Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team
Who are these
This post is our look at part four of Gavan O'Farrell's four part series entitled, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be'. (Go here to read our posts on part 1, part 2 and part 3).
The title of part four is 'Who are these atheists, anyway?' Gavan O'Farrell, who describes himself as a 'fully conscious committed Christian', begins by explaining that,
'This final Part on the series on atheism is less concerned with argument and more focused on who we're talking about (and to).O'Farrell is correct, many atheists apparently fear the term atheist and opt instead for a number of different euphemisms. However, just as a gay man is still a homosexual, a naturist is still a nudist, and a Catholic is still a Christian, those that truly have a 'non-belief in God' are still atheists. I get a little peeved when people want to label or talk about those that have no belief in gods, even themselves, but they refuse to use the one term that is unambiguous — atheist. Instead they want to confuse the issue by talking about numerous groups that O'Farrell has labelled 'non-theists', which may or may not be actual atheists, since he acknowledges that with most of these groups we find 'labels not being applied consistently'. O'Farrell exposes the reasons some give for disbelief as being flawed, and he's right; those angry with God are not atheists, neither are those that are simply unwilling to accept his authority, nor those that just don't care to get involved. But you can't jump from showing that since some people reject gods for flawed reasons, therefore everyone likely rejects gods for flawed reasons.
The title of O'Farrell's series is, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be', and naturally atheism is going to come off badly if you tackle the topic by considering the views of those least able to provide reliable answers, people that O'Farrell labels non-theists, most of whom he argues are not frank atheists. And we'd agree that the reasons these non-theists sometimes give for their disbelief can be confused and conflicting and flawed. But O'Farrell said his final article was going to be 'focused on who we're talking about', ie atheists, when it merely exposed the flawed thinking of people who perhaps weren't true atheists. It was a diversion, O'Farrell's Christian readers were given the false impression that his point had been proven, that clearly atheism is not all it's cracked up to be, that atheists are not all that rational in their disbelief, when all he did was to make a few non-theists look foolish, while the true atheists hardly got a mention. Diverting our attention with semantics, he swapped the true atheist with a chicken, and then demonstrated that the chicken wasn't thinking straight.
Perhaps introducing these 'non-theists' and then making their stance look weak is an attempt by O'Farrell to diminish the perceived impact of atheism, to push us into the shadows, arguing that most people that are thought of as atheists are not really atheists, so the modern, and for Christians, worrying, view that atheism is fast supplanting belief is not actually true. Christians can rest easy. I'm sure that most Christians would prefer to have a non-theist neighbour or colleague rather than one who is an atheist. Because while most Christians would know what an atheist is, I suspect a great many would not even know what a theist is, let alone a non-theist, or if they did have an inkling, wouldn't find a non-theist as threatening as an atheist. Likewise many would not equate the other labels that O'Farrell offers for non-belief — agnostics, rationalists, realists, sceptics, humanists, secularists — as definite atheists either, since some often aren't. If O'Farrell can dilute the pool of non-believers, make it appear that atheist numbers are much smaller than generally claimed, that many people thought of as atheists are nothing of the sort, they're actually agnostics for example, then suddenly the threat to Christianity reduces. True atheists become an even smaller minority, like Holocaust deniers and Flat Earthers, a deluded fringe group that can be ignored.
Like many Christians and many of his so-called 'non-theists', O'Farrell falsely states that 'frank atheism' is defined as the explicit statement, 'There is no God'. That is not quite true. Atheism at its most basic simply means to have no belief in gods. You're not saying you definitely know that there are no gods, you merely have no belief that there are. Presented with evidence to the contrary, you could change your mind tomorrow. Of course some atheists do say, 'There is no God', but many do not. In the same sense, if I was being precise, I would never say that there is no Santa Claus, because I can't prove that, but I would say that I have no belief that Santa exists. There is an important difference in those two statements that many can't grasp.
Looking for true atheists, O'Farrell states that, 'The most serious non-theists are those atheists who are intellectually attached to the evidence argument: if there were a God, it would have been proved by now'.
I would agree that an informed, intellectual atheist that has reached his of her disbelief based on the evidence is the atheist to take most seriously. However they would not make the argument, 'if there were a God, it would have been proved by now'. My favourite argument for atheism is that there is no evidence for gods or need for gods. It has nothing to do with us not yet having proven God is real, as if there was a time limit on finding God, or we've made and tested a God Detector and it found nothing. O'Farrell's logic is as flawed as if I was to argue, 'There are no aliens out there on any distant planet, if there were, it would have been proved by now'. Umm ... no. Aliens, and gods, could still be out there, waiting to be discovered. All we can say about the possible existence of aliens, or gods, is, based on what we know about the universe, how likely is it that they're out there? We can never say that if we haven't proven it by my next birthday then clearly they don't exist.
Regarding these intellectual atheists, O'Farrell goes on to claim that, 'Ordinarily, atheists are a smallish subset of non-theists but, in this era of maximum self-expression, the number is probably artificially inflated'. Again this seems to be a ploy to reassure those worried Christians that atheist numbers are nothing but a 'smallish subset' that even then is 'probably artificially inflated'. I'd agree that these intellectual atheists are small in number, meaning informed atheists that can use reason backed up by science, philosophy, history and Biblical criticism to argue for atheism. But at the same time, the number of people that are true atheists, that have no belief in gods, even if they don't have the knowledge to win a debate, is not a 'smallish subset' of society in many countries. This Sep 2019 article reveals that 'No religion' officially overtakes Christianity in New Zealand Census stats', showing that Christians are now a minority in NZ, and still falling. Of course it must be acknowledged that some that tick 'No religion' on their census form won't be true atheists, but whatever their beliefs, they're stating that religion, be it Christianity or Islam or Scientology, is no longer important to them. So yes, Christians should be worried, since the view of atheists, that religion is irrelevant in the modern world, is getting through to the masses.
O'Farrell also gauges the visibility of various non-theist types. I again suspect he's hinting that if atheists aren't as visible as Christians then we're still a minority group that can be ignored. Go to even a small town and you can quickly find several churches, but you'll struggle to find an atheist group in all of NZ. The Christian delusion goes thus: You don't see many people arguing that gods aren't real, thus we can be reassured that most people clearly still believe they are. Disbelief is rare. But I'd respond by saying that you also don't see many people arguing that fairies aren't real either, so can we assume that most people clearly still believe they are? Of course disbelief in fairies isn't rare, it's widespread, even though you almost never encounter people discussing the existence of fairies. I'd argue that discussion in day-to-day life about whether gods exist is rare because, like fairies, most people have long ago written gods out of the equation. Religion is about surrounding yourself with god-related rituals, and so believers are obvious, whereas atheism is about utterly ignoring everything god-related and surrounding yourself with other interests, such as family or sport or bird watching. People may recognise you as a devoted family man or sports fanatic or committed bird watcher, but they won't see that you're also an atheist, any more than they're recognise that you don't believe in fairies. Atheism is becoming the silent majority, and if you're judging how accepted and widespread atheism is based on how visible we are, then you're in for a shock. Atheism is the new black.
O'Farrell next mentions that, 'The most visible non-theists are those who have a strong dislike of religion, especially Christianity'.
We should point out that being pissed at God or angry at the priests raping children and then distancing yourself from both is not atheism, even though many Christians and even some atheists think it is. You can dislike your neighbours or be angry with your father and refuse to have anything to do with him, but your dislike or anger at someone doesn't mean that they don't exist. You can dislike Christianity with all your being, and be utterly justified, but your dislike says nothing about whether God exists. Christians dislike Satan with a passion, but they don't for a moment think he's not real. They dislike him because they think he's real. Dislike and disbelief are completely different things.
O'Farrell goes on to say that, 'This dislike may arise from their understanding of the general and historical conduct of the Church — sometimes a genuine misunderstanding that can be treated with information'.
This seems to be O'Farrell repeating his bogus view from his previous article that atheists blindly and willingly 'rely on the hasty acceptance of information that is skewed or incomplete'. When we consider 'the general and historical conduct of the Church', things such as slavery, the persecution of witches, women and homosexuals, and the ongoing protection of priests guilty of sex abuse spring to mind. But apparently we have been too hasty in accepting them as immoral due to a 'genuine misunderstanding' on our part, and that O'Farrell could make us see slavery and persecution and sex abuse in a new light with a liberal dose of Christian 'information'. Of course I wonder why the Christian Church hasn't already released this information and brought about a rewrite of our history books.
Next O'Farrell argues that getting a sneak peak at this Christian information won't help if 'the misunderstanding is deliberate — due to prejudice or even organised enmity'. As an example, he lists socialists, although to be honest I've yet to meet an atheist who claims to dislike Christianity because of socialism. O'Farrell's point seems to be to introduce the notion that some atheists just can't be trusted, that their strong dislike isn't due to reason or evidence, but misinformed and unjustifiable hatred. Meaning that Christians can dismiss their arguments out of hand.
I suspect that the most heartfelt dislike of Christianity comes from what O'Farrell says is 'the result of bad experiences within the Church ... Many are angry: mere indignation for some, while for others it is real hurt. This anger is sometimes directed at God, not at religion ... eg I might "punish God" by proclaiming that I don't believe in Him'.
As I've already explained, being angry at a priest that abused you or a God that watched and did nothing is not atheism. Some atheists may say that some such event made them an atheist, but they're only an atheist if they have honestly reached the conclusion, by the use of reason and evidence, that gods do not exist, or to put it more accurately, they lose their belief that gods are real. For people that develop a dislike of religion or become angry towards God, the most this emotion could do is make them suspect that God might not be real, since that would explain why he did nothing to stop the Holocaust or cure Granny's cancer. Their anger could turn them into an atheist, if they do the work and look at the evidence, but simply being angry at God doesn't make anyone an atheist. They simply remain angry Christians, and deluded, since they're venting at something that doesn't even exist. It actually confounds me to listen to the many stories from Christians who are clearly angry with their religion or their pastor or even with their God, and while they may question certain Biblical commandments or inappropriate behaviour from ministers or even God's inaction, they almost never question God's existence. They don't become atheists, they simply remain disgruntled Christians.
The next atheist, sorry, the next non-theist O'Farrell describes is the person who proclaims, "I don't need a God to feel significant or secure". Or, "I'm very clever and educated, I'll take it from here". Or simply, "No-one's the boss of me!"
Again, as for the previous angry non-theist, simply having that attitude does not make you an atheist, anymore than wanting independence from your parents suddenly means they don't exist. Christians can ignore God's demands because they disagree with them, as all the Christians I know do, but their refusal to be bossed around doesn't make them atheists.
Then O'Farrell says that some atheists were 'were raised as non-theists and, like some Christians, think habitually and speak by rote'. The implication is that children raised by atheist parents are just parroting their parent's views with no independent thought, they're just unthinking automatons reading from a script, brainwashed from birth, so they can be ignored. This may be true for some, just as it is certainly true for the great majority of Christians, since nearly all Christians were raised by Christians, and they often speak by rote, their arguments and commandments are often word for word. So if this manner of passing on knowledge from parent to child is badly flawed then it also discredits all Christians and everything they say too. However most atheists likely weren't raised by atheists, so most atheists cannot be accused of mindlessly parroting their parents, but most Christians certainly can be accused of doing exactly that. I've met untold people who care little about Christianity, yet still identify themselves as Christians solely because their parents told them they were Christians, and that God was real. I've yet to meet an atheist who is one simply because his parents told him God wasn't real. Of course, even if an atheist does merely repeat what his parents told him — that gods don't exist — the positive thing is that he's still expressing the truth, the unfortunate thing is that he doesn't know why it's true.
We're next told that, 'Some non-theists call themselves "sceptics", but I have found that they are typically half-sceptics — sceptical about God and the supernatural but not about their own claims about rationality and evidence (or the social and moral positions put forward by the Left)'.
Again O'Farrell confuses the issue by labelling sceptics (or skeptics) as atheists, when some skeptics do believe in God. But that aside, any true skeptic would insist that they question the reasons, evidence and morals offered by the likes of science, history and philosophy just as much as they question the reasons, evidence and morals presented by believers in gods. Their examination of both sides of the debate is what will have lead them to atheism; people aren't born atheists. (Well, technically they are, but to become an informed atheist requires research.) O'Farrell is implying that atheistic thinking is flawed, and thus suspect (I'd argue it's not), but from what I've observed, the criticism O'Farrell directs at atheistic skeptics certainly also applies to Christians, even more so. Most Christians are typically half-skeptics and half-believers. Most Christians are skeptical of many claims made about God, the supernatural and the Bible. Most no longer believe Adam and Eve and the talking snake were real, or the six day creation or Noah's flood or a host of other Bible stories. They're skeptical of the Biblical evidence that claims to support these stories. Most are skeptical of God's moral position that they should kill homosexuals and witches and prevent women from talking outside the home. But they're not skeptical of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, or walked on water, or is busy in Heaven preparing a luxurious hotel room for them. They're skeptical of half the stuff Jesus expects them to believe and they believe half the stuff they should be skeptical of. Christians, by their growing skepticism of their own religion, have shown us atheists that we have good reason to be skeptical too. After all, what does it say when even Christians won't believe much of their own religion?
O'Farrell next states that, 'Most non-theists are agnostics. This position is more understandable than a dogmatic "Ain't no God". On the other hand, "I don't know" is often a cover for "I don't care". It seems strange not to care that there might be Someone who made the cosmos and is in touch with humanity ... '.
The reality is that most atheists are also agnostics, and in fact so are many Christians, since you can be an agnostic atheist and an agnostic theist. Agnosticism simply means that we can't prove whether God exists or not. Note that it does not say whether we may have a belief that God exists or not, merely that we cannot prove that belief. An atheist that says they don't believe God exists, but accepts that they can't prove he doesn't, is an agnostic, and a Christian who says they do believe God exists, but also accepts that they can't prove he does, is also an agnostic. To say 'I don't know' if God is real is to say you haven't proven that God is real or not, it is a statement about what knowledge you possess, about what you "know", and not a statement about what you believe. (If you're interested, we've expressed our view of agnosticism in more detail here.)
It actually annoys me when Christians take exception to an atheist saying that God doesn't exist (in the same way we might say Santa doesn't exist), and they argue that admitting that we simply don't know would be a more rational, and less confrontational, position, as when O'Farrell states that agnosticism 'is more understandable than a dogmatic "Ain't no God".' And yet when you ask these same Christians if they believe God exists, they don't hesitate, they don't go down the 'I don't know' path, they immediately say, 'Yes, of course there is a God ... and he loves us'. Confronted with the question of whether God exists, they expect atheists to say we don't know, and if we're honest, can't know, but in the same conversation they'll arrogantly insist on claiming they do know; God is real, hallelujah. What can we say, they're hypocrites.
O'Farrell is correct that for most agnostics the label is just a way of saying 'I don't care', and that applies equally to both agnostic atheists and agnostic theists. Would you think it strange if I didn't care whether Santa might be exploiting the elves that make his toys? If some issue has no relevance to my life then I pay it little attention, and for most people, both atheists and Christians, the old Bible stories about a jealous and vindictive God have no relevance to modern life, and they are largely ignored. That's why neither the atheist calling himself an agnostic nor your typical Christian calling himself a believer can list God's Ten Commandments or tell you what Jesus' real name was. O'Farrell thinks 'It seems strange not to care that there might be Someone who made the cosmos and is in touch with humanity ... ', but atheist agnostics see no evidence that this 'Someone' exists, thus there is no more reason to care about this someone and seek him out than there would be to look for someone who delivers toys at Xmas with his flying reindeer. What should concern O'Farrell is not the uncaring atheists but his fellow Christians. They absolutely believe in this 'Someone' that made the cosmos and yet, beyond saying that they believe, they couldn't give a shit about learning more about him, can't be bothered memorising the Ten Commandments, and aren't embarrassed that informed atheists know far more about their God and his cosmos than they do. Their view seems to be that once they've joined the club they don't need to read the rules or go to meetings to receive the club benefits. Simply being baptised as a baby is sufficient to get them a 'Get into Heaven Free' card. Until then, 'Party on dude!'
The next claim O'Farrell makes is that, 'Some people prefer agnosticism because they believe it can accommodate spirituality ... However, with no connection with God or the supernatural, "spirituality" is just a species of strong emotion'. Wrong, spirituality means the state of being spiritual, which concerns the nature of the spirit or soul, and of spirits and the supernatural. Where do Christians thinks souls and spirits commute from if not the supernatural world, Texas perhaps? The supernatural world wasn't patented by God. Of course spirituality as a means to understanding the world is still a worthless crock (as we discuss here), but at least they're not embracing Christianity, or Islam.
O'Farrell argues that, 'True atheism — "truth is about reason and evidence"— is hard to market ... Enhancing non-theism with "spirituality" is smart marketing, but that's all it is'. I'd agree that the truth is often hard to market — you will die, you will pay taxes, you will lose in love, earthquakes will happen, wars will be fought — but the truth is still preferable to childish fantasy — you will live forever, you and your fellow Christians will rule the world, your love will always be reciprocated, God will answer your prayers, whatever and whoever you desire will be yours. Atheism is about seeing the world as it is, not as you desire it to be, with invisible angels fluttering overhead ready to steady you if you stumble. Christianity and the promise of a 5-star afterlife is smart marketing for stupid people, but that's all it is.
The reason most people prefer to label themselves agnostics rather than atheists is because they're too lazy and/or too afraid to commit, it's so much easier to sit on the fence than take a stand. Yet they clearly feel there is more evidence and reason to disbelieve in gods rather than believe, or else they'd be Christians and not merely the undecided.
Next O'Farrell moves on to 'Atheism and politics', and notes that on 'Visiting an atheist site, I once asked "Are there any conservative atheists or are you all Lefties?". I was told, "If you're smart enough to be an atheist, you're probably smart enough to be progressive".'
The reality is that conservatives get that label because they favour traditional views and values, meaning they typically believe in God, oppose abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, stem cell research etc, in other words they act like people traditionally did centuries ago. Liberals (or lefties or progressives) stand for ideas like liberty, equality, rights, progress etc. And yes, anyone smart enough to be an atheist usually realises that individual liberty is preferable to authority dished out by some imaginary god on high.
He goes on to say that,
'Like much of academia, the media, the education system, much of government and parts of the Church, popular non-theism seems to have been infiltrated and largely taken over by "progressives"— to be politically allied with third-wave feminism, the LGBTIQ lobby and other "diversity" lobbies, and united with these in protecting Islam from criticism.'He's right, thankfully, that 'much of academia, the media, the education system, much of government and parts of the Church' are more liberal than conservative, if they weren't we'd probably still be teaching that the Earth was flat and the centre of the universe, banning books that said otherwise, and prohibiting Catholics, Jews and women from entering government. But he's quite wrong if he thinks atheists, either independently or inside academia, the media etc, are 'protecting Islam from criticism'. Clearly he's never read any of the books by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens etc, just to name some famous critics, or even heard of them it seems. There is probably more criticism of Islam these days than there has ever been, and it's coming largely from atheists. Many ordinary Christians are also criticising Islam, but many in the Church hierarchy are advocating that all religions should be respected, and that includes Islam, and by respect they mean they are not be criticised. They've taken this stance in a futile attempt to stop atheists criticising Christianity, to silence the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, and to seem genuine, they have to embrace all religions in their 'Hands Off' policy, which includes Islam. To mount an offensive against atheism they've had to get into bed with the enemy.
As for his claim that atheists are 'politically allied with third-wave feminism, the LGBTIQ lobby and other "diversity" lobbies', he goes on to also say, 'As far as I can tell, all these groups have in common is a, shall we say, "warm dislike" of Christianity. I don't know how else to make sense of this outlandish alliance'. Well, it's hardly outlandish, naturally groups such as feminists and LGBTIQ folk would have a dislike of Christianity because of Christianity's ongoing persecution of them. It's not rocket science. And since atheists generally oppose the Biblical persecution of feminists and LGBTIQ folk (along with witches, atheists, disobedient children etc), it's really quite easy to see why there would be an alliance between atheists and feminists etc. It's truly surprising that he can't see this, I would have thought it would have been blindingly obvious. We have a common enemy, your loving God hates us all and wants us dead.
But it's all a mystery to O'Farrell, who states, 'It is strange that such independent thinkers ... should all of a sudden be of one mind about such difficult and complex issues'. Umm, no, it's not strange that people persecuted over centuries by one group — Christians — would independently come to the same conclusion, those fucking Christians have to go!
O'Farrell finishes by writing that,
'Some non-theists are seriously dedicated to reality and reason and have avoided being ensnared by these movements. It is possible to have positive ethical and political conversations with these more independent non-theists. There is likely to be mutual acceptance of the starting proposition that human beings are highly, and equally, valuable'.So if you label yourself a conservative and a non-theist, rather than a true atheist (those of us that insist 'truth is about reason and evidence' rather than just blind faith), and you've 'avoided being ensnared' by those blasphemous movements that are pushing for sexual equality, or presumably with any other group that contradicts God's word, then O'Farrell might be willing to have a conversation with you about his God, since he thinks that, 'There is likely to be mutual acceptance of the starting proposition that human beings are highly, and equally, valuable'.
Of course, after his little feminist/LGBTIQ outburst, and his series on the problems with atheists, we can assume that when he says humans are equally valued, there's a catch. Like when the Hebrews said in the Bible, 'Thou shalt not kill', they of course only meant that Hebrews shouldn't kill other Hebrews, killing non-Hebrews was fine. Clearly O'Farrell means that only the humans his god has chosen are equally valued. I suspect his 'ethical and political conversations with these more independent non-theists' would revolve around how we put women back in the kitchen, homosexuals back in the closet and outspoken atheists back into a silent and loathsome minority. But it's too late Gavan, the genie's out of the bottle, and the bottle's been broken. We're sick and tired of being persecuted by an imaginary god and his sycophant followers.
As believable worldviews based on reason and evidence and ethics go, it's not atheism but Christianity that's not all it's cracked up to be, and anyone who thinks its arguments and morality are supportable is clearly just not too bright. Tell us again about the talking snake, your god's hatred of gays and the carpenter who spent a weekend dead, and explain again how all that is more believable, more rational, more moral, than those flying reindeer or that tooth-collecting fairy?
|Atheists say the darndest things|
Continuing on from our last two posts (1 and 2), we'll now look at part three of Gavan O'Farrell's four part series entitled, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be'.
The title to this part is 'I don't want it, so it isn't there!', which I guess is O'Farrell's way of saying that the atheist argument rests on a silly, childish notion, that we're simply throwing a hissy fit; we don't want God to be real, so he isn't. It's that simple. Well, actually Gavan, even though many Christians believe that atheists deny God simply because we're angry with God, you've been misinformed, first about your God and then about why we don't believe in him. Our beliefs follow the evidence, not our desires.
It's a little ironic that O'Farrell would give that silly example, since that's exactly the sort of reasoning Christians do use to justify their belief in God — I want a loving father figure who's also a powerful wizard to be watching out for me from space, and even though I can't see, feel or detect him, I just know he's there. I want him to be real, so he is real.
Having tackled the atheist take on reason and evidence (part one) and morality (part two), O'Farrell writes that in part three he'll 'briefly canvas some of the other things atheists often say'. He starts with this question from atheists:
'"Which religion?": A common reason for rejecting God seems to be: "There are thousands of religions, most of them mutually incompatible, they can't all be true."OK, error #1, there are indeed thousands of religions. Maybe O'Farrell should have done the work. According to Dr Michael Shermer, 'anthropologists estimate that over the past ten thousand years humans have created roughly ten thousand different religions'. And these have splintered into 100,000 different sects. Even if we just look at the God botherers and Jesus freaks, each Christian church claims that all the others are pushing a distorted version of Christianity, which is why there is at present some 44,000 different Christian denominations, and counting. No doubt O'Farrell will argue that Christianity is just one religion when taken at its most simplistic level, ie a vague belief that Jesus was God or was fathered by God, and that religions that ancient civilisations and long dead cultures believed in don't count as no one now believes their gods were actually real. But Christians can't simply discount the gods of the ancient Egyptians or Aztec simply because it's now obvious to intelligent, informed people that their gods weren't real, because intelligent, informed people also say, for the exact same reasons, that the gods of the ancient Hebrews weren't real either. Once you argue that gods are possible, at least one is anyway, as Christians do, you can't in the same breath argue that the gods of other cultures are impossible. Even the Bible notes that other gods are real, but inferior.
Concerning these thousands of ancient religions, O'Farrell correctly argues that 'one of them could be true'. It could be true that the ancient Sumerians, or some culture that history has forgotten, discovered the one true religion but no one believed them, and their true beliefs were replaced with false religions from other cultures. Just because Christianity is currently the dominant religion in O'Farrell's society, doesn't mean that Christianity must be true. If O'Farrell was born in the Middle East he would likely be arguing that Islam was the true religion, not Christianity.
O'Farrell correctly states the atheistic argument, 'There are thousands of religions, most of them mutually incompatible, they can't all be true', but then he deviously corrupts the argument, making a claim that atheists haven't made. He falsely adds, 'This atheist assertion insinuates, "Religions can't all be true, so none of them are"'. Obviously no rational atheist would ever say, 'so none of them are'. That would be as silly as arguing, 'Animals can't all fly, so none of them can'. Obviously some can. It's revealing when a falsehood must be spun in an attempt to make the atheistic argument look illogical.
So how do we resolve this problem of thousands of religions, since as O'Farrell says, 'one of them could be true, the atheist just doesn't know which one'. He insists that, 'If you are curious, you will do the work of inquiring'. This is what is known as a time waster, where the cunning Christian sets the na´ve atheist a task that can likely never be resolved, but at least we're not annoying the Christian with embarrassing questions about Jesus and that talking snake. The reality is that no matter how many religions we investigate, and show to be false, the Christian can always say that a religion we haven't yet looked at could be the true one. Even if we did investigate every known religion, which is unrealistic, Christians could still correctly say that we haven't checked out religions that are unknown to history, religions belonging to tribes or cultures that disappeared without trace. Our search would be futile since we couldn't examine everything. Clearly it makes no sense for atheists to challenge and disprove the individual claims made by thousands of religions. Debunking religions one by one is a fool's errand, one Christians want to send us off on.
However, even though atheists haven't and can't check all religions for real gods, we are still rationally justified in dismissing all religions out of hand, without even scanning the appropriate holy book with our handheld, pasta-powered "God Detector". The thing is that all religions have many of the same basic elements, they all have the same foundations, even though they may give their gods different names and abilities and histories. All these gods and angels and demons transcend the natural world and exist in some unseen supernatural world, exhibiting powers not found in the natural world. Each religion normally allocates one god to be the creator of the world and of life, although some have several. To dismiss all religions all you have to do is show that their foundations are impossible, or at the very least, utterly undetectable and unnecessary, that we can explain the world and life by natural means without having to stir gods and magic into the mix. For example, once I have proven scientifically that giant animals like King Kong are impossible, I don't have to go check out reports of a giant chicken in Peru. If giant animals are impossible, then ALL giant animals are impossible. Likewise, once I have determined that a flying reindeer called Rudolf is impossible, I don't have to repeat the same checks on all the remaining reindeer of Santa's sleigh. Ditto with gods, if a simple god is impossible, say one that just creates lightning, then a complicated one that creates entire universes certainly is. If the notion of the supernatural and invisible gods doing magic is clearly nonsense, I can immediately dismiss some new claim about some new god doing magic. The supernatural was bullshit yesterday, it will still be bullshit tomorrow.
And that's where it has stood for thousands of years, with no evidence that gods exist, and what mistakenly passed for evidence in the past was simply ignorant people misinterpreting the working of the natural world, 'No, of course you can't have lightning without a god!' No evidence then, no evidence now. It's as if these gods are deliberately hiding from us, and then punishing us for not believing in them. Of course if gods really do exist, as O'Farrell insists, then rather than argue that it's atheists that should be doing the work and finding God, since O'Farrell has already found God, he should just point him out to us.
That's the easy way to find the one true religion. The god, or gods, of the true religion could simply put their hands up, or tentacles or whatever. Rather than them hiding and forcing atheists to find them under some rock, on another planet, in another galaxy, they could make things easy and simply front up. Do a few miracles, that sort of thing. If I said I could fly like Superman, normal people would doubt my claim and ask me to prove it. People would walk away laughing if I refused and simply said that they needed to prove that I couldn't fly. Like me claiming I can fly, Christians claim their god is real, and the obvious way to demonstrate truthfulness is to produce evidence that supports your claim, reluctance to do so suggests you've got something to hide. The ball is their court, and we atheists can enjoy life and assume God doesn't exist until they prove otherwise, just as we do for gremlins and fairies.
That stance, a stance O'Farrell argues atheists misunderstand, is known as the 'onus of proof' (or burden of proof), that it is the responsibility of people that make some positive claim to prove it's true. And yet O'Farrell argues that the onus of proof somehow lies with atheists rather than Christians. Even though it is Christians that have for thousands of years claimed that God is real, O'Farrell argues that it is the responsibility of atheists to get curious, do the work and prove he's not. Why are Christians so afraid of providing the proof they keep saying they have, and instead insist that we find our own? I'm beginning to suspect that maybe their evidence for God is as flimsy and as creaky as my young niece's evidence for the Tooth Fairy. Look Gavan, you say you know God, so let's stop mucking around, if he's real he knows my phone number, so get him to call me.
But O'Farrell denies the burden of proof, and argues that Christians 'do wish to persuade about God, but it's not a matter of "proof"... we Christians commend our faith to others'. But doesn't your faith say that God is real, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again and is now relaxing poolside in Heaven, sipping a bottomless margarita? O'Farrell defends his refusal to provide proof by stating that, 'By contrast, atheists insist that it is only permissible to talk facts (including facts about God) if those facts are proved empirically/scientifically'. O'Farrell appears to be acknowledging (how could he do otherwise?) that there are no known facts about God, that it's all just a matter of faith, or to put it more accurately, wishful thinking. Since O'Farrell can't say anything factual about God he's arguing that he should say nothing at all, that he'll leave it up to atheists to investigate and describe God with our facts, with our 'empirical/scientific proof'.
While I disagree with O'Farrell over where the onus of proof lies, I agree that if we're going to talk about reality and real things, then we must deal in facts that are supported by evidence and reason, not in the fantasies of an ignorant, superstitious Bronze Age goat herder. A fact is something that has demonstrable existence, and yet O'Farrell apparently wants to discuss God using "facts" that haven't been shown to be, well, factual. He's annoyed that we atheists insist on using real facts, and that we refuse to accept his unfounded beliefs as another form of fact. Christians can't grasp that if we started allowing unsupported beliefs to inform us about reality then we would have to open the door to all manner of nonsense, that perhaps reindeer can fly at Xmas time, that perhaps gremlins did clog up my spa pool, and perhaps Jesus is watching me in the shower. Atheists insist on dealing in facts because without them we'd be Christians, or perhaps Muslims or Scientologists.
O'Farrell says he mentions the atheist arguments about thousands of religions and the onus of proof, 'not because they are intrinsically important but because they come up so frequently. They have negligible logical value as arguments. Really, they seem to me to be excuses rather than arguments — attempted justification for not believing and for not being inquisitive. Another refuge ...'
Rubbish. I believe he mentions them in an a clear attempt to discredit them, because thinking Christians, and I use that phrase lightly, find them confronting. The Christian wonders how billions of people can believe in other religions and other gods, both now and throughout history — Why can't they see the obvious flaws in their religion? They ask me the same question, so is it perhaps me that is deluded? And why can't I find proof to support my belief, why must I twist it back on the atheist, and demand he proves me wrong instead? Am I the fool?
O'Farrell attempts to console the worried Christian, arguing that the atheist can be ignored, that we are creating illogical and unreasonable arguments, and that when pressed by atheists for answers they should just say, 'No comment', and walk away.
Next O'Farrell notes that, 'Atheists often say Christianity is evil and offer a bundle of "proofs" which have become familiar — war, forced conversion, the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunting, tolerance of slavery, the oppression of women and gays, the suppression of science and, more recently, protected paedophilia. To this list might be added Old Testament violence and the "immoral" nature of Redemption by Christ's death'.
Well, he won't get an argument from me, we certainly do say that. But of course it's not just Christianity that we atheists see as having harmed people, all religions have promoted primitive, superstitious, harmful beliefs that are rightly condemned by enlightened folk.
It's hard to believe that anyone could support even one item in the above list of injustices committed in the name of God, but O'Farrell warns that 'Atheists should hesitate before offering moral judgements'. Oh, screw you O'Farrell. I can understand how Christians might hesitate, thinking that if they register even some slight disapproval then they'll be punished by their all-knowing god, but we atheists aren't cowered by some imaginary demon, we can quickly and confidently pass moral judgment. Conclusion: they're all immoral. To hesitate, to wonder if those actions were right or wrong, both in the past and now, is to expose yourself as someone who needs to be locked up, or sent back in time to the 10th century. And then locked up.
So how to paint this evil in a good light? O'Farrell initially seems to accept the 'wrongs we know the Church has done', but then adds, 'For the most part, though, the proofs rely on the hasty acceptance of information that is skewed or incomplete'. All I can take from that is that O'Farrell now seems to be suggesting that the events in his list weren't as bad as atheists make out, that the acceptance of slavery, the persecution of witches, women and homosexuals, the protection of priests guilty of sex abuse, all these events have been too hastily accepted as immoral due to skewed or incomplete information. If only the world could see the full story then we wouldn't see religious wars or the Spanish Inquisition in such a bad light. And God torturing and murdering his own son, trust me, that's actually a heartwarming story, full of love and joy. There's even kittens. This stance is shamefully similar to that of those that argue that the Holocaust was wildly exaggerated, and that Hitler was misunderstood and unfairly condemned.
O'Farrell then trots out the usual lame Christian excuse for all the evil done in God's name, he explains that, 'After all, the Church consists largely of human beings and has wielded enormous power — a notoriously dangerous combination'.
It never fails to amaze me how quickly Christians are willing to castrate their god, to belittle him, strip him of his powers, all in an attempt to distance him from what was happening in the world, to grant him plausible deniability. Their pathetic excuses suggest that perhaps their all-knowing god didn't know of all the evil his followers were committing in his name, or that their all-powerful god knew about it but couldn't stop his followers, or that their all-loving god did know and could stop it, but just didn't care enough to bother. We can all agree that humans can be corrupted by power, and if they've also been corrupted by barbaric fairy tales, then great harm can result. However Christians (and Muslims, Jews etc) are forever pushing their belief that their god has a plan for all humanity, that he is watching us all, and that nothing happens that he didn't intend to happen. Things happen for a reason, we're told, a mysterious reason perhaps, but certainly a divine reason. When good things happen, the religious are indecently quick to attribute their god as the cause, and to give thanks. When dangerous things are unfolding the religious are fervent in their prayers to their god, supremely confident that their god will deliver them good fortune. And when all goes well, there's another spate of prayers thanking god, perhaps even going on TV to tell others how God helped them and is always there for them, and us. But when things turn to shit, when disaster strikes and no matter how much one prays, the worst happens, loved ones die and homes are lost, then suddenly it was just a freak of nature. God wasn't involved, hell, he didn't even know it was happening, he was off on vacation, or something. Dead maybe. No, we can't blame God when bad things happen. Bad things are our fault.
Most Christians accept that the evils in O'Farrell's list actually happened, but then they go on to argue that it was just humans that committed the atrocities, which is actually true. But, from a Christian perspective, this means that God just sat back and watched while his priests raped children or burned innocent women at the stake or while the Nazis slaughtered his chosen people in the gas chambers. God had to be involved, even if that involvement just meant watching and doing nothing, because God is omnipresent, meaning God is everywhere. He couldn't help but witness every single atrocity committed by his deluded followers. The question that torments every Christian is why he did nothing. Some try and argue that human free will means that God is compelled to let us fend for ourselves, but that's clearly bullshit. In the only record we have of how God behaves, the Bible, God is interfering in the lives of everyone, from start to finish. He spies on everyone, he rewards people, he punishes people, he orders everyone around, he continually makes his presence known with miracles, he even rapes a virgin that takes his fancy, just so as to give himself a son he can torture and kill horribly further down the track. But it was all planned, free will be damned, God was in your face, and your life was anything but your own. God was desperate for people to worship him, in this life and the next, the last thing he wanted was for people to use their free will to determine that he didn't exist. He ordered your family, friends and neighbours to kill you if you started talking like that. Well, that's assuming the Bible stories are true.
Keen to take the spotlight off God and shine it on sinful humans that are simply following God's commandments, O'Farrell states that 'atheists don't seem to consider the possibility that God might also be appalled at some things the Church has done'. Of course we don't consider that possibility, because it's impossible for God to be appalled at the actions of his followers. My dictionary states that being appalled 'implies a sense of helplessness caused by an awareness of the enormity of something'. How could God have a sense of helplessness as he watched a priest rape a child? Again, O'Farrell's argument only works if God has none of God's powers, that he, like us humans, only found out what his followers had done after the fact, by which time it was too late to act. O'Farrell has to make his god feeble and impotent so that we don't accuse him of cold indifference — it's not that he didn't want to help, but that he couldn't. But O'Farrell's excuses for God make him unworthy of worship. O'Farrell's message is that if you see Christians acting badly, call the police, because God can't help.
So that's the pickle that Christians like O'Farrell find themselves in. When God fails to act, and innocent people are harmed, Christians are so desperate to absolve him of blame that they're willing to strip him of his superhero powers and argue that God can know and do no more than your typical human, that he can't be everywhere, or know everything that's going on, or stop anything faster than a tennis ball. And judging by God's interaction with the world in the last couple of thousand years, these Christians are right, their god has apparently been restrained with the divine version of kryptonite. He can do nothing about world affairs except watch them on TV after the fact. To excuse God of his glaring inaction Christians have effectively become atheists to explain his absence. True atheists say we don't see God because he doesn't exist. Christians like O'Farrell say we don't see God because either he's ignorant of our plight, or unable to help, or simply doesn't care. And even if that ineffectual being does exist, by any definition, he certainly isn't God. So O'Farrell's argument effectively ends with the conclusion that the Biblical God doesn't exist.
In his above list of Christian evils, O'Farrell mentions 'the "immoral" nature of Redemption by Christ's death'. His placing "immoral" within quotation marks implies that torturing and killing your own son isn't an immoral act, contrary to what we atheists might say. Thus O'Farrell ends his article by criticising atheists for our 'attack on Redemption'. My dictionary defines Redemption as 'Salvation from sin through Jesus's sacrifice', or to put it simply, Jesus had to die on the cross to save us from being tortured by God when we die. Basically this is the Christian fairytale that all humans are born with sin, which is punishment for those innocent and na´ve nudists Adam and Eve accepting some fruit from a talking snake. Why we should be punished for something others did is never explained, it's just something God thinks is just and fair. Anyway, having decided we should all be burdened with sin, thousands of years later God decides, again with no explanation, that he will now forgive this sin. Maybe he realised we didn't deserve it? But powerful wizard as he is, rather than just casting a spell, 'I forgive all sin', something similar to his 'Let there be light' spell, he decided to rape an innocent, virginal young girl, get her pregnant, leave her to raise the child alone, and then return some thirty years later to conspire to have his illegitimate son arrested, tortured and executed. Why would someone do such a horrible thing you may ask? Well, the Hebrews already had a silly and barbaric ritual, given to them by God in earlier times, that involved what is known as a scapegoat, which was a real goat that was made to magically bear the blame or sins of others. Rather than blame the person that had actually committed some wrong, they shifted the blame onto some innocent goat and sent him off into the desert, with no water or GPS. The goat died and their sins with him, meaning the guilty Hebrews were magically forgiven. Actually they always used two goats, the other one was slaughtered as a blood sacrifice to God. God just loved his blood sacrifices. So apparently God thought that since the silly Hebrews were familiar with the concept of both the blood sacrifice and of a scapegoat taking away their misdeeds, he could pull the same ploy with original sin, the sin we're all born with. But God wanted to go big on this one, as it would be a one-off event. And what's bigger than making a blood sacrifice, not of a goat, but of your own son? You could magically load the sins of everyone, people living then and in the future, onto the shoulders of your son nailed to a cross and have him die a horrible death. Now that, thought God, is a blood sacrifice. People will be impressed. And some were, but most were appalled. But of course it was all a con, it was revealed later that Jesus was actually alive and well, meaning there was no sacrifice if his life wasn't actually sacrificed. A sacrifice is where you give up something of value in order to get something of greater value. What did Jesus sacrifice if he's still alive and well? I'd willingly sacrifice my life on Friday if I knew I'd get it back, in better health, plus ten billion dollars plus a mansion full of Playboy bunnies on Monday. If Jesus truly gave his life to forgive the sins of all humans then he should be dead. If he's not, then there was no sacrifice on his part as Christians claim, and he hasn't saved me. Oh, woe is me!
So that is Christian redemption, the truly sick and disgusting belief that a father must rape a virgin, get a son and then torture and kill that son in order to forgive me for a sin I didn't even commit. It's amazing that humans can forgive each other without demanding a blood sacrifice, so why is it that a god who is supposedly infinitely greater than us, can't also simply say, 'I forgive you'? Of course he shouldn't even be saying, 'I forgive you', he should be saying, 'I'm so, so sorry. It was very wrong of me to blame you for sins you hadn't even committed. What was I thinking? Can you ever forgive me?' And even if a blood sacrifice made sense, even if it wasn't a primitive, superstitious notion, even if Jesus had to die to save us, why did he have to die a horrible death? Why couldn't he have just eaten a dodgy chicken falafel and died of food poisoning, why did he have to suffer terribly? The Hebrews didn't torture their goats before they sacrificed them, so why did God feel the need to have Jesus tortured first? I guess ancient tribal gods of war just have a vicious streak in them.
Of course Christians like O'Farrell believe the actions of God and Jesus were noble and loving, but I'd hate to see a father treat his son the way God treated Jesus. O'Farrell says that, 'We believe Christ volunteered to, so to speak, "carry our sins into the desert", that He did this long ago without any urging from you or me, that He returned in excellent condition and that He now asks us whether the sins He bore included ours. We say Yes, not to be cruel, but out of common sense and awe-struck gratitude. It would be unspeakably stupid to say No'.
Since Jesus has been in hiding for the last two thousand years, how do we know he returned from his brush with death in 'excellent condition', and again, if he did survive his death, then there was no sacrifice. Remember that the argument is that there had to be this sacrifice for the trick to work, so without the sacrifice, how can our sins be forgiven? Furthermore, while Jesus has my phone number and address, he has not asked me whether the sins he carried might have included mine. Why not? I'm guessing O'Farrell is fudging the truth a bit, and means that a character in an old book has asked if we will give our lives over to him. O'Farrell reckons 'It would be unspeakably stupid to say No'. But what about other old books, there's a character, a god called Allah, in another old book called the Quran that asks if we will give our lives over to him. Plus he promises 72 virgins as an incentive. By the same logic, shouldn't O'Farrell answer, 'It would be unspeakably stupid to say No'. Why is O'Farrell willing to scoff at demands made by gods in untold holy books, and yet blindly gives his life over to a long dead Jewish carpenter who was executed for sedition by the Romans, a man that never left a thing for us to read, and by all reliable accounts likely never even existed?
So in conclusion, O'Farrell's criticism of some of the other things atheists often say fails badly. That said, his flawed arguments no doubt console tormented Christians, those worried that they can't respond rationally to questions from atheists — Seriously, you're saying the only way God could think of forgiving me for taking the last chocolate was to murder his son?
|Are atheists using God's morals?|
Our last post looked at part one of Gavan O'Farrell's series of articles entitled, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be', which is described as,
'A four part series by Gavan O'Farrell, who works as a public sector lawyer at the Parliamentary Council Office drafting legislation. Raised and educated as a Catholic, he studied law and philosophy and has completed half of a Master of Divinity. He became a fully conscious committed Christian among evangelicals at university and has straddled the Catholic and evangelical environments ever since.'This post will look at part two, 'Morality and the Human Being', where the crux of his article is that everyone gets their morals, and that includes atheists, from an invisible space wizard, or as Christians call him, God, or sometimes Jesus. They're a little confused as to who's really in charge, often jumping from one to the other and back again in the same argument. Then sometimes they insist they're the same person, just in disguise, while at other times they claim categorically that one is the father and the other is the son. It pays not to quiz Christians on this identity problem, they can get a little tetchy.
O'Farrell starts his article by reminding his readers as to the true nature of atheists: 'Atheists say that Christians often accuse them of being wicked'. His next sentence then almost suggests that this is a malicious lie spread by atheists to denigrate Christians: 'Such an accusation (which I've personally never heard in New Zealand) is not only rude but false: it is quite apparent that many atheists are very moral people'.
O'Farrell acts mystified as to why atheists would even suggest that loving Christians might think them wicked. Of course O'Farrell should be well aware of where the accusation of wicked atheists arose — the Bible (although he may not be, since many Christians are quite ignorant of much of what their favourite book says). So for O'Farrell's enlightenment, here is one example of how his God views atheists: 'The fool says in his heart, "There is no God". They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.' PS 14:1.
So surely this raises a huge problem, since how can O'Farrell insist that 'many atheists are very moral people', when God, his god, is asserting that we're all corrupt and vile, eg wicked. Surely an all-knowing god knows more about atheists than does a lawyer in Wellington? Shouldn't O'Farrell be meekly deferring to God's wisdom? Are we to believe O'Farrell's implication that God is wrong about the morals of atheists? Can an omniscient God even be wrong?
But while O'Farrell disagrees with God and insists atheists can be moral, he believes there is a more pressing problem (of course God may think otherwise). The problem apparently is that 'atheists cannot explain their morals. The morals of virtually all atheists are inherited from Christianity'. By this he means that while many atheists are moral, the morals we live by are not part of some unique moral code discovered and adopted by atheists independent of God and the Bible, they are simply morals we've stolen from Christians and called our own.
This problem with morals and O'Farrell's accusation of theft is often broken into two separate parts by Christians. In the past they argued that atheists (like animals) simply lacked morals, end of story. This worked for millennia. But especially in recent times there arose Christians like Gavan O'Farrell who recognised that most atheists were as moral as Christians, often more so. How could this be? The answer settled on by mystified Christians is that immoral atheists must have stolen God's moral code and are using it to make ourselves appear moral, at least in public.
Looking at the first part, Christians throughout history have usually claimed that atheists are immoral because God said we were, and God should know, or we were at the very least amoral, thus there was never a need for Christians to explain how atheists could have a moral code because clearly we didn't. Not only did we lack morality, it was impossible for us to find or devise a moral code independent of God because only God could dictate what was right and wrong, and that covers the entire Goddamn universe, not just some backwater in the Middle East several thousand years ago. And again they knew this because God said so. But clearly this is bullshit, or at least it is to anyone whose study of ancient history goes further back than the mythical birth of the world's first nudists, Adam and Eve, or extends beyond the desert that Moses and his followers got lost in for thirty years.
It's an obvious fact that many cultures and civilisations developed their own set of morals long before the Hebrews arose and devised their list, so you could argue that the Hebrews merely cherry picked morals from neighbouring cultures and called them their own. Like the way they likely plagiarised the old Sumerian flood myth — Epic of Gilgamesh — and rewrote it with Noah as the star. Also cultures and civilisations that were contemporary with the Hebrews, or arose later in history, but were geographically isolated and thus had no knowledge of what the Hebrews believed, also managed to independently develop their own set of morals. The claim that ancient man could not devise a set of morals, and needed God to hand them out on stone tablets, is a childish nonsense, obvious to anyone who has studied a little ancient history. Does anyone seriously believe that the ancient Hebrews were the first and only people to think that perhaps wanton killing and stealing made things worse, not better? Well, if the Bible is true, actually even they weren't bright even to realise that, they had to be repeatedly told by their god, and even then it didn't sink in, the Bible and the history of the Hebrews is one of the most bloodthirsty books you can read. So clearly there's plenty of evidence that people can come up with a moral code independent of the Hebrew God. The most you could argue is whether these alternative moral codes were actually ethical. Is the behaviour they promote actually right and just? Let's remember that for most of history slavery and the stoning of witches was considered moral by Christians, and masturbation was immoral. Clearly, just because an ancient holy book written by a superstitious goat herder believes something is right or wrong doesn't mean it actually is.
So that takes us to the second part of O'Farrell's accusation. Contrary to the historical argument, clearly atheists (and untold non-Christian societies) have now somehow managed to produce a moral code, so where did we get it from? O'Farrell's answer — we stole it. Sure, he says 'inherited', but when you're accused of taking something from someone without permission, when you scrape off the serial numbers, repaint it in your team colours, and claim that you've always owned it, then that's theft in my book.
Normally accusations of theft, be it of a physical object or perhaps the answers to an exam, are usually proven when the object or answers can be shown to be identical to that which was stolen. So are my atheist morals quite distinct from Christian morals, or is my morality nothing but a cheap knockoff of God's original? But first, let's remind ourselves what morals are and what morality means. My dictionary defines morals as, 'Rules or habits of conduct, especially of sexual conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong'. So someone's morality is a kind of guidebook of rules that dictates how they conduct themselves when confronted with life. A situation arises and they ask themselves what is the right or good or just behaviour that they should perform. They consult their code of morals, usually stored in their head, and act accordingly. Of course we've already established that every culture and society throughout history has developed their own moral code, and every individual within these societies will have held their own unique version of their societies' code, but just having a moral code doesn't mean that your morals are actually good and just, as I'll show in a moment. Right now we're simply trying to determine if, as O'Farrell claims, the atheist and the Christian moral codes are actually the same moral code.
I believe I have my own moral code that is utterly divorced from God, a code I have settled on based on ethics, fairness, equality, justice and not doing harm to others. The source of my morality is the application of reason and emotion on observing how various behaviours impact others in society. With the help of others who have thought far deeper on these matters than I ever could, I have adopted an evolving code of behaviour that I feel truly represents what is right and good and just. For most of my choices I can provide rational reasons, but there are some situations for which I can do no more than simply say I feel that this action is right and that action wrong. This would be where O'Farrell would likely argue that I'm unknowingly falling back on Biblical morals that, thanks to society, I've been immersed in and influenced by all my life, whether I realise it or not. Or perhaps that God is whispering in my ear. I disagree, but let's assume for the moment that he's correct, that the source of my morals is indeed the Bible, that I am unknowingly following God's Word and deluding myself into believing that I reached these moral decisions on my own.
It's very simple to test, since if O'Farrell is correct, then regardless of how I decided whether some action is moral or immoral, my answer should clearly match the answer that has already been provided by God, and written down in his Holy book. If, as O'Farrell says, 'The morals of virtually all atheists are inherited from Christianity', then my morals should align precisely with Christian morals, we'll both agree that homosexuals are an abomination and must die. My morals should match the morals Christianity has been promoting for the last 2,000 years, the morals that Jesus held fast to, the morals set down by the God of the Hebrews and set forth in the Bible. And we should mention that Christians often insist that the word of Jesus and the New Testament supersedes all of God's commandments — God's moral code — that are found in the Old Testament, but they conveniently ignore the bit where Jesus himself said:
'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.' (MT 5:17-20)
They also conveniently forget to remind us that their famous list, the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, the supposed core of their moral code, is in the Old Testament, the embarrassing part of their Bible they're urging us to ignore. And even though the Ten Commandments form the very basis of their morality, I've yet to meet a Christian who can list all ten, most can't get more than five, and it gets much worse, since there are actually 613 moral commandments from God in the Bible, not just ten. Christians love to say they have the one and only true moral code, they just can't be bothered to actually read it and remember it.
But Christian ignorance aside, the fact remains that we atheists do have access to God's moral code in the form of his Holy Book, and no, I didn't steal it. We can do an atheist versus Christian comparison and see where we stand on moral issues.
So let's look at some moral questions that I as an atheist have clear views on. I've chosen these because we have unambiguous answers in the Bible as to what God's view is, all these matters are clearly explained in his moral code. After reading the Bible (as surely they have ... snigger, snigger) believers should have no confusion as to how they must respond. How might their answers compare to mine?
And here's the thing, in the Bible, the book that Christians insist is the source of their moral code, every one of those questions is answered 'Yes!, most definitely Yes!'; it is right to own slaves, you're doing good by killing disobedient children and homosexuals (it's your duty in fact), women are dirty, unclean property of their husbands that must remain silent in public, we should we hate our parents. Yes to all those questions.
So how can O'Farrell be right when he says my moral choices come from his God's moral code when his God and I disagree on every single question? We couldn't be more at odds. It's like O'Farrell is arguing that black is white. I could accept O'Farrell arguing that in his view my answers to those moral questions are wrong, but to argue that I actually agree with God's view on the likes of slavery and the stoning of witches is just nonsensical. Surely O'Farrell can't be that stupid as to argue that atheists and God are on the same page regarding morals? Even a child could quickly understand that the God of the Bible and atheists are at odds concerning how we should treat slaves, witches and homosexuals.
What I believe O'Farrell is trying to do is create a deceptive argument. He knows all too well that God thinks slavery is perfectly OK. Nothing wrong with it. He also knows your typical atheist abhors slavery and believes it to be immoral. So clearly God and atheists disagree and have opposing moral views. So what O'Farrell does is he takes God and his odious morals out of the argument, he hides him by replacing God with Christians. Instead of stating how God says we should behave, he states how Christians say we should behave, and not ignorant Christians from history, but typical touchy-feely Christians living in modern, secular societies. Now it's no longer about what God demands, it's just about what Christians think we should do. It's no longer a straightforward, unambiguous order from God, it's morphed into opinions expressed by his followers, it's about how Christians view the modern world and their new take on ethics. God has been pushed into a back room and gagged. God's followers are taking Christianity down a new path, and to hell with what he thinks. His time is past, Christianity is under new management.
Run through those above questions with a typical Christian and he or she will give the same response as an atheist. I've never met a Christian that wouldn't answer "no" to every question, most would even angrily accuse me of being offensive by posing such questions, since they'd reply that naturally no decent, moral person would ever answer in the affirmative.
So now we have both Christians and atheists agreeing on moral issues, that slavery is wrong and we shouldn't hate our parents just because Jesus orders us to. But the truly devious move on O'Farrell's part is that he argues that atheists are copying the moral stance of Christians, when clearly it's Christians who are rejecting the moral stance set forth by their God and are instead accepting that the moral stance that atheist's promote is the right and just one.
So that's the problem that Christians must confront. There are untold life situations that will, if God's moral code is followed, lead to specific behaviour, for example, they must support slavery and murder homosexuals. And yet when we look at your typical Christian, their daily behaviour, in every single case, leads in fact to the completely opposite behaviour to that dictated by their God. So when a Christian claims that his moral code comes from God, clearly it doesn't, because he would be one evil, disgusting, son of a bitch if it did. Think about it, could you be friends with anyone who answered "Yes" to the above questions, even just one of them?
I have good friends who are Christian, and we respect each other because we have essentially the same morals. We have the same morals because they have rejected the disgusting morals found in their Bible, as well as the silly myths. They are Christian by name but atheist by deed.
But the embarrassing fact remains, considering the above 15 moral questions (and many more), your typical Christian will quickly ignore God's clear moral imperatives and live his life based on morals that can be found nowhere in the Bible. So where does this modern non-Biblical moral code come from, one that's contradictory to God's, if the Christian argument is that there can only be one source of morals, and that's from God, and any other moral code, one worth living, is impossible? We'll consider the source shortly, but actually it doesn't even matter where this alternative code of morals comes from, the fact that it clearly exists and is embraced by Christians as a better alternative shows that moral codes other than God's are clearly possible. And not just possible, preferable, even with Christians.
So morals other than those from the Bible clearly exist, morals that are considered right, just and good not just by atheists, but even by Christians. Modern society runs on secular morals not Biblical morals. Let's recall that it's not just atheists saying that God was badly mistaken, and that slavery is actually wrong, that witches shouldn't be burnt at the stake and women shouldn't be the submissive property of men, Christians are saying the same things. It's really quite silly for Christians to act all confused about how atheists can possibly have a moral code that doesn't come from the Bible when their basic moral code is essentially the same moral code as adopted by most atheists, one that rests on the evidence, that there is no god and we humans have to work out our own code to allow a peaceful and beneficial coexistence.
It's amazing that Christians are too stupid to see that they're ignoring most of God's moral code, certainly most of the important bits, and are actually adopting the moral code that most atheists follow, not the other way around as O'Farrell claims. They're living a life that if their God actually existed would see them tortured for all eternity. They're too stupid to realise that their moral code is something that they personally design, based on emotion, reason and how society functions, it doesn't come from a boring old book that they haven't even bothered to read. When asked if slavery is OK or if killing homosexuals is justified or if punishing a child for a parent's crime is fair, they don't grab their Bible, they instead think about it and discuss it and make their own decision. They almost always reach a view in total opposition to that of their God, and live their life based on that atheistic view, and yet they childishly tell themselves that the view they hold is one that God told them to hold, and would approve of. I know how people can delude others, but how do they delude themselves?
O'Farrell then goes on with the claim that 'Most atheists say they are moral relativists, who believe ... it is impossible to judge another society, no matter what it does, because there is no objective global standard'. He also correctly notes, in an attempt to imply how silly atheists must be, that 'moral relativism has long been discredited in philosophical circles'. While there may well be some atheists who are moral relativists, I've never met one, I'm certainly not one, and atheist discourse would suggest that most atheists are anything but moral relativists. Atheists raise the ire of Christians and Muslims because we categorically state that persecution of homosexuals and women is wrong, that stoning apostates to death is wrong, that banning condoms in AIDS ravaged countries is wrong, that denying abortion to women is wrong etc. If we were moral relativists then we would simply ignore what other individuals, religions and societies were doing, saying that it's not our place to judge the behaviour of others. The reality is that atheists can and do judge others even though, unlike religions, we don't claim to have knowledge of some objective global standard. Call us arrogant, but we just think priests raping children is wrong, and we don't feel we need to ask some god what he thinks before we'll take action.
O'Farrell then notes that:
'Some atheists believe that basic "moral" behaviours (eg altruism) evolved in order for societies (or humanity itself) to survive. I accept evolution, but it just "happens", it doesn't give value and has no authority. We don't obey moral rules (eg behave altruistically) just because we find them in our midst. We need a reason to obey them. If we are urged to obey for the sake of the survival of humanity, we can still ask why humanity "should" survive. There is an epic urge to survive, but this is different from "should"'.Unlike O'Farrell and other Christians I don't need an 'authority' to tell me not to torture kittens. Christians seem to be at a loss on how to behave morally if they don't have the absolute authority of God laying down the correct behaviour. A happy kitten has value to me, even though evolution doesn't demand that I not harm it. O'Farrell suggests that without God's instruction not to kill others we have no reason not to, and yet I can think of many reasons not to go on a killing spree. I can likewise think of many reasons why I'd like humanity to survive, prime being that I like being alive. Christians have this slavish attitude that they're only here to serve their God, and they see no reason to exist if their God doesn't. They want some authority to order them around, to give them reasons to do one thing rather than another, they're apparently totally unable to decide how to lead a good life by themselves. Pitiful really.
Next we read that 'the atheist tells us that human beings are no more than the latest gorilla upgrade, the planet's most complex organism and top predator and that each of us is a mixed bag of kindness and malice. If this is all a human is, it makes equal sense to hate them as to love them'.
O'Farrell is correct (almost) about the 'gorilla upgrade' (he makes the Christian mistake of saying we evolved from gorillas, usually they say monkeys, whereas we actually all evolved from an ape-like ancestor), but he's deceptive in suggesting that atheists also believe that as humans go, 'it makes equal sense to hate them as to love them'. For all our potential human flaws, atheists love our fellow humans far more than we hate some of them, like child-abusing priests and suicide bombers killing in the name of God. He shouldn't pretend we say things we don't just to make us look unworthy of respect. He goes on to say that 'Atheists talk about justice because they believe in equality', but then ruins it all with the childish argument that 'the evidence says people are not equal ... there are also real inherent superiorities (eg intelligence, strength, agility, prowess, disposition)'. I can't believe this guy's a lawyer! (or are his arguments misleading because he's a lawyer?) How could he honestly argue that atheists think people are equal, meaning that we think all humans are absolutely identical? It's clear to even children that men and women have differences, not even identical twins are 100% identical. Clearly when atheists argue for justice based on equality we don't mean everyone must be treated the same because we're all the same height. These are what's known as straw man arguments, where someone falsely claims that their opponent believes something quite silly or simplistic, and they make them look foolish for holding that view, even though in reality they don't. It's much easier to attack a straw man rather than your actual opponent.
I had to laugh on reading O'Farrell's next claim, where he says, 'We Christians believe each human being to be extremely significant and equally so, regardless of other characteristics, because we are made in God's image and likeness ... Loving people and giving them justice makes immediate sense because of what they are: a human being demands love and justice simply by being a human being'. All humans are equal? Has he not read his Bible? (Don't answer that.) The Hebrews were God's chosen people, how does this not make them superior to everyone else? God and his Hebrew followers slaughtered untold other civilisations comprised of humans, clearly these people weren't 'extremely significant and equally so' in the eyes of God. Read the bit about the ten plagues that God visited on the humans in Egypt, which was insignificant compared to the flood of Noah, where all the humans on the planet bar Noah and his family were drowned. Lot offered his two virginal daughters to a village mob to be raped to protect two men from the same fate. The welfare and protection of his daughters meant far less to him than that of two strangers, and yet O'Farrell argues that in God's world everyone can expect 'love and justice simply by being a human being'. Look at the lowly status of women in the entire Bible, nothing more than the unclean property of men, and of course humans that were also homosexual or non-believers or dabblers in magic were to be dragged to the village square and stoned. They weren't seen as being equal and worthy of love and justice. And then there were the slaves, who obviously weren't equal to their masters. Jesus said that those that didn't hate their parents, siblings and children could never be one of his followers. Not much love there. God, following the advice of Jesus I guess, had him tortured and murdered! A loving and just action? I don't think so, but then I'm an atheist.
Note that O'Farrell said that 'a human being demands love and justice simply by being a human being'. He then goes on to say that 'Secularists reject all this, of course, and have not yet identified (or even imagined) anything lovable to replace it. The basics of post-Christian secular morality are really a memory of Christianity'. What utter nonsense, and how confused O'Farrell is. It is atheists, or secularists as he's now calling us, that have fought for human rights, on the basis that being human is all that is required to demand equality and justice and love. Christianity on the other hand demands that you give your life to Jesus to receive his love, and if you don't submit then he'll torture you for all eternity. In the Christian world simply being human gives you no right to love and justice, you must first call him your lord and master and promise you'll stop eating shellfish and having sex just for the fun of it. Atheists aren't looking for another holy book to replace the Bible, we've found that as humans we can simply love our fellow humans, we don't need a god to give us instructions, or permission.
O'Farrell finishes by stating that, 'It may be that the atheists' difficulty in explaining the value of the individual human being has helped give rise to the new ethos, identity politics'. He condemns identity politics as dangerous because it ignores individuals and 'sees only groups', making reference to 'sex, "gender", sexual orientation, race'. Again, has he not read the Bible? It's identity politics from start to finish. The Hebrews are God's chosen group, and God commands they exterminate all the other groups. God demands that Hebrew men are circumcised so that he can tell them apart from other groups (he doesn't care about identifying the Hebrew women, since it's the job of the men to control their own property, such as their women, sheep and goats). Even the Hebrews themselves are separated into various groups, or 12 tribes. Woman are made subservient to men. Slaves are subservient to their masters. Homosexuals are made an abomination compared to heterosexuals. Men that injured their genitals were placed in another group, one unable to enter the temple to pray. It amazes me that O'Farrell can condemn identity politics in modern society and not see that identity politics in his beloved Bible, the book he wishes we'd all turn to, was far, far worse. And furthermore, it's irrelevant whether atheists can or cannot explain 'the value of the individual human being'. We are quite content to accept that every human has value and merit and worth; end of story. We don't need to explain it, anymore than we need to explain why we find a sunset beautiful. We just do. If I can't explain the value of my cell phone to O'Farrell's satisfaction, does that mean I'm forced to believe it was made by God? O'Farrell falls into this religious trap of always needing an answer, or more importantly, a commandment. O'Farrell can't accept that a human life has value until he reads in an old book that God said human life has value. Life can't just have value in and of itself, it must be placed there by God. For O'Farrell everything can be explained, but not by sinful, infallible humans, only by God. So no matter what the question, be it the origin of the universe or why a human life has value, when an atheist replies, 'I don't know' (yet), the Christian immediately feels superior, because he believes he does know the answer. The answer is God. But for an atheist, that explains nothing, it's no better than saying the answer is Zeus, or Harold.
But before I finish, I want to talk a little about the source of morals, not just for atheists, but everyone. Gavan O'Farrell accepts (how could he not?) that 'many atheists are very moral people', but questions how this is possible without moral guidance from his God. Where might our morals come from? He argues that we get them from Christianity, that we are unwitting Christians, denying the existence of God and Jesus, but at the same time leading a moral life thanks to an unrecognised infusion of God's morality. Living in a country and even a world that has undoubtedly been influenced by Christianity (for good and bad), how could we atheists not be familiar with God's morality? As I've said, I'm an atheist that knows all of the Ten Commandments (and ignores the majority of them), whereas family, friends and acquaintances who claim to be Christian are ignorant of the majority of them.
While clearly familiar with God's moral code, I've argued that it's blatantly obvious that we atheists are not following it. If we were we'd own slaves, execute homosexuals, shun shellfish and pork, persecute women, and work as a witch hunter, but not on the Sabbath. Instead we are outspoken in our opposition to God's moral code, saying it resembles the work of a devil rather than a loving, all-knowing god. So obviously our actions show we are not being influenced by the fact that we may have Christian neighbours.
Some Christians argue that even in our vocal denial of God, we atheists still act morally because God effectively whispers in our ear. When we encounter a moral quandary, and mentally debate what action to take, God makes us take the path that is right and just, even though we are unaware of his input. Of course if this were true then it raises two problems. First, as above, if God was making us unwittingly follow his moral code, then we'd be promoting slavery and hunting homosexuals, and clearly we're not. Second, if God was making our moral choices for us, then that means we don't have free will, we aren't making our own life choices, he's making them for us. We are nothing but robots. But Christians argue that humans most definitely have free will, in fact they use this fact to explain why there is evil in the world. God, so the Christian argument goes, gave us free will, gave us the ability to make our own choices, and that includes moral choices, and unfortunately that means some people make the wrong moral choices that result in evil actions. So when atheists act morally, when we oppose slavery and promote sexual equality and love our parents, then clearly we must be making free choices that were arrived at by independent thinking, with no helping hand from God.
So if not from God, either indirectly or directly, where do the morals that atheists clearly possess come from? One problem with phrasing the question like that is that Christians wrongly assume that the morals that atheists possess are the same morals that Christians posses, meaning that if we both have the same moral code then it's likely we both got it from the same source. But as I've argued, the morality of atheists is radically different, often in complete opposition, to God's morality. Most modern Christians only align themselves with the morality of most atheists because they have rejected their God's morality, but this shift has been so gradual that they don't realise they've changed camps. Their God demands they persecute homosexuals and subjugate women, and yet they stand alongside the atheist and say no, that attitudes like that aren't moral, they're immoral.
Rather than asking atheists where our morals come from, Christians should first be honestly asking themselves, 'Where do my morals come from?' By answering that question they will in the process learn where atheist morality comes from. They would discover that morality comes not from an unseen wizard that was written about in some ancient book, but that morality comes from within, that honest, informed, rational individuals observe society and judge how various interactions between individuals and groups affect their overall wellbeing. If we want to live in a civilised society where we feel safe and happy and contented, where we feel justice applies to everyone, and where individuals are free to make their own life choices, as long as those choices don't harm others, then free thinking individuals need to devise and agree on a code of conduct that brings this about. Morality is of our own making, that's why many of our current "morals" are quite different to that which were popular in the past, in the Middle Ages for example. Meaning it's no longer seen as moral to burn witches at the stake.
If most Christians (and Muslims, Jews, Hindus and believers of every stripe) just thought about it for a minute, they'd realise that their morals no longer come from a boring old book that they haven't even bothered to read all the way through. That their morals instead come from their own mind that has subconsciously accepted that it's time we stopped mistreating each other based on the barbaric ignorance of ancient goat herders. However true believers are not known for thinking too deeply about their religion, and the few that do still seem to get it horribly wrong.
Last Updated Oct 2019