Atheists: What Gets Them Out of Bed in the Morning?

Mark 9:24 “And the father immediately cried out “Lord I believe!  Help my unbelief!”

Mary and I DVR “Nightline”, but we only watch it intermittently.  One we did watch had a segment on Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation”.  Mr. Harris is a good-looking, 43 year-old with a B.A. in Philosophy from Stanford and a Ph.D. in progress in Neuroscience.  He is in the vanguard of “militant atheists” that include Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and apparently makes his primary living giving lectures and seminars promoting his anti-religion agenda.  There was a brief clip of him doing a slide show, and telling his audience “If you think I’m just picking on Islam… (new slide with picture of Pope Benedict) the Catholic Church is part of the problem too.”  There were several sound bites, one of him saying (I paraphrase) “When a Pentacostal send me an email saying in all caps “THE TOMB WAS EMPTY ON THE THIRD DAY” pfft (disparaging wave of hand), but when an esteemed philosopher or scientist has something to say, I have to listen .”  Mr. Harris was concerned that his latest book “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Value” was getting a lot of blowback from scientists who refute his thesis that moral values should be determined inside the paradigm of science, not religion.  The segment left me kind of feeling hollow and sad.  For instance, we learned that Mr. Harris travels with a lot of security, and that his family lives in seclusion for their protection, apparently out of fear from religious zealots.  It is quite obvious that he thinks religion is a bad thing, and is very energetic and passionate in refuting it.  No doubt extremism, the Crusades, the Inquisition – all the evils throughout history in the name of organized religion – come up in his presentations.  I would doubt the tremendously greater good done (e.g. the Catholic Church came up with the ideas of hospitals and education for the common man) is part of his slide show.  I haven’t read any of Mr. Harris’ writings, so I can’t comment on them – and I don’t intend to read them – but I do wonder where passion comes from.  The argument of the double-digit IQ pointed, gullible believer goes off the rails immediately when you point out believers like Einstein, C. S. Lewis, and C. K. Chesterton.

Recently on “The O’Reilly Factor”, the president of the American Atheists Dave Silverman was a guest.  Their latest billboard in the Northeast has the symbols of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity on it and is captioned “You Know It’s All A Scam”.  Bill O’Reilly led the interview with “80% of the American people belong to these religions, why would you want to insult them?”  Silverman denied the intent was to insult anybody, and a very entertaining if head-scratching series of exchanges resulted.  At one point Silverman said “I know religion is a scam” and O’Reilly countered “No, that’s what you believe, not what you know.”  Silverman retorted, eyes bulging “No, I KNOW religion is a scam!”  All I can say is if his intent was to persuade religionists to become atheists, I don’t think he did a very good job.   In fairness to Mr. Silverman, the opportunity to state his cause in front of millions probably had his adrenaline pumping a little bit.  Bill O’Reilly too muddied the waters with an attempt to invoke intelligent design by talking about the tide coming in and out, which came across as oblique.   If there is an atheist equivalent of Dr. Scott Hahn, a debate between that person and Dr. Hahn would be worth pay-per-view I think.

Of course God’s existence or non-existence cannot be known in the scientific sense.  You can say you KNOW, but you in doing so are just emphasizing the depth of your belief.  I think the crux of the problem is beautifully captured in Mark’s Gospel with the possessed boy’s father.  If we lead with reason to bring us to belief we stumble, but if we believe reason can lead us to strengthened belief.  Yes Lord, I believe, now help me overcome the stumbling blocks to belief reason puts in my path.  There are reasons to believe, which Dr. Hahn details in the appropriately titled book “Reasons to Believe”.  Pure reason leads us to the premise that something cannot come from nothing, that all things have a beginning and an end, which means there should just be a Great Nullility, a matterless void – which in itself is something, and – ow!  My head hurts!  Keep pushing it and I’ll self-destruct like that alien drone probe who got tricked into a logical loop by Captain Kirk on an old “Star Trek” episode (Shatner’s brain vs. advanced alien technological brain, Shatner wins?  Uh, never mind…).  But here we are, with our Burger Kings and smart phones and Barca Loungers, so we have a Great Mystery we can try to rationally explain (e.g. The Big Bang) but can never get totally to the bottom of.

If you point to the failings of “organized religion” as a reason to champion atheism, it’s easy to point out the pigeon poop on that statue in the park.  Nazism, the Russian Revolution, Mao, Kim Jong-Il  are all great examples of the less-than-noble results of “organized anti-religion”, a little short of the heaven on earth envisioned by humanists.  But all that aside, let’s pray for these poor dopes, who can’t be too happy with the belief that upon their death oblivion commences and their atoms are eventually dispersed and could end up anywhere, even (gulp!) in a tree whose wood ends up as part of an altar in a Catholic church or the door frame of synagogue.  That’s gotta hurt, in the immortal words of Bob Costas.

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One Comment on “Atheists: What Gets Them Out of Bed in the Morning?”

  1. Jeff Woelfer Says:

    Nicely done “T”. Love the ending – you should never tempt fate. An athiest being recycle as an altar is genius.

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