Thomas McDonald pretending to be clever.

I have a general policy.  If I think someone’s a terrible human being, I try to go through all the reasons for why I think that before declaring them to be an asshole.  But in this case I just can’t wait: Thomas L. McDonald, Catholic blogger here at Patheos, is an irretrievable asshole.  If ever we needed an argument for god being unjust, look no further than the fact that he thinks Thomas L. McDonald deserves even a taste of paradise instead of a decade long paper cut.

McDonald has some opinions about atheists, and has declared April Fools day to be “Hug an Atheist Day”.  Because we’re fools, get it?  Let’s just look at what he has to say:

Go ahead and hug an atheist today. They need it. They live lives of sad desperation caught in a meaningless universe and protest that they’re happy because they see things “as they really are” and are free to enjoy life as it is, and then disappear into the dust and relieve an already overcrowded world of yet another sentient meatbag.

McDonald seems to think happiness means nothing if it doesn’t last forever.  The irony is that he then accuses people like me of living a life of despair.

Any time somebody performs an action, they give meaning to their life.  Here, look at me and the woman I love enjoying our lives and giving meaning to them by making a cake shaped like an owl!  The fact that this is only temporary does not undermine its significance.  And besides, this is a happiness that is absolutely real, that I’ve already received.  Am I to believe that more meaning can be had holding out for the promise of paradise that I’ve never received, and will only be presented to me after I die?  Bullshit, says I.

And what’s wrong with seeing things as they really are?  I don’t think it’s terribly off base to assert that learning how the Jeans Instability works to produce stars is far more fulfilling and allows me a greater connection to the universe in which I live than “god did it”.

Evangelical atheists are funny little people, ain’t they? They claim to be the sole heirs to true “reason,” while promoting a mechanistic model of the the universe that is more faith-based than that of theists.

Oh, we don’t declare ourselves to be the sole heirs of reason, but I have no problem saying I care more about it than religious people.  Nobody who gives reason supreme authority over all other authorities could believe that somebody rose from the dead or walked on water.

And our model of the universe is faith-based?  I beg to differ.  Science makes only one assumption: the universe operates on a set of rules.  If this assumption is true we should be able to test it, and we have every time we’ve been able to throw things to the edge of our solar system with uncanny accuracy, by inventing light bulbs, by designing airplanes that fly, etc..  It works.  And it has worked so consistently that it is no longer fair to call it a mere assumption.

You already accept the universe is consistent. If you put your finger on a hot stove and burn yourself, then you pass the same stove a week later, you’re probably not going to put your finger on it again. Such inductive rules could not be formed without consistency.  Compare this to the theist who thinks the consistency of the universe was suspended so their beliefs about someone rising from the dead and walking on water can be true.  If you think it takes even equal amounts of faith to believe someone didn’t rise from the dead, you wouldn’t recognize reason if it was making you pregnant.

I believe the origin of the universe in the big bang (a theory originated by Fr. Georges Lemaître) has a theistic cause, and I have the proof of my own senses and reason, as well as the perfectly sound logical point that all causes must trace themselves back to a First Cause.

All causes trace themselves back to a first cause…except god, of course.  It must be nice to have a different set of rules for your opposition than for others.

You already believe something can exist without a cause, because you think god did.  So as long as that’s our operating assumption, why not assume that the things that exist without a cause are matter and the laws of physics?  We know they exist and we know they create order all by themselves.

They also believe that the universe has an origin point, and that their faith-based view of science will find the solely natural cause for that origin annnnny day now. Just give it time. Top Men are working on it right now. Top! Men!

It takes a lot of brass to assert you know more about cosmology than the collective battery of every scientific mind past and present while still thinking your beliefs (in which the author of every star in every galaxy takes a specific interest in you) represent a religion of humility.

We don’t know from whence came the universe, and we have no problem saying so.  It’s you, Thomas McDonald, and every other believer who is claiming they do know (when even cosmologists don’t).  All we’re saying is that you’re full of shit, because you are.

But even if we had to guess, how would we do so?  There was once a time when nothing was explained and ever since that time quite literally everything we have explained has been found to have a natural explanation.  Every single time.  You can even test this:

1.  Try to think of a question for which we once had a religious answer, but for which we now have a scientific answer.

This should be hella easy.  Religions are rife with making assertions of knowledge, not based upon any evidence, but upon “revelation”.  Then, when evidence turns up later, that “revelation” winds up being indistinguishable from somebody making shit up.

2.  Now try to think of a question for which we once had a scientific answer, but for which we now have a religious answer.

*crickets*

Every discovery we’ve ever made has revealed a natural universe.  Try to imagine the historical trend in discovered knowledge as two boxers who have fought millions of fights, with one of those boxers winning every single one.  They’re about to fight again.  On which fighter do you bet your life savings?  Does anybody with half a brain listen to the guy saying they know the perpetually losing boxer is going to finally pull one out because they have faith?

Of course, once that cause is found, it still doesn’t rule out a theistic answer to the origin and nature of the universe any more than understanding why a rose is red and smells nice renders Shakespeare meaningless.

Of course.  It doesn’t matter how many natural explanations are discovered or how many times those explanations have run in opposition to the Catholic faith, at no point will McDonald relent until we’ve turned over every rock in the universe and found no gods.  I wonder if he treats leprechauns the same way.  Sure, we have no evidence of them!  But I believe they’re hiding in the middle of the sun!  And even if we can ever peer into the sun’s center and find no leprechauns, that doesn’t change anything!  Maybe they’re in another star or just really tiny!

In one case, the person is clearly an idiot.  In the other, we just call them a Catholic.

Not ruling out the existence of a god is a far cry from confirming one or of Thomas McDonald (or any other theist) having the slightest bit of good reason to believe one is there.  Even if I admit a god is possible in the same way as unicorns living inside my ass, that does nothing for making those beliefs plausible.

Here’s the glorious truth for them: time, space, and matter have an origin point outside of time, space, and matter, and this everyone understands to be God.

God made the universe when there was no space for him to do it and no time for him to do it in.  Sounds legit.

And no, not everyone understands it to be god, because we don’t know what catalyzed our universe.  McDonald is just taking what humanity doesn’t know and giving god the credit for it.  There are two reasons this is a silly thing to do.

1.  The less ignorant humanity becomes, the more we thrive.  Knowledge is power, after all.  It’s why our generation of airplanes, cell phones, abundant food, clean water, medicine, and such is a veritable Utopia compared to every previous generation.  We try our best, as a species, to eliminate ignorance because we realize this.  By naming your ignorance of things (like how the universe came to be) “god” you wind up worshiping this quality that all sane and self respecting people are trying to carve away with every passing day.  Worshiping ignorance is pretty self-deprecating.

2.  To equate god with human ignorance is to make god synonymous with a quality we don’t want.  Even if god exists, you’re not doing him any favors this way.

It’s really not that hard, and if the next question is, “Well, then where does God come from?” the answer is right there in that complex, brilliant, poetic, vexing, and infinitely wise thing we call scripture, formulated long before the idea of contingent being: “God is.”

It’s not hard, the answer is easy (and yet, vexing, don’t ask how that works): “my position is correct”.  Checkmate, atheists!  I wonder how Thomas McDonald would react if I just declared “Physics is.  God isn’t.”  That’s actually a lie, I don’t wonder at all.

What, you wanted something more than that? Maybe a calculation or a formula or a paper in Nature?

That would actually be lovely.  After all, god gave us that kind of evidence for the rate of descent and for the existence of, say, feces.  If god’s existence is a more important fact than the existence of feces, why did he give us more evidence for the latter?

An answer that reduces the infinite wonder of a totally non-contingent being responsible for all existence into something you can store in that bag of gray mush in your noggin?

Or, as people not eat up with trying to rationalize ridiculous beliefs call it: “knowledge”.

Tough crap. That’s all you’re getting: YHWH. It’s all you need. Embrace that one mystery, and all else makes sense.

You want knowledge from my religion?  Well you can fuck right off.  You can have mystery that we call knowledge, oh and also the origin of the universe is mysterious and yet we know how it works (I guess the mystery is how we know that, but I’ll be damned if treat that knowledge like a scientist would and make it available to everybody).

Anybody saying this stuff should be disqualified from any position of responsibility beyond making french fries.

I’m not sure what clinging to an irrational vision of reality gives to atheists.

“I don’t know how the universe came to be” is not irrational.  “It’s a mystery and I know!  It was someone who rose from the dead and walked on water” is the zenith of irrationality.

Belief in a transcendent order is a fundamental element of the human psyche, which would mean that it is, in itself, natural.

It’s also natural to die from infections.  Good thing we invented antibiotics.

It’s also natural to have declining eye sight.  Good thing we decided not to be slaves to our nature there.

Not everything that is a natural part of our lives is necessarily good for them, otherwise people would never have their wisdom teeth removed.  It’s also natural for us to overeat.  A wise person pays greater heed to their natural inclination for self preservation by not overeating.  Likewise, when presented with a cloying fantasy that appeals to our sense of wishful thinking, a wise person gives greater authority to their impulse to not be gullible.

These are the same people who argue that homosexuals are “born with” their sexuality and loudly berate the idea of gay people “going straight” or attempting conversion therapy.

To be fair, that’s not just atheists but also every major psychological organization.  But who cares what the experts think?  Thomas McDonald has the opinions of people who lived over a thousand years before the advent of psychology.

Why defer to experts when one can derive contrary opinions from a great mystery?

However, they seem to think it’s perfectly fine for a human animal born with an innate religious impulse to repress or deny that impulse in favor of … what? A Reason Rally?

If someone is also born with the impulse to rape children (see an astonishingly high percentage of Catholic priests), I think they should repress that too.

And yes, if you feel tempted to believe that somebody rose from the dead, or that the guy selling you a used car without an engine really has your best interests at heart, I do expect you to deny that in favor of reason.  I expect this because beliefs are the gatekeepers of actions, and our actions affect our neighbors.  This makes my beliefs your business, and your beliefs mine.

Interesting bunch of hypocrites, these evangelical atheists.

I know, right?  Expecting people to have reasons and evidence for the shit they believe.  Next we’ll even be demanding they not pretend to know shit they don’t.  I can totally see why a person would eschew us in favor of unflinching loyalty to an organization with a history of burning scholars at the stake.

But that’s okay, since they don’t really believe it anyway. As Andrew Ferguson writes in the best essay of the year, “Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived…. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.”

How does the lack of god prohibit one from having moral agency?  Does Thomas McDonald not jump on the child-raping and/or protecting child rapists bandwagon like his religious leaders, not because he has empathy for children, but because he really doesn’t want to go to hell?  I’d like to introduce Thomas to this new thing called “kindness”.  I really think it’s going to catch on.

I’m afraid it’s quite the opposite.  If you need an omnipotent being standing over, always with the threat of punishment to keep you from killing your neighbors, raping their pets, and stealing their pornography, it is you who is the psychopath.  For the rest of us who feel sympathy when others suffer, we’re what is best about humanity.

You can’t believe the universe is without purpose or meaning…

The universe has no purpose.  People do.

…wave your hands around a lot, and then arrive at a moral order for behavior based upon vagaries like social contracts.

Actually, we can.  All we have to do is realize that we want to live in a world where people don’t steal from one another – where people live in harmony.  Once we make that one, tiny admission, we’ve given ourselves all the reason we need to construct moral rules.

There is something in us that allows us to read passages like Exodus 35:2 (kill anybody who works on a Saturday) and determine that they are not moral and never were.  It is pure compassion, and it is a compassion present in other species that do not have the capacity to believe in god.  If we’re the ones making the moral calls, even about our religions, what need do we have of those religions for constructing our morals?

That’s not even good nonsense.

You’re right, humans would never figure out that agreeing to not harm one another might be a good way to live.  We must’ve had a guy rise from the dead and get brutally killed for imaginary crimes he didn’t commit in order for there to be justice.  Forgive me if I’m unmoved by Thomas McDonald’s appraisal of what constitutes nonsense.

And so today, April 1st, American Catholic is urging us to celebrate National Atheist Day. Go ahead, reach out to an atheist. Be prepared to offer a reason for your belief.

Yes, please offer a reason for your belief.  I’d like that.  Give me your best one, since in this post you inexplicably decided to lead with all your shitty arguments.

Oh, these were your best?  Shit’s a mystery and that’s why your religion is right?  Oh…

I followed the link to “a reason for your belief.”  Do you know what the reason was?  It was “Because Catholicism is true.”  I’m not joking, click the link.  It’s an exact quote.  Way to bring out the big guns there, guys.

It gets hard to separate the loud Ministers for the Church of Unbelief from the merely hurting, normal people.

I like how he calls us a church as an insult.

But no, we’re not a church.  We don’t have any prescribed beliefs or rituals.  We just all think religious people believe outlandish things.  Some of us, like me, even take it a step further and say that religious people should be better than that.  It’s not quite saying “believe as we do or burn for eternity” but I think it’s actually a lot more cordial.

Usually we only hear from the likes of American Atheists, “Friendly” Atheists, Dawkins, Meyers, etc: the Sturmabteilung of modern militant atheism.

Yup, you mainly hear from the vocal ones.  Will wonders never cease?

Forget about those jerks: they’re the Jimmy Swaggarts and Jack Chicks of modern disbelief: really loud and really dumb.

Thomas McDonald whining about people being really loud and really dumb is akin to Paris Hilton complaining that Mother Theresa was too risque.

The average person who doubts or denies the existence of God often does so for solid reasons, and they want answers, not polemics. I imagine many don’t really want to be atheists. Even many “atheists” don’t really believe in atheism.

To quote Sam Harris:

According to a recent Pew survey, 21 percent of atheists in the United States believe in “God or a universal spirit,” and 8 percent are “absolutely certain” that such a Being exists. One wonders if they were also “absolutely certain” they understood the meaning of the term “atheist.” Claiming to be an atheist who believes in God is like claiming to be a happily married bachelor. Rarely does one discover nonsense in such a pristine state. Still this hasn’t stopped many people from concluding that there is a schism in the atheist community.

Also:

The Pew survey produced a few more anomalies: 3 percent of “atheists” are “absolutely certain” that a personal God exists and believe that the Bible is His “literal” Word

This speaks more to religious people who didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about when they ticked that they were an atheist.

And even for those atheists who were similarly confused, let’s not confuse not knowing what the word ‘atheist’ means with wishing a god existed.  Most atheists are perfectly happy to get to sleep in on Sunday and have extra-marital sex, just like most Catholics, but without the guilt.

Lastly from Harris:

Pew’s sample of 35,556 Americans included 515 respondents who identified themselves as “atheists” (1.6 percent). The margin of error for this subgroup appears to be around 5 percent – which clearly makes a hash of many of the above findings. Among 35,556 people, Pew seems to have found 40 especially confused God-fearing men and women who think they are “atheists.” Their mutterings do not offer any special insight into the nature of belief.

Anyway, moving on with McDonald’s screed:

Some people fall into disbelief because they’ve seen an ugly side of religion and religious people.

Sure.  When a religion is claiming to be a moral bastion and then its leaders rape children and protect the rapists, that can send people packing.

They’ve suffered. They’ve lost. They’ve grieved.

Sure.  It makes no sense that a compassionate god would conceive of ways for us to suffer.  What do compassionate people do?  Try to eliminate suffering.  God clearly didn’t, so a compassionate god is irrational.

They’ve been lied to.

Another good reason to ditch religion.

They’re just plain ole sinners in a fallen world that exalts the self.

“Sinners”, a euphemism for “human” and more often “a human that doesn’t kowtow to my religion”.  I’m happy to be a sinner, and I don’t recognize it at all as the derisive term McDonald intends it to be.

And you’re damn straight I exalt myself.  I also exalt humanity.  We are the source of every solution to every problem we’ve ever solved.  When prayer didn’t fill our stomachs, we invented better hunting/farming techniques.  When prayer didn’t heal the sick, we invented medicine.  When travel through the world god supposedly created for us was dangerous and long, we invented automobiles and airplanes.  If prayer and reliance on god worked, we never would’ve invented anything.  Every human innovation is a testament to the uselessness of prayer and to our ability to bend the universe to serve us if we just use our wonderful mortal minds.

You’re god damned right I exalt humanity.  I think it deserves far better than religion.

What they need isn’t atheism. What they need is what atheism can never offer. Charity. Faith. Hope.

Charity:  Atheists are charitable.  What’s more, we donate because of sympathy, not because we’re bartering for an eternal reward.  In fact, the moment a church pays to send a bible to a third world country rather than food, they have had the efficacy of their charity reduced by their beliefs.  Atheists are charitable out of pure compassion.

Faith:  Yup, no use for faith.  Faith, the way religion people wield it, is gullibility pursued.  It is a license to believe any belief, regardless of the evidence.  In fact, here’s my challenge to Thomas McDonald: think of a belief so flagrantly at odds with reality that faith could not be used to defend it.

Hope:  Hope that does not affect the world is empty.  If someone found solace and hope in the idea that a leprechaun would fill their refrigerator with food, that hope is actually delusion that could keep that person from going out and getting a job.  Likewise, if prayer worked, human beings would have no need for innovation.  But in the absence of gods, our hope is derived from our ability to solve problems and our tendency to work as a team and to care for one another.  Hope springs from our ability to understand how the world works so we can more comfortably live within it.  This requires work and perspicacity.  So yes, human beings need hope – real hope, the kind that comes from the only salvation we’ve ever been able to rely upon: ourselves.  The hope of religion is empty – it’s the practice of thinking everything is already alright, or that someone else will make it alright if we just believe the proper absurd stories.  It is beneath humanity.

Atheists offer people an attractive lie: the world all there is, so you might as well just enjoy it. In other words, they look at a broken world, say it can be no product of a loving and omnipotent God, and therefore urge people to just embrace it as is.

It’s atheists offering the attractive lie?  Wait, who is it telling people they can live forever if they just believe a guy walked on water 2,000 years ago?

What atheists are saying is that your reasons for believing the above claim are lame to the power of lame, which is not a lie.  Fortunately, the truth that the universe is wonderful, beautiful, and complex owes nothing to any religion.  That really is the way the world is, and I have no problem pointing that out.  Hell, I’m happy to do so.

By contrast, we look at a world broken by our sins, and see the creation of a loving father of who set his children free to fall, and then urged them to lift themselves up again. As a father does. As I did when my children fell. And in learning to stand, we learn to live, and in time, to yearn for the world beyond the world. We long for a return to the home we lost, and which was reclaimed for us on barren hilltop 2000 years ago. We travel a road of faith, hope, and love back to the kingdom we left.

Oh, you were a father just like god?  What if god commanded you to kill your child, as he did with Abraham and Jephthah?  Would you be the admirable Christian (as Christians are taught to view those men) and obey?  If so, you lose all right to call anybody else a psychopath.

Do you punish your children to correct their behavior and nothing more, or do you toss them into an oven for the rest of their lives (which, itself, would be more merciful than hell) the first time they defy you as a parent?  If not, congrats!  You’re a better father than god.

It’s much more than merely an appealing alternative to the grim determinism of atheism, and it has one benefit above all others.

It happens to be true.

It would be awesome for Catholicism if arguments could be won by declaring that your beliefs are true.  However, in the world of people who don’t want to accept false beliefs, we need just a little more than that.

Oh, and if you’re wanting to go defend atheists on McDonald’s blog, don’t bother.  He’s closed comments.  But it’s only because he thinks atheists are jerks (which is ironic after you read his post).  He did leave this though:

Honestly not interested in the usual atheist combox trolling during spring break, so combox is off. Post your complaints here: http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/

UPDATE: Good grief, now the Raisin Warriors are drifting into other comboxes to bleat. Here’s my experience with atheists in the comboxes, which might give you a clue as to why the anti-theist opinions of fundamentalist atheists are of zero interest to me now and forever. I trawled through their intellectual backwaters before I returned to the Church, and I have never encountered a bigger batch of bias and shoddy thinking this side of Westboro Baptist Church. As I said on the other combox reply, fundamentalist atheists are 1) repetitive, 2) boring, 3) rude, and 4) far, far FAR less clever than they think they are.

They also have plenty of forums to get their hate on.

If you want to accuse me of avoiding a debate, you are 100% correct. Atheism is as intellectually credible as Holocaust denial and racial theory. I don’t debate those either.

There is a particular delicious irony in reading Thomas McDonald accusing other people of not being clever.  He doesn’t listen to the opinions of atheists, but somehow he knows what they think and that believing somebody didn’t rise from the dead makes as much sense as committing genocide against a whole race.  I just wonder how much blunt force trauma to a person’s skull it would take before that actually sounded like a coherent thought.  Rebutting this lengthy pile of nonsense feels very much like racing a box turtle.

And, frankly, given his worship of a god who committed genocide against all of humanity (save for eight people) for the crime of not believing in him, it’s strange to hear McDonald turn around and condemn genocide elsewhere.  Any person who can approve of a genocidal maniac in any capacity is a person who probably should get summarily ignored when he starts telling you how you need to think like him in order to have moral rules.

What a self-important, oblivious, gullible, unintelligent, unethical, and all around vile person.  And yet, for all of that, he is still more moral than the last two popes, both of which displayed coldness in the face of the victims of child rape at the hands of the church.  That should tell you just about everything you need to know about the Catholic Church and the people who still follow it.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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