Only an Idea

It may come as no surprise to my readers that I do have a more robust approach to social justice than many of the people who belong to A+ and this means that I don’t agree with them.

Well amusingly when voicing my disagreement with them I was beset by anti-FTBers. Who gleefully pointed out that I would be kicked out of FTB for voicing something that is alleged to “go against the grain”.

They suggested that I would “move to Patheos” and even gleefully regarded me on the same scale as Thunderfoot. I am afraid they are wrong.

So I went and had a look around Patheos and boy did I come up swinging with this piece. And this article by Father Dwight Longenecker lead me on to another. So let’s start with what’s wrong with his more recent argument.

…Atheism is an idea. Most often (thank God) it is an idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness. Some child of Christianity or Judaism dons and unbelieving Zorro costume and preens about the living room…

Forgive me father but I must disagree.

I never believed in Christianity or Judaism. I find the Old Testament frighfully immoral and a rather rigid and staid code. Any code that is as simplistic as the Old Testament and as brutal does not speak for modern man.

Ah and what of capes and costumes? You may laugh at my bumbling antics. I will admit that I am clumsy. No… not clumsy the word is direct. There is an elegance to cutting the Gordian Knot in half. There is elegance in simplicity. You may have constructed this elaborate fantasy world and believe me, I have seen some rather elaborate fantasy worlds. But they are that. A fantasy.

Do you know what we call a D&D player or a Harry Potter fan who thinks those worlds are real?

So you may think I am clumsy and that I prance around in a stupid outfit but that’s fine. Your outfit isn’t any better and at least Zorro looks cool.

My prancing does more for human beings even thought it is so clumsy. What use is your elegance when it only functions in the hypothetical world?

Christianity is no good at all as an idea. Stop thinking that an asserted proposition is the same thing as faith….Enflesh it

Benedict XVI said “Saints are lived theology” and “the Scriptures can only be interpreted in the lives of the saints”. By it’s very nature Christianity demands to be lived or it is not real. The incarnate One is only alive as we continue to incarnate his Truth (which is also a Way and a Life) in our own lives. If it isn’t lived it isn’t real.

You mean such Saints as St. Xavier who was responsible for “millions of souls saved” in the Orient.

Or in plain English? Convert or Die you Non-White People! Replace your superstitions with our white guy ones!

Or are we only counting the nice friendly saints?

And I repeat. There is no evidence for Jesus being the son of any god apart from one book and convoluted arguments as to the existence of this “son” of god. Why the Bible is acceptable as evidence but the Mahabaratha is not I shall never understand. I assume it’s because the Mahabaratha was written by brown people and therefore not as valid.

On the other hand, how can atheism be incarnated and fleshed out? Atheism is, at it’s core, a negation. It is a denial. It is the emptiness of dark compared to light–the void of cold compared to heat. Here is the big question–what does atheism look like when it is lived out?

No. Religion is the fear of the dark. It is arguing with the storm and rationalising with the dark. If we kill this type of person the dark will leave us alone.

Atheism is building a fire. You think I stand in the dark? I think you refuse to see the light because the light blinds you after living in that tiny selfish world that religion thinks we live in.

I never believed in your carpenter god. I think his miracles are a bit lame. He died for you? So what? Vishnu’s died 9 times. He rose from the dead? Seriously? Just one guy and his miracle is doing what all Hindus believe in? Do you even have any idea how stupid eternal life sounds to someone from a Hindu background who seeks to STOP the eternal cycle of life and transcend?

The entire total of human development and existence is not due to prayer. Not One Single Act of Progress has come about by prayer. Every single thing we have achieved since some proto-human ape picked up the first stick or pointed rock has been through cunning, guile, teamwork, toil and intelligence. Everything you see around you started off in our development alongside us as nothing more than a stick. The simplest of tools. The gears inside of a watch are a direct descendent from the stick you see see chimpanzees use to eat ants. We made spears, we made fire and we made history.

And at no point do we see the invisible hand of Jehovah. Because Humanity Developed in all parts of the globe. The only reason we have Christianity as the “Religion of Choice” is because powered by the humanist values and loss of power by the Church in western nations, science expanded there rapidly during the Renaissance and the technological devices born out of that were used to sponsor colonialism through which religion was spread.

Not because of some divine truth but because you had to convert.

Or Die.

The current crop of “nice atheists” will say, “It is the fullness of being human without superstition of any kind. It is human love expressed for one another and we sometimes help out at the soup kitchen too.” But those ideals and laudable charitable actions are borrowed from the Christian ideal of sanctity as fulfilled humanity and charity as the result of graced transformation. In other words, the atheists are borrowing Christian clothes because they want to be charitable and respectable without God.

Because Hindus do not love. Hindus do not do charity? Hindus are just horrible people…

No I am afraid kindness is not a Christian Ideal. Far from it if we look at the behaviour of Christians historically.

I am afraid what you see here is the notion that without Christian Morals you will be immoral. This is blatantly false as we see Atheists seem to be far more moral than Christians in terms of accepting others and even not committing crimes. Christians would have you believe that outside of a single tribe in the Middle East murder was totally legal. To which my response is this.

No major civilisation has legalised murder. Not even the Azteca who we consider as blood thirsty human sacrificers were murderers. The sacrifices were no different to those of the Old Testament after all. And there is human sacrifice in there too. At no point in Aztec culture could two dudes stab it out in the street for no reason. At no point in Hindu culture was this acceptable. You couldn’t just simply hare off and kill and steal and rob.

Charity is known irrespective of culture. Giving alms was a virtue in Hinduism prior to the formation of Judaism. Does that mean Jews took the idea from Hindus or that giving alms was seen as a public duty/good thing irrespective of culture?

Charity is not a Christian Concept and is born out of living in groups. The strengthening of the group by aiding the weakest members ensures the survival of the group and is entrenched in our evolution. It is our strength because as a family/group species the protection of the “weak” enabled more of us to survive. It also allowed for the utilisation of specialisation which allowed for the creation of specialised skilled tool making.

You can see “charity” or “altruism” in Animals too. Does it mean that look out meerkats are Christian? Or is there a evolutionary advantage to being charitable?

But why should they do this? What rationale is there for being nice, good people? If atheism is true, then why should being nice and good and helping at the soup kitchen or running a marathon for a cancer cure be any better or worse than being a selfish television addict or even worse–a politician. If atheism is true why be good, and how do you know what “good” is anyway?

The Bible is pro-slavery. How do you know anti-slavery is good and true? At no point does the Bible say “Slavery Sucks, Stop It”. Instead it goes on about how you should treat your slaves. Not too badly of course!

Atheism is the realisation that there is no god to save humanity and that the only people who will save us are other humans. We are responsible for ourselves. Therefore the poorest and hungriest have no other hope apart from humans. A god is not going to rain soup on them from above. Cancer? I am sorry? Do you think medical improvements have come about due to prayer or due  to hard research?

And there is nothing wrong with politics or watching TV. I would value politicians a bit higher on the scale of useful than say… priests. In many countries they do good things.

We know what’s good by analysing our actions and seeing how they affect others and putting ourselves in that position. We also look at scientific advances and ideas and we also experiment with different things until we find out what works best. What may be good for your need not necessarily be good at all. It may actually be detrimental. Why?

Because religion bases it’s good/bad on dogma while we do not. Why is something bad? What’s so bad about it? What would happen if it were not bad? Who would be affected, what would they do? All of these things are there to be taken into account.

It’s a damn sight better than simply following 2000 year old shepherds who would think we are wizards if we showed them an iPhone. Frankly?

The man who made the iPhone was so ignorant of basic medicine he opted to treat his cancer through nonsense rather than medicine to begin with. If such a well educated man does not have the full breadth of understanding of our scientific endeavour imagine what your iPhone would do to the Council Of Nicea or the Early Jews.

The atheist will say, “there is such a thing as the golden rule…” Errr. That comes from Judaism and Christianity. They will say, there is such a thing as empathy. Ummm, read your history, it was unheard of before Christianity. They will say there is just such a thing as being decent. But what does “being decent” consist of and why should your definition of “being decent” be necessarily any better than not being decent? And the whole idea of “being decent” comes from the idea of altruism which historically doesn’t exist outside religion.

The Golden Rule predates Christianity and Judaism.

Read Your History Mate. Just because they did not call it the Golden Rule doesn’t mean it didn’t exist in some form or other. Again. Christians seem to think you can make a Pyramid in a culture where everyone stole and murdered each other in the street.

And altruism exists in the animal world in nearly EVERY group or herd species. It is why honeybees willingly commit suicide to drive invaders off and why strong animals take risks to protect the herd.

Sher Khan in the Jungle Book does not die to Mowgli but to a Buffalo. Why? Buffalo when threatened will form a circle around their weakest members. Then the biggest males will rush whatever they think is a threat. The strongest males will risk death in order to protect the herd by team work.

And buffalo aren’t very bright animals. If they can see the benefit of altruism then so can we. It’s there in a variety of creatures and most importantly in apes.

To press it further, why would random acts of charity and having a nice family dinner be a way to live out and enflesh the idea of atheism? How do they connect? Where is the rational connection between asserting that there is no God and being nice to others? There is no necessary connection.

If the only reason you are nice to others is because you fear divine retribution then you are not nice. You are bad and the only thing keeping you behaving is the whip.

Since atheism is a negation the only way to live out the negation is through negation. There are some, to be sure, who have followed through with the negation of atheism. There are some who have followed through and lived out their philosophy. I’m thinking of poor old Friedrich Nietszche who died insane and alone. In a horrible way he fleshed out his atheism. Then there is Stalin and Mao. By murdering millions they lived out their atheism.

Vincent Van Gogh died insane, alone and penniless too. Does that means his paintings are not beautiful?

Stalin and Mao? Oh dear no. Stalin and Mao did not live out atheism. Stalin and Mao lived out being totalitarian despots who were not experts outside their given fields of theology (Stalin) and the army (Mao). Stalin made a horrible calculus of suffering and sacrificed millions for the net gain of hundreds of millions. He was a paranoid dictator and killed people for his paranoia. Irrespective of faith he would have killed people because religion doesn’t make you less paranoid. Mao? Mao thought farmers could run factories and professors could till fields resulting in famine and terrible products killing millions. At no point does atheism say “be paranoid” and “don’t understand economic growth”.

Stalin killed people because he saw threats to his power in the same way that Kings and Queens have killed people throughout History. Mao killed people because he didn’t have any idea how to run a country. It was like giving a toddler a goldfish then complaining that he overfed it.

No, give me the nun in the crazy wimple and the shades. She’s living out her Christianity. For that matter give me the hypocritical failure of a Christian who–even in his failure and subsequent repentance and getting up and trying again–is living out his Christianity. Give me the humble person dying of cancer who still drags herself off to Mass every week. In a billion ways in a billion souls Christianity is being fleshed out and lived–sometimes with success and often with failure, but at least the story can be lived and the theory is being put into practice–even if the practice doesn’t always make perfect.

And do you think a god is necessary to do all of that? Do you think not believing in a god will somehow make you a lesser person?

I would rather the nun lived life rather than spent her time praying to non-existent beings and experienced and immersed herself in the only life we have. I would rather the man who keeps “failing” look at why he is failing and realise that some of the “failures of being a good Christian” boil down to thought crime and being something that you aren’t. The person dying of cancer is not going to be saved by all the prayer in the world but by the men and women who tireless study how the human body works and test and slave to discover ways to kill and defeat cancer.

Do you think atheists don’t live and love and fear? You are creating bogeymen where none exist. And I do MORE than religious people for my “wards”. You think prayer is important, I give people what they need and I do so by thinking about what people really really need and listening. You would build churches, I would build toilets. You would laugh at me, but I know that toilets save more lives than steeples.

Atheism, on the other hand, how does anyone live that out without descending into the dark abyss?

Easily. You just live your life.

All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. The chance of the same atoms coming together in the same configuration are frankly astronomical.

Can you even comprehend the value of a SINGLE life? You are just chemistry. But such marvellous chemistry. What makes a man? Iron enough to make a nail? Lime enough to paint a wall? Water enough to drown a dog? Sulphur enough to stop the fleas? Potash enough to wash a shirt? Gold enough to buy a bean? Silver enough to coat a pin? Lead enough to shoot a bird? Phosphor enough to light the town? Poison enough to kill a horse? Strength enough to build a home? Time enough to hold a child? Love enough to break a heart? The irony is if you consider god the truth, it is not priests and religion that is closest to the truth but science.

Atheists manage to not descend into the dark abyss because we as humans in a society that fundamentally does not screw each other over turn out to be good irrespective of religious bogeymen watching over our backs.

Do you think I help others because I fear a god? Or because I want to emulate Christians?

Or because I think that we only have one life on this planet and others should enjoy it with me and to give people a chance at happiness is all that people want. You find happiness in the things you love. I like medicine. I love Hera. I love writing. These have nothing to do with gods but everything to do with being a human being.

We fear the dark for we fear the predators that lived in the dark. When we became the hunter we feared the dark without any reason so we created monsters to hide in the dark.

As atheists we make fire so that we don’t have to fear the dark anymore. I would much rather build fires than follow the rules of some unknown and unprovable magic being that is more interested in telling us not to eat piggies and to stone Elton John than not keep people as property.

Atheism is only an Idea. So is Christianity to be fair. As is the Theory of Relativity and the idea that if you split an atom you get energy out of it.

Some ideas are however real and more powerful than you can imagine. Ideas change the world. Religion is just an idea but it moves men to do things. Great and terrible things. What steadied the hand of the terrorist pilots of 9/11 but faith in their god? No matter how non-existent the idea of a god was sufficient to make them think that their actions were not only good but beneficial.

The difference is atheism as an idea is self critical. An atheist is the master of his own fate and the captain of his soul. He cannot run roughshod through the marina but must make each tack with the consideration of those around him. And so must religious people. It’s just that they assume that such consideration comes from a god and such consideration breaks down in specific cases.

Ideas are nothing to you? That’s only because you don’t know the value of an idea? The world moving around the sun was an “idea” once too. The evolution of man was an “idea” once too. Ideas outlive men if they are good and backed by observation. Some bright buggers once had an Idea that men can fly like the birds. All these are ideas too.

Christianity is another idea and judging by science and evidence it’s not a good idea. And the good father thinks the only idea we must have is Christianity.


  1. says

    Your style is really unique in comparison to other people I’ve read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this page.

  2. sqlrob says

    Not One Single Act of Progress has come about by prayer.

    I don’t know that I can agree with that. Sometimes they’re too busy praying to get in the way of the people trying to do something :D

  3. Z says

    Longenecker has a history of saying dumb and offensive things about atheists (and not only atheists). He’s is the one of “atheist zombies” fame, and when DOMA was repealed, he again compared gays/same-sex marriage proponents to some kind of movie monsters. (Was it the vampires in “I am Legend”? I can’t remember, you can look it up.) He also has written some dumb, insensitive and cruel things about the Magdalene laundries, minimizing their horribleness.

    I think someone mentioned at some point that he’s neuroatypical, which would partially explain the demonstrated lack of tact and empathy, but doesn’t excuse it.

  4. jagwired says

    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat):

    That article is so flipping offensive.

    Can you elaborate? Or are you a bot like post #2, or maybe I’m just missing the sarcasm?

    Personally, I thought it was an awesome post.

    I’ll play the devil’s Father Dwight Longenecker advocate for this part:

    Read Your History Mate. Just because they did not call it the Golden Rule doesn’t mean it didn’t exist in some form or other. Again. Christians seem to think you can make a Pyramid in a culture where everyone stole and murdered each other in the street.

    I’m guessing he thinks the world is only 6,000 years.

  5. smrnda says

    I don’t exactly get the whole ‘this person is living their Xtianity, how do you live atheism?’ Part of atheism is rejecting a need for life to follow some specific script. Thanks to not having to live life according to some script, you can do what really seems best and what you really enjoy.

    Religion, to me, is like a hobby or something like drinking – a person who drinks can wonder how people who don’t party or have a good time, a gamer wonders what non-gamers fill time with, a person who follows sports wonders what other people do for entertainment, but it’s usually there just inquisitiveness. Most people can accept that other people find happiness and meaning without their specific passions, since they aren’t making it some kind of universal formula that works for everyone.

    All said, I thought this was a great line :

    “Mao killed people because he didn’t have any idea how to run a country. It was like giving a toddler a goldfish then complaining that he overfed it”

    Mao seemed to have a lot of magical beliefs,among them that willpower alone could accomplish anything, which seems to fit in with some religious viewpoints as well.

  6. M.C. Simon Milligan says

    I’m guessing he thinks the world is only 6,000 years.

    Siddhartha, Epicurus, Laozi, Socrates, Confucius, Thales and Mozi all proclaimed the golden rule of reciprocity within the past 6,000 years and well before Christ. Even the ancient Egyptian “Eloquent Peasant” tale, which shows an awareness of reciprocity, is a mere 4500 years old or so (and, thus, well predates even a liberal estimation of the age of Leviticus, the oldest Judaic representation of the rule).

  7. katybe says

    @jagwired – While I can’t speak for Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat), I’ve seen him (I assume – sorry if I’m wrong) around in the comments of many blogs on here, so I’d say not a bot, and my interpretation was that saying “that article” referred to the article Avi was ripping apart, whereas “this article” would have meant the OP. Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat) may return and correct me if I’ve interpreted that wrong, but I thought I’d add in another suggestion.

  8. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Do you know what we call a D&D player or a Harry Potter fan who thinks those worlds are real?

    Erm, D&D or Harry Potter fans, I presume.

    Atheism is building a fire. You think I stand in the dark? I think you refuse to see the light because the light blinds you after living in that tiny selfish world that religion thinks we live in.

    That is excellently put, Avicenna.

    (this bit is from Longnecker)

    Give me the humble person dying of cancer who still drags herself off to Mass every week…..

    ….and I will give you the corpse, to adapt the old Jewish saying.

    A wonderful article, Sir. I love that you love writing, because I love reading good writing.

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