About That Headline, “More Evil Than Any Atheist…”

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Yesterday I wrote a post titled, “More Evil Than Any Atheist I’ve Confronted.” Both here and on Twitter that caused some raised eyebrows: “What? Are you calling atheists evil?”

I wish I hadn’t worded that headline and post the way I had. It was clumsy. I wanted to focus on the evil of Westboro Church, which I think exceeds just about any other non-violent evil I can think of, and possibly even some that’s violent. That was the point of the post, but through carelessness I caused another question to arise.

It behooves me, then to address that question: do I think atheists are evil?

As I wrote in a comment yesterday, we all have that problem; see Romans 3:9-18. We all start out in opposition to God, self-oriented. The same topic came up in another thread, where I wrote that we’re all deeply flawed, and the only solution is in Jesus Christ—concerning which I have also written recently.

Universal Rebellion Expressed in Multiple Ways

Are atheists evil? It is wrong, and it is an expression of evil, to stand in opposition to God. There are many ways to oppose God: passive indifference, worshiping false gods, worshiping power, money, or prestige, living for personal pleasure rather than to honor God, and many more. Westboro Church is a tragic expression of evil, right up there among the worst, as I’ve already said.

One of the prime ways to oppose God, though, is to take a firm stand for the denial that he exists or that he matters. To deny our creator, to spurn his love and his sacrifice, to turn one’s back toward him intentionally, is a deep violation of the most basic commandment, which is to love him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

A Picture of Atheism

Suppose someone cared enough for you to sacrifice his life. Suppose he lived through it regardless. Then suppose you walked into his room in the hospital one day, and while he was greeting you, you turned away and called out, “Hey, is there anything interesting around here, or can I just leave now? I’m not particularly interested in talking with this dude, whoever he is. I can’t imagine what he has to do with me.”

That’s a picture of atheism, especially the sort of atheism that firmly denies the reality of God (or even 6.9/7 atheism).

Are atheists evil? Atheism certainly is.

Are atheists more evil than other groups? We all fall so far short of the glory of God that comparisons are almost meaningless. Viewed from an airplane, is an SUV taller or shorter than a pickup truck? Viewed from the ground, the answer would probably have to be, “which SUV and which truck?” In other words, if asked to compare groups I would decline. Westboro is a small enough group, however, and well-defined enough, that I don’t mind drawing a comparison: more evil than any (individual) athest I’ve confronted.

Good News for Those Who Can Accept It

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for those who can accept bad news. The bad news is that we’re all (watch out: unfamiliar language ahead) sinners. We’re all flawed, we’ve all missed the mark, we all need to be rescued. It is a universal human problem with only one answer. I had to accept that I was marred with evil—evil with which I had cooperated, evil that was in me—before I could be in any position to ask Jesus Christ to lift me out of it.

Are atheists evil? Atheists are human; and a human who has not be likewise lifted out needs to come to that same recognition. They are not evil because they are atheists; rather atheism is one expression among many of the rebellion of which I previously spoke.

I don’t expect that assessment to be very popular. It might just be the best thing you ever heard, though. Do you want good news? Look inside and see whether you recognize how much you need it. Then call on Jesus Christ to bring you what you need: rescue from your rebellion.

I’ve already linked to it here but I want to re-emphasize this post, where I’ve written more on this topic; and also the free ebook What Is Christianity?, where you’ll find more yet.

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60 Responses to “ About That Headline, “More Evil Than Any Atheist…” ”

  1. ooops, my mistake, I thought this was a liberal or progressive Christian blog since you had the name “Thinking Christian” — but I see you are with Campus Crusade for Christ. So your generic, conservative Evangelical stance makes more sense.

    PS — I use to lead Campus Crusade for Christ Bible studies on my campus many years ago when I was a member at my secular University.

    PSS — You have no check box on your comments for commentors to follow the comments by E-mail. You might want to turn that on, otherwise, you will find people will not return to comments since they won’t know if there are replies — as will be my case.

  2. You’re right atheism is just a belief system and as such has no moral value at all, it just is. It is those that misunderstand what atheism allows (or do they?) that give it a bad name. People like Stalin, Mao Se Tung, Pol Pot all thought that on atheism they could (and should) wipe out those that opposed their plans for a utopia based in atheistic materialism and communism. So perhaps as a simple belief system atheism is nether good nor evil, but as a means of understanding political and social realities it seems to lead to what Nietzsche called the “will to power.”

  3. I am not sure what you mean by liberal or progressive Christianity. Do you mean people that call themselves Christian but have adopted a secular humanist way of understanding the world?

    Many people who identify as Christian, have in reality, allowed a worldview that is actually contrary to historical orthodox Christianity to shape their beliefs. Their desire to appear “progressive” and thoughtful leads them to adopt secular views and cover them over with a Christian veneer.

    These so called thoughtful Christians then automatically reject others as “not capable of being thoughtful” based solely on their affiliations. This to me seems to be a form of bigotry and anything but thoughtful.

  4. I’ll agree that not all atheists are evil or immoral relative to other human beings. Of course, in reference to any real transcendent standard of moral goodness (God’s goodness) they fall pitifully short, along with the rest of us.

    Can an atheist admit that? Is he willing to admit that?

  5. To start with the assumption that a deity exists – the very issue at question – leaves you protected to claim anything you want to, in this case that the God of The Bible is real.

    That such a deity exists has not been demonstrated by any criteria that meets any standard of evidence. You’re left with all that you have, a religious “belief,” a belief shared with those of like mind.

    Maybe one day you will understand why your religious beliefs do not apply to those who do not share them.

  6. On the other hand, (continuing my thoughts from #4) I think all atheists are dishonest when it comes to the underlying realities of life and existence. What does everyone else think? Do you agree or disagree?

  7. Larry, you say,

    You’re right atheism is just a belief system and as such has no moral value at all, it just is. It is those that misunderstand what atheism allows (or do they?) that give it a bad name.

    If atheism has not moral value, how could someone misunderstand what it “allows”?

  8. Actually, Wood757, I’m not starting with an assumption, and that’s not the issue at question in this post. It’s the issue at question elsewhere but not here. I’m presenting a conclusion building off Christian theism, which I take to be true.

    Whether my religious beliefs apply to those who do not share them is not my decision or yours. If the God of the Bible not is real, then it’s not a matter of whether my beliefs “apply,” it’s simpler than that: I’m just wrong. But if he is real, then his standards apply to you and me and everyone.

  9. That is a comment whose logic escapes me. I don’t know that Christians have ever believed that our beliefs apply to those who do not share them. I do however understand that when the Roman Catholic Church, and other state churches, shared power with Kings (also known as Christendom) that there was a general acknowledgment that laws applied to those who did not obey them.

    In modern America the church has no authority to implement, let alone enforce laws or religious beliefs. So while Christians present the evidences that we find compelling for the existence of God, we do not expect that everyone will find our arguments satisfactory. Those that reject Christian arguments for the reasonableness of Theism remain free to believe what they like and to behave in ways contrary to the Christian understanding of morality. There is no compulsion to believe under biblical Christianity.

    The issue of course arises that there remains the possibility that God exists and that Christianity is true. If that turns out to be the case then God’s law will apply even to those who don’t believe.

  10. Tom, if by atheism one simply means they do not believe in God, then there is no good or evil associated with such a belief. If on the other hand they develop socio-political ideologies that based on their atheism allow for forced conformity based on those ideologies, such as the eugenics of Nazi Germany or the purges under communism then we are talking about more than a simple disbelief in God.

  11. The curious thing about not believing in God is that often other ideologies get built up around this disbelief that by understanding do involve evil. Take for example Peter Singer’s utilitarianism. Because Singer does not believe in God he posits that babies should be able to be killed 18 months after birth if the parents find the baby a hardship or an impingement on their personal freedoms. Singer also believe that since humans are just the highest evolved animal is acceptable for them to have sexual relations with lower animals.

    Darwin’s original title for The Origin of Species was…”On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” Darwin’s doubt in a loving Creator allowed him to believe that certain races were favored over others. He also believed that eugenics should be employed to reduce undesirables from reproducing. The German Nazis adopted Darwinism as a “scientific” explanation for their racial cleansing of Jews and the murder of the handicapped and homosexuals. Darwinist would insist that the Nazis misunderstood Darwin, but it was the common belief in inferior persons and the states responsibility to control such inferiority coupled with atheism (no life after death or eternal judgment) that led them to such horrific behavior.

    You and I agree that these beliefs developed naturally from an atheistic worldview. Taking the belief that no God exists to mean that morality is incapable of being judged by anyone other than me and/or the society I find myself in. We recognize that an atheistic worldview has and will lead people to engage in evil. However these atheistic belief systems with their subsequent actions are part of ideologies that went further than the simple statement “I don’t believe in God.”

  12. I never understood why requirements for love and foregiveness are so high for humans, yet when it comes to capital G God (both in Christianity and also Islam), the moral standard is different – no more unconditional love, no more foregiveness if you are not convinced by their message or if you use your supposed free will “wrong”. Yet, at the same time we are to believe these gods are the grounds for and providers of morality itself, and ironically – are touted AS unconditionally loving when they clearly are not, at least not by the standards required of us as humans.

    If I am stopped in a dark alley and given a choice, “free will” if you will, of either taking the “gift” of freeing myself of my possessions, or facing the consequences of not accepting this “gift”, then that is not a free will, but extortion.

    When you claim it is “evil” to not accept an offer that is given you on the premise that you have a free will in choice, but there is a “wrong” choice and and acceptable choice, then that is the most warped idea of morals I can possibly imagine.

    In fact, I think I’m quite well off and rather be considered “evil”.

  13. Rune,

    You are confusion and conflating a number of issues here so let me address just one. Refusing God’s gift of salvation doesn’t make you “evil”. You already are that. Refusing God’s gift of salvation makes you lost (as opposed to saved). If that’s ok with you, more power to you.

  14. Ok, let me check if I understand you correctly: You think that not believing in God is evil because God exists and divinely inspired a person/persons to write down words declaring this to be so, either directly or indirectly, according to your interpretation of those words? If so, does this form of “evil” has any relation to a conceptualisation of the term as an infliction or facilitation of misery and suffering on sentient beings? By which I mean to say, is the sort of evil inherent to atheism in any way related to, say, the sort of evil inherent to Nazism, which is so poised to create suffering for many? If not, don’t you think it was rather irresponsible of you to tacitly conflate these different conceptualisations of evil by not specifying that you were using an esoteric, theologically grounded conceptualisation? I mean, the West Boro Baptist Church *does* engage in some behaviour that one may reasonably call evil according to the infliction of suffering conceptualisation mentioned above, so it’s especially important to draw a distinction between the sort of “evil” you appear to be talking about and the (ostensibly completely different) sort of evil people are likely to think you’re talking about. Unless, of course, you actually believe there is no real distinction to be drawn here, in which case I would be eager to hear your reasoning in support of this position.

    “To deny our creator, to spurn his love and his sacrifice, to turn one’s back toward him intentionally, is a deep violation of the most basic commandment, which is to love him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

    I have a couple of problems with this. Firstly, I’m not sure that it makes any sense to talk about someone intentionally turning their back on someone that they genuinely don’t think exists. I can’t simply choose to believe that there’s a God. I would first have to honestly believe that the number and quality of reasons to believe that God exists far exceeds those to believe that he’s a human construct. Presently, however, I find myself persuaded that the opposite of this is the case. Indeed, even if someone held a gun to my head and shouted “believe!”, or someone offered me a million pounds to believe, I could only outwardly express belief: inside I would be just as much the atheist I ever was.

    Perhaps you believe that, deep down, all atheists must really know there is a God but are in a state of denial. If so, I’d be keen to hear why you think this is the case. I at least extend you the courtesy of assuming your sincerity, after all.

    Secondly, according to what understanding of human psychology is it possible to love something (assuming that you’ve been persuaded of its existence in the first place) because you’ve been commanded to do so and because punishment awaits you if you fail to comply? The emotion of love cannot be elicited in this coercive manner. Love is something that you find yourself feeling, not a state of mind someone one can elect to enter. Why would God design our psychology such that our experiences of love (and other emotions) are not under executive control, then command us to love him, and create an appropriate incentive structure to encourage us (i.e. heaven/hell), as if they are? The absurdity of it all has the fallibility of man written all over it. Just another drop in the ocean of reasons to believe that Christianity and its truth claims are human inventions corresponding to nothing objectively true.

  15. Josh,

    I understand I’m speaking in unfamiliar language, but the concept of “evil” is really quite solidly grounded in theism. By that I mean, for example, that while everyone knows the Holocaust was evil, it’s really quite difficult to explain just what that means without drawing on theistic resources. The category of evil just doesn’t fit well in other worldviews: certainly not in the Eastern religions, and also (though some deny it) not in naturalistic/materialistic worldviews.

    So while you may think this is an esoteric use of the term, I think I’m using it in its natural context. And why wouldn’t you expect a Thinking Christian blog to draw on theological understandings, anyway?

    The evil of the Holocaust is definitely related to the evil of turning away from God. I won’t try to explain that now, it would take some working out to do it right, and I don’t have that much time available now.

    No one is asking you to “believe!” And no one is suggesting that you “love something (assuming that you’ve been persuaded of its existence in the first place) because you’ve been commanded to do so and because punishment awaits you if you fail to comply?” That’s a complete misconception of how God relates to humans. Loving God is a response to his infinite worth and goodness, and it is a natural, normal, response, among those who are not repelled by his goodness. On that, please see see the link I included in the OP, repeated here.

    Heaven and hell are not “incentive structures.” They are natural outcomes of choices. God himself is the incentive to pursue and to love God. Each person’s future is either with or without God’s manifest presence. Those who have loved him in this life can continue to enjoy a relationship with him in the next. Those who have rejected him in this life will exist without his manifest goodness in the next.

    If you find it impossible to believe that God even exists, then I am sorry for you. I understand you are one of many. I have real trouble understanding, however, how it is that his existence is hard to recognize. We differ on that, and I do not expect you to agree or to be persuaded by what I say. So be it.

  16. To Larry Tanner: your comment got claimed by the spam filter, but I saw it. You’re welcome to continue commenting here, but not like that.

    If you want to bring those concerns out into the open I’d be glad for you to do that. Just not that way.

  17. #10 Larry,

    Perhaps you are not familiar with American Christian Fundamentalism and the repeated attempts of Creationists to violate the First Amendment.

    Shouldn’t all Christians be fighting that?

  18. #9 Tom Gilson,

    In order to communicate clearly, you need to differentiate between assertions of fact, e.g, “Are atheists evil? It is wrong, and it is an expression of evil, to stand in opposition to God” and what you meant to say, an expression of your belief, an opinion.

    Try, “Are atheists evil? We believe it is wrong, and it is an expression of evil, to stand in opposition to God.”

    Clarity is key.

  19. @Tom

    First off, thanks for considering my questions seriously and taking the time to respond. I totally agree that you’re speaking a “different language” , which probably makes understanding one another quite difficult, but let’s give it a go.

    “no one is suggesting that you “love something (assuming that you’ve been persuaded of its existence in the first place) because you’ve been commanded to do so”

    I agree; no one is suggesting it. The bible, and by extension, in your view, God, is commanding it! Nevertheless, I suspect that you think I’m lacking the appropriately nuanced understanding of faith needed to properly make sense of this commandment, having linked to a post in which you said:

    “Faith is not just cognitive but also relational: to trust God is not only to agree to facts about God but to yield to his always-good will and to enjoy a loving relationship with him. As such it involves the submission of the will, not just the assent of the mind.”

    Ok, but surely the assent of the mind has to come prior to “yielding to his always-good will”. Isn’t believing he exists in the first place a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for loving him? I’m afraid being persuaded by arguments in favour of God is not something I can simply will myself to do, as I made clear when I pointed out that no reward or punishment, no matter how enticing or terrifying, could encourage me to truly believe. Only reasons to believe that I find convincing could achieve that. Therefore in order to obey God’s commandment to love him, and to thus avoid eternal torment (now that’s what I call strict!), I’d have to first find myself being persuaded by arguments I’ve hitherto found unpersuasive. Alas, I fear I’m condemned to the pits of hell for something outside of my control: the combined influence of my inherited psychological traits and my educational experiences on the way in which I’ve come to evaluate truth-claims. As far as I can tell, if your God exists, he presides over a supremely unjust system.

    With regards to the concept of evil, would it be fair to characterise your conceptualisation as any behaviour that can be construed, in some sense, as “turning away from God”? If so, I suppose this stems from the belief that God grounds objective principles of good and evil, and that because God embodies perfect good, all acts that can conceivably fall into the category of evil are, by default, a turning away from God (and vice versa). To me this sounds as though the theological position places people who are unable to find themselves persuaded by arguments in favour of God in the same broad conceptual category of evil-doers such as child-rapists and serial killers. A concept of evil that extends to people on the sole basis that they are sceptical towards religious claims is one that, as far as I’m concerned, has lost all potency and fails to reliably discriminate the malevolent from the benevolent.

    “The category of evil just doesn’t fit well in other worldviews: certainly not in the Eastern religions, and also (though some deny it) not in naturalistic/materialistic worldviews.”

    In spite of your apparent certainty, I deny it. The aspect of the god construct that’s purported to objectify moral values is, as far as I can tell, a projection of secular moral philosophy, which is itself ultimately grounded in our basic innate moral sense: empathy and fairness. This is made apparent by the fact that religions are constantly playing catch-up with secular moral developments. God’s morality seems to change over time as he chases the ever-shifting moral Zeitgeist. Incidentally, I think a strongly case can be made for objective moral values that ultimately reduce to considerations for the well-being of conscious creatures, but I don’t think this is necessary to see that theology has absolutely no claim to moral insight.

    “Heaven and hell are not “incentive structures.” They are natural outcomes of choices.”

    Only because God deigned it so. I was under the impression that heaven is a reward for biblically-approved thought and behaviour (nothing quite like the conviction of thought-crime!), and that hell serves as punishment for the converse; an infinitely disproportionate and heinously sadistic punishment at that! How these could not serve of incentives is beyond me. In fact, I don’t see how it’s possible that God, if he existed, could have possibly created and informed us about this reward and punishment (and the stipulations for their attainment/avoidance) without intending them to serve as incentives having himself moulded our psychology in such a way that any believing person would find it impossible not to respond to them as such. The God you believe in sounds to me indistinguishable from a sadistic tyrant, issuing commandments that some will find impossible to obey (e.g. “love me!”) and condemning those individuals to eternal torment.

    One final point, in case you’re unaware: Do you realise how sanctimonious it sounds when you make it clear you consider yourself morally superior to all atheists, at least in some sense, by virtue of your Christian faith regardless of whether any of these morally inferior atheists have dedicated their lives to doing great good in the world, which some undoubtedly have?

  20. Josh, RE: #22

    You say this to Tom Gilson: “The God you believe in sounds to me indistinguishable from a sadistic tyrant, issuing commandments that some will find impossible to obey (e.g. “love me!”) and condemning those individuals to eternal torment.”

    Of course I cannot speak for Tom, but I know of no Christian who believes in a God who is a “sadistic tyrant” who “issues commandments that are impossible to obey” on pain of “eternal torment.” Whose theology is this? I ask because it is the furthest I can imagine from the God that Jesus calls “our Heavenly Father” and whose entire law is based on loved. See the Gospel according to Matthew 22:36-40 :

    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    You are correct that love cannot be commanded or coerced. It is not love if it is. My understanding of the meaning of the commandment to love God is for me to put God’s creation, including those people who don’t fall under the category of my “neighbors” (close associates) first in a loving, caring way, such as caring for the environment and living a moral life. I really don’t understand what problem many atheists seem to have with this concept. This means to me that loving God is like loving my neighbor. If I can love my neighbor, I am also capable of loving God. If my first priority is to love God, then it follows naturally that I will love my neighbor.

    Jesus also tells us that this is the fulfillment or accomplishment of the Law given in/through the Torah by the Prophets. Therefore, anything that is inconsistent with love of/for God and love for our neighbors as ourselves is not God’s will. We can see and understand how this principle plays itself out throughout Jesus’ teachings. I interpret “eternal torment” as separation from God and His love, which is torment because God is the Giver of all life, love, joy, and peace.

    IMO, you give us an example of the quandary atheists have set up for themselves: All of their negation of God’s existence blinds them to loving God by loving everything that God has created and creates, including and most especially we ourselves, and through our love for God’s creation, coming to know and love God. For me, loving God is much more about experiences and relationship than mere intellectual assent.

    Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1959, 2004) in his book “God, Man and History” calls these experiences “encounters” with God and says this about the quest for “proof” of God’s existence:

    “If the encounter is experienced in reality, what need of proofs? If, however, the encounter is not part of possible human experience, what use all proof?”

  21. Josh,

    You are one of the better examples we have had here recently of someone who has interpreted the Bible on his own terms and then blames Christianity for your very mistaken view of God. Your understanding of the Bible, God and Christianity is what it is. Your understanding. It really has nothing to do, however, with what we believe as Christians. You must realize, in some way, that what you believe stands in direct contradiction to 2000 years of Christian theology. Now, you’re welcome to believe whatever you want but please don’t blame us for it.

  22. Josh,

    Please realize I do take your questions seriously.

    One of the key issues has to do with the “incentive structure,” as you put it. What may not be apparent to you is that to say that heaven and hell are incentives is almost precisely equal to saying that a relationship with a good and loving God is the incentive: that God himself is the incentive. The key difference between heaven and hell is the presence or absence of God. To love God is to want to spend an eternity in heaven is to love God. To spurn God is to want to avoid him is to spurn God is to choose hell.

    God commands that we love him, no doubt about that. His command is no more outrageous than a good and loving parent’s instruction to a child to respect, honor, and obey the parent. Children reach an age of adulthood when they are in a position to call on their own children to do the same (or could be in that position, at least, depending on whether they have children). None of us is the absolute object of love that God is, and none of us is as worthy of honor and regard as he is; so there is an infinite difference in degree. But there is at least an illustration there to show why his command is not just bullying his way into your life. He is good beyond imagining. He is worthy of all love.

    God does not condemn you to the pits of hell for anything other than your falling short of his glory. If you want to be freed of that future, then call on him, even if you don’t believe in him. By that I don’t mean to violate your own reason; I mean to do it at least experimentally or conditionally: “God if you’re real, then draw me to yourself!”

    You disagree with me on whether evil fits in non-theistic systems. I’ll cover that in a blog post not long from now, so I’ll save that for then.

    One final point, in case you’re unaware: Do you realise how sanctimonious it sounds when you make it clear you consider yourself morally superior to all atheists, at least in some sense, by virtue of your Christian faith regardless of whether any of these morally inferior atheists have dedicated their lives to doing great good in the world, which some undoubtedly have?

    I hate that in myself; I don’t know how to communicate it better. I do not deny (and never have!) that atheists have done great good in the world, but to do that and to shun God is to reject the ultimate good of ultimate reality, which is a serious problem no matter what other good one may do. I am confident not in myself but in God. I’m not confident in my own wisdom but in the truth of God. I do not believe I hold the truth, but I believe there is a truth, and that the truth holds us. I do not believe I have any moral superiority, except I believe God has a better way for anyone who will let him guide them to it. There is a better way and a worse way, and God’s way (not mine) is the better way. I cannot back away from his truth in that.

  23. Wood757: Yes, that was an expression of my belief, my opinion, and what I am confident is true. I will speak it with the confidence I hold in it. If I am wrong, then I am wrong.

  24. About these “repeated attempts of Creationists to violate the First Amendment:” if you mean attempts to place religious materials or Creationism in school textbooks, yes, in a personal meeting with a school board president not long ago, I strongly advised against that person making that attempt. If you mean something other than that, then I can’t imagine what it would be.

  25. Well, if you read Luke 19:27 it seems there is a good chance that if you are an atheist, the wrong kind of Christian or from some other religion, Jesus may actually, at some point, want to be present as you get slaughtered.

    Why would you worship someone who preaches that kind of thing?

  26. It’s part of a parable, and one chief principle of interpreting parables is not to over-interpret. Generally speaking, if some point in a parable is not found elsewhere in plainer language, it’s probably not what it appears to be.

    If you read the rest of Luke you find a man who gave his life for you. That’s the most crucial character trait of the one I worship.

  27. I think a better parable here is The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Notice in the story that the father allows his youngest son to take his inheritance and leave home. In New Testament times, as in our own, children were not given their inheritance until their father passed away. So when the son demands his inheritance he is in essence telling his father that he wished his father were dead. Obviously he feels no love towards his father Why does the father let the son go? It’s because he doesn’t want a son who doesn’t love him. Notice that the father had the power to deny the son’s request, but he doesn’t. Should he have?

    Most commentators would say that what Jesus illustrating here is God’s relationship with mankind. God hasn’t rejected man; man has rejected God. Putting it very simply God wants a relationship with us but not if it’s not one that is freely chosen by us.

  28. Today I will be teaching on the crucifixion at King’s Domain. I’ve been reviewing my material on that (in three parts). I recommend these three articles to anyone who wants to understand what God has done for us in love.

    This teaching, by the way, is from my “Ten Turning Points” series. I’ve just placed a link to that series at the top of every page on this blog. That series and my ebook What is Christianity? comprise my best overview of Christian beliefs.

  29. It is wrong, and it is an expression of evil, to stand in opposition to God.

    Atheists follow the evidence to conclude that the God claim doesn’t stand up. There might indeed be a God, but they don’t have the evidence. What other conclusion can they make?

    To deny our creator, to spurn his love and his sacrifice, to turn one’s back toward him intentionally, is a deep violation of the most basic commandment

    Gotta have that evidence.

    You want to know what would annoy God? Dismissing his gift of the human brain and ignoring where the evidence points. That is, coming to a “conclusion” because it’s pleasing or easy rather than where the evidence points.

    And I must say that I’m missing the sacrifice. Are you talking about the crucifixion? Jesus had a bad weekend for my sins—not that big a deal.

    I’ve written more here: “10 Reasons the Crucifixion Story Makes No Sense

    Hey, is there anything interesting around here, or can I just leave now? I’m not particularly interested in talking with this dude, whoever he is. I can’t imagine what he has to do with me.

    Are we talking about a real person? Someone like me who actually struggles with doing the right thing vs. doing the convenient thing? And he almost died just for me? Wow—that is a big deal. But if we’re talking about a perfect being who had no option but to make the right choice, isn’t a person anyway, and died for the other 200 billion humans that have been and will be born?

    That’s a different story.

    They are not evil because they are atheists; rather atheism is one expression among many of the rebellion of which I previously spoke.

    You singled out atheists. As one of your commenters yesterday noted, talking about Westboro with a title “More evil than puppies” wouldn’t make much sense.

    Sin is bad by definition, not because it’s actually, y’know, bad. We can redefine away the sin in an instant (unlike actual harm that we might do to another person).

  30. There is evidence for God — cosmological, teleological, ontological, axiological, historical, experiential, etc. Therefore, I have a problem with atheists who insist there is none. Either they haven’t done their homework and looked or they have done it, but don’t know how to refute the evidence, so they pretend it doesn’t exist. Either way, it’s dishonest.

    I have no problem with atheists who say there is evidence, but they don’t find it compelling, and then they provide detailed, valid, intelligent arguments against the evidence for the existence of God. Unfortunately, there are too many atheists who practise obscurantism.

    There is only one thing that keeps people from God. It isn’t a lack of persuasive evidence (former atheists such as C. S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, Craig Keener, J. Warner Wallace, Lee Strobel, etc. all found it persuasive enough). The only thing that keeps people from God is sin. We can either admit we’re sinners and need a Saviour or we can deny that we are and, therefore, reject salvation. We are all born with sin natures that we cannot change. Only Jesus can change us.

    I think of Huxley who said that he didn’t want God to exist because he loved his sins too much to give them up. Now there’s an honest atheist!

  31. You know, Bob, if Christianity were what you say it is, then no one would believe it. That ought to be prima facie evidence — possibly even proof — that you’re on a wrong track here.

    See my links in #31.

  32. Or I could put it this way, Bob.

    If you want to understand Christianity the way you’ve described it here, you’re free to do so. If you want to understand it the way Christians understand and believe it, you have that option, too. It might take some effort on your part. If you want to dispute Christianity in the form that Christians believe it, though, you have no choice: you must understand and describe it in that form. Otherwise you can only dispute a distortion.

  33. I see that many people are offended by the alleged implication in Tom’s wording that atheists are evil. I wonder if these same people will, on some other track, discussing some other argument, also claim with the same vociferousness that evil and good are just words or mere concepts in the human mind without any real objective grounding. And if they do — and many certainly do — then I wonder why do they get so worked up?

  34. And if they do — and many certainly do — then I wonder why do they get so worked up?

    It’s a good question to ask Bob @32, who said this:

    Sin is bad by definition, not because it’s actually, y’know, bad. We can redefine away the sin in an instant (unlike actual harm that we might do to another person).

  35. SteveK,

    I should know better than to try to speak for another person, but I got the sense that Bob @32 was saying something more akin to – From the perspective of a Jain, eating animals is a sin. A Jain can then point out the sinfulness of other religious traditions by showing how many of them eat meat. But if you don’t agree that it is sinful to eat animals in the first place, you will never see eye-to-eye.

    Then this might be suggestive that we could at least agree that actual harm is being done to the animals (killing is fairly harmful after all) and perhaps that would be a better starting point for what is good or bad.

  36. Tom Gilson – I’m afraid I agree with Josh that it doesn’t make sense “to talk about someone intentionally turning their back on someone that they genuinely don’t think exists.”

    By that I don’t mean to violate your own reason; I mean to do it at least experimentally or conditionally: “God if you’re real, then draw me to yourself!”

    Did that, back in college. I was sincere. Offer’s still open, too. Hasn’t seemed to get any results yet. That may not fit in with your scheme, but that’s really how I see it. In that sense, it sure seems to me you failed in the Debator’s Duty.

  37. Tom,

    I will also agree with Ray Ingles and Josh. I may yet become a Christian (the people on this blog are more convincing then anything I have ever encountered in my life, but my mind somehow does not make the leap yours does) but I have been asking God to draw me to him for 35 years as sincerely as I know how. If I ever do become a Christian I hope to keep in mind how that oft repeated suggestion just does not work. I can only imagine how many people have tried it and it never worked for them before their death.

  38. I am only too well aware that the “oft-repeated suggestion” doesn’t always work. I know that sometimes this prayer leads people to an encounter with God, so I recommend it even though I know it doesn’t always have that effect.

    There are many things about God I do not understand, and many things about people I do not understand, and this falls somewhere in one or both of those categories.

  39. Doesn’t this discussion of evil, morality, and how we see them, and how God sees them hinge (partially anyway) on the acceptance or rejection of a spiritual dimension to human identity? If we are the product of biological “ingredients” only, then any assertion of evil can be placed in the category of behavior (including psychological processes), and it wouldn’t make much sense to think God would a. be so demanding and b. go to such lengths to get people to behave a certain way. It would be more sensible for God, if he exists, to approve of a person whose behaviors are overall pretty good – not violent criminals, terrorists, abusers, racists, etc. Christianity doesn’t fit this model.

    But if, as Christianity teaches, humans have a spiritual dimension, it’s a different story. The spirit is some *thing* that uniquely relates us to our Creator. Evil is understood as a characteristic of the spirit that has been corrupted and, in fact, deadened and which separates us from God. Separation from God is more than a matter of behaviors. It has to do with our actual spiritual condition. God’s actions, centered in Christ, are meant to do something about that spiritual corruption and death. Trying to do more good than evil doesn’t fit this model.

  40. Bill L:

    I will also agree with Ray Ingles and Josh. I may yet become a Christian (the people on this blog are more convincing then anything I have ever encountered in my life, but my mind somehow does not make the leap yours does) but I have been asking God to draw me to him for 35 years as sincerely as I know how. If I ever do become a Christian I hope to keep in mind how that oft repeated suggestion just does not work. I can only imagine how many people have tried it and it never worked for them before their death.

    I have no doubt that God exists. If I exist and the world out there exists then an eternally existing transcendent Mind (God), in my opinion, must exist. I am not the cause of my own existence and mindless matter did not organize itself by chance or any other kind of unplanned, undirected or “dysteleological” process into the world we see around us. Only someone who is dishonest or willfully ignorant could claim or believe something like that. (Romans 1:20-23)

    So I am very skeptical when I hear atheists say they have been sincerely seeking God. I believe my own conclusions. True, I cannot prove to an atheist what I believe is true with absolute certainty. But neither can he prove to me that atheism is true, or even probably true. In other words, for me to believe in atheism I would have to believe by faith. Accept atheism by faith? That’s rather absurd; isn’t it?

  41. I am not the cause of my own existence and mindless matter did not organize itself by chance or any other kind of unplanned, undirected or “dysteleological” process into the world we see around us.

    What? JAD! You don’t get that hydrogen is a colorless odorless gas that if you wait long enough will become human beings? Cretan.

  42. Tom said: I mean to do it at least experimentally or conditionally: “God if you’re real, then draw me to yourself!”

    In the same breath that Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” he also said, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” That was part of his response to people who were saying, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (This conversation is found in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.) We have a responsibility to listen and learn, not just ask and wait to be overwhelmed. That’s why it’s so important to understand what Christianity really is. See Tom’s links in #31.

  43. Hi Tom,

    “God commands that we love him, no doubt about that. His command is no more outrageous than a good and loving parent’s instruction to a child to respect, honor, and obey the parent.”

    But I would never “spurn” any of my children or keep them from my presence as God plans to do for so many of us.

    “None of us is the absolute object of love that God is,”

    As above, how can a God who will disavow any of his children be the “absolute object of love”? By my illustration it seems that I love my children more than he loves the vast majority of the people on the planet.

    “God does not condemn you to the pits of hell for anything other than your falling short of his glory.”

    We have all fallen short of his glory. But he choses not to send all people to the pits of hell.

    Hi Jenna,

    “If I can love my neighbor, I am also capable of loving God. If my first priority is to love God, then it follows naturally that I will love my neighbour.”

    Are the WBC not your neighbours? How is it Tom may talk of a hatred of these people as this seems to be a direct violation of Christ’s second commandment?

    Cheers both
    Shane

  44. Shane, RE: #48

    Please consider this passage from the New Testament:

    Romans 8: 35, 37-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  45. Shane, I never said that God turns his back on us, we turn our backs on him. He does not spurn us, we spurn him. He doesn’t kick us out of the house, we take our stuff and our car keys and we walk out on him.

    The Gospel is a call to reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16-20)–specifically, God’s plea that we be reconciled with him. He’s begging, urging, entreating us to come to him. He does not, however, force us to come.

    As a parent I would do the same with my adult children–wouldn’t you?

    Jenna’s Romans 8 reference is appropriate, but should not be over-applied. It comes at the culmination of a long argument detailing what happens as a person is confronted with their separation from God, their need to return, and their entry into a new, living relationship with him by faith. God loves everyone, and there is no separating anyone from that, and he offers the great experience of living in his love to all who will accept it. Some don’t accept it, and therefore do not experience it.

    Are the WBC not your neighbours? How is it Tom may talk of a hatred of these people as this seems to be a direct violation of Christ’s second commandment?

    Did I say I hate them? No. I hate what they do. Actions are not identity.

  46. Shane,

    It appears that God fails to measure up to your standards. But who are you to set a standard for anyone else?

  47. Shane,

    As Tom explained, your analogy is wrong. It’s not God who is rejecting his children it’s the children that are rejecting God.

    And yes the WBC are our neighbors and we are to love them. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are not to address or hold them accountable for their evil actions. In fact, not to call them out for their problems would be not to love them. Remember, hate isn’t the opposite of love, apathy is.

  48. Hi Tom,

    “As a parent I would do the same with my adult children–wouldn’t you?”

    But if they wanted to return at any point, prodigal son style, I would welcome them back at any time. God, however, will not. He only gives us our lifetime, which in the span of eternity is the blink of an eye. If, in hell, we ask to be reunited with him He will turn us down. I welcome my children back for the entirety of my existence. God only gives us the equivalent of an eye blink to come to him or He locks us out forever. So I say again that I love my children more than God loves us.

    “Did I say I hate them? No. I hate what they do. Actions are not identity.”

    Sorry, that was my mistake. I read the phrase “… hate it more than …” to be referring to the WBC, and by extension the people that make it up. Reading it again I see it was proceeded by “… what they do.” which, like you, means you hate their actions. I do apologise for putting words in your mouth there.

    Cheers
    Shane

  49. Hi JAD,

    “It appears that God fails to measure up to your standards. But who are you to set a standard for anyone else?”

    I’m not setting a standard. I’m examining what I believe an error in the justification of His standard, as being one of absolute good.

    Cheers
    Shane

  50. Hi BillT,

    “As Tom explained, your analogy is wrong. It’s not God who is rejecting his children it’s the children that are rejecting God.”

    During their lifetime. Then God rejects them for eternity afterwards.

    “And yes the WBC are our neighbors and we are to love them. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are not to address or hold them accountable for their evil actions. In fact, not to call them out for their problems would be not to love them. Remember, hate isn’t the opposite of love, apathy is.”

    I think fear is the opposite of love. Apathy is the middle ground. The agnosticism of emotion, if you will.

    Cheers
    Shane

  51. Hi Tom,

    “And just how are you doing that without setting a standard?”

    I believe I am using the same standard you are using to say God is absolute good. If I am not, please point out the error in my measurement.

    Cheers
    Shane

  52. What is life like when one is so delusional? I’m so happy that as an atheist, I can find the good in everyone; to not live in fear and think that people are evil just because they don’t share the same beliefs as me. What a tragic way to live.

  53. Well Patrick I’m happy that as a Christian I don’t feel justified by calling people names. I also try not to misunderstand and misrepresent what they believe. What a tragic way to live.

  54.