Category: atheism

What if God weren’t there?

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have always believed that God could hear my prayers and my thoughts. I’ve always had an audience and company. It’s always mattered if God were pleased or not with what he saw or heard. At least eventually. 

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be an atheist, but I suppose I’ll try. What if he weren’t there listening? There would be no call to prayer or dedication to an other. I would at the same time be unto myself, no one, and everything equally. All would be random acts of coincidental nature. But I don’t know anyone who really believes that. A true atheist would be beholden to no one, not even himself. He may submit to his urges, but he wouldn’t think it mattered. 

Here’s what author John Le Carre said about atheism:

a Mingrelian proverb … : ‘Why do you want light if you’re blind?’

p 53I am not a God man, though I believe society is the better for Him than without Him. I do not reject Him, as Larry does, and then go scurrying after Him to apologise. But I do not accept Him either.

If deep down I believe in some central meaning, some Urgeist, as Larry would call it, my route to it is more likely to be the aesthetic one — the autumnal beauty of the Mendips, say, or Emma playing Liszt for me — than the path of prayer.
p 82-3

– John le Carre’ (David Cornwell), Our Game (Knopf: New York 1995)” from here 

I quote him because of my impressions of the movie, The Constant Gardener, which is based on his book. The bleakness of its humanitarianism makes me believe that atheists, or those who at least ignore God, actually believe themselves to be God. That they are the witnesses of everyone’s thoughts and prayers, and it is they who must be pleased.

This is the pride of life that does not just infect the non religious. But are we not aware of the thoughts of others? Because of communication we are at least somewhat aware. But are we to be pleased. Or to please. 

Obey is a word Le Carre also had a hard time with.  

“When I ask, he says his great distrust of organised religion is a consequence of his detestation of the painful forms of authority forced upon him by various schools.” From here

It seems that to believe in goodness and meaning and obedience, one must be religious. But do we always recognize meaning and goodness and those who enforce/teach it. People believe they do, but that they, meaning I, are/am the only ones/one. This is why a baby cries with so much authority. 

So to be a true atheist, when one is not pleased, one should say, why should I be. And a good deist should wonder the same thing.

I Still Love Kierkegaard

by Andrea Elizabeth

This article passionately expounds on Kierkegaard’s themes, but I wonder if he went far enough in his own reasoning when he says this:

This was powerful stuff for a teenager such as me who was losing his religious belief. What Kierkegaard showed was that the only serious alternative to atheism or agnosticism was not what generally passes for religion but a much deeper commitment that left ordinary standards of proof and evidence completely behind. Perhaps that’s why so many of Kierkegaard’s present-day admirers are atheists. He was a Christian who nonetheless despised ‘Christendom’. To be a Christian was to stake one’s life on the absurdity of the risen Christ, to commit to an ethical standard no human can reach. This is a constant and in some ways hopeless effort at perpetually becoming what you can never fully be. Nothing could be more different from the conventional view of what being a Christian means: being born and baptised into a religion, dutifully going to Church and partaking in the sacraments. Institutionalised Christianity is an oxymoron, given that the Jesus of the Gospels spent so much time criticising the clerics of his day and never established any alternative structures. Kierkegaard showed that taking religion seriously is compatible with being against religion in almost all its actual forms, something that present-day atheists and believers should note.

Maybe Kierkegaard did reject organized religion in his time and place, but Orthodoxy gives the right context imo. I’ll borrow more from the article:

For me, Kierkegaard defined the problem more clearly than anyone else. Human beings are caught, he said, between two modes or ‘spheres’ of existence. The ‘aesthetic’ is the world of immediacy, of here and now. The ‘ethical’ is the transcendent, eternal world. We can’t live in both, but neither fulfils all our needs since ‘the self is composed of infinitude and finitude’, a perhaps hyperbolic way of saying that we exist across time, in the past and future, but we are also inescapably trapped in the present moment.

The limitations of the ‘ethical’ are perhaps most obvious to the modern mind. The life of eternity is just an illusion, for we are all-too mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures. To believe we belong there is to live in denial of our animality. So the world has increasingly embraced the ‘aesthetic’. But this fails to satisfy us, too. If the moment is all we have, then all we can do is pursue pleasurable moments, ones that dissolve as swiftly as they appear, leaving us always running on empty, grasping at fleeting experiences that pass. The materialistic world offers innumerable opportunities for instant gratification without enduring satisfaction and so life becomes a series of diversions. No wonder there is still so much vague spiritual yearning in the West: people long for the ethical but cannot see beyond the aesthetic.

The Church, meaning the individuals in her, is somewhat limited in the here and now, but there is also a now and not yet. When Orthodox advertise its”fullness”, I think people can get the wrong idea and expect too much from its temporal members. The ones more in touch with eternity, who have partaken of eternity through :”being born and baptised into a religion, dutifully going to Church and partaking in the sacraments” will be able to aspire to more fully be what he thinks is impossible. “To stake one’s life on the absurdity of the risen Christ, to commit to an ethical standard no human can reach. This is a constant and in some ways hopeless effort at perpetually becoming what you can never fully be.” To take the leap of faith not only with Christ, but also his Church.

Kierkegaard’s greatest illustration of this is his retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling (1843). Abraham is often held up as a paradigm of faith because he trusted God so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only son on his command. Kierkegaard makes us realise that Abraham acted on faith not because he obeyed a difficult order but because lifting the knife over his son defied all morality and reason. No reasonable man would have done what Abraham did. If this was a test, then surely the way to pass was to show God that you would not commit murder on command, even if that risked inviting divine wrath. If you heard God’s voice commanding you to kill, surely it would be more rational to conclude you were insane or tricked by demons than it would to follow the order. So when Abraham took his leap of faith, he took leave of reason and morality.

The atheist is not willing to do this. He may embrace Kierkegaard’s honesty about unreasonableness, but he’s not willing to join in the eternity of it. He has decided God was a demon instead, and that is what entering the Church can sometimes feel like. Like you’re selling your soul by kneeling before idols and committing cannibalism. It takes a leap of faith to see that instead the Church is the only place where the temporal meets the eternal. This is everywhere evident in the baptism of water and spirit, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, the icons, incense, and hymnography. Hopefully there will be glimmers of it in the people too.

survival of the fittest

by Andrea Elizabeth

To the atheist, evil = suffering. To the Christian evil = sin, and suffering is the consequence of sin. Then the atheist asks, why do innocent children suffer?

Firstly I would say that suffering can be seen as a merciful deterrent to doing destructive things like not eating, getting too close to fire, or staying out in the cold too long. Doesn’t seeing a suffering child motivate us fix what ails him? If there were no suffering, people would die from neglecting themselves and others.

Secondly, if morality comes from God (I’ll lazily posit that as a given), then why should the atheist concern himself with virtues and vices? Isn’t the honest atheist one who uninhibitedly avoids pain and pursues pleasure without conscience? If power feels good, he should intimidate and lord it over others with the best of them, for example. Why should an atheist be conscientious at all? Unless it is a means to get more of what he wants. But some people get pleasure out of making other people happy, so the atheist wouldn’t act in a uniform way.

The evolutionary theory of survival of the fittest does not look out after the weak. If that is the case, why worry about whether weak things suffer and die? Unless they think that the survival of the fittest scheme is evil. I bet strong atheists approve of it, and weak, trounced-on atheists disapprove of it because they have suffered under it, and therefore they strike God from the record books.

So if survival of the fittest is a godless scheme, those who take advantage of it must not be Christian. But should the strong not compete, for example? Aren’t they lording it over the weak if they win? I suppose it depends. If they are defending the weak, then they are using their strength well. If they are taking advantage of the weak, then they are misusing it.

What are worthy things to defend? Truth, honor, beauty, life, faith, hope, love, righteousness, health, peace, innocence, excellence etc. One would think that good triumphs over evil, and I am wondering if this is true only if the strong hold these good, but fragile things up. Isn’t God himself upborne by the angelic hosts? But who gave the angels the strength to do that?

A different kind of argument

by Andrea Elizabeth

“One day, as I was talking my usual walk in the woods, I met a fellow villager. When he saw me carrying the cross, he asked me:

– What is this?

– The cross of our Christ, I replied.

Since he did not have any positive thoughts in his mind, he said to me:

– Arsenios, you are silly. You don’t mean to say that you believe in God. He does not exist. These religious stories are made up by some priests. We have evolved from the monkey. Christ was simply a man like all of us.

When he finished, he got up and left. His twisted thoughts filled my innocent soul with black heavy clouds. Being alone in the woods, I began to think that maybe God does not exist. As I was feeling confused, desperate and extremely sad, I asked Christ to give me an indication of His existence, so I could believe in Him. But He did not respond.

Feeling exhausted, I lay on the ground to rest. Suddenly, a positive thought, full of responsive gratefulness, entered my innocent soul:

– Hold on for a second! Wasn’t Christ the kindest man ever on earth. No one has ever found anything evil in Him. So, whether He is God or not, I don’t care. Based on the fact that He is the kindest man on earth and I haven’t known anyone better, I will try to become like Him and absolutely obey everything the Gospel says. I will even give my life for Him, if needed, since He is so kind.

All my thoughts of disbelief disappeared and my soul was filled with immense joy. The power of my grateful thought dissolved all the ambiguous ones. When I started believing in Christ and decided to love Him as much as I could, solely out of responsive gratefulness, I experienced a miracle which firmly sealed my grateful thought. Then, I thought: I do not care any more if someone tells me that God does not exist!”

As the story of the Elder regarding his grateful thought did not completely satisfy me, I asked him with a certain curiosity to tell me about the miracle he experienced in the woods.

Father Paisios was found in a difficult situation and replied that he could not tell me about it. This way, he indicated that I, too, should not look for miracles, but rather trust my feeling of responsive gratefulness, as it is the key which opens the door to every good.

Later on, Father Paisios told me that he had seen the Lord.

“The righteous Christian does not practice good acts for his own benefit, i.e. in order to be rewarded or to avoid hell and gain paradise, but rather because he prefers good to evil. Everything else is a natural consequence of the good that fills our soul without having asked for it. This way, good has dignity; otherwise, it originates from the cheap attitude of ‘give and take’.”‘

~from Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, by Priestmonk Christodoulos

Value and meaning

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the previous post I linked to the video on the website, Closer to Truth, “Why is consciousness so mysterious?”. The lecturer did not believe in the notion of self as a credible identifying source of reality. His examples regarded music, color, humor. He thinks the value of the components of each is undeterminable. This idea is one reason I like to study what is popular. Popular things demonstrate a consensus about desirability. A consensus says something about human nature and intuition. I’ll not say that they always represent proper humanity, but there must be something that most people respond to. That something to the lecturer seems to be random chance and not innate value. But our intuition says that some pairings are harmonious and some aren’t, that color seems to transcend it’s frequency, and humor transcends its circumstances. Whether we are programed through evolutionary processes to respond strongly to these things or if there is something innately telos-like to beautiful or funny things that we recognize, is the question.

They brought up eastern harmonies, which is an interesting distinction, but I think people from different hemispheres can still recognize when the other’s is done well or not. I bet there is an argument for God being necessary to beauty.

When people don’t value beautiful things, or at least disagree with me, thus breaking consensus, then we come up with some of the component arguments he describes such as the intended, though perhaps unrecognized value of dissonence, or what is considered beautiful in other cultures or even times. This also brings up fads. Timeless beauty seems to have more value, however. And sometimes retro fads come back in improved ways, validating an original intention. And when revolutions occur, perhaps people were too caught up in a narrow mindset. But too often too much is thrown out. I’m still coming from the point of view that there is an intended goal to the pursuit of truth and beauty that we are supposed to seek after. These atheist philosophers who seek truth but deny meaning and that it is eternal depress me. They would say I have a psychological need for religion. The opiate of the masses as it were. Why do they devalue the psyche? Psychic states seem to them to be random electrical byproducts. They must be controlled in order to have a surviving society I suppose. Not that there is any innate value or meaning to peace, just survival.

But in my last post I talked about faulty perceptions. Just because we can be peaceful about bad things, doesn’t mean that there is no meaning to peace. We just need to mature to be worthy of it. Or at least have a mature, correct, deified person taking care of us.

I should make a new category for atheism

by Andrea Elizabeth

Just caught a rerun of this new-to-me series on consciousness on pbs this morning. I guess consciousness is a key issue in the debate on the origins of the universe. One thing Orthodoxy does is it makes you doubt more your own perceptions of things, making it easier to understand some of the atheist arguments. What I like about atheism is that it presents a humble view of what a person on their own can know about God. Yet I also believe in revelation that is available in the Church. And I believe that individuals outside the Church can experience God and his love. But even they still can’t say who God is in Trinity, nor even what to do next on their own.

To shift a bit, an emphasis on consciousness is discriminatory to me. What about unconscious people, where are they in this scheme? Or the mentally ill (of which all sinners are to some degree)? Not to mention plants and minerals, and animals, to some people’s minds. I was thinking yesterday that it would be wrong to plant a tree that you are going to neglect so that it dies. And what some do with rocks can be a misuse of God’s creation.

So if consciousness is not the end all be all of a limited existence – maybe it is in a limitless one – what do we do with it? Perhaps consciousness can be compared to the nous. Orthodoxy teaches that we are to train it on Christ through the Jesus Prayer. Thus we are to receive more revelation of ourselves, the universe, and God. To infinity and beyond, as it were. A Hindu was talking about this when I first caught today’s rerun (can’t find the specific episode, but the above links to lots of interesting topics. Listening to this one now.). I don’t know how much in common Hindu transcendence has with Orthodox teaching, but I think Orthodoxy doesn’t sound so gnostic. I don’t see how Hindu teachings of the consciousness of all atoms jives with their great void at the end of enlightenment.