Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is atheism depressing: A reply to John Loftus

I see the usual stuff about atheism being so horribly depressing that no one could possibly believe it that wasn't pursuing the truth disinterestly. That's been, well, debunked more times than I can count. Again, read my latest post on C. S. Lewis to get the classic rebuttal. Atheism is very appealing to pride, a passion so powerful that it heads the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. You get to feel smarter than most of the human race, who still believes, and you there is no being greater than yourself, so far as you know. There is no such thing as sin, no God to offend if you have done something that others might not approve of. There are none of those terribly annoying restrictions on sex behavior to cramp your style. And you can't go to hell either.


Ah, but people are so motivated by that "horror of nonentity" that they will accept anything rather than admit that they will die and rot. Only the elect, those rational enough to leave the fold, can escape this universal passion and see the truth. And you know this how? Lewis said he had no "horror of nonentity" until he became a Christian.

I would like to believe that there is an independent external world, and I have good reason to believe there is one. I want to believe that my wife loves me, and I have good reason to believe that as well. I want to believe that the Suns swept the Spurs in the playoffs a couple of months ago, and they did. I want to believe that Obama is President, and he is. I want to believe that the Democrats control both houses of Congress, and they do. I want to believe that SB1070 was struck down in court, and it was. Intellectual masochism as a way of forming beliefs is no better than wish-fulfillment.

If you talk to sports fans, you will always find the eternal optimist who thinks their team is sure to win the championship every year, but you also find people who are pleasantly surprised when their team finally makes it to the top.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

On another note: Anne Rice de-converted from Christianity. Perhaps we should note this, as you posted on her original conversion, and counted it as a date point for Christianity. Here is your original post on the topic.

Blaise Pascal said...

If atheism is really so depressing this only shows that it is unnatural and doing a certain damage to the brain.

Anonymous said...

Anne Rice quit being Christian "in the name of Christ". Also, "I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity."

That doesn't seem like a de-conversion.

Walter said...

There are pros and cons with both worldviews. With atheism you get full autonomy from a controlling authority figure, but you also get the feeling that you live in a brutal, indifferent universe that can snuff you out at any moment. You also have the depressing--for some--belief that all that you are is going to be gone forever when your brain dies.

With theism you get the feeling that you are part of a cosmic drama that is bigger than you. The feeling that the creator of the entire cosmos has a PLAN just for you and will look out for you while traveling through this vale of tears. Plus, you get to survive your own death and become immortal, or get reincarnated for another go around on earth. Downside being lots of rules and regulations pertaining to certain behaviors, loss of time and some income supporting institutional religion, fear of divine wrath if you did not utilize the correct method of achieving salvation, or repented to the wrong deity, believed in "faith only" when God required you to partake of sacraments, etc.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Walter's on to something with the something "bigger than you". This would go a long way toward explaining why atheist Marxists could put up with years of hard labor, imprisonment and personal privations, all the time in the belief they are missing their one and only chance to enjoy existence - all in the name of "the cause".

Bilbo said...

In my brief stint as an atheist -- I was angry at God, and chose not to believe in Him as a way of getting even -- I wasn't more depressed than usual. But one day, I walked out of a building and looked at the skyline of our small town, and the dreary meaninglessness of an empty universe overwhelmed me, and I realized that I literally could not continue to live in such a universe, and admitted to God that He existed. We talked it over later. I told Him what my grievances were. He answered me, and then some.

Shackleman said...

Ann Rice, just 5 hours ago, posted to her facebook page the following status:

Anne Rice: "My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."

So, you were saying Anon?

Anyway, this is a very interesting and timely status message from her. It's both relevant to the specific topic Dr. Reppert is raising in this post, and directly refutes Anon's comment.

It's also interesting because while I fully appreciate her sentiment, I ultimately and quite strongly, disagree with her. On the one hand, Christians can be serious dolts. We are, after all, sinners. All of us, laypeople, pew-sitters, priests, pastors, all of us. We are fallible in countless ways.

At the same time, I think walking a life of faith alone, without the help, support, love, and audience of a Christian community can be depressing, and can lead to confusion, stagnation, laziness, and self-centeredness.

I go to church, and share in the broader Christian community, for myself (it helps to foster my own growth and faith), and also for others within the church family(as a form of internal Outreach (inreach?!) to my fellow congregants), and finally as a platform from which to outreach to others who have not yet heard or understood or embraced the Good News.

Christ didn't sit alone to pray alone to His Father. He went out into the community, to be with them, in fellowship and to teach.

We should do likewise and so, while I often share her frustrations with the debauchery some Christians wallow in, I think ultimately Anne Rice is quite mistaken.

Shackleman said...

Walter,

You said: "With theism you get the feeling that you are part of a cosmic drama that is bigger than you. The feeling that the creator of the entire cosmos has a PLAN just for you and will look out for you while traveling through this vale of tears. Plus, you get to survive your own death and become immortal, or get reincarnated for another go around on earth. Downside being lots of rules and regulations pertaining to certain behaviors, loss of time and some income supporting institutional religion, fear of divine wrath if you did not utilize the correct method of achieving salvation, or repented to the wrong deity, believed in "faith only" when God required you to partake of sacraments, etc."

Walter, you describe a strange, narrow-understanding, caricature of Christianity. Perhpas it would interest you to broaden your studies of theology to include things other than the fundamentalist teachings you received in your youth.

As an aside, I'm a proud Lutheran, however I think sometimes Pope Benedict was onto something when he said Luther caused enormous damage to Christianity. (Don't remember where I read that, I think in his "Jesus of Nazareth".) There are some pretty whacky teachings out there in the Christian community that can cause an awful lot of spiritual harm.) Surely this has a lot to do with Anne Rice's comments too. I still disagree with her though---and Luther is still my home boy :-)

Walter said...

Walter, you describe a strange, narrow-understanding, caricature of Christianity. Perhpas it would interest you to broaden your studies of theology to include things other than the fundamentalist teachings you received in your youth.

My comment was meant to be about theistic belief in general, not just Christian theistic belief. There are a wide range of views out there in the world. For the record I went from a fundamentalist Arminian Baptist to the Church of Christ, then eventually to Progressive Christianity before landing on my current views. I am pretty familiar with a wide range of Christian theological beliefs.

Crowhill said...

Let's say I knew for certain that belief in God would make me happy. Could I simply choose to believe it? I don't think so.

And let's say I knew for certain that disbelief would make me miserable. Does that mean I would only persist in disbelief if I was Mr. Valiant Truthseeker? No. Some people like to be miserable.

If belief makes you happy and disbelief makes you sad, is that proof that belief is right? Of course not.

Shackleman said...

Walter,

This sounded pretty rigid and fundamentalist to me and doesn't at all describe a "general theism":

"Downside being lots of rules and regulations pertaining to certain behaviors, loss of time and some income supporting institutional religion, fear of divine wrath if you did not utilize the correct method of achieving salvation, or repented to the wrong deity, believed in "faith only" when God required you to partake of sacraments, etc."

And, from your previous posts over the last few weeks, you seem pretty focused in on fundamentalist teachings, and beating up all of Christendom based on those teachings.

Walter said...

And, from your previous posts over the last few weeks, you seem pretty focused in on fundamentalist teachings, and beating up all of Christendom based on those teachings.

One problem is that Christianity is so diverse that if you criticize any particular doctrinal belief, another person will come along and claim that you are attacking a strawman that does not represent their particular Christian faith. In what way am I misrepresenting your beliefs? I am not interested in an internet argument; I am curious what you believe that differs from my supposed "fundamentalist" viewpoint. As a Lutheran are your beliefs substantially different from the beliefs of the Baptist Church that I left behind?

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

If your church really believed in faith alone and not in sacraments, then mine would certainly differ.

Then again, I'm Catholic, and as everyone knows once I went Catholic I stopped being a Christian, so maybe I don't count.

Shackleman said...

Walter,

You cannot use specifics and then claim you're being general. It doesn't work that way. What I suggest to you, if you're truly interested in the subject, is to go do your own research into different theological teachings. Getting your info from me on a blog is sort of silly.

If you're generally interested in Lutheran theology, you can get a brief introduction simply by going to wikipedia's page on the "Theology of the Cross". In it, you'll find some specific examples of how Luther's theology is in contrast to your rudimentary (or "general" if you prefer) examples from earlier in the thread.

In general terms (as this layperson understands them), Luther believed that humans are completely incapable of fulfilling God's laws, expectations, and demands for us. Given that we are sinners, we are always sinners, and cannot therefore act righteously enough or perfectly enough, or do enough good deeds in order to please God. We will, sinners that we are, *always* fall short of the glory of God and of His expectations of us.

It is in Christ, and the Cross that we are saved. Christ did the heavy lifting for us, not we ourselves.

A common saying that sums it up is:

"Saved by grace, justified by faith".

This, in a nutshell means, that we are not saved by our works, but we are saved by the grace of God alone. However, what *justifies* us, meaning, how we can *know* we are saved is by our faith, not by our good deeds.

This doesn't mean that good deeds are not expected. It's just that we will NEVER be "good enough". We are sinners. Period. Christ saves. Not our works.

Oftentimes, Catholics especially (those I've encountered), do not understand the nuance here. It's something ingrained in them I think. Again, it's not that good works are unimportant. It's that we, as sinners, cannot be "good enough". Something more (and more important) is required, and that something more is Christ crucified.

Again, this is just a very brief summary from a layperson. You should really get your info elsewhere from true scholars and experts. If you're interested, start at the Wiki entry, and expand your knowledge from there. And if your interest is *really* peeked, pick up some Bonhoeffer. He, and his story, is truly awe inspiring.

Walter said...

Thank you for your response, Shackleman.

The counterpoint to an atheistic worldview is theism, which is an umbrella term that covers far more than one sectarian denomination of one particular religion.

Also, your Lutheran beliefs are not very different at all from my former Baptist beliefs, so I am not seeing how I am misrepresenting Christianity in some of my discussions. There is no singular, monolithic Christianity. Belief in the Resurrection is the only core doctrine that is not disputed among the Christianities. Everything else is on the table.

Galactor said...

'You get to feel smarter than most of the human race, who still believes'

It must be wonderful to be a believer who revels in his ignorance.

'... and there is no being greater than yourself, so far as you know.'

Yes indeed. Atheists put themselves, each and every one of them, at the top of the pile and don't care one jot about others. That's why there is no such thing as humanists or non-believers doing good works for others.

'There is no such thing as sin, no God to offend if you have done something that others might not approve of.

That's right. Non-believers have no moral code or framework and when they are rude or offensive to others, when they are spiteful or when they let others down, there is never a sense of later regret or compassion towards their fellow human beings. Non-believers just don't care what the community around them thinks about their behaviour.

Non-believers (who think they are smart and clever) need believers, especially Christians, to tell them - the non-believers - that they are immoral and that only believers can be truly moral.

'There are none of those terribly annoying restrictions on sex behavior to cramp your style'

That's right Victor. Once you become atheist (or if you never were religious in the first place) all your sexual morality goes out of the window and there's nothing to stop you from committing adultery or unleashing your latent homosexual tendencies with male prostitues whilst taking drugs. Non-believers have only themselves to answer to - that internal moral compass which invokes regret, compassion and sorrow is not present in non-believers.

That's what "atheism" does to you. That's why if you abandon religion, you will probably start to harbour immoral feelings and a desire to slay your opponents like Stalin did. It's nothing to do with evolved morality - it's encapsulated in what you believe.

That's why we see rampant sexual transgression in countries like Sweden and Norway where atheism is rife and why pastoral ministers are a paragon of moral virtue.

Gosh: religion really does poison things if it can motivate a seemingly educated person to call non-believers immoral.

Galactor said...

'You get to feel smarter than most of the human race, who still believes'

It must be wonderful to be a believer who revels in his ignorance.

'... and there is no being greater than yourself, so far as you know.'

Yes indeed. Atheists put themselves, each and every one of them, at the top of the pile and don't care one jot about others. That's why there is no such thing as humanists or non-believers doing good works for others.

'There is no such thing as sin, no God to offend if you have done something that others might not approve of.

That's right. Non-believers have no moral code or framework and when they are rude or offensive to others, when they are spiteful or when they let others down, there is never a sense of later regret or compassion towards their fellow human beings. Non-believers just don't care what the community around them thinks about their behaviour.

Non-believers (who think they are smart and clever) need believers, especially Christians, to tell them - the non-believers - that they are immoral and that only believers can be truly moral.

'There are none of those terribly annoying restrictions on sex behavior to cramp your style'

That's right Victor. Once you become atheist (or if you never were religious in the first place) all your sexual morality goes out of the window and there's nothing to stop you from committing adultery or unleashing your latent homosexual tendencies with male prostitues whilst taking drugs. Non-believers have only themselves to answer to - that internal moral compass which invokes regret, compassion and sorrow is not present in non-believers.

That's what "atheism" does to you. That's why if you abandon religion, you will probably start to harbour immoral feelings and a desire to slay your opponents like Stalin did. It's nothing to do with evolved morality - it's encapsulated in what you believe.

That's why we see rampant sexual transgression in countries like Sweden and Norway where atheism is rife and why pastoral ministers are a paragon of moral virtue.

Gosh: religion really does poison things if it can motivate a seemingly educated person to call non-believers immoral.