Monday, December 5, 2011

Hate the atheist, love the human

I mentioned in the last post the need to have a balanced approach in thinking about atheists. I need to talk more about the other side of that balance. While we need to recognize that atheism is a great moral evil, we also need to remember that atheists, like all human beings, are made in the image of God. They therefore possess a great value that we ought to recognize and respect. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves because we love God and our neighbors are made in God's image. This translates into various concrete attitudes and behaviors. We are to value the lives and happiness of all our human neighbors. We are to treat them with honesty and respect in our dealings with them. We are to keep our promises to them. We are to hate their suffering and strive to relieve it when we are in a reasonable position to do so. And so on.

There is a quote from atheist philosopher Austin Dacey (from his book, The Secular Conscience) that I really like, and I think it sums up an important part of what I am saying here: “We do not respect people by accepting whatever they think and do, but by holding them to the same intellectual, moral, and legal standards we apply to ourselves." This is the principle of fairness. All of us as human beings are made in God's image and have a natural equality of value. This means we should treat people by the same standards. We should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That is exactly what Dacey is saying. Some people seem to think that respecting people as human beings necessarily involves accepting, tolerating, agreeing with, or thinking acceptable whatever they believe, value, or do. It does not. It does, however, mean treating all human beings with fairness. I should never give myself an unfair advantage. As Peter said, “Indeed I see that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is accepted by him.” And, on the contrary, whoever does evil deserves the appropriate punishment, no matter who they are.

We need to also remember that we are sinners saved by grace. All of us, by nature, are children of wrath, evil rebels against God by nature, deserving of his infinite punishment. Our salvation in its entirety—in justification, sanctification, adoption, and all other benefits—is entirely owing to the unmerited grace of God through the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ. Our merit plays no role in this at all. Indeed, we have no positive merit to deserve anything good from God. All we have is infinite demerit to deserve God's infinite punishment. There is a difference between a believer and a non-believer. The one is forgiven of his sins, he has faith and repentance, and he lives a life of (imperfect) obedience in this life. The other remains in the natural state of complete rebellion against God, refuses to repent, and is not forgiven of his sins. Some people turn from their sins to God through Christ in faith and repentance, and some don't. But, contrary to Arminian theology, we Calvinists know that the only ultimate reason why there are these differences is God's electing grace, whereby he chooses some for salvation not due to any goodness or merits they possess, but due to his own sovereign purposes. Therefore, since the only thing that makes the difference is God's grace, we Christians have no room to boast. When we look at the evils of atheism, we need to remember that there but for the grace of God go we. And, as God has not yet perfected us in sanctification, the evils of human nature all too often creep up into our own attitudes, values, and behavior as well. These facts require us to have a humility in our dealings with non-believers. Yes, we must point out evil as evil and not downplay it, but we also must recognize the graciousness of our salvation, and this should produce in us humility and compassion towards non-believers.

Here's a slogan to put these two strands—hating the evils of atheism and standing up against them, while loving atheists as human beings made in the image of God and our fellow sinners—together: Hate the atheist; love the human. In each atheist, there are both the evil of atheism and also the value of humanity. Our attitude therefore must encompass both. We must see all of our fellow human beings for the complex beings that they are, just as we learn to look at ourselves in the same way. We must love our neighbors as ourselves.

Another way in which this double-stranded reality manifests itself is in our personal relationships with atheists. As fellow human beings, we can learn to appreciate each other and enjoy each other's company. (Of course, we can also find that there are some people whose company we will never truly be able to enjoy in this life, both among non-believers and believers!) At the same time, though, we can hate the evil attitudes and actions that our fellow human beings often encrust onto themselves. Can we be friends with non-believers? Yes, I think we can. But it certainly can be a difficult balance. And there will always be a distance in such friendships arising from being on opposite sides of such important subjects as truth and goodness. No matter how much we wish to pursue friendships and dialogue with non-believers, we need to realize that our attitudes and actions regarding them must always reflect the balance that comes from recognizing the full complexity of our fellow human beings, however difficult that may sometimes be.

Of course, the basic principles of the above discussion (in both posts) apply not just to atheists, but to all those who follow a false religion/worldview.

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.