Discussions between Christians and atheists.

May 27, 2017

The Atheist’s Accusation

Very often in discussions between atheists and Christians, the Christians will assert that “atheists have no reason to be moral in the absence of God,” and then the atheists will often respond with: “if the only reason you are being moral is because you fear punishment or expect reward by your God, you are deplorable and not a really moral person at all. We atheists can act morally without regard to any God.”

This Wesleyan Christian’s Response

Aspects of Christian Faith and Living

An important consideration for the edification of the atheist, especially concerning Wesleyan Christian thinking (among that of many other Christians), would be to admit that a person might originally enter into Christianity out of fear of punishment, but then, as a result of the conversion, comes to experience the New Birth where eternal life is counted as obtained (and there is no longer any concern about reward) and all moral and loving acts ensue from a New Nature which excludes all calculations concerning condemnation or fear.* This New Nature is often expressed by the Wesleyan as: “while I am far from (moral) perfection, I am not as far as once I was; and I am on the way”. John Wesley put it this way: “what the gospel promises has been accomplished in my soul.”

* This assurance does not constitute any sort of license for lawless conduct, for, as Wesley stated: “I am saved from the fear, though not from the possibility, of a fall from grace.”

As a result then of the conversion, a Wesleyan Christian acts in reflection of his/her New Nature and not in order to manipulate God into any sort of favor.

Can an Atheist be moral and still consistent in his thinking?

It might also be helpful for the Christian in conversation with an atheist to try to put him/herself in the place of an atheist, e.g., “It’s very difficult for me to imagine how I would actually act absent my belief in God. In the first place I would have to try to grasp that in the materialist, atheist world people will have no more objective value than roaches or mailboxes, i.e., we would all be merely clouds of dancing atoms which will eventually dissipate and ‘leave not a rack behind.’

“Once I might fully grasp this I could then start thinking and acting like an atheist. The moral makeup of atheists can be pictured as a spectrum ranging from a rational, logical and consistent atheist at the one end, i.e., the ‘bold’ atheist (a la Ted Bundy, for example) who rejects all concern for any alleged morality (except possibly for public show and animal pity,* and who would want, of course, to be very careful about any unlawful activity); to, at the other end, being what might be called the ‘timid’ or ‘mild’ atheist who realizes (like all atheists) that there is no objective meaning to morality or dignity, and yet (unlike the bold atheists) goes on living morally anyway, at least for the most part and perhaps due to some animal pity or just due to habit (perhaps from having been reared in a theist culture) or by following Stephen Uhl’s ‘Golden Rule of  Enlightened Selfishness.’ I imagine presently that if I were an atheist I would be a timid atheist and act in accordance with the feelings of animal pity. However, if I had an opportunity to safely and profitably cheat someone for whom I might have no feelings of pity, and especially if that someone would not suffer much from being cheated, I suspect that I, as an intelligent atheist, would be strongly moved to do the cheat and in that case act like the bold atheist.

* Animal pity will encompass the feelings that most people have when they witness the mistreatment of helpless people, and also of animals which are close to humans, e.g., cats, dogs, horses, etc. It will encompass also feelings of compassion.

“Again all this is sheer speculation for I really have no idea what sort of atheist I would really be. In any case I know that as an atheist I would no longer have any basis for condemning another person, e.g., Hitler, for immoral actions, for absent God the term, ‘immoral,’ would no longer have any objective meaning.”

Encouraging an Atheist to Convert

Here are some other considerations for the Christian to present to the atheist.

Multiverse This is a comparison of the faith of Christians in God with the faith of scientists with respect to the Big Bang. A belief in God is no more daring than a belief in a multiverse.

Trinity This is a quite different take on this paradox.

Sagan and Kant on Morality The moral law arises via human rationality and independently of any notion of God, but can only be rationalized, i.e., provided with a purpose, by means of the concept of the Highest Good, i.e., immortality (to achieve to moral perfection and commensurate happiness) and God (to compel nature to provide the happiness called for by moral perfection). And see the related and very explicit exposition of the license belonging to the bold atheist entitled imagined Lectures at an Atheist Youth Camp.

Atonement This is a bit different from the usual take on the Atonement. Here Jesus does not die to pay for the sins of the world, but to overcome the sinful nature of humans (and immediately that of his disciples) and to issue in a new spirit.

Conversion of atheists Here is an argument designed to win over Bill Maher and other atheists to Christianity.

Appeal To Agnostic Youth This is another such argument, aimed here at the youth who are wondering about religion.

Rational Religion In Par 8 of the General Remarks to Part I Kant indicates here that the Christian religion is the “only moral religion in human history”, which can serve as a guide to any atheist who is wondering which religion he or she might want to convert to.

Christian Liberty Here is a quick rundown on the liberty of the Christian, and includes a unity of principles of action of St. Paul and the modern Christian, and how their differences are based on different understandings of what is helpful and hurtful.

Jewish Scriptures. I find it helpful not to get involved with discussions about some of the brutality which is occasionally cited in the Jewish scriptures and which atheists will often bring up. My justification is that these older scriptures serve the Christian primarily in understanding the worldview of Jesus’ environment and the context of his speech and actions. Any defense of these episodes I would leave to the rabbis and scholars of these scriptures. This view (independence of Christian thinking from ancient scriptures) is maintained by Matthew 7:12 where Jesus informs us that the Golden Rule “is the Law and the Prophets,” thus encompassing most of the Jewish scriptures in a single rule. And a confirmation of the primacy of Christian teachings in this regard is given in John 5:1-18 where we see that no alleged command of God from anywhere may be interpreted by a Christian to inhibit an immediate act of love.

Author contact: pmr#$kantwesley.com, replacing #$ with @

Filed under: Christian,Kant


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