DOOM & GLOOM?
When all else fails, Bible-believers put atheism down as the doom and gloom philosophy. As an accident of evolution, you live out your meaningless, inconsequential life, devoid of moral compass and purpose, and then you die and become dust. Forever. Compare that, says the Bible-believer, to accepting JESUS and living forever in the heavenly abode. Which do you want?
An atheist, of course, is a non-theist. That=s all we can deduce from the label. We can deduce nothing more about his or her personal philosophy or character. Thus, atheism is not a philosophy anymore than non-gardenerism is. A non-gardener could be a creep, a benefactor, a capitalist, a communist, almost anything except a gardener. However, this misuse of Aatheism@ is a minor detail to the Bible-believer, who would probably accept Asecular humanism@ or Arationalism@ in place of atheism.
Now, if pigs could fly and truth was determined by votes, the above might be construed as a reason for believing in JESUS. It does have appeal. By comparison, atheism seems to be the doom and gloom view. Often, we respond by noting that reality is cold and impersonal, but that truth is truth and we should own up to it like seasoned adults. T=is a noble response, but haven=t we rushed things a bit? If we could vote on the matter, would eternal life be the logical choice?
An all-powerful god should be able to keep a heavenly resident happy forever. But who can say with certainty? An all-powerful and benevolent god would, presumably, not have to tolerate evil either. However, God seems to have no choice. Therefore, we should look at the facts and not be dogmatic about eternal, heavenly bliss.
Is a permanent, enforced high on Adrugs@ a meaningful life? Can heaven even offer a meaningful life? By what right, dear Christian, do you set the definition of a "meaningful life"? By what stretch of logic is life "meaningful" only if it goes on and on without end in a Christian heaven?
What meaning is there in a life that goes on forever? Either that life must stagnate within certain cyclic parameters for an infinity or else lose its identity in an endless sea of change. The latter is none other than a kind of death, an extinction by dissipation; the former could be a meaningless hell. A meaningful life must be finite. A finite life may grow without completely losing its identity. There is no prospect of going in circles forever. Could we live as long as we wished, I think that a time would come, sooner or later, however pleasant our existence, when each and every one of us would say "Enough."
My life is meaningful. I ought to know. I'm the one who is living it! Its meaning is tied to the "here and now" and not to some "Big Daddy" in the sky or to the prospect of living forever. If life has no meaning in our short existence, then how can it have meaning if prolonged forever? We can only live one day at a time. If there is no meaning in today, even though it quickly passes and is forgotten, then where in an infinite life will meaning be found? Is mere existence the ultimate meaning? I think not!
Each life well lived is like a story well told. It has a beginning, an end, and meaning. It does not go on for ever and ever. Indeed, no story could truly go on forever and have meaning. Either it would be trapped in an endless repetition of one sort or another, or it would wander forever without settling on a clear meaning. The former would bore a reader to death; the latter would have no point to it.
In an infinite story, all its meaning must be up front where it can be reached by a finite amount of reading. If not, then the misplaced meaning will be lost. It will always be beyond our reach. We might as well throw the infinite part of the infinite story away, because it has no meaning. So, too, for an infinite life. We only live in the "here and now," and if any meaning is to be had it must be there. Thus, a finite life may have meaning.
Our rejection of so influential a work as the Bible is neither radical nor nihilistic. It is a consequence of a vigorous exercise of reason, which in its higher forms is exhibited by mainstream Bible scholars everywhere. Having influence is not the same thing as having truth. The Bible may well be the most error?filled work known to man ?? outside of those voluminous commentaries purporting to prove its inerrancy. Neither the Koran nor the Vedas, nor Hitler's book, nor Marx's book, nor Mao's little Red Book have anywhere near the contradictions and absurdities found in the Bible. Understanding that fact is a positive step in grasping reality, not a journey into nihilism. Our lives are quite meaningful and positive without an inerrant Bible, thank you!
Far from lacking a standard of morality, we understand its true meaning and source. Unlike the religious terrorist, we cannot abandon morality in the name of some god whenever we please. We will never be able to justify holy wars or burn dissenters at the stake, in the name of Jesus. We will never have a theology that can justify massacring neighboring peoples and taking their lands in the name of God. We will never burn our babies in ovens or beat them to death to drive out "the devil," as is done surprisingly often by distraught Christians who think that the rules of morality may be lifted for religious reasons. Neither are we obliged to "justify" the atrocities found in the Bible. Trying to justify such atrocities is bound to sow confusion in one's mind as to what is and is not moral.
Far from being morally rudderless, we are at the fountainhead of morality! We don't need an intermediate, a "Big Daddy" in the sky, to tell us that love is good and murder is bad! We have a pretty good idea of how to create a warm, friendly and workable community. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. We have no need to further justify our rules of morality. What works, works.
We have no need of a god to pass judgment on us. For the wayward among us, the long arm of the law is much more effective. Christians can sin "on credit" and confess at the last minute, thereby avoiding hell. What kind of system is that for preventing crime? The great bulk of locked?up criminals profess to be religious, but their beliefs didn't stop them from committing their crimes.
We have no need of a god to give meaning to our lives. Meaning will be found in the just societies that we create or live in. We will give our lives meaning!
Our thirst for knowledge is keen. We seek real knowledge, the truth, not mere justification of dogmatic principles. We are free to seek real knowledge, whereas the Bible-believer must support his or her literal belief in the Bible no matter how absurd it becomes.
Our reverence for life is deep. Unlike our fundamentalist brothers, who regard life on Earth as a mere stop on the road to paradise, an unpleasant but necessary stop at that, a place to do one's duty and be gone, we are free to embrace life in all its wonder and beauty. Unlike our fundamentalist brothers, we know that such magnificence must be cared for. We will never allow our natural resources to be used up or abused under the theory that the world is shortly coming to an end, anyway. We suffer from no such illusion.
Why should we fear death? Death is like leaving a banquet. You don't want to leave too early as the food and company are at their best. On the other hand, you don't want to eat forever! After awhile the food becomes bland and the pleasures blurred, and your stomach hurts.
Unlike many Christians, we do not view ourselves as unworthy worms hanging over a great fire by a slender thread. We do not view ourselves as being guilty of cosmic crimes and of deserving cosmic damnation. How can anyone fully enjoy life with such poison in their brains? That some fundamentalists do grow up healthy in mind and body is more an attribute to human robustness and independence than anything else. The whole idea of hell, no doubt invented for a complex of historical reasons (but especially useful for keeping an ignorant flock in line) is one of the great contradictions of Christian theology. God cannot be both a mass torturer par excellence and a loving father at the same time, period. No amount of jumping backwards through flaming hoops, of postulating infinite crimes and other such nonsense, will ever justify the concept of hell. The atheist has the good sense (along with some Christians) to dust it off as a primitive fairy tale.
If you prefer a sadist for a god, dear fundamentalist, then keep your hell of fire and brimstone. You are welcome to it. However, don't mistake us for simple?minded children who may be frightened by such talk. Did you know that the history of hell may be traced back to Iran and other places? In the Old Testament it was no more than a gray, gloomy, place of the dead, a land of shadows, occupied by both good and bad! Obviously, it's nothing more than an evolved, manmade concept. Thus, hell holds no terror for us. There is no "grim truth" there to be owned up to at some future date, except in unthinking, ignorant minds. We don't waste our time and energy on such idiocy. We have far better things to do, such as enjoying a meaningful life.
By all accounts, be it a firmer grip on morality or having life with a deeper meaning, the atheist (who has adopted a good philosophy such as secular humanism) stands well. Far from dealing in doom and gloom, of being impoverished spiritually, the thoughtful atheist is at the center of life=s riches in every way. His path is both bright and positive -- and meaningful. The concept is not an easy one to understand, but a finite life, well lived, compares favorably to the unexamined, glittering promise of an eternal life in heaven.
Dave Matson, editor
September 29, 1998
THE OAK HILL FREE PRESS
P.O. Box 61274
Pasadena, CA 91116