Category : Atheism

William Witt–Why I Do Not Take the “New Atheism” Seriously: “Flying Spaghetti Monsters,” Orbiting Tea Pots, and Invisible Pink Unicorns

While the above responses do indeed point to weaknesses in arguments that compare the existence of God to “Flying Spaghetti Monsters” or orbiting tea pots, they do not specifically address what I think is the most important problem with the New Atheists, and that is that the very use of such arguments shows that the New Atheists do not know what they are talking about when they use the word “God.” What all of these New Atheist memes – invisible pink unicorns, “Flying Spaghetti Monsters,” orbiting tea pots – have in common is that they compare God to finite contingent physical objects existing within the known physical universe. God is understood to be one additional entity among others in the same way that an orbiting teapot would be one teapot among other non-orbiting teapots or a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” would be composed of “spaghetti,” a physical substance of which every grocery store has numerous items. (This is also evident in the New Atheist claim “I just believe in one less god than you do,” or the claim, “I don’t believe in the Christian god, but I don’t believe in Zeus or Thor either.”)

In the same way that an argument about Physics as a scientific discipline would have to address accurate accounts of the scientific discipline and not beliefs in phlogiston or physical reality being made of earth, fire, air, and water, New Atheist rejections of the Christian God at least should clearly show an understanding of what it is that Christians mean when they affirm that God exists. And no competent Christian theologian or philosopher has ever claimed that God is one finite contingent entity among others – another item existing within the physical universe. When the New Atheists say that they do not believe in God, comparisons to “Flying Spaghetti Monsters” and “orbiting tea pots” make clear that they do not know what they are talking about.

If one is going to deny the existence of God, then what needs to be denied is the God of historical Christian faith, and the place to turn for an account of this Christian God would be classic Christian theologians such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, John of Damascus or Thomas Aquinas, or even more contemporary theologians such as Karl Barth or Thomas F. Torrance (among Protestants), or (among Catholics) Hans Urs von Balthasar or Matthew Levering or numerous philosophical theologians such as David Burrell (my dissertation director) or Herbert McCabe, or Orthodox thinkers such as David Bentley Hart.

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Posted in Atheism, Theology

(Guardian) Terry Eagleton reviews ‘7 Types of Atheism’ by John Gray

Gray belongs to that group of contemporary thinkers, of whom George Steiner is the doyen, who disdain the secular but can’t quite drag themselves to the church or synagogue. They turn, instead, to a kind of transcendence without content, of which there is no finer example than what one might call Hollywood spirituality. Those celebrities who dabble in Kabbalah or Scientology do so as a refuge from a material world crammed with too many chauffeurs, masseurs, bank accounts and swimming pools. The spiritual for them is the opposite of the material, a mistake that Gray also makes in his less luxury-laden way. This is not the view of Judaeo-Christianity. When Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, he speaks as a devout Jew, for whom the spiritual is in the first place a matter of how one behaves towards others. Those who seek some otherworldly comfort in religion are apparently deaf to Jesus’s warning to his followers that if they were true to his word they would meet with the same fate as himself.

Another aspect of Judaism is its iconoclasm. You are forbidden to make images of God, because the only image of God is human flesh and blood. But since the Jewish God is the God of the future, you are equally prohibited from making graven images of what is still to come. Besides, if you can represent the future here and now, then it can’t be the future. Gray, with his aversion to utopian blueprints, would surely agree. What he might be slower to concede is that the only image of the future is the failure of the present. The task of the Old Testament prophet is to remind his people that unless they change their ways here and now, protecting the poor from the violence of the rich and providing for the widows and the orphans, there won’t be any future worth having. Marx, a secular Jew who urged his wife to read the Hebrew scriptures, was true to this ban on visions of the future. In fact, his work is notorious for how little it has to say about the nature of communism. For a writer who began his career in fierce contention with utopian thought, this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that the viscerally anti-Marxist Gray doesn’t see fit to mention it.

Seven Types of Atheism is an impressively erudite work, ranging from the Gnostics to Joseph Conrad, St Augustine to Bertrand Russell. In the end, it settles for a brand of atheism that finds enough mystery in the material world itself without needing to supplement it with a higher one. Yet this, too, is just as much a throwback to the Victorian age as Dawkins’s evangelical campaign against religious evangelism. Authors such as George Eliot, reeling from the death of God, took solace in the unfathomable intricacies of the universe. Gray condemns secular humanism as the continuation of religion by other means, but his own faith in some vague, inexplicable enigma beyond the material is open to exactly the same charge.

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Posted in Atheism, Books

(ABC Aus.) Stanley Hauerwas–The Only Road to Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nonviolence

Of all the silly claims sometimes made by atheists these days, surely one of the silliest is that Christianity was in no way determinative of the politics of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Just take Christopher Hitchens’s claim that, on account of King’s commitment to nonviolence, in “no real as opposed to nominal sense … was he a Christian.” Wherever King got his understanding of nonviolence from, argues Hitchens, it simply could not have been from Christianity because Christianity is inherently violent.

The best response that I can give to such claims is turn to that wonderfully candid account of the diverse influences that shaped King’s understanding of nonviolence in his Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, and then demonstrate how his Christianity gave these influences in peculiarly Christ-like form.

King reports as a college student he was moved when he read Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. Thoreau convinced him that anyone who passively accepts evil, even oppressed people who cooperate with an evil system, are as implicated with evil as those who perpetrate it. Accordingly, if we are to be true to our conscience and true to God, a righteous man has no alternative but to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Atheism, Christology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(Oxford Handbook of Atheism) What is the relationship between cinema and atheism? A look at the religious dimensions of cinema

We live in a world utterly saturated with images, many of them moving. We tend to believe reportage and footage because we think that the camera never lies, and we sometimes tend to forget that images are shaped and chosen in the name of a particular agenda. At the same time, fiction films offer a kind of desirable escape from the drudgeries of work—not to mention the worship of actors and actresses who often appear as a set of contemporary gods and goddesses, though more in the Greek mode than the Christian, with their fallibilities and sex-lives up for exposure and discussion. There is cinema that is explicitly anti-religious (often ‘factual’ or documentary) and there is cinema (often ‘fictional’) that is a-religious or secular. But very little cinema that is perhaps truly atheist in both form and content, in the sense that it breaks with both the need to ‘believe’ (in a story, in a character) or the desire to forget about the apparatus and technology of cinema itself (would we be happy to watch a film that constantly drew attention to the fact that it was a film, that it was being played over a projector, that it involved a certain number of crew-members, and so on? Of course many films have drawn attention to their conditions of production, but only on rare occasions). One may easily be an atheist in the sense of not believing in God or gods, but one may have harder time denying one’s faith in the moving image.

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Posted in Atheism, History, Movies & Television, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(WEF) The world’s most atheistic places, mapped

China is the world’s least religious country, according to a survey by WIN/Gallup International. Only 9% of the country considers itself religious, while 67% claims to be atheist – more than twice the amount of any other country.

The data, which is based on a survey of more than 66,000 people in 68 countries, suggests a further 23% of Chinese people are non-religious. The results reflect attitudes towards religion in the country, as education rules introduced in China last year said parents should not promote hardline religious beliefs in children or make them dress in specific clothing. The new regulations also banned any form of religious activity in schools.

Sweden, the Czech Republic and the UK are the next least religious countries. In Sweden, 18% of people define themselves as atheist and 55% as non-religious, while the Czech Republic is 25% atheist and 47% non-religious. In the UK, 11% of people claim to be atheist and 58% non-religious.

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Posted in Atheism, Globalization, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(Veritas Forum) How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus

From there, I started a rigorous diet of theology, reading the Bible and exploring theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Ramsey, and F.D. Maurice. Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. As a historian, this made profound sense to me. I was too aware of the cycles of poverty, violence and injustice in human history to think that some utopian design of our own, scientific or otherwise, might save us.

Christianity was also, to my surprise, radical – far more radical than the leftist ideologies with which I had previously been enamored. The love of God was unlike anything which I expected, or of which I could make sense. In becoming fully human in Jesus, God behaved decidedly unlike a god. Why deign to walk through death’s dark valley, or hold the weeping limbs of lepers, if you are God? Why submit to humiliation and death on a cross, in order to save those who hate you? God suffered punishment in our place because of a radical love. This sacrificial love is utterly opposed to the individualism, consumerism, exploitation, and objectification, of our culture.

Just as radical, I realized, was the new creation which Christ began to initiate. This turned on its head the sentimental caricature of ‘heaven’ I’d once held as an atheist.

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Posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Other Faiths, Theology

(538) How culturally significant a part of American society are Atheists?

After signing an executive order earlier this month that seeks to relax restrictions on the political activities of tax-exempt churches, President Trump said the order was an important affirmation of the American identity. “We’re a nation of believers,” he said. Trump is right in one sense — 69 percent of Americans say a belief in God is an important part of being American — but he’s wrong demographically: Atheists constitute a culturally significant part of American society.

We’re not sure how significant, though. The number of atheists in the U.S. is still a matter of considerable debate. Recent surveys have found that only about one in 10 Americans report that they do not believe in God, and only about 3 percent identify as atheist. But a new study suggests that the true number of atheists could be much larger, perhaps even 10 times larger than previously estimated.

The authors of the study, published earlier this year, adopted a novel way to measure atheist identity. Instead of asking about belief in God directly, they provided a list of seemingly innocuous statements and then asked: “How many of these statements are true of you?” Respondents in a control group were given a list of nine statements, such as “I own a dog” and “I am a vegetarian.” The test group received all the same statements plus one that read, “I do not believe in God.” The totals from the test group were then compared to those from the control group, allowing researchers to estimate the number of people who identify as atheists without requiring any of the respondents to directly state that they don’t believe in God.1 The study concludes that roughly one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans likely do not believe in God.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Atheism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Sweden opens its first cemetery free of religious symbols

“People can decide for themselves what their graves should look like, but the cemetery will be free of all religious and nationalist symbols,” said Erdem.

He also stressed that the cemetery wasn’t just for atheists. Believers too could apply to be buried there, as long as they were happy to keep the religious element of their identity out of sight.

Located close to the city’s Stora Tuna church, the cemetery remains empty for now, but several locals have expressed an interest.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, Death / Burial / Funerals, Europe, Other Faiths, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Sweden, Theology

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Terry Eagleton presents an unusual challenge to the new atheism

Where the new atheists go wrong, Mr Eagleton says, is in failing to see the symbiotic relationship between the Western world, with all its technological and cultural prowess, and the advent of global jihadism. To back up that point, he might have been expected to focus on America’s cold-war role in south Asia, supporting holy war in Afghanistan and treating President Zia-ul-Haq, who took Pakistan down an Islamist path, as a strategic ally. Instead he chose an example a little further to the east:

In the earlier decades of the 20th century, the rolling back of liberal, secular and left-nationalist forces in the Muslim world by the West for its own imperial purposes (it supported the massacre of half a million leftists in Indonesia, for example) created a political vacuum in that vital geopolitical region into which Islamism was able to move.

In other words, to the new-atheist characterisation of militant Islam as “all their fault”, a new, gratuitous form of evil in the world which must simply be resisted rather than understood or analysed, Mr Eagleton counter-proposes something more like “it’s all our fault.” He is not, of course, the only leftist thinker to make that argument.

Mr Eagleton is eloquent when he elaborates on the enduring power of faith as a source of cohesion and inspiration in most human societies. But both he and his new-atheist adversaries can sometimes fall into the trap of bunching together different forms of religion. Religion can do (and mostly does) the commendable job of connecting people’s everyday lives and actions with great imperishable truths, without inspiring them to go out and kill themselves and other people. Indeed it can often be a powerful restraint on people’s impulse to engage in that sort of act. The discussion only becomes interesting when you acknowledge that religion can have diametrically opposing effects, in different circumstances, and ask why this is so.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, History, Islam, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Touchstone) Jordan Bissell–The True Atheist Myth

In a review of Alister McGrath’s recent book, The Big Question, Barbara King, a professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, takes issue with McGrath’s characterization of atheism as lacking the meaning which, McGrath contends, can be found in a religious, and specifically Christian, worldview. That the philosophical implications of atheism should doom the atheist to an arid and desolate existence, King contends, is an unkillable myth: a shibboleth of the faithful as buoyant but as false as the contention that Darwin experienced a deathbed conversion. King ends her article by wondering, “How to make this unkillable myth about atheism into a moribund myth?”

But at least part of the reason this myth about atheists remains unkillable is the fact that so many atheists themselves have espoused it. Indeed, if we tour the last three centuries of pronouncements on the question of meaning, we discover just how much the lungs of atheists have given wind to these sails.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, Books, Other Faiths

(WSJ) Eric Metaxas–Are Atheists Afraid of God?

I have some history with Mr. [Lawrence] Krauss. In an op-ed in 2014 for this newspaper called “Is Science Increasingly Leading Us to God?” I discussed the implications of a fine-tuned universe””and stirred up swirling dust-devils of atheist outrage. Mr. Krauss attacked the op-ed in the New Yorker magazine with an essay called “No, Astrobiology Has Not Made the Case for God,” dismissing the idea of a divinely ordered universe as sheer nonsense.

How awkward. None other than Christopher Hitchens himself had taken the fine-tuned-universe argument seriously. In the 2009 documentary “Collision,” about his encounters with evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, Hitchens says: “At some point, certainly, we [atheists] are all asked which is the best argument you come up against from the other side. I think every one of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing,” adding that “you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not . . . trivial.”

If atheist activists want to be taken seriously, they must be willing to engage the facts. The fact is that Mr. Taunton has simply said that Hitchens late in life was “not certain” of his atheism. Unable to tolerate this crack in the atheist facade, Mr. Taunton’s critics reacted hysterically. The response lent credence to what many of us suspect””that atheists really do fear some facts, and, more than that, fear where those facts might lead.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Apologetics, Atheism, Books, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(RNS) Reason Rally organizes the atheist vote

The steps of the Lincoln Memorial have seen civil rights demonstrations for decades, notably the 1963 March on Washington, in which African-Americans demanded civil and economic rights, but also in the 1990s as LGBT groups demanded an end to discrimination.

On Saturday (June 4), another group will gather at those same steps. Atheists, agnostics, humanists and other so-called religious nones are converging for the Reason Rally, which according to its website aims to be “the biggest gathering of nonreligious people in history.”

The rally’s main goal is to show that nonbelievers have the numbers, the clout and the organizational skills to be a voting bloc worth courting in the November election.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Atheism, History, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CT) Nicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

I should say here I am a happy, even-keeled soul. If this were the Middle Ages, I would be in a book under the heading “The Four Humors: Sanguine/Phlegmatic.”

Therefore, it was very unsettling to suddenly feel like a boat being tossed on the waves. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t frightened””I just had too many feelings. I decided to buy a Dallas Willard book to read anthropologically, of course. I read his Hearing God. I cried. I bought Lewis Smedes’s My God and I. I cried. I bought Sara Miles’s Take This Bread. I cried. It was getting out of hand. You just can’t go around crying all the time.

At this point, I reached a crossroads. I sat myself down and said: Okay, Nicole, you have two choices. Option One: you can stop reading books about Jesus. Option Two: you could think with greater intention about why you are overwhelmed by your emotions. It occurred to me that if Option Two proved fruitless, I could always return to Option One. So I emailed a friend who is a Christian, and I asked if we could talk about Jesus.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, Christology, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology

(Tel.) Christopher Howse–God is no thing, but he is in charge of things

of course, it is meant to be provoking: God Is No Thing ”“ the title of Rupert Shortt’s very condensed new book. “The Creator represented in orthodox teaching is not a thing, or any part of reality as we understand it,” he says.

It is true that, if you made a catalogue of all the things in the universe, God would not be listed, but he is certainly real, more real than any thing. He is, if you like, pure act, indeed, someone went as far as to say he is a verb rather than a noun. But what kind of reality does he have?

One word that is attached to the reality of God is transcendent ”“ he is like goodness and truth and life, only more so. But as Rupert Shortt, the religion editor at the TLS, reminds us, God is also, in the words of St Augustine of Hippo, closer to us than we are to ourselves. That closeness is sometimes called immanence, though it is nothing like the windy imaginings of Hegel, who need not come into this conversation.

Shortt wishes to make God’s lack of thinginess part of the Christian response to the New Atheism….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Apologetics, Atheism, Books, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(NYT Beliefs) Christopher Hitchens Was Shaky in His Atheism, New Book Suggests

…in an article by the Religion News Service last month, friends of Mr. Hitchens took exception with the book’s conclusions.

Steve Wasserman, a literary agent and editor, and an executor of Mr. Hitchens’s estate, described the book as “a shabby business” in which “unverifiable conversations” are made to “contradict everything Christopher Hitchens ever said or stood for.”

Having evangelical friends is a testament to Mr. Hitchens’s “intellectual tolerance and largeness of heart, not to any covert religiosity,” Benjamin Schwarz, his former editor at The Atlantic, was quoted as saying.

In an interview, Mr. Taunton said that his rather modest claims were being misunderstood.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, Books, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture