Saturday, February 22, 2014

Do Atheists Have A Point?

Why God is so often indiscernible to man.

All contents copyright © 2014 by M.L. Wilson. All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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Along with approximately two million fellow world citizens, I too bought and read Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion” … and in hardback no less.  My reasoning was simple enough: I wanted to know what it was he had to say about Christians and their faith. I confess that I also appreciate Dawkins caustic and aggressive writing style. I marvel at his attempts to intimidate his readers by employing the most varied and obscure words to convey a point when a simpler, pedestrian approach would be far more embracing. I can almost detect the dark thrill of enjoyment he must feel in his choice of word, as though he’s reveling in the chance to wield his choice more as a club to crush his audience rather than to illuminate. There were certain passages I had to reread because I had found myself laughing at his word choice and sentence structure. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, just a personal observation. In my writing style, this is most certainly my area of lack.

“The God Delusion” was released just about a year before another book also critical of Christianity and the faith called “God Is Not Great” by the late Christopher Hitchens. I bought this one too, but only in paperback. (Budgetary concerns, you know.) Hitchen’s style has always struck me as more open than Dawkins’. Hitchen’s impressed me as someone, who while pretty much convinced of his opinion respecting God, didn’t appear to carry with him the animus towards Christians I detect in Dawkins’ work. Both held to the belief that the concept of a supreme creator was a construct of man as a tool to control others, but Hitchens seemed a bit more at ease with the notion. I will confess that without anyone delving too deeply into history and scripture, such would certainly seem to be a valid conclusion. Let me explain.

Dawkins starts off “The God Delusion” attacking basic tenets of Christianity, however he does this from more of a Catholic perspective than anything else. Raised in the Anglican Church in England, it would make sense that his earliest influences would be anti-catholic. I regard this more as a subconscious bias rather than one which is overt. Dawkins regards himself as above any particular religious bias, seeing them all as equally silly. Yet despite his assertions to the contrary, it is easy to see a partiality towards his formative Anglican faith. Dawkins seems to take a special delight in pointing out the errors of the Catholic Church above all others. This was always a point of amusement for me because from a doctrinal and liturgical standpoint, there is very little which separates the Anglican Church from that of the Catholic Church. What’s that you say? There’s little difference between the Protestants and the Catholics? You’re a lunatic! Wars have been fought, people murdered in horrific ways as a result of the differences! Yes, that is true, but the differences were not so much rooted in perceptions of God as much as they were in seeking national autonomy. In short, asserting sovereignty.

The Protestant Reformation succeeded in dispensing with Papal authority, but when one examines the liturgy and doctrine of both faiths, one will find very few actual differences in how one is to view God. The God of the Old Testament remains a distant, aloof God; Christ is the supreme sacrifice who became sin in our place and died on the cross as a result. Confession of sins is necessary to be saved. Salvation is not guaranteed and depending upon circumstances (usually disagreeing with the established church, be it Protestant or Catholic), salvation can be absolutely denied to an individual. Certain peoples about the earth are regarded as little more than savages and do not possess a soul by which to save. I can go on and on, but this is the formative “Christian” teachings to which both Dawkins and Hitchens were exposed.

Regular readers of my commentaries will already know that I regard the Protestant Reformation as more a push for national autonomy than a “religious” reformation. Doing away with Papal authority was a necessary component of the Reformation for it gave each ruling monarch within the Holy Roman Empire control over their own lands and people. The domino effect was very much in play here as we first watched England (and parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland), then Germany, the Netherlands, and pockets throughout France, Switzerland, Poland, Prussia and Hungary resist the Pope and instead embrace Calvinism, Anglicanism or Lutheranism. With each split, The Vatican lost more and more power and influence while Europe gained its independence.

One can debate the wisdom of allowing such diverse religious thought throughout Europe, but it is a fact of history. The Vatican fought back against this tide as much as possible, but the reality of the “new normal” soon took hold. This left these individual countries with their new religious doctrines which (as I had earlier pointed out) were not too dissimilar from that of Catholicism.

From this base, both Dawkins and Hitchens learned about the nature of God Almighty. Most people in the Western world have also learned from this same flawed base. While I have yet to write an in-depth commentary on Catholicism or the Protestant Reformation, I did outline some of the problems associated with Calvinism. (That commentary can be found here:

In this commentary, I addressed some doctrinal points of view which are held by Hyper-Calvinists. These are beliefs which have trickled down throughout many Protestant religions to include the Southern Baptists, Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity. (Groups I was closely associated with while I was growing up.) Some more “progressive” churches such as the Christian Missionary Alliance do not hold to all of the doctrines of Calvinism, but the flavor is most assuredly retained and is evident in a typical church service. As I pointed out already, these “Reformed Faiths” transferred most everything they know over from Roman Catholicism. Little except that which created a political impediment to national autonomy, was thrown out.

Everyone who is introduced to a faith movement, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism, etc. has to make a decision as to whether to believe what they’re being told or not. When we are children raised in a faith-centered household, much of the early decisions are made for us; we follow our parents lead. This is a natural part of growth as children are born as blank slates which need to be filled in. Soon enough, however, certain people begin to consider the amassed information and begin to make judgments. Is what they’ve been taught reasonable? Does what they’ve been taught translate into the practicality of everyday life? With kids, this isn’t limited to just matters of God, but to everything.

When we learn certain things in school (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, etc), there is an almost immediate pay off which only reinforces what we have learned. We can suddenly read books, write letters and add up all the money we’ve spent on video games. But when it comes to religion, there is an almost immediate disconnect. Where is the payoff for what we’ve learned about God? One can pray to Jesus, but it is quite unlikely Jesus is going to reply in a manner easily understood. For some, this is regarded as a challenge and they will seek a deeper meaning into this enigmatic God. For others, there is a reaction almost akin to indifference; they simply ignore the situation altogether and go on about their lives. They neither think much about God, nor care to make Him a cause, good or bad. In my experience, this is where most people wind up. Then there are those who are at the opposite end from the first group. They believe that just as we learn about math and can then add 1 + 1 and see without error that it will equal 2, a prayerful petition to God Almighty or Jesus Christ should result in as clear a reply as one human being talking to another. When this doesn’t manifest, a feeling akin to betrayal occurs.

Reading “The God Delusion,” Dawkins struck me as this type of person; one feeling betrayed by not only God, but the parents and “adults” in his life who evidently had lied to him. When one is ruled by the tangible, the intangible is going to seem terribly foreign. Science demands a certain order; the evidence must be clear in order to make an assessment. When dealing with matters of faith, this order falls apart. I see this conflict of the tangible verses the intangible in Dawkins when I read such passages as this:

“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Were Dawkins referring only to people, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with his point of view. As human beings, we are supposed to mature and make our own way in this life. Baring any mental or physical impediments, there should be little to stand in the way of that goal. Even in a marriage, you shouldn’t rely on your partner to provide for your happiness, but join with you in it. But Dawkins isn’t talking about one person to another here; he is talking about a person of faith deriving their meaning from their God. His disdain is clear by labeling such as “infantile.”

Jesus Christ was clear in His assertion that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6) His desire that we join with Him as part of this life is not an infantile act. An infant has very basic needs and meaning and point are not among them. Where then, does Dawkins arrive at the conclusion that such is infantile? This goes back to his usage of language as a club. I won’t belabor his methodology here; it evidently works for him as his books sales can attest.

Still it is of interest to note that without God, Dawkins would be an obscure scientific author and enjoy none of the popularity his later works excoriating God Almighty have given him. Despite his obvious scorn towards God, Dawkins has much to thank this unseen, figurative entity for. He has become a “rock star” of a sort for trotting about the Western World explaining how abysmally stupid anyone who believes in God truly is. To his fans, this is as manna from heaven. Many of them might hold vague, discordant feelings towards God for a host of reasons, but they don’t possess the sharpened, erudite tongue of Dawkins by which to express these feelings. Thus just as a Roman gladiator would enter the Coliseum arena in full armor with weapons at the ready to cut down his unarmed “opponent,” Dawkins’ fans will cheer him as he sets upon a hapless victim nowhere near as verbally skilled in the arena of blazing lights and high definition television cameras in yet another studio. This is high theater at its finest and Clinton Richard Dawkins knows it and knows how to exploit it.

But of what use is any of these theatrics? Is Richard Dawkins convincing any people of faith that God is some sort of a cosmic joke at best and non-existent at worst? According to statistics, that would not seem to be the case. While the disenchantment over organized religion has grown in the United States, such disenchantment has not seen a like growth in the ranks of Atheists. Those calling themselves atheist or Agnostic (those who don’t know) are growing in numbers, but not at as fast a rate as in the 1990s and certainly not apace of “defections” from organized religion.  

Findings for these statistics can be found through American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008) here:  

Dawkins and Hitchens both may have given people pause, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hopefully if I am writing my commentaries correctly, I am giving people pause as well. We should all endeavor to challenge ourselves and learn more. Stagnation is not a good thing. Retreat isn’t a good thing either and this is what I find Richard Dawkins really doing.

We all have hurdles in life which we face. These hurdles are sometimes so huge and insurmountable, we don’t even recognize them; we don’t know they exist. Consider that our United States Declaration of Independence asserts that:

 “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;”

Following this ideal, citizens of the United States have an opportunity to do or become just about anything which is possible. However because people are varied in both talent and physicality, some goals are going to be far out of reach for some rather than others. This isn’t a situation which presents inequality; it is a situation which points out our diversity. Were we all able to do the exact same things, where would the variety and diversity come from? To be an NBA player, it is thought one must have height as well as skill. Several stars in the NBA overcame the height requirement and surmounted the obstacle before them to become stars of the NBA.

Tyrone Curtis “Muggsy” Bogues stands just five feet, three inches tall. Yet he played Professional Basketball with the Charlotte Hornets, the Washington Bullets, the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors. He also served as head coach for the now-defunct WNBA team Charlotte Sting. How many men standing just five feet, three inches would ever imagine they could surmount the obvious obstacle of height to play with the NBA? What it took for Bogues was the ability to look beyond that which was visible or apparent. Bogues was able to do this successfully enough to enter a career which utilizing all logic and reason, should have been closed to him.

How does Richard Dawkins’ wrestling match with God compare with the story of Tyrone Bogues? It is simple. Richard Dawkins was unable to surmount the unthinkable and so he merely explained how it couldn’t be done. Since the natural human reaction to seemingly insurmountable obstacles is to beg off, Dawkins became a vanguard; a voice for those suffering the same dearth of ability. It is for this reason he enjoys the accolades from his fans while drawing the ire of (some) of his critics. The irony here is that many people of faith Dawkins has targeted suffer from the exact same struggles with faith as does he. However, these are people who despite appearances, have chosen to remain faithful and trust God rather than shake an angry fist at Him. Faith is a difficult prospect and one which is NOT for the faint-hearted. There is a reason for this which will be utterly lost on the Richard Dawkins of the world … for now.

Faith is a component not quantifiable by science. Science is the study of our present, temporal realm. Science must have the tangible to study and view. If it cannot be observed and measured, it does not exist. While I completely appreciate this perspective, it remains an indisputable fact that there is much within our world which cannot be measured or seen, yet we acknowledge its existence.

Without delving into the theoretical and quantum world of physics (which still have many of their basis in tangible scientific fact.), I’ll start with something which is rather obvious. It is the concept of love. What exactly is love? Many experts in the field of neurology insist love is nothing more than a biochemical response to certain stimuli. Chemicals such as testosterone, oestrogen, pheromones, dopamine, norepinehrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin are released which will have an effect on brain chemistry resulting in attraction. We are further told that this is an evolutionary result of the bodies need to procreate. Ergo, science has distilled love down to chemical reactions based upon a need to bond in order to protect and propagate the species.

I am not going to go into the reasons I disagree with this in any great detail as such is not germane to this commentary, but I will state that to be equal under evolutionary tenets, other animals should experience the same roiling emotions as do humans when love is a factor. Anyone who has been in love understands exactly what I am talking about. There are amorous feelings—lust, for example, and then there is love which transcends a need for procreation. I rarely see this evidence in the animal kingdom and not at all to the degree seen between humans.

Within the homosexual community today is a component of love which would tend to belie the notion that love is an evolutionary response to protect and propagate the species. The obvious is that as a purely biological fact, same sexes cannot procreate. Love has absolutely nothing to do with that biological function. Thus it would seem that as a point of evolutionary assertion, homosexuality would be an abnormality which should have self corrected within the human organism by now.

Love is difficult to quantify, it is difficult to pin down. Love has built and destroyed empires; love has resulted in the most beautiful works of art and literature in the world and has led to some of the most horrific acts imaginable. Love exists, but no one is agreed upon as to just what it truly is; mere biological responses due to stimuli, or something deeper which transcends the flesh?

Christ talked much about love. Central to Christ’s ministry was to point out the difference between the rule under God Almighty and the rule which existed under his spiritual Ambassadors. The latter ruled through the letter of the Law; they implemented in terms of on or off, yes or no, binary ones or zeros. Christ introduced shades of gray into the equation. Thus under Christ, love was able to burst forth and breathe. Mankind was no longer limited to the strictures of the Law, but was free to truly love. However this biochemical freedom required self-restraint as one matured in Christ.

Paul illustrates this point to the Corinthian Church:

“Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive.”
- 1st Corinthians 10:23
When the strictures of the Law was removed, there was no longer anything which stood between man, his actions and God. But man’s actions could still have a deleterious effect upon their lives while they remained in the body, and blunt their effectiveness as the face of God to others. Love allowed Christ to extend this level of freedom and intimacy to all, whereas the Law prohibited such behavior, punishing transgressors with death. Consider how the spiritual Ambassadors of the Most High God administrated over humans beings:

“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”
“If a man sleeps with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
“If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.”
“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
“If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.”
- Leviticus 20:10-14

Contrast the above with how Christ dealt with a similar situation:

"...but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
- John 8: 1- 10

Jesus approached the situation entirely different from that of the Angelic Administrators of the Law because the Law was absent love. A concept and emotion which few today can adequately explain, which cannot be measured or seen, yet it has the power to change lives and worlds.

There is no doubt some will take issue with my analogies, but I regard them as rather apt: love is unseen, unquantifiable and lacks a logical explanation as to its existence. It is also an undeniable truth of the human condition. It is not attached to physical needs of the species nor is it a component of mere sexual release; it is deeper, it is unique.

Of all the things which Christ said we CAN’T take with us from this earth upon the death of our flesh, love is not among them. Love is what He earnestly encourages us to cultivate. It is the ONE thing we are supposed to build and nurture. What we build in love will be waiting for us upon our transition to the spirit. Can I scientifically prove this? No … no more than science can prove to me or anyone else exactly what love truly is.

Faith falls into this same category because it is a component of love. When we exercise faith, we are placing our trust and our belief in Christ unreservedly.  In much the way a child will completely trust their parents, Christ desires us to trust Him. This bond of trust between the parent and child is a component from birth and is broken only by the parent, not the child. A child will follow the parent because the parent is their sole focus in the new world. Only a betrayal which results in pain to the child threatens to break the bond. Even at that, it takes quite a bit to completely sever this bond between parent and child. Any who have witnessed the pain of an elderly parent or friend over an aloof or cruel parent knows that this is a heartbreak which lasts a lifetime.

The reactions I have seen from some of my friends who claim to be atheists has been almost the same reaction I have seen from friends who have suffered through bad relationships or even outright rejection by their parents; it is a deep hurt—a feeling of betrayal. This is perfectly understandable and I do not wish to diminish or marginalize those feelings here; they are very much real. Something which cannot be measured or quantified can burn like an acid in the consciousness of anyone.

When we do not understand God, we feel as a child who is rejected by our parents. When circumstances in our lives create pain, we feel as a child being treated cruelly by our parents. When we find ourselves sinking in confusion and our lives are swirling out of control; when we cry out to God to help us and give us guidance, but he is silent to our understanding, we feel as a child who has been ignored and pushed aside by our parents. We do not feel loved and that void must be filled.

I have had these conversations with these so-called atheists too many times to count. The stories are all essentially the same with the embrace of atheism being something of a protective response to the seeming neglect they’ve suffered. No one likes to feel worthless to the one who is supposed to love them. Thus when one believes they’ve been slighted but cannot confront the object of their hurt due to limitations, one simply removes them from their lives. Atheism is more a reaction to the inability to see and understand God than a logical conclusion to the (lack of) tangible evidence of God.

Love is powerful, yet it is a mystery. Faith is powerful and remains elusive to most. A Christian is told that both are necessary to really understand God. It is interesting that neither was a necessary component to be Godly during the time of the Law; obedience was all which was required. Love is a mature emotion necessitating a mature response. Obedience via threats requires no thought at all. Obedience as a component of love requires faith. Putting both together—love and faith, we find powerful forces which cannot be measured, quantified or even fully explained. However, it remains without a doubt that our society has been built upon these mysterious invisible forces.


“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
-1st Corinthians 13:4-8
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Mark 12:29-31
“We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet he hates his brother, he is a liar.”
- 1st John 4:19
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
- Lao Tzu
“Where there is love, there is life.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
“A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.”
- Thomas Carlyle
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”                                                                                            - Hebrews 11:1
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
“That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”
- Albert Einstein
“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”
- Voltaire
“Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.”
- Mahatma Gandhi

Human beings are more than the sum total of their corporeal parts. This may seem axiomatic to some, but too many are being inculcated with the notion that they are little more than a combination of complex proteins and amino acids which have coalesced into our present biological form. Our minds—our consciousness is just the combination of inherited traits passed down through DNA coupled with learned experiences. When we die, all of this is lost forever; we return to the nothingness we cannot remember before we were born. To a hurting people this may seem like adequate succor, but it is an unfortunate retreat—a surrender.

Atheists struggle to bridge the gap between the temporal and the spiritual in as much as those who claim to hold to the spiritual do not fully recognize the import of the temporal. From a Christian perspective, this temporal life has specific purpose no matter how blind we may personally be to that purpose. When academia arrogantly eschews any idea of there being a world beyond that which they can see, touch, hear, smell or taste, they have already limited themselves and their ability to learn. In the most honest definition of the term “academic,” these people must beg off; they are no longer interested in learning, nor are they interested in teaching. They have now relegated themselves to the role of indoctrinator.

To eschew the spiritual because it is beyond one’s comprehension is as arrogant and small-minded a position to take as those who eschew the temporal world because it is of Satan. Neither position holds the truth for it works only to puff up a false sense of righteousness which is simply not helpful. Consider for one moment as an Atheist that you are more than the sum total of your corporeal parts and that when you pass from your body, that consciousness you so easily dismiss will continue on elsewhere, perfectly aware and perfectly sentient.

As a Christian, consider that you are more than the sum total of the spirit. That God placed us on this earth to learn certain lessons in humility and empathy which can be gleaned nowhere else. What makes up the whole human being is an amalgam of the two. God had to become man to interface with us and redeem us back to Himself. It took His Spirit and His flesh to accomplish the job. Christians do themselves a tremendous disservice and pass that disservice onto others when they denigrate the human condition to the extent they do. Atheists do themselves a disservice and pass that disservice on to others when they denigrate the spiritual to the extent they do. My point is thus made to the best of my ability. Just because one does not understand an idea or concept, does not necessarily mean it is not true. Endeavor to learn to what you do not understand, not kill it.

Christopher Hitchens died after a valiant battle with cancer in December, 2011. I was saddened by his passing as I enjoyed reading his work on a regular basis and felt the world was made just a bit more dim with his light no longer in it.  I didn’t agree with his political ideology and suffice to say I didn’t agree with his view of God. Hitchens struggled with Christ’s teaching because he couldn’t understand a man speaking and teaching as Christ did unless He was God … which Hitchens soundly rejected. Still Hitchens did not dissuade Christians from praying for him as he lay dying. Mick Brown writing for the April 9, 2011 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald said, “Hitchens's attitude to people praying for him could be described as a mixture of polite gratitude for their consideration and a determined refusal to let it sway his opinions.”

Hitchens knows the truth about this temporal realm now. He doesn’t know everything, of course as he is not God, but he knows enough. I do not hold to the belief that Christopher Hitchens is roasting in Hell and I imagine that when he opened his eyes in eternity, he had a hearty good laugh over being proved so wrong.

Richard Dawkins will also experience that same sudden awareness someday—as will we all. None of us will long survive in the flesh; some will live many years, while others will be here only fleetingly. Our duration on this earth is not the point; what we do with the opportunity is. Circumstances in this realm are such that a good number of people conceived, are taken before they ever have the opportunity to take a breath. That their existence is so very brief is not evidence that God is an ogre, rather their lives provide those of us blessed with a time of substance here the opportunity to be of service to others; to be the face of our unseen Creator.

The flesh will never understand the spirit because they are two dissimilar constructs. That the tangible cannot take a measure of the intangible does not invalidate either. That seemingly insurmountable hurdles face us all does not mean we are not to make the attempt. This is how we grow and it is the gift which God has given to us all. One may never truly understand this concept in the temporal, but one will most assuredly come to believe upon stepping over.

After Hitchens hearty laugh, I imagine him being filled with tremendous gratitude that God turned out not to be the monster he’d imagined for so long after all.

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