Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evangelical Atheism

My mom read this post and this one. And I think I'm starting to get to her. At the very least, I'm getting her to admit that her beliefs don't come from the Bible, which is actually a pretty big deal. (I love that I know the Bible well enough to call someone out on something.)

We did have this one point of contention. She stated something about God being out of time and space, and I pointed out that I don't think that's anywhere in the scriptures. There were a few other times she used, perhaps a CS Lewis analogy, and had to admit that it as well was just an idea of what God *might* be like, and not what was stated so explicitly in the book.

We talked about Eden, and she said it showed God's relationship with mankind. She talked about how it says he walked with them in the evenings, and he loved them and made the world for them. I told her it showed me that God's relationship with mankind was punitive - they did something he didn't like so he punished them and all their future descendants forever.

Very little is actually said about the afterlife, so my mom had to concede that her decision to hope that there was perhaps (like the Mormon's) some secondary testing ground after death, wasn't based on scripture. She said in response to John 3:18, "Well, we're not told what 'believe in his name' means for people who've never heard the gospel." (And hey, if people who've never heard the gospel go to heaven, or at least aren't doomed to hell like people who hear and don't believe, then stop telling people about it! If ignorance is innocence in God's eyes, then proselytizing is the most evil action; it sends the most people to hell. But I didn't get to this point with her.)

I really think that all I have to do is convince her that Yawhew is not morally good, and I think my mom would be an atheist. Trouble is, she's made a conscious choice (and admits that it is such) to see God as being all good and all loving, and to try to make the facts fit it.

I do think my mom is someone with exceptional intelligence. Her faith is neither literalist nor fundamentalist, though it is very important to her. She has thought about theological questions, and read GK Chesterton and CS Lewis and St. Augustine, but as I pointed out to her today, the problem with apologetics is that they are written to reaffirm the faith of someone who already accepts all the propositions as true. If you don't accept them, then the argument isn't compelling, and I think the complete lack of compelling argument, and the fact that God's existence is even debatable at all, is either a failure on his part, or an indication that He (personal Yahweh god) doesn't exist.

Since she values honesty, and values truth, and does not want to worship a god that is powerful but not good, I think these inconsistencies between her own beliefs and values (which are more liberal and loving) and the Bible's (which are barbaric and inhumane) will start to bother her. She'll want to reconcile things, and since faith and reason *can't be* reconciled, eventually I think she'll be an atheist.

The requisite part to go from belief to disbelief is a desire for truth. Once you care if what you believe is true, and are willing to lose beliefs if they are untrue, atheism naturally follows.

Here's the rough paraphrasing of the conversation we just had on the problem of pain.

Her: Well some people believe (I think she was talking about Classical Greeks actually) that the greatest good is in the spiritual world, and so a certain amount of suffering in this world is okay, if it's going to make the next one better.

Me: But god is omnipotent. What does suffering in this world have to do with how the next world will be? (Seriously, the idea that god had to make a crappy earth for heaven to seem cool is not a huge selling point for heaven.)

Her: Well that's where the idea of "the last shall be first"comes from. So the people who have suffered the most, for eternity they'll [have it best or something - I can't remember her exact words].

Me: Well, then I guess we shouldn't try to make things better for people in the here and now, because we're just robbing them of future glory in heaven.

Her: No, obviously not. There are some Christians like Gig who just think the end of the world will come sooner if it gets a whole lot worse -

Me: (interrupting, because I'm really bad about that) - Yes, and there is a whole large faction of American Christianity devoted to that, including the rampantly pro-Israel crowd.

Her: Sure. But most Christians don't act that way. They build hospitals and give to charity and stopped Chinese foot-binding (this info-byte is probably from Open Doors or one of the other missionary-abroad charities she gives to.) Jesus said in the final judgment we'll be judged on did you feed the hungry, did you care for the widow.

Me: Okay, so if God cares about alleviating suffering in the here and now, if it's important enough that it's what he told us to do, why doesn't he do it? He's omnipotent. How can he be omnipotent and all-loving, and have this world?
That's just a fragment of the intense hour-long theological debate I just had with my mother. I feel like an atheist rock star right now. Let me make one thing perfectly clear - I am an evangelical atheist. I make no bones about it (except when being stealthy on Facebook, or posing as an LDS-neutral guy on Mormon chats.) You can blame the evangelical culture for that. I was instilled with a sense of responsibility for the souls of everyone I came in contact with. Now that I think we don't have souls, or immortality, I want to unsave those people - and free them from the guilt, hatred, and intellectual dishonesty of faith, belief, and religion.