If You Dig A Little Deeper…

It’s a horrid, hateful message—
Well, it is, upon its face—
If you dig a little deeper
That is clearly not the case.

We should not condemn the godless
Though, of course, we really could
If you dig a little deeper
Many atheists are good

When I say that you are hopeless
That your life is pure despair
If you dig a little deeper
What I’m saying is, “I care”

When I say you have no values
That you’re selfish at the core
If you dig a little deeper
It’s not you that I deplore

With no ultimate morality
There’s no “good” for them to choose
When you dig a little deeper
These are atheism’s views

I’m not saying you’re inhuman
I’m just worried for your souls

If you dig a little deeper….
What’s the first rule about holes?

In my new favorite bad article misunderstanding atheism and atheists, a Jeff Jarrett defends the anti-atheist billboard near St. Joseph, MN. The billboard, which you may have read about, simply says “With atheism, there is no hope, only despair.” That’s it. In quotes, without attribution.

Given the billboard’s prior messages, one might assume the new message was intolerant of the atheist world view. If one digs a bit deeper, it’s clear this is not the case.

Of course not. Why, this is simply a distillation of what all atheists must believe.

The billboard synthesizes the philosophical conclusion that every person must face if atheism is true. This is not to say that all atheists “live” or should live in despair. Far from it!

Most atheists I know are quite good people. Some would say they are morally good people. The problem has come to be known as the “human predicament.” It isn’t the theologian who came to this conclusion, but the existentialist who, without God, could not find ultimate significance, value or purpose in life.

We’ve seen this claim before. Oh, and the author is responding to comments, doubling down on his emphasis of “ultimate” significance. Certainly, we can make our own significance, and we do so. But we cannot find “ultimate significance, value or purpose” without god. We’ve seen that, too–although we so often find that the truths relayed to us by omnipotent, omniscient deities disagree with truths relayed to others by the same or other omnipotent, omniscient deities. With thousands of religious sects to choose from, which set of absolute truths is absolutely true? Good thing we have a god to tell us how to think, cos otherwise, we’d have to work it out for ourselves.

(Parenthetically, I had a wonderful risotto last night–thanks for the cooking tips, Comradde Physioproffe–with sweet sausage from locally farmed pasture-raised pig. That pig, it must be noted, had an ultimate purpose, imposed on it from without. Having a purpose that you do not create for yourself is not necessarily a good thing. The author’s boast of an objective, god-imposed morality, even if true, are no cause to rejoice.)

Back to the editorial:

For in atheism, good and evil do not exist; only your tastes and mine. Modern man faces this today in believing that he is the arbiter of morality based on the changes in taste, preferences and morays of the group. As the father of an 8-month-old, I cannot fathom being consistent in a world view to teach him that anything is permitted.

Actually, this is only true if you see good and evil as inextricably linked to a god; you see, more properly, his first sentence should simply have said “a god or gods do not exist”. Good and evil (that is, things which a community can agree are good or are evil) do exist–that is, we know what one another mean by it. They are useful terms, to the extent that we agree on them. I don’t know of any atheists who would agree with the claim “anything is permitted”. We just don’t outsource the justification.

Is there an objective standard for morality, even for atheists? I believe so. And that objective standard is the real world. That which we call good and bad (and this certainly includes what religions call good and bad) is that which, in hindsight, has proven to be adaptive in the long run. Treating others kindly, far from being selected against by “nature red in tooth and claw”, is a long term survival strategy. Saving for a rainy day is good; treating others honestly is good; washing your hands is good… because these things help us, and keep our genes around.

But here’s the thing. The real world changes. The real world has different environments, with different characteristics. Predictably, different areas of the world end up with different “ultimate moralities”. Well, predictably, unless you base your prediction on one single omniscient, omnipotent deity with one set of moral standards for all of humanity. For me, I’d much rather have a morality that is responsive to the real world.

In a universe without God, the universe runs its course and ultimately will cease to exist. Your life and my life are no different than that of my dog, Cocoa. We were here, then we were not.

In atheism, one must create ultimate purpose. But if your idea of ultimate purpose is different than mine, who is right? It’s obvious that without God, the universe and our lives hold no purpose.

Yes, the universe will run its course and ultimately will cease to exist. This is the truth. Would you have us believe a lie? Mind you, we’ll all be long gone before the sun explodes, let alone the heat death of the universe, so the question has little real bearing on us. (Of course, in one view of objective morality, by the time this happens, those among us who did not believe in and swear allegiance to the right deity in the right manner will all be just beginning an eternity of burning in a lake of fire, so maybe non-existence isn’t so bleak. I don’t have any bad memories of before I was born, after all.)

The logical consequences of atheism elicit emotion because to live consistently as an atheist is untenable. Grasping these truths put me on the narrow path that is brightly lit, not by me, but by the sacrifice, love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Frankly, this is a lie. Whether deliberate or not, there is no logical pathway from “atheism’s consequences are scary” to “therefore, Jesus“. You need positive evidence–ok, no, you don’t need it, cos there’s no law that says you have to be logical, or even rational. The truth is, the author is part of a Christian community, and believes for the same reasons most people do–because that’s what those around him do. He has his community’s distorted view of the sterile life of the everyday atheist, and for some reason thinks he’s not insulting us by sharing it. That’s all it is, when you dig a little deeper.

He needs to remember the first rule of holes.


  1. The Ridger says

    “X, therefore Jesus” is a very popular “argument”. His boils down to “Reality is scary, therefore I prefer to feel like God is looking out for me”. Okay. But it’s not persuasive.

    ps – once again, my (vain) complaint about FTB’s commenting system and its inability to recognize me. This time I add that when I tried to comment from my phone, I was shunted to a contribution page.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    Ridger, I have no idea what is happening with that–but for the first time in forever, when I first wrote to reply, I myself was not recognized, had to log in, and lost my earlier comment. No contribution page, though. I will forward your complaints, as I have the last.

    A previous different person with a similar problem found her cure to be the red-and-grey FtB icon at the top left over the comment box. But it still should have recognized you!

  3. maudell says

    I’m so grateful to those christians who let me know what I really believe as an atheist. Otherwise, I would not have known that I think morality is a matter of personal taste. I *feel* like I don’t believe that, but who am I to know what my beliefs are?

    (Oh, is it time to play ‘I know what christians really believe’? [evil laughter])

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Actually, maudell, we (atheists–or some of us, at least) do that quite often! It is said that only two groups take the bible literally–biblical literalists, and atheists. A great many Christians absolutely do not believe everything that, say, they say they do while reciting the Nicean Creed. Some admit this willingly; others blush to admit it, and others don’t realize it until it is pointed out to them. “What Christians believe” is nearly (or maybe every bit) as broad a brush as “what atheists believe”, even though, in theory, they belong to a positively defined group.

  5. Al Dente says

    I think it’s the theists, particularly the Jesusites, who should despair. They’re told they’re sinners who deserve infinite punishment. They have to keep a sadistic god (the one with a large torture chamber in the basement) happy or else spend infinity being tortured. Doesn’t seem very joyous to me.

  6. Usernames are smart says


    As the father of an 8-month-old, I cannot fathom being consistent in a world view to teach him that anything is permitted.

    And yet, he is doing just that! By putting his god in charge of his morality, he is essentially abdicating his own reason and judgement of morality for the ‘anything is permitted as long as it gets the thumb up from Sky Daddy’-code of morality.

    How do you feel about wiping out an entire village, killing all men and children, and taking the women for sex slaves? It’s Moral.

    What about killing animals indiscriminately and burning their carcases on an altar? Moral, even if you burn them while still alive

    What about killing your own son? Moral
    What about killing your own son? Not Moral (but only if god says, “sike!” just as you were about to plunge the dagger into your son’s body)

    Working on Saturday? Not moral Whoops! Moral
    Working on Sunday? Moral Whoops! Not Moral

    Hate your enemies? Not moral
    Destroy your enemies? Moral


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