Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One)

Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One)

The other day, I posted Just Believe (Part Four) on my facebook page.  During the course of the lengthy (and very interesting) discussion that followed, my brother posted a video in the comment section called “The Four Horsemen” here in two parts: Hour One and Hour Two, where four atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris) discuss religion in a relaxed and unmoderated setting.  They bring up some very valid points, as well as a few absurdities.  Overall, I agreed with much of what they said.  I will name and comment on their points, one by one in what probably looks to be a two or three part blog.

1. Deny religious tax exemption.

When Jesus was questioned about taxes, this is what He had to say: “…give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”  So why is it that churches don’t pay taxes?  How does a struggling single mother feel when she can barely keep the electricity turned on, but the church down the road is building a sports facility or cafe?  If churches poured into their communities all the money they ought to be paying in taxes, wouldn’t this world be a better place?  I agree with the atheists, that religious institutions ought to be taxed as businesses, because in reality, that’s what they are.  They peddle their own version of God, and they use the “law” to make unsuspecting people feel obligated to give 10% of their income.  Yet how many churches give even 10% of what money they collect into non-church related charities?  It’s just not right.

2. Religion isn’t the only game in town when it comes to being spiritual (examples: having an experience while on drugs, living in a cave for a year).

Creation is awe-inspiring.  Life is deep.  As emotional creatures, regardless of our beliefs, we all have moments of super-clarity, when existence itself presses upon us, and we become passionately overwhelmed with the enormity, complexity, beauty, and variety of the human experience.  Those who know God would describe it as a taste of knowing God (unwittingly for the atheist), while an atheist would describe it as a non-deity related spiritual experience (which deists wrongly ascribe to their deity).  For much more on this, I suggest watching the “Flatland” analogy that goes from the second half of Part Four to the first half of Part Five of Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual” but if you want to watch it in its entirety, here it is: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, and Part Eight.

 3. Equate the knowledge of God with: “I suddenly realized the universe is all about me…”

I take issue with this idea, because the knowledge of God causes one to realize that it’s all about God, and “me” is just thankful to be included in His Plan!  Perhaps these particular athiests have crossed paths with some arrogant deists, though.  I can’t think of any other reason why they would feel this way.

 4. Scientists are candid about their scope of ignorance (saying I don’t know).

This is true, to some extent.  However, there are complaints about exclusivity and orthodoxy in academia.  I already knew about it to a certain extent, but now that I’m attending UCF, I’ve been exposed to more complaints of pressures scientists and other academics feel to maintain status quo.  It is a frustration that is not being acknowledged or dealt with in any way at this time.  Sooner or later that pressure will build enough that the problem will be exposed.  For more on this, watch Part Ten and Part Eleven of my religious tolerance series (although the focus in these vids is primarily on anthropology/archeology).

5. “…tortured after death by 17 demons…”

It is interesting that atheists, who do not know God, are able to grasp the ridiculousness of the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell, but the mainline Christian still insists on holding to this archaic Egyptian mythology.

 6. I noticed that during the discussion, there were plenty of complaints toward deists involving the words, “they always” and “they never”.

Admittedly, I am guilty of the same thing in casual conversation and even sometimes in my writing.  Given the amount of intellect in the room among these four gentlemen, I am surprised that they didn’t call each other out on this verbal faux pas.  Surely, if they stop and consider how many billions of different deists there are in this world, it is not likely that their all-inclusive statements are as inclusive as they would like to believe.

7. “…congregations don’t know better, because it is maintained that they should not know better..” (Here the idea is that congregations have delegated authority to their leaders, and then they presume their leaders are going to do it right.)  The atheists ask, “Who stands up and says, ‘the buck stops here’”?

This is an incredibly important point.  What system of checks and balances are present to call out leaders who are WRONG?  Although most church-attending people have this idea that there is a way to correct bad decision-making, call leaders to account for abusing their authority, and make other necessary changes as the need arises, this is simply not the case in most churches.  Sin happens.  This should not be a surprise.  We should not expect perfection from one another.  On the other hand, spiritual abuse and even criminal activity under the guise and protection of spiritual position is something that absolutely should not be permitted.  Here, I must agree with the idea that church leaders perpetuate a system in which congregations are purposely kept in the dark about questionable decisions.  People who stand up and say “the buck stops here” are systematically put out of churches through shunning, being stripped of their positions and paychecks (if employed by the church), not being permitted to have the opportunity to present their complaints to the congregation, being labeled as heretical or divisive, or in many other ways.  It is sad but true.  The atheists have the institutional church pegged in this one.

 8. The issue of authority and of faith in authority in science versus religion: science is a peer reviewed, competitive atmosphere where competitors admit to truths that others found before them.

This is surely more true for science than it is for the church.  In fact, the “peer review” process has only in the last decade or so begun for the church – and they are scrambling like ants whose hill was just stomped.  The next few generations should be very interesting, because with the advent of the Internet and more specifically, social media, the erroneous teachings of theologians and pastors are being brought into the light.  Now, that is not to say that science has perfected this peer review thing (see number four above).

9. “They (religion) can’t be allowed to forget what they used to say when they were strong enough to get away with it, which is, ‘This is really true, in every detail, and if you don’t believe it, we’ll kill you…’  They wouldn’t have the power they have now if they didn’t have the power they had then.”

This is so true.  Religion used to be allowed to kill people, take away people’s property, or torture people for disagreeing with orthodox opinion.  We’ve all heard the horror stories.  It is interesting to note that the belief in eternal torment ushered in the Dark Ages.  Religious people actually reasoned that if people were going to burn in hell forever anyway, they might as well be burned in this world first, as an example for all those who would set themselves up against the teachings or powerful positions of religious elite.

 10. If you can’t defend your view, then you can’t put it forward…

This seems like a reasonable assertion until you stop and consider that not everything true or right can be defended through the language and methods of science.  Consider “survival of the fittest.”  If this is true in all times and all places for all creatures, then people can kill each other because they have the power and desire to do so.  Of course, this is a very extreme example, but it serves the purpose.  Science does not have the right to make all the rules about what is and is not defensible in conversation or to cut someone out of a conversation.  I say, let everyone have the opportunity to speak.  If a person’s ideas can’t stand in the light of scrutiny, what is there to lose?  Why end the conversation, just because you think someone’s view is indefensible?  Won’t that become obvious during the course of the conversation, without anyone having to enforce some silly rule about who is and who is not allowed to speak?  How arrogant!


  • Mary Vanderplas July 31, 2011 at 8:08 am

    You make some good points. I agree that, insofar as religious institutions operate as businesses, the same rules should apply to them, including that they pay taxes. And I agree with what you imply about churches too often being self-focused, spending an inordinate amount of money and other resources on preserving the institution rather than giving themselves away for the sake of others outside their doors. I would hasten to add, though, that some of the churches I have belonged to have not fit this description. These have been faithful in giving – in some cases, well over 10% of their budget – to serve the community and world, as Christ commands.

    Like you, I take exception to the idea that believing in a personal God who has created us for relationship with himself is to think that “the universe is all about me.” I would add that, far from inspiring hubris, acknowledging the existence of someone outside of ourselves who created the vast and complex universe helps us to “know our place” and have a proper sense of humility.

    There is no doubt that religion can learn from the philosophy of ignorance/doubt/humility (in relation to knowledge) on which science is built and which is necessary for being open to the wonder of discovering truth. Your comments about exclusivity and orthodoxy in academia are interesting – suggesting that at times the institution of academia may be as much of a detriment to truth-seeking as the religious institution often is.

    I think your comments about religious authority and its abuses are well-stated and accurate generally, though again here I would add that certainly not all churches and church leaders fit this description and that, in my view, it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t think that religious authority is inherently bad, or that it is necessary to the existence of religion, as its atheistic critics imply, that the masses be kept in the dark. But I do agree that too often ecclesiastical authority is used wrongly, calling for reform of the system.

    There is no denying that the religious impulse has fostered exclusivity, along with enmity and violence against those who believe differently. But the answer isn’t to throw out the baby, as Dawkins and company would have it. The answer, rather, is for us religious people to embrace our tenets with humility and modesty (i.e., to get rid of the bathwater of moral and spiritual certitude), respecting alternative views and acknowledging the limits of our knowledge. Without trying to defend the wrongs done in the name of religion, I think it is worth observing also that, in their zeal to discredit religion, the atheistic critics zero in on only the worst examples of it, while completely ignoring any of the good.

    I agree that it is arrogant and intolerant in the extreme to say that only those who can defend their view (i.e., offer empirical evidence for it) should be allowed to share it. Indeed, not everything true can be scientifically proven, as you rightly assert. In fact, those who embrace the doctrine – yes, doctrine – of scientism, which states that science is the only reliable pathway to truth, cannot defend their view any more than religious people can defend their view that God exists. As others have pointed out, there is no way to empirically demonstrate and thus prove that only those things that can be scientifically proven are true – making scientism’s basic premise something that must be accepted by faith (and exposing scientism as a self-contradictory belief system).

  • […] Who See May Become Blind, Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One), Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part Two), Five Final Observations from Atheists (Part […]

  • […] Word: Story, We Feel Connected, Videos (about Christian Universalism), Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One), Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part […]

  • Melinda Green January 14, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Dennett wasn’t saying that if you can’t defend your view then you can’t have a conversation. What he means is that it is not valid as an argument in a debate.

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.