”

    • Mark Shea

      “I am curious…”

      No you aren’t. Your mind is hermetically sealed and has not one doubt or question when it comes to the Catholic faith. You should stop lying by pretending to seek information when all you seek is ammunition.

      • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

        Right on. And since I have to lengthen this comment, may I say that intuitively, logically and scientifically, an assertion of dogmatic atheism is both gratuitous and preposterous.

        Religion exists because human beings bring to it a primary experience of the transcendent. Atheists are people who suffer from a deprivation of the sense of the transcendent, a kind of crippling disability which shuts down the greater part of their perception of reality.

        Atheists are cripples. We pray for you.

        • Claude

          Atheists are people who suffer from a deprivation of the sense of the transcendent, a kind of crippling disability which shuts down the greater part of their perception of reality.

          No, no! The sense of the transcendent is invariably expressed int theological terms, but it can apply to any endeavor: most prominently, art, with which it is so enmeshed, but also all the cultural activity that aspires to be “an art.” Religion posits a cosmic intelligence toward whom all this aspiration is oriented and whose unfathomable consciousness it seeks to access, but without God the urge for transcendence certainly still exists. It seems to be hard-wired in us. Thank you for praying for us atheists, but we, too, experience the sublime, and we are not cripples!

        • Darren

          Pavel Chichikov said;

          ”Religion exists because human beings bring to it a primary experience of the transcendent. Atheists are people who suffer from a deprivation of the sense of the transcendent, a kind of crippling disability which shuts down the greater part of their perception of reality.
          Atheists are cripples. We pray for you.”

          I, too, must disagree. I grew up as firmly Christian as one could, though of a Protestant denomination rather than a Catholic. Safe and warm, secure in my absolute knowledge that I had the answer, the one true answer, and that all others were either deluded (poor souls) or in rebellion (also poor souls). I literally dreamed of the Rapture, of being united with Christ. I suffered demonic attack in mind and body as the Enemy sought to break my Faith. I felt the real and present Christ in my daily journey through life and saw the hand of God wherever I might look.

          When all of that came to an end (circumstances omitted for brevity), I found it had all been nothing but a dream; an hallucination with me a willing and enthusiastic participant. To borrow from Paul, I felt as though scales fell from my eyes, and everything I had ever been so certain of dissipated like evening mist, burned away by the strong morning sun.

          I did not feel angry, though I might have been.

          Neither did I feel regret. A vague loss, a nostalgia, as one awaking from a silly, though pleasant, dream was all. But as the dream world dissolved into the waking world, there was certainly no wish to claw my way back in, to replace the daylight with my departing fantasies.

          Over the years, I have toyed with other faiths. I have investigated them, on a few occasions even attempting to adopt them, but such attempts were always very short lived. Once one is outside of the dream, it is hard for one particular dream to convince you, anymore, that it is the one true dream, and that waking is to be abandoned…

  • kmk

    COnsidering how absolutely fascinating rhe sciences are–the studies and discoveries of math, biology, chemistry, astromony, the social sciences, languages, not to mention history, literature, poetry–or just plain people watching at a cafe on a lovely afternoon–I struggle to comprehend how anyone (atheist or believer)can think that eternity will be boring. If time and all of creation is a drop in the ocean of His Love and Mercy and Creativity, how can it possibly be a drag forever? The Lord will always be several leaps ahead of us.
    God bless you all–I very much enjoy reading all of the thoughtful comments.

    “But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him. ” -1 Cor 2:9

  • Garth

    Here’s what I don’t get about the idea of alien priests. (I’m Catholic and will certainly abide by what the church decides when and if the issue ever comes up.)

    It seems to me that all the arguments against women priests apply doubly so against alien ones of whatever gender. They’re ontologically different than humans; Christ didn’t assume their nature; and of course none of the Apostles were alien. (That we know of – now that would make an interesting story!). So why do people say alien priests are fine, so long as they’re male? It seems very inconsistent to me.

    I’m not quite clear how even the sacraments could apply to aliens, given they don’t share in Adam’s sin. Except in some cosmic sense that all Creation was damaged by it?

    C.S.Lewis seems right to me when he says that if an alien race needs redemption, we might not even recognize the form in which God offers it to them. Our categories don’t apply!

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Aliens would almost certainly have their own ordinariate.

      • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

        Yes, they would. Perhaps they do.

      • ivan_the_mad

        That’d be the Astrordinariate, if I’m not mistaken.

        • Darren

          Great, now all my coworkers _know_ I am not working…

          (due to my laughter that is).

  • Susan

    BEST AND WORST TODAY: the worst, most humiliating (for the writer, showing his ignorance and idiocy) is a book by John Paulos, who tried to ride the coattails of Hitchens, Dawkins, and Sam Harris, all abysmally ignorant in their own rights, not to mention very, very, scary, with their totalitarian suggestions. it is embarrassing to read, like hearing a pre-schooler expounding on the beauty of matrimony – utterly beyond him, and he has clearly NEVER read any decent Catholic theology. The BEST is atheist-or-agnostic Terry Eagleton’s “Reason, Faith, and Revolution,” from some talks he gave at Yale. He still doesn’t get it, and still politicizes the gospel, but like atheist Penn Jillette’s recent take-down of “Catholic” Piers Morgan, it seems the nonbeliever gets a lot more right than some believers! Good stuff on martyrdom, etc.

    • Stu

      Piers is simply ignorant on so many level. Whatever the topic, he is a walking, talking progressive cliche who could be replaced with a soundboard.

      Now Penn Jillette is an atheist I respect. He has clearly at least thought much of it through and seemingly has doubts without the need to build strawmen. I’d like to have a beer with him.

  • Subsistent

    With regard to agnostic nonbelievers, I’ve found interesting Pope Benedict’s remarks as reported by John L. Allen in his NCR blog dated Dec. 30, 2011. Allen there wrote that in September of that year in Germany, Pope Benedict praised “agnostics who … suffer because of our sins and are desirous of a pure heart.” Benedict said such folk are actually “closer to the Kingdom of God than ‘routine’ believers who only see the apparatus of the church without their hearts being touched by faith.”
    Allen there reported also that in October, at Assisi in Italy, Benedict said genuine agnostics are “inwardly making their way towards [God], inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness,” and even thanked them because they “challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others.”

    • Claude

      Naturally I was intrigued by Pope Benedict’s surprising remarks; it was certainly charitable of him, and it is charitable of you to post them here.

      Though Pope Emeritus was giving us too much credit, I appreciate the gesture.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    A great atheist writer is George Orwell (Blair), although my friend Joseph Pearce might disagree with me that Orwell was indeed an atheist. He could be right.

    Anton Chekhov?

    St. Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in:
    http://holytrinityorthodox.org/articles_and_talks/Anton%20Chekhov.htm

    “When he who beholds that Divine and limitless Beauty, [and] sees the things discovered at every step to be so altogether new and unexpectedly marvelous in comparison to what he saw previously, he is overcome with awe by what unfolds before his eyes at every step. His desire to see [God] never subsides, because what he anticipates is far more magnificent and divine than anything he has yet seen”

    • Dave P.

      George Orwell the writer had a skeptical bent. Eric Blair was an Anglican communicant, and was buried with Anglican services per his instructions.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    ANGELS DREW THEIR SWORDS OF LIGHT

    I met the Blessed Mother on a city street
    Where she and I in other times are wont to meet,
    The Virgin deeply worried and concerned about
    Someone she knew, a friend who used to be devout

    My brother Law, who was one time self-confident
    She said, conceded to the world too much dissent,
    And so in madness run the minds of those who doubt
    And disbelieve in heaven’s truth, a gutting out

    Of all that makes for sanity, who are depraved
    And think themselves at liberty but now are slaves;
    I saw the corpse of Christ laid out by limb and limb,
    An autopsy performed to find the soul in Him

    While others searched His navel to pry out the cord
    By which the Spirit bore Him until they grew bored,
    As all the while the Holy Spirit watched them play
    And angels drew their swords of light and begged to slay

    Pavel
    March 13, 2013

  • pg wodehouse

    “You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.” – Jeeves

  • Joseph

    I must say I found this thread amusing. It’s interesting to see atheists try to express their faith that there is no God just to find how completely different and fragmented each of their explanations are. I think it shows, essentially, that it is merely a religion of self. I can invent/borrow/modify my own worldview as I see fit and in a way that I think makes sense to me, at least conveniently… so long as my disbelief in God holds together.

  • Brandon

    I have no idea how a philosophy being “boring” is supposed to have anything to do with its validity. Not all things that are true are interesting or exciting.

    The human person is built to worship something and even atheists can’t really resist the impulse for long.

    There’s little that’s more boring than just insisting something’s true without any actual evidence.

  • Darren

    I suspect this thread may have petered out, and what with the elevation of Pope Francis I, who can blame it.

    I will share that I am not so convinced that Atheism counts as a philosophy per se. Methodological Naturalism, sure; Secular Humanism, also sure; non-Theistic Kant’ism (I don’t think the non-Theistic part is strictly needed, but I am far from a scholar in such matters so to reduce confusion let’s include it), also a philosophy.

    When I say “Atheism”, I am strongly conscious of the root, “A-Theism”. To me, that is what I mean. Often, I will use non-Theism or non-Theist instead; I think it is a useful clarification, but perhaps only for me.

    From that standpoint, I just don’t see that Not-Theism is any more useful descriptor of a philosophical system that would be just Theism with no further clarifiers.

    I also, however, don’t see the claims of “Atheism is a religion” or “Atheism requires faith” as valid, at least not my flavor of Atheism, and I am not convinced that I am that far out on the curve…

  • Alias Clio

    In fairness to atheists, many are people who simply cannot believe in God. They have no axe to grind and no hostility to belief; they just can’t do it. I am sympathetic to such people, even while I disagree with them. On the other hand, I intensely dislike the neo-atheist movement because of its vulgarity and its influence on the young, so I don’t object to attacks on them. The idea that these people can know of the works of Bach, or see the painting of Caravaggio, and see nothing to it but belief in a “flying spaghetti monster” is almost too absurd to be worth arguing with, and yet I see it coming up everywhere on the internet. Now, of course, they find a moral ground for these follies in matters like the abuse scandals, or opposition to gay marriage, or the Church’s supposed hatred of women.

    • Darren

      Alias Clio said;

      ”The idea that these people can know of the works of Bach, or see the painting of Caravaggio, and see nothing to it but belief in a “flying spaghetti monster” is almost too absurd to be worth arguing with, and yet I see it coming up everywhere on the internet.”

      Can you clarify, please? While Caravaggio certainly has some striking Christian themed pieces, he also covered mundane and pagan subjects. I am afraid that I do not understand the point you are trying to make here. Do you, for example, find Caravaggio’s painting of the (I am sure we can both agree) mythical Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto to be less meaningful due to the subject’s fictional nature?

      • Alias Clio

        Darren, you entirely misunderstood my comment. You appear to have assumed that I was attacking atheism in general, which assumption would naturally lead you to assume, as well, that one cannot appreciate a painter or his work unless one “agrees” with or believes in its subject matter to some degree. Well, I agree that that assumption would be false or at any rate highly debatable, but it bears no resemblance to what I said. I was talking about the VULGARITY of the New Atheist movement and their “religion is child abuse/belief in God is like believing in a flying spaghetti monster” garbage. And yes, many of them (of you?) really do write, speak and think that way. In any case, to repeat, what I meant was that I can’t understand how someone could think something so idiotic, vulgar and uneducated, and still be able to see the value of Caravaggio’s painting or Bach’s fugues. Is my meaning still obscure to you?
        Let me try to come up with an analogy (not using Greco-Roman gods, who are too innocuous now to be any kind of threat). Let’s consider Islam: it is evangelical, it is growing, and some of its adherents are clearly a threat. I do not care for its central creeds; I do not believe in its conception of God; I do not like its morality; I do not care for its social effects. I do like and appreciate many Muslims. I have lived in Muslim countries and had no difficulty in doing so; I thought much of their art and architecture lovely.
        In other words, I did not have to believe in their creed or even like it very much to see that it does not inevitably or usually produce terrible people or bad art. But I do recognise that this is because (like most faiths) Islam perceives many elements of the truth of human existence and the human predicament. And that is why, in spite of my distaste for many aspects of Islam, I do not assume, like the vulgarians among the New Atheists, that faith in Islam is tantamount to faith in flying pasta.

        • Darren

          Alias Clio said;

          ”Darren, you entirely misunderstood my comment. You appear to have assumed that I was attacking atheism in general…”

          Ah, I had assumed so, thank you very much for clarifying. I also appreciated your further elaboration of your previous point, even though I really was only attempting to clarify the art bit.

          I will concur with you; vulgarity is not something I have much taste for. Perhaps it is due to my never having mastered its effective use. It can, on very rare occasions, be used effectively, but I think such use must require an English accent, of which I am not blessed (thinking John Cleese, not Richard Dawkins, BTW). Sadly vulgarity’s actual use far exceeds its effective use.

          This is, BTW, a debate within the Atheist community, the extent and appropriate use of vulgarity, mockery, etc. I suspect it is mostly the sellers of books and their devotee’s that are enamored of it. In my own case, it was strong arguments that collapsed my Theism, not vitriol, but perhaps I am an oddball. Hume, Dennett, and Sagan did me in, not Dawkins.

          So far as evangelical Atheism, one of my fundamental tenants is that a human is free to believe what that human chooses to believe. So long as that belief is freely chosen, and that person does not try to stick a sword in me for not sharing it, or to take away my pork fritter because he thinks pork fritters make God angry, we have no problem AFAIC.

          I am also a Humanist, and like you have a great appreciation for the vast diversity of human genius and art. A great many people, IMO, need to just chill out and stop worrying about whether or not Black Jesus is actually Ned the Wino (showing my age).

          • Alias Clio

            I don’t think I could have made my position on the art-related part of the argument without re-phrasing the rest of it, because I really wasn’t clear on where your confusion came in. My first comment in this thread stated clearly that I wasn’t condemning all atheists but only the vulgar formulae of New Atheism.

            I happen to know that Dawkins and Hitchens are/were appreciators of the arts, so it baffled me that they could see nothing of value anywhere in Christianity and yet still see great value in its arts. I’m able to see value in Greco-Roman or Islamic art without believing in the Gods of those civilizations, but then, unlike Dawkins et al with regard to Christianity, I don’t condemn them as intellectually vacant and morally bankrupt.

  • Darren

    Noah D. and Ivan the Mad especially;

    …on the topic of the Catholic Church in Space, one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes:

    The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

  • http://www.stillthinking.org Michael

    Having just used a great number of minutes intended for other purposes to read this thread, i’d like to say ‘thank you’ to one and all. Reading the initial post and subsequent comments has been far more fun than the original purpose that those waylaid minutes were set aside for.

    Discussion involving religion and faith can devolve into argument so easily even if only for the passion with which many people hold their particular interpretation, and yet to me the vast bulk of the argument is really nothing more than misrepresented attempts to clarify the meanings of this or that word or phrase. While that has been the case in some of the comments, the bulk exhibit a clarity of thought and an eye for the ironic or humorous that tickles my fancy.

    Thank you to scifiwright.com for the link to this article. When possessing sufficient unallocated minutes and and a likely bottle of red, i will enjoy trolling through others opinions on this perpetual point of enquiry.


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