Feb 22, 2013 by Tom Gilson
Larry Tanner, frequent commenter here, has some kind words about me on his own blog. I missed it for a few days, but I have left him a note there now in response.
With all due respect, you expected more from an atheist?
Permit me to step outside of my fields of competence to probe you: could it be that you actually fear it may be true that atheists really are terrible people who, one way or another, do terrible things (including Larry’s “compliment”) precisely because they are… atheists? Could it really be true that by intentionally and actively sinning against the First Commandent the sinner does near-irreparable harm to himself or herself?
I’m not decrying in any way the efficacy of Grace, nor am I rejecting our responsibility to embrace and be instruments of the Great Commission… even unto martyrdom.
I’m merely suggesting we may be banging our minds and hearts up against something demonic… and that is no game.
Oh, I understand it’s no game.
I’ve written it before, and it will be part of my current series again: I think that technically speaking, atheism is not a cause of this problem. The problem is that humans’ natural state is rebellion, a rebellion that produces the condition we call “atheism,” the denial of God, along with many other evils. We all start out in this rebellion, and the one necessary first step to recovery and rightness is to turn our hearts humbly toward God in Christ.
Yes, but some rebellion is more equal that than others.
A direct, active, and intentional “rebellion” is different from, say for example, someone rebelling in the sense of not fully trusting (Stealing to survive is a sin, and one that is ultimately inexcusable… but surely it’s a sin that is not directly directed against God Himself.) Of course all sin leads to death… but there are kinds of sin that are directly aimed against God (can I say “aimed against”?) and those that are aimed against one’s neighbor who is made in the image and likeness of God (Mark 12:30-31). And then there are those directed against one’s neighbor.
What I’m suggesting is not to pit one sin against another in some stupid pecking order. What I am suggesting is that some sins “fast-track” one to damaging one’s soul so severely as to denigrate their own humanness–literally to make one inhuman.
It is no accident that [proximately] denigrating one’s own humanness through sin (and hence [ultimately] denigrating one’s relation with God) indeed narrows one’s actions to those that are–again I say quite literally–in humane. It is no accident that the kinds of virtuous acts (i.e., acting in excellence to what one was created to be) atheists so stupidly oppose (most because they decry even human nature) run directly counter to the locus of things atheists support (usually with the brainless retort of “why not?)–things that are repugnant in and of themselves because they run counter to our natures as created in His image and likeness. It is no accident atheists generally support the murder of unborn children, the anti-natural and anti-fecundal acts of homosexuality, euthanasia, the cowardly harvesting of human embryos so as to use their parts to make themselves “powerful” and “beautiful”, etc., etc., etc. These sins in particular ARE Moloch-based. And then there’s entire regimes directly animated and who looked to atheism to justify their political ideologies… leaving uncountable millions of bodies in their wake.
Larry is not just being cranky and bad-mouthing accidentally to who he is. It’s within the denigrated, dehumanized natures of atheists to act the way they do. Atheism is the lowest, most mind-numbing form of rebellion against God because it’s directly aimed at Him and at one’s neighbors.
Atheism is demonic. It reminds me of the scene from Apocalypse Now: as Col. Kurtz is dying he wispers, “The horror… the horror!”
I’m not being pessimistic or suggesting one decrease witness or withdrawal to circle the wagons. That would itself be dumb and a sin. It’s just that I’ve been coming to a conclusion that I myself (perhaps pridefully) fear: it is only supernatural Grace that is efficacious against atheism, and the channel for the Grace cannot be me. That’s for sure.
Interesting. I had the good fortune to be complimented as “good and kind” by a friend recently. At work, my executive colleagues expressed appreciation for the way I do my job.
I wonder if either of you know not what you do.
Larry, what I wrote, I wrote about all human beings. We are all in rebellion, unless we accept Jesus Christ’s offer of life through grace. If you think that’s an insult, check out the one I wrote about here. It’s the insult that believers bear.
I don’t think it’s an insult. I think it’s made up and damaging. If that’s the way you want to go, be my guest. I too can hate your “sin” but bear no ill will toward you as a “sinner.”
The problem is—speaking for what I wrote, for I still have differences with Holopupenko on this—the problem is that it’s true. If it weren’t true I wouldn’t speak it. It’s not directed at you, but at all of us. And there’s nothing I can do to change it. All I can do is point to God’s love in spite of it: Romans 5:6-8.
The problem really is that you need more than Romans.
We have more than Romans.
I had the good fortune to be complimented as “good and kind” by a friend recently. At work, my executive colleagues expressed appreciation for the way I do my job.
Yes, but the point is that these are accidental (i.e., not per se or essential to who Larry (or any atheist) is as an atheist. There is no objective “good and kind” or objective basis for “good and kind” to refer to for atheism. Full stop. Larry demands (implicitly in absolutist terms as a weapon against Christians) to be treated kindly… even as atheism can supply him with no objective basis for such a demand. Larry is, in fact, parasitic upon Judeo-Christian moral principles even as he rejects their source.
If, Larry believes he is “good and kind” because (i.e., as a directly result) of atheism, then the onus is on him to demonstrate this with sound arguments and verifiable references.
He won’t, because he can’t…
… or he’ll hand wave with some “is to ought” fallacy… or he’ll whine that we “know not what [we] do”…
… and he’ll assume his particular case somehow validates a general assessment of atheism (which is also a fallacy).
Larry may, in fact, be “good and kind”… although there is a track record to indicate otherwise, including twisting/eliminating words and “complimenting”. But even if he is, it is in spite of his atheism, not because of it.
May I remind Larry that many mafiosos have been known to lead exemplary family lives while being brutal thugs “on the job.” The same applies to many unborn-baby killers, Nazis, Communists, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Those kinds of dichotomized lives are all too common—among Christians as well—reflecting deep, deep divisions (chaos) in disordered souls.
Sooner or later, the soul will not be able maintain such a disbalance… and some how in some way it always comes out. It may not come out in family or personal disfunctionalities: it could take the form of activism for abortion or euthanasia or homosexuality or harvesting embryos’ cells. In other words, the sheer repugnance of atheism will affect the person and how that person acts, and it will find release… and people will die and suffer. Many, many, many people.
We’re all rebellious—that’s clear. But, I repeat, there’s (a) intentional and active rebellion against the Ultimate, and there is (b) the active and intentional rebellion against ones’ neighbors as created in the image and likeness. To consider those rebellions somehow of equal stature and ability to damage the soul of the sinner is to turn one’s face from the obvious.
So, of course you’re speaking to all of us, Tom. But there’s a difference between (a) those who listen, understand, and accept (faltering in acting out that understanding and faith notwithstanding), and (b) those who refuse to even consider the possibility because the atheism animates that refusal. Of course human nature as rebellious is the source of the “symptom” of a blackened soul known as atheism. However, the efficacy of rebellion (and its actualized results) manifested as atheism is far greater than, say, the breaking of the other Commandments. All sin leads to more sin; atheism hyper-drives that.
Atheism directly and intentionally denigrates the human dignity of the atheist and those against whom his/her actions are directed, and atheism is in direct and intentional opposition to God as an “object” of hatred or (perhaps worse) indifference. (“The opposite of love is not hate—it is indifference.” Elie Weisel) Larry (I highly suspect) and all atheists, to varying degrees, are indeed indifferent to sin and rebellion against neighbor and God because their sense of themselves is very I-centered, their morality is based on “why not?” and “leave me alone.” It is the results of that sin (as animated by atheism as the worst form of human rebellion)—suffering, oppression, inhumanity, etc. stemming from the ideological repugnances they support—to which atheists are indifferent… and incapable of loving taking up and being nailed to a cross.
If Christ himself distinguished between the commandments–clearly indicating the “greatest” of them, then surely there are degrees in the seriousness of sins. ALL lead to death, but some (e.g., the seven deadly sins, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, violating the First Commandment, etc.) lead to death more efficaciously than others because they inflict more harm to the soul.
You also know of C.S. Lewis’ position in, among other place, The Screwtape Letters: its starts with the small sins, and spirals down from there. (You know the song: “Be careful little eyes what you see…”) The small sins open the door to Hell, the deadly serious sins slam the door shut behind.
One doesn’t just “reason” to atheism (that itself is unreasonable): there must be a precursor… and that is the “rebellion” of which you correctly speak.
Okay… now I’ll reveal why I jumped in to commenting yesterday… in particular on this post.
Yesterday around 2:00 pm, Fr. Benedict Ashley (b. 03 May 1915) passed away Rush Hospital in Chicago. Per the Wikipedia entry, Fr. Ashley was “a theologian and philosopher who had a major influence on 20th century Catholic theology and ethics in America through his writing, teaching, and consulting with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Author of 19 books, Ashley was a major exponent of the “River Forest School” of Thomism. Health Care Ethics, which he co-authored in 1975 and now in its fifth edition, continues to be a fundamental text in the field of Catholic Medical Ethics.
Now, here’s the interesting part as it relates to this post. Again, per Wikipedia, Fr. Ashley “…as a young man… was a committed atheist and communist. As an undergraduate he studied under Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins at the University of Chicago and there received his Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature and was a graduate assistant to Adler. For a time a member of the Young Communist League and then of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party, through his study under Adler of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas he was baptized in the Catholic Church and received his Doctorate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He then entered the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) in which he was ordained in 1948…”
The point is, while Adler and Aquinas may have helped, it was only through the Grace of God that Fr. Ashley turned from the black evil of atheism (which, by definition animates communism) and all that it entails… to become a Thomist and a priest and influential medical ethicist. In other words, God used evil to produce multi-fold good. That is the response to the non-starter accusation by atheists against God (that He can’t exist if there’s evil in the world): the good that results from our evil always exceeds that evil many, many times over.
I had the distinct pleasure and honor of having Fr. Ashley coach me (as the reviewer of work and reader) through a course in the philosophy of nature, and it was an even greater blessing to have dinner at the Notre Dame faculty club with Fr. Ashley and Prof. Ralph McInerny (another faith and reason giant) a few years before McInerny retired. (The faculty club makes fantastic blackberry brandy sours!)
So, this is the only hope I cling to in my pessimism over these discussions, and as I constantly and falteringly have to remind myself: that, similar to St. Paul (and me, in fact), Larry and other atheists will have a “road to Damascus experience” and get knocked off their high-horse of arrogance and self-centeredness, disordered views of reality (including the denigration of human nature)… and realize that Love is not primarily a relationship or a word defined or something to be proved or reduced into a nice little package. Love is a Person and true love is only through the Cross.
“the black evil of atheism”
Here are a couple questions for atheists to answer:
1. How has atheism made the world better?
2. How will atheism make the world better?