TagApologetics

We Just Believe in One Fewer God than You

A common argument against belief in God–does it stand up?

Actually, that’s not all there is to it.

I mean, it’s not quite so simple.

Affirmed atheist, Ricky Gervais used this argument when he was a guest on Stephen Colbert.  The YouTube clip has received over 4 million views. 

In the interview he said that there are about 3000 deities that people have worshiped at one time or another and Christians don’t believe in 2,999 of them, the atheist simply goes one god further.  Gervais’ exact words are:

I don’t believe in just one more.

Colbert didn’t respond–perhaps he was just being polite, but what is the Christian response to Gervais’ argument?

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“I don’t believe in just one more”

This argument needs to be unpacked a little.

Gervais is suggesting that there is a logical, and therefore necessary, step that Christians (and other monotheists) fail to make.  His use of the term “just” suggests that this step is insignificant.  This is far from the case–the step is neither a logically necessary nor is it insignificant.

His argument is that the rejection of the final god is the same as, and in line with, the rejection of all preceding gods.  But this is wrong.  It does not follow that if one rejects 1 god, one must reject the remaining 2999.  Nor does it follow that if you reject 2999, you must logically reject the last.

This step, the one that Gervaise takes, has only been taken by very few, and these only recently.  Of all the millions of people that ever lived in all of the remote corners of the world, all of them have come to the same conclusion.  They concluded that there is more.

Belief in any one of the 3000 gods is an acknowledgment of some form of transcendence–that there is something beyond or above the range of ordinary or merely physical human experience.  The belief in any deity is a claim that there is some external standard to which we must all align our lives.

The Atheists leap of faith

Rather than making a small step in line with the rejection of the first 2,999 gods, Gervais is making a giant leap in the opposite direction.  He doesn’t go one itty-bitty step beyond Christianity, as his “just” implies.  He, and those like him, are breaking with conclusions arrived at by the rest of humanity.  These conclusions have been arrived at independently, over thousands of years on human history.

That all of humanity has arrived at the same conclusion, isn’t irrefutable proof that their conclusion is true.  People who believe in God certainly take a leap of faith.

Gervais points this out as he explains atheism in a nutshell:

You say, “There is a God.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

Perhaps many in Colbert’s audience feel that Gervais has scored a point against believers, but he hasn’t.   A theist can illustrate the atheist leap of faith similarly:

You say, “There no spiritual reality beyond the material.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

I think Gervais would acknowledge his leap of faith.

The question is–Who takes the greater leap?  The person who says that everything that we see in the cosmos and through our experiences in life is the result of material processes or the person that says there is something more than matter and its movements and modifications.

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The conversation can start here, not where Gervais thinks he ended it in the Stephen Colbert interview.

Are All Other Religions Wrong?

Christians are not as intolerant as you might think.

Are atheists more tolerant than religious people?  Are Christians intolerant of other faiths?

On a site called Hubpages, a person that calls themselves “kittythedreamer” asked the following question:

Why is it that Christians believe that Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, etc. are all wrong in their beliefs?

It generated quite a bit of discussion.

This question makes a lot of sense in our culture.  We find Christians, indeed all those who take their faith seriously, as judgmental.  When we accept that there is no God, as many in our culture have; tend to also abandon the idea that there is a universal purpose and meaning–we are uncomfortable with, or reject, the idea of objective truth.  We’d rather create our own truth.

That’s why Christians baffle people like kittythedreamer (“kitty”).  Christians have this old fashioned idea that truth is objective, rather than subjective.  We believe that some things are true, or moral, or good, or just, whether we like it or not.  It follows then that some things are false, immoral, evil, unjust.

In our culture, saying someone’s views are wrong is the same as telling them that they have the wrong favourite ice cream.

“kitty” is right; Christians do say others are wrong. They do so because when they claim that some things are true, they can’t also accept the opposing idea as also true.   To do so requires a mental dexterity possessed only by those who don’t believe in objective truth–those who create their own meaning.

But “kitty” is wrong in another way.   Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, at least not entirely so.  We believe other religions are right in some very important ways.  Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:

[tweetshare tweet=”Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, They are are right in some very important ways. Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:” username=”Dryb0nz”]

  1. We’ve already covered the first one.  All, or very nearly all, of the world’s religions believe that truth resides outside of the individual.  They don’t entirely agree on what that truth is, but it’s external.  External often means universal–that means it’s true for everyone, everywhere, for all time.  One of the things that humans are supposed to do is conform themselves to that external truth.  So rather than thinking everybody is wrong, Christians believe that, in this respect, that these religions are right.
  2. Another thing that nearly all religions believe is that behind the natural world there is a mystical and/or spiritual reality.
  3. Most of the religions of the world, past and present, believe in transcendent gods or a God. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  4. Most religions believe that God or the gods is/are occasionally active in the lives of humans. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  5. Many religions believe that God is interested in human flourishing. Christians believe it and any other religion that believes it too are considered to be right.
  6. All religions believe that human beings must contend with evil in their lives. Christians believe this and they agree with any religion that believes it too.
  7.  Many religions believe that other religions possess truth.  Some are closer to “The Truth” than others.

Obviously, Christians don’t believe that other religions are wrong. There is tremendous agreement among religious adherents.  This is not to say that the differences aren’t significant, but the points at which all, or most, religions agree might give one pause.

So who is more open-minded?  Does the atheist say, “You are all correct”?

Atheists usually say of religious believers, “You are all wrong!”

I know it feels like there is a lot of conflict between Christians and others in our society.  Not all of it can be reduced to closed mindedness and bigotry–some of it has to do with the fact that people of faith look to a source of truth outside themselves.  Their claims might not be true, but it must be admitted that the idea that all meaning is necessarily internal also has some significant drawbacks that make it hard to believe.

This is where the dialogue should begin, not with kitty’s question.

“If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Someone commented on a blog post, “If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

To this another commenter replied,

That only applies if you don’t go to stamp collecting sites and explain why stamp collecting is stupid, produce podcasts about why stamp collecting is stupid, write books on why stamp collecting is stupid, sue because someone want to promote stamp collecting, or hold rallies to celebrate non-stamp collecting.

Is atheism a religion?

Not in the sense that it is a belief in a god or Gods.   In this sense, Penn’s quip is absolutely true.

But’s this is not all that is contained in the term religion.

We might also say that a religious claim is one which rests upon unprovable truth claims.

Religion generally arise out of the search for meaning and truth.  An agnostic avoids making a religious claim when she says that she doesn’t know if there is or is not a god.

The atheist, on the other hand, makes a fundamental and unprovable truth claim that there is no God. This, in the sense that it is a belief about truth and meaning around which one orients one’s life, is a religious claim.

So you can see, the original commenter is insisting on a narrow definition of the term “religion” so as to avoid the fact that his belief is not ultimately based on reason.

Atheism is a religion like not believing in stamps is a hobby.

“A personal relationship with reality”?

Billboard 1

This billboard communicates an important truth: it’s good to have a relationship, personal or otherwise, with reality.

It is, however, contestable that atheism brings us into this relationship.  It does so only if there isn’t a God.

If there is a God, then this is false advertising.

 

The God of Judgement

Free-Photos / Pixabay

We live in a culture of tolerance.

Consequently, we don’t like the idea of a judgemental God. We don’t like a God that draws a clear line between right and wrong and then judges the wrong. Many reject a judgemental God.  They just want a God of love.

But deep down, we all want a God of justice.  And love.

The God of Justice

When we look at the cosmos we see that God is as creative as he is powerful. And he must like human beings a lot because he gives us all sorts of good things: love, food, sex, sunsets, beaches, oranges and wine.

God is perfect justice.

This is usually only a stumbling block to those who experience no true injustice.

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Who loves Divine Judgement?

Consider all the crap that some people have to live with at the hands of others; then the God of justice moves from an embarrassment to a necessity to get up in the morning.

It is definitely wrong to machine gun children, or to rape teenaged girls and string them up in a tree to taunt their grieving, and helpless father or to force women and children into sexual, or any other kind of, slavery. You know that people do these things, right? If one’s life is filled with this kind of injustice, justice isn’t so easy to dismiss and the God who is justice isn’t so easy to reject.

God is Love

He’s also perfect love. Yeah, I know, perfect justice AND perfect love? How do you put those things together?

Well, if there truly is a God, I think it’s reasonable to expect that there’d be some things that would be, intellectually, a little hard to grasp.

He knew it was hard to grasp so he showed us what it looks like–his son on the cross–he judged Jesus as if he were us (justice), and then he treats us as if we were Jesus (love). Perfect justice and perfect love are right there at the cross.   It’s pretty clear that he will do anything and everything to bring you into a relationship with him. Everything, that is, except force you to be in a relationship with him.   That’s perfect love.

So if you are rejecting God, walk away from the one who heals the sick and blesses the poor, away from the one who eats with prostitutes and then lifts up those that are abused and seats them at the best seats at his table. The one who will bring justice to those who use people like objects and to those self-righteous folk who already have everything that they are going to get, away from the one can only woo you to him with the sacrifice of his love, and who loves you so much he won’t force you.

Does Religion Divide us?

Photo by Jose Maria Garcia Garcia on Upslpash

John Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion.  I think the reason he wanted to get rid of religion is because he dreamed of a world united by love and he thought that religion divides us.

 Debate.org wonders the same thing.  They asked the question: Does religion divide the world?  73% of those responding said yes.

Why does religion divide?  One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that

“Religion is another form of categorizing.  Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .

It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.

Religious beliefs definitely divide us in exactly the way that AbdulRaufw4lr6s says it does.  But this is not only a characteristic of religion.  Whenever someone claims and exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.

Truth Claims Can Divide

Everyone makes truth claims–decide between exclusive beliefs–and when they do, they will create categories.  These categories aren’t usually as either/or as we make them, but they do create camps.  These can lead to hatred and disunity.

“Jesus or Mohammad”

“Liberal or Conservative”

“Republican or Democrat”

“Theist or Atheist”

“Ford or Chevy”

“Ginger or Maryann”

Some of these are more exclusive than others, but the issue is not whether or not one will hold to an exclusive belief; the issue is to which an exclusive set of beliefs will one hold.  We can be nice about all these categories, but John Lennon had it right, we tend not to be nice.

So, as long as we make any claims for truth, we are stuck with the categories.  So is there no hope for the peace and unity of which John Lennon imagines?

The Differences that Lead to Unity

Christianity is different than all other religions, and these differences are humanity’s best bet to achieve peace and unity.

  1. The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity, it is God himself.  This God became a human being and was killed on our behalf.  We are saved because of what he did, not on what we do.  In all other religions the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never deserve it.
  2. Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin “the whole process of giving definition and categorization” as described by           AbdulRaufw4lr6s.  People who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than anyone else, probably worse.  If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
  3. Most other religions point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity.  Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life.  By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world.  He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us.  Consequently, Christians desire and work for the flourishing of others; they are generous with their time and money. If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about the environment, for instance, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have misunderstood the gospel.

Jesus came into a divided world.  There were tremendous divisions between Jew and Greek and rich and poor. But because of the differences between Christianity and other religions, the early Church mixed races and socioeconomic classes.  This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever.  How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?

All truth claims create divisions and categories.  Religions usually do this as well, but the truth claims concerning Jesus Christ do not.  These differences, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth of which John Lennon sang.

Jesus, Zeus, Thor and the Kraken

Pexels / Pixabay

One more thing about the Bill Maher video.

Consider this my Christmas post.

In the video, Maher equates faith in Jesus Christ with belief in Zeus, Thor, and the Kraken and all the other “stuff that is not evidenced based.”

I love it when he gives us the circumstances by which he would become a believer. He challenges,

“Show me a God and I will believe in him. If Jesus Christ comes down from the sky during the halftime show at the super bowl” and starts doing miracles, then he will believe in God. Confidently he concludes, “But that’s not going to happen.”

But it did happen.

It is only in timing that God’s plan diverges from Maher’s. Other than that, the Incarnation of God on earth was exactly the sort of proof that he demands. If the Incarnation is what Christians proclaim, I don’t think that even Maher would insist that there ought to be some repeat performance just for his sake.

The issue for Maher is that he doesn’t trust the first century Jews and Romans who saw, first hand, the events as recorded in the Gospels. For some reason, he doesn’t trust their testimony. Perhaps he doesn’t think they were as smart as he is, or at least rational–too easily duped.

First century Jews were predisposed to unbelief.

A good argument can be made that first century Jews were less likely to believe that Jesus was the son of God than modern day atheists. They proclaimed every day that God is One–they refused to give up this tenet even in the fact of the most horrendous persecution by the likes of Antiochus Epiphanies. Still, they were convinced. Christianity started with a significant number of these very people willing to die equally horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans proclaiming what they had seen with their own eyes.

Granted, there were some who saw and did not believe. I wonder if Maher would be convinced even with his Super Bowl miracle. Then as now, to accept that God exists and that Jesus Christ is his son necessarily leads to submission to this God. For many, it’s this submission that is the issue, rather than the evidence.

Within Maher’s cynicism is an incredible testimony of how incredible an event the coming of Christ was. What actually happened, and convinced so many of the inconceivable, was much more wonderful than the trick of changing “nachos into loaves and fishes” at a football game.

Instead of changing a modern snack food into the ancient equivalent, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and made the lame to walk again; he offered forgiveness to all–shady businessmen, prostitutes cynical HBO talk show hosts, and me.

Evidence aside, this is a God of a different category that Zeus or Thor or the Kraken?

Is Atheism a Religion?

Bill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

Atheism is a Religion

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

&url=https://trentdejong.com/is-atheism-a-religion/" data-link="https://twitter.com/share?text=There+is+no+belief+that+does+not+begin+with+a+claim+that+cannot+be+proven+rationally--even+the+belief+that+matter+is+all+their+is.+%23atheism+%23AtheismisaReligion&via=">&url=https://trentdejong.com/is-atheism-a-religion/" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">There is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally--even the belief that matter is all their is.Click To Tweet

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'”–those who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

If you watch Maher, you know that his ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He said that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.

There is nothing wrong with belief in meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence-based belief” and my “faith-based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw lines that don’t really exist.

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