Can Atheists Agree to Disagree?

I joined a Facebook group that dealt with questions about God’s existence this month, before the Christmas season overwhelmed me. (It was helpful because I was writing an article for the National Catholic Register about 2012: The Year of Atheism.)

I can’t make blanket statements about atheists in general – they are as diverse as Christians – but I noticed a couple of alarming things about the enthusiastic ones who join Facebook groups.

First, I learned that activist atheists are not satisfied with just disagreeing with theists. Not anymore. They want to make their views obligatory.  In one post, an atheist wrote:

“You can believe god exists because there is evidence, in which case we should discuss the evidence. If it is valid, no one should deny god exists. If it is unacceptable or doesn’t lead to the conclusion that god exists, then no one should believe god exists. Or you can believe god exists on faith, in which case you must admit there is no evidence, and everyone else is free to reject your belief. If it is the latter, then we must immediately abolish any reference to god or religion in our kids’ education, in government and law. We can’t be a Christian nation if we believe god’s existence only on faith. But if there’s evidence, there can be no faith. So it all boils down to the evidence.” (Emphasis added.)

I pointed out that the search for “evidence” is odd if it disqualifies all the available evidence. If you see a farm plowed neatly in rows, you know that a farmer exists … and to demand that the farmer either be visible somewhere in the field or declared non-existent is to misunderstand the difference between farm and farmer.

But I was more troubled by the quick judgment: Those views that don’t meet my standard deserve to be suppressed.

This is in fact the judgment atheists have made at each point in history that they have ruled. They either do it mildly and ban God from textbooks and libraries (as in America’s public schools), or more aggressively and jail, guillotine or machine-gun those who believe in him. In Albania, they even went to the trouble of forcing people to change their names from Christian names to work-related names like “Tractor” – and destroyed Christian symbols in graveyards.

Why can’t we agree to disagree? For one reason, it’s because atheists either don’t have self-doubt, or are so afraid of that doubt they don’t want to admit it.

To be fair, this is a problem with Christians also – and it in fact may be the obstacle that keeps us from effectively engaging atheists.

I’m sure it was poorly expressed on my part, because I got blowback from both sides when I suggested it. I said that Christians sometimes doubt God’s existence and that atheists must also sometimes doubt his non-existence. What I wanted to say was that Christians’ sincere questions about God should lead them to grow in the truth, and that atheists should fearlessly question their assumptions too.

I even quoted St. Paul, who said it best: “Test everything; retain what is good.”

We are blessed with a Holy Father in Pope Benedict XVI who embodies that maxim.

Brennan Purcell’s Benedict of Bavaria includes a detail about a mentor of the young Joseph Ratzinger who was suppressed by the Nazis.

“One of these dispossessed was Gottlieb Söhngen, a professor of fundamental theology, who provided a formative influence on the young scholar. Ratzinger described Söhngen as a ‘radical and critical questioner.’ For him no subject was untouchable, nothing taboo, and at the same time he was a man deeply committed to his Catholic faith. ….  According to him, no Catholic should fear any question, and no thought calls for violent suppression.”

If faith in God is worth its salt, it can stand rigorous examination and shouldn’t demand that the world be forced to share its assumptions.

And if atheism is worth its salt, it shouldn’t force itself on others, either. Let God breathe in our schools and libraries and public places; make your best case against him, but let us make ours, too.

When both sides declare themselves unwilling to be open-minded, discussion stops – and we start talking among ourselves about how to force our views on others.

————————–

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.

2,688 views

Categories:Uncategorized

8 thoughts on “Can Atheists Agree to Disagree?

  1. “If it is the latter [god belief based on faith], then we must immediately abolish any reference to god or religion in our kids’ education, in government and law. We can’t be a Christian nation if we believe god’s existence only on faith.”

    I interpret the above statement very differently from you. As I see it, the statement above is only saying that beliefs that can’t be argued don’t belong in public education or the government and law.

    As anyone can believe anything “on faith”, allowing anything along those lines into education, law, etc. is just inviting chaos. You need to offer arguments.

    “But I was more troubled by the quick judgment: Those views that don’t meet my standard deserve to be suppressed.

    This is in fact the judgment atheists have made at each point in history that they have ruled.”

    Really? What did atheist François Mitterand do this when he ruled France? When did atheist Julia Gillard do this while ruling Australia? When did atheist David Ben-Gurion do this while founding and ruling Israel?
    “They [atheists] either do it mildly and ban God from textbooks and libraries (as in America’s public schools)”

    First, “god” isn’t banned from public schools — students can pray, read the bible (or the koran or the bhagavad gita or the god delusion, etc). You are promoting a longstanding lie pushed mostly by the Christian right in this country. Secondly, I doubt you could find a public library in the US that does NOT have, at least, a KJV bible.

    It would help a great deal if you wouldn’t promote this common lie.
    Also see http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/joint-statement-current-law-religion-public-schools

    “more aggressively and jail, guillotine or machine-gun those who believe in him.”

    And when Christians were in charge of theocracies they burned heretics. However, the difference between you and me is that I don’t blame all Christians for the acts of some, while you appear to blame all atheists for the acts of some.

    1. John son of John says:

      context sir.
      Merry Christmas

    2. Joe M says:

      Brian Westley.

      On the contrary, if lacking faith were the bar needed to be passed before action could be taken, nothing could be done. For example, when you pressed the submit button, you acted on faith that your comment would be posted.

      The entire realm of ethics is a debate over beliefs. For example, there is no scientific basis to oppose murder. Yet we manage to confidently attempt to confront and prevent it through law and government.

      People already can and do argue their beliefs. That’s liberty. Instead of chaos, we have a system designed to sort out debates (including beliefs of faith, etc.) and distribute representation and influence in the most equitable way possible.

      1. Brian Westley says:

        “For example, when you pressed the submit button, you acted on faith that your comment would be posted”

        No, I have experience with submitting comments, and I can check later if my comment appears.

        “The entire realm of ethics is a debate over beliefs.”

        Well, I consider lying about atheists to be unethical. I pointed out some of the author’s lies, like how he said “Those views that don’t meet my standard deserve to be suppressed. This is in fact the judgment atheists have made at each point in history that they have ruled” even though there have been plenty of atheists in history, like Mitterand and Gillard, who ruled without doing that.

        That’s as dishonest and as harmful as blaming all Jews as being untrustworthy.

  2. I agree. I’ve had atheists treat me like scum before and it wasn’t fun. She made the typical atheist “God is an imaginary friend” remark; as if the overwhelming majority of the people on the face of this earth are schizos destined for the psych ward just because we believe in God. I treated her kindly, but I wish I would have stood up for all of us more in that moment. :(

    1. abadilla says:

      Briana,

      A am sure there is some atheist out there with whom I can have a deep thought-provoking conversation. As it is, what I have encountered are people who do think all believers are absolute idiots who have abandoned reason, who believe in fairie tales, who are into superstition 100% and when an atheist approaches me that way, I feel so insulted I simply leave him talking to himself because I will not have a dialogue with someone who will not show me the least respect. I also find it amazing that so many atheists are so preoccupied with believers and God, while most of us, believers, just let them be and could care less whether they want to believe or not. If they don’t believe in God, well, that’s their business but why insult people that do?

      As far as faith not being able to be explained, I find that statement idiotic at best. All one has to do is read St. Anselm’s “Proslogion,” “The City of God” of St. Augustine, “The Summa Theologicae” of St. Thomas Aquinas, the encyclical “Fides et Ratio” of Blessed John Paul II, and the the writings of the present Pope, to understand the tremendous honor and value the Church places on reason in understaning faith.

      I also fully reject the atheist argument that religion is responsible for so many deaths in this world and they have to go back to the 12th century to point to numbers of dead people and they inflate those numbers also. On the other hand, they (atheists) will say nothing of 6 million Jews butchered by Hitler basing himself on a neo-pagan pholosophy, Pol Pot butchering his own people in Cambodia in 1975, definitely not basing himself on Buddhism or Hinduism, the 20 million exterminated by atheist Stalin, and the genocide committed against the Amenians in 1915 by a “secular” not a religious Turkish government. To add insult to injury, we have the slaughter of Tutsis in Uganda a few years ago and that was certainly not motivated by religion, yet atheists keep harping on the accusation that religion is responsible for most wars when in all the Crusades put together, we never lost millions as we did in the 20th century motivated by pagan ideologies having nothing to do with religion.

      1. Thank you. I will be sure to keep this in mind. :)

        1. abadilla says:

          You are welcome!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

STAY CONNECTED


DON'T MISS A THING

Receive our updates via email.