Friday, December 2, 2011

On Angry Atheists

I have been interacting with the atheist student group at the University of Utah (SHIFT) for nearly a couple of years now. Many of my relationships are very peaceful and have been very enjoyable, but the faculty adviser, Dr. Clark, absolutely hates me. He hates me because I believe that God's law opposes atheism, and particularly that it says that civil justice ought to punish atheism with the death penalty (although such a penalty should only be carried out by the civil magistrate under a legally recognized justice system based on biblical principles--no vigilantism!--and there are other important qualifications as well). It is certainly understandable that an atheist would not particularly like that doctrine. Often when I show up on the internet in the presence of SHIFTers to make a comment about something, Dr. Clark will take the opportunity to try to ridicule and excite enmity against my beliefs. In the course of so doing, he often portrays my beliefs in overly simplistic and inaccurate ways. He had occasion to do this once again recently, attacking particularly my beliefs regarding biblical civil law, and I responded with some clarifying statements correcting his inaccuracies. As a result of all this, Dr. Clark and some other SHIFTers expressed their great dismay at my views of biblical civil law. Here are some example quotes, one from Dr. Clark and the others from other SHIFTers:

This idea of Hausam's absolutely frightens me and, quite frankly, it makes me angry to read it. It frightens me even more that there appears to be a growing number of people that would support this idea and government that Hausam proposes. Why shouldn't we be shouting this from the rooftops? Why shouldn't we be angrily denouncing it?” “While I would agree with calling on him [that is, Dr. Clark] to try and scale it down a notch, I think he is entirely justified in his outrage and in bringing it up frequently. We have just encountered a real person, not a straw man, who wills (but admittedly does not actually wish) our freedoms to be taken from us one day, along with our lives.” “One way to respond to such bigotry is to remain silent. . . . Nonetheless, at other times instead I choose--and will continue to choose--to confront this bigotry directly for what it is.” (That was from Dr. Clark.) “I'm a new member of this Facebook group, and I haven't yet been to any SHIFT meetings. At first, I thought that your [that is, Dr. Clark's] comments and discussions with Hausam were a bit excessive--that you should probably just ignore him and he'd go away. Then I clicked on his profile and discovered that he was a philosophy professor. I am truly at a loss for words. The fact that this man teaches ethics is absolutely frightening to me. I think it's important that his sick views be made as public as possible.

All of these responses are perfectly understandable, for obvious reasons. In fact, when I read them a few days ago, they upset me precisely because I can absolutely see their point of view. To these people, I look like a moral monster. I can see myself and my views through their eyes, and I can see how disgusting they look. I believe that my views are true and justified, but even so, even I felt a little ashamed of my views, seeing things from their point of view. I really like most of the people in SHIFT, and even consider a few of them friends, and I regretted holding views that attack them in this way and that cut me off from their fellowship and understanding.

Lots of atheists often express their outrage at the limitations on their freedoms and judgments against their views perpetrated by “religious people.” One of the best recent examples is Greta Christina's blog post, “Atheists and Anger,” which can be found at http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2007/10/15/atheists-and-an/. She expresses her outrage at lots of things that she sees as affronts to her and people in her circles because of their atheism, lesbian-ness, etc. She complains that she can't marry her partner because same-sex marriage is not recognized where she lives because of religious resistance, for example. Again, I can see her point of view, and I hate being part of the faction that is responsible for her difficulties.

But yesterday, a thought coalesced in my mind. I've known this thought before, have articulated it to myself and others before, and have been living by it, so it is nothing new. But yesterday it came to me with a particularly strong clarity and self-awareness. Strong enough for me to want to write something about it. The thought is this: There is an assumption behind this anger from atheists. The assumption is that atheism is true. If atheism is true, then it is a great thing to be an atheist. There is nothing wrong with it at all. If that is so, then I am a great pain in the neck and my views are repulsive, for I am advocating punishing with death something that is nothing more than an accurate belief, even a belief that is far more intelligent than my own superstitious beliefs and those of other “religious people.” I am advocating punishing with death a belief that people cannot even help holding, for how can one will oneself to stop believing that which one actually thinks is true? How can one be blamed for simply drawing a certain compelling conclusion from the evidence? It would be utterly stupid to blame someone for that, or to advocate for any punishment for it. That is why the anger of the atheists against my beliefs makes perfect sense, granting their assumption that atheism is true.

There is another related assumption I detect in the atheist anger against me and similar people. This assumption is that I ought to know better than to hold such wrong views about atheism as to think it evil and worthy of punishment. If I were innocently and understandably ignorant, I don't think the level of anger against me would be the same. These atheists think that not only am I wrong in my assessment of atheists, but I am culpably wrong. There is dishonesty in my wrongness, for the evidence is such that I ought to know better. Therefore, as I continue to push this horrible view of atheism and the punishment it deserves in spite of my obviously shabby evidential foundation, I show myself to be a dishonest bigot and thus morally repugnant. (Atheism has no basis for objective morality, so there may be some inconsistency in their tendency to view things as morally repugnant. But as many of them think they have a foundation for morality, they feel their moral repugnance is justified. And those who don't believe in objective morality can feel moral repugnance in the sense of a subjective strong dislike for my character and actions.) Of course, this assumption—that I am not only wrong but that I ought to know better—is ultimately based on the first assumption—that atheism is true. Included in the belief that atheism is true is obviously the belief that atheism is justified by the objective evidence. And if the objective evidence justifies atheism, then I ought to be able to see that, and so I am culpable if I do not.

The problem with this core assumption—that atheism is true—is simply that atheism is in fact not true. It simply isn't the case that the objective evidence justifies atheism. It is rather the case that the objective evidence justifies biblical Christianity. And, according to biblical Christianity, atheism is a great evil. It is a blasphemous rejection of God, the true creator and the ultimate moral authority of the universe. And atheism is not only a great evil, but the evidence for Christianity is so plain in the objective evidence that, as the Apostle Paul said in Romans 1, atheists are without excuse. One cannot be an atheist without ignoring the objective evidence. (One need not be fully conscious of this ignoring of evidence; but on some level, it must be going on.) And God, the ultimate moral authority of the universe, has said that atheism deserves eternal hellfire as well as the death penalty in civil law. So it turns out the atheists have it nearly exactly backwards. It is they, not we, who are dishonestly unjustified in their unethical beliefs.

The anger of atheists towards people like me is entirely based on the assumption that atheism is true. But this assumption is false. Therefore, there is no basis for atheist anger against my beliefs. Rather, it is we Christians who are justified in being angry with atheists for being atheists. In being atheists, and living as atheists in the world, and promoting an atheism-based (secular) social order, they are trampling on ground that belongs to God and refusing to give him due credit. This is God's world, and we are to live as God commands and for his glory, and not to do this is a great wickedness. Atheists take the gifts and abilities that God has graciously given them and they use them to promote anti-God behavior and policies. They act as if this world is theirs to do with as they will. But it is not. It is God's, and they are obligated to respect that. But instead, they flaunt that obligation to God's face. We, the people of God, have a God-given right (by grace, as we can certainly claim no merit of our own, being nothing but wicked sinners saved and converted by the grace of God in Christ alone, who alone makes us to differ from others) to live in a godly society, but the atheists and other false religionists instead dominate and create a society that is in rebellion against God and his law. We have every right, and indeed a responsibility, to be angry about this. Atheists have no right or basis to be angry with us for calling them out on what they really are or telling them what they deserve. For our views on these points are entirely accurate and justified. But we, rather, have a solid basis for anger against them, for trampling on and polluting God's world with their brazen wickedness. As we value God infinitely above ourselves, so we are zealous for his honor, and we cannot but be angry when that honor is defamed by those who are without excuse.

I think I have sometimes too much been on the defensive. But it is we Christians who should be on the offensive. Atheists constantly assume, without adequate evidence, that their way of thinking about reality is true. They state it, they assume it, they take it for granted in conversations with others, and get angry when other people don't share it or see things differently. But they do not have the right to be on the offensive, to state their views as fact. That right belongs to Christians, for it is Christianity that is really true. We Christians should not bow down to atheist ideas of what is true and false, what is reasonable and unreasonable, what is ethical and what is unethical. We should not bow down to their ideas as to what the social order should look like. We should assert our views as facts, because that is what they are, and we should require and expect the atheists to bow to our views. We should not apologize to atheists for our views, but should stand up and express our anger to them (with proper civility) for being opposed to reality. We should tell them that they have no right to be angry, but that right belongs to us. We should be the ones defining the terms of what is true and false, reasonable and unreasonable, right and wrong. We should be the ones determining the nature of the social order, according to God's laws. We must present our proper credentials—that is, the evidence that shows that our beliefs are true. But we don't need to wait for them to agree to the truth before we act on it, for many of them will never do so. Once we've presented evidence, we need to go right on asserting the truth not just as our own private subjective opinion, but as objective FACT, and our conversation should reflect our expectation that the atheists should bow to it. They may complain that they are not persuaded by our evidence, and our response should be, “Well, you should be. Reality is going to go on whether you get on the train or not.” Atheists have a lot of self-confidence in their beliefs--in their belief in atheism, in evolution, etc. They often assert these things as facts and expect us to follow them, whether we agree with their alleged evidence or not. This is the right attitude, but the atheists are not justified in having it. We are, because we are the ones who are actually right. It is those who are right who have the right to assert and to define the terms, not those who are wrong. It is those who are right who have the right to go on the offensive and put others on defensive, not those who are wrong. And that is exactly what we need to be doing. Atheists have no right to make their assertions and claims based on the false belief that atheism is true and reasonable, because it isn't. We have no obligation to respect the beliefs of atheists, for they are grossly false and ethically abhorrent. But they have an obligation to respect ours, because ours are true and ethically virtuous.

So we Christians need to stand on what we know to be true, and not allow those who spout falsehoods to define what we take to be reality. Our beliefs, values, attitudes, and actions need to be solidly, firmly, offensively (in the sense of “offense, not defense”), and unapologetically grounded on the truth, with no sympathy for or deals with falsehoods. But we need to be balanced as well. All of this needs to be balanced with the moral obligation we have to treat all people, even the enemies of God, with the civility and love required by God's law for all who are made in God's image. I'm not going to go into all that that means right now, as that is not the point of this post. But it is very important to stress that balance.

I have been given by God a strong ability to understand other people, to see things from others' points of view, to step into their shoes and see the world the way they see it. Correlated with this, I have been given a strong tendency to have sympathy with the views and concerns of others. This array of gifts is a good thing, and I am very thankful for it. It helps me accomplish the tasks I have in life. It helps me be a good apologist. I helps me be a good diplomat and ambassador in interacting with lots of different kinds of people. It helps me debate those with false views. It helps me establish dialogue with those with false views. It gives me the ability to remind my own people (and others) of the need to avoid falsely stereotyping others and oversimplifying them, their concerns, their beliefs and values, and their full humanity. It helps me be of use in stressing balance and fairness in our dealings with all people. And yet, like all gifts in this fallen world, it has its Achilles' heel if not used properly and carefully. It is subject to abuse, corruption, and imbalance. The imbalance for me is that sometimes I do so well at seeing things through the eyes of others that I can forget to see things from the vantage point of truth. For example, when I hear atheists complain in anger against my beliefs, I can get so caught up in seeing things from their point of view and feeling what they feel that I lose some contact with reality, and therefore lose the nerve to realize that the way they see things, though real to them in some ways, yet is fundamentally skewed and false. I am sometimes in danger of seeing through their eyes so well that I start to feel about things, even about myself and my own beliefs, the way they do. This is bad, because their feelings are evil, based in falsehood. If uncorrected, this imbalance can paralyze my ability to stand up boldly and effectively for the truth. I see this now more clearly than I have before, though I have always known this. I must work harder to correct my imbalance here. And yet I must avoid swinging to the other extreme as well, throwing out my ability to understand people and sympathize with them. I must continue to grow in my ability to use my gifts to the advantage of the truth, without letting them take over and thwart the clarity of my viewpoint.

To be continued in the next post . . .

ADDENDUM 10/18/16:  My views on some of the matters mentioned here have been altered by my Catholic conversion--particularly my view on the possibility of atheists being saved and my view of how civil government ought ideally to treat atheism.  The former is addressed here and the latter is addressed here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do not think it is correct that the assumption we Atheists make is that Atheism is true. Rather, it is that Theology, in your case a particular view of christianity, is not proven.

What we really make as an assumption, a fundamental assumption, is that science is a major if not the major way in which to understand reality.

We understand the limits of science, that it cannot tread in areas of supernatural. Many of us respect the idea that supernatural entities like God could exists ( therefore we do not assume Atheism is absolutely correct). However, when we see supernatural claims trying to make explanations when scientific ones already fit ( ex: the sky is blue because God painted it blue V the sky is blue because of the the special chemical combinations) we take the natural, scientific claim.

There is nothing wrong with the idea of the supernatural. It could be true, any idea of the supernatural. However, any claim of the supernatural must fit with the natural. Science in the mind of the Atheist ( and the general public ) is the best way to know the natural.

If you really want to convince us, then find the science that agree with your point of view. it would not be hard, that is if your right.

I have read your claims in your book. Talk to scientists, many do not agree with you in your ideas about God. Don't bring that up. If your right there no need to. Talk to neuroscientists. Find out if they observe aspects of consciousness that seem to be uncorrelated with the brain. Talk to physicists, find out what they say about a "timeless" entity, or even what you can expect about a timeless entity.

Good science does not have to come from Christian sources. If your right the secular science community will agree with your claims that consciousness is independent of the body. they may disagree with your Christian conclusion. But thats not the important part, at least to the atheist.

We need to see the science. Science that should indeed exists if your right.

I know your a philosopher, and your arguments for God are distinctly metaphysical. But that doesn't mean there is no science to agree with your metaphysical claims.

As Atheists we want to see the science. Maybe you feel that is the wrong approach and that we are fundamentally trying to learn things in a wrong way, not fully considering philosophy. Maybe your right, but that doesn't matter for right now.

You want to convince us. Do not start by telling us how we should burn in hell or be put to death. Its like a Mormon missionary starting out with the whole "head in the hat" story of J. Smith. Tell us you feel there are scientific observations and experiments that agree with your conclusion. Tell us then the observations and experiments. Then tell us the metaphysics. You will loose many at the metaphysics point, but you will at least gain some respect for trying to investigate the science.

Mark Hausam said...

Hello "Anonymous"!

In this post, I was "blogging" in the personal, self-expressive sense of the term (which is actually something I don't tend to do very often, as you've probably noticed). So this was not intended as an argument for an atheist. This was me trying to think through the issues raised by the anger expressed against my views on the SHIFT Facebook page. I certainly agree that evidence needs to be presented in order to establish my claim that Christianity is true. That is why I wrote my book. I'm not sure who you are, as you are anonymous, but if you are a person who has written some comments to me regarding my book, I am planning on responding to you shortly. So we will get into some substance soon. If you have not written responses to me in regard to my book, you are welcome to do so. I intend to begin using this blog to answer objections to my viewpoint and to make further arguments before too long.

In brief, I don't think that the natural sciences are the place to start when it comes to arguments regarding the truth of Christianity. I think the philosophical arguments are the place to start. I don't think the scientific issues can even be addressed in a worthwhile way until the philosophical issues are discussed.

That is not to say there are no scientific issues to discuss. Of course, we must be clear as to what we actually know from science. For example, you contrast the sky being blue because God "painted" it with the idea that the sky is blue because of chemistry. I see no conflict between these two claims. God made the sky, and it is a product of chemistry.

Anyway, there are many things that need to be addressed, and they are best addressed in a systematic way and in a way that looks at very specific claims with very specific responses.

Thanks!