I came across this and thought a better title might have been the title to this post. Look, I know there are Christians and other theists that ask these questions in a way where they do seem to be implying what the writer here finds insulting. But frankly, they are usually the type of Christian that doesn’t let’s just say, represent the best or brightest of the bunch. This is fairly low hanging fruit. What is interesting though is that we can tell by the writer’s responses and phrasing of the questions—that she “hears” or interprets in a way that this must be what Christians are “really” suggesting or asking, when in fact, many of them are not. I’m not going to waste too much time going through each question, but I will take a few and translate so we can unpack this and, I think, show that many radical atheists still do not “hear” very well what people are asking them or trying to communicate.
Up front though I need to say that not only do her “answers” miss the real point- in her very missing of the point, her answers reveal how ignorant she is, of Christianity at least, which explains so much. As for her being upset or angry when questions like this are asked of her, I’m reminded of an old character on Saturday Night Live. There was a character called Rosanna Rosannadanna (Gilda Radner) who was a part of their “weekend update” news segment. She never quite understood what anyone was saying. In one of the skits her commentary deals with the talk around Washington about making Puerto Rico a state. She thinks they said “steak.” She then goes on this rambling commentary regarding how crazy it was for anyone to suggest such a stupid thing as designating a country a piece of meat. And of course after all her fumbling, shouting, arm waving, and desk pounding, the bemused anchors tell her calmly that people were talking about a “state” not a “steak.”
I had the same sense when reading this writer’s essay. She addressed a lot of thing no one is really suggesting. They are talking about something else. She is upset for no reason. Don’t blame others because you don’t get it. And if she were only talking about fundamentalists, she should have said so and made it clear she knew the great majority of educated Christians do not represent what she is angry about here. Since she is a secular fundamentalist, however, I’m sure Christians look (and sound) the same to her.
1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”
The real question and what most people are trying to get at here has nothing to do with suggesting that atheists are “bad” immoral people or that to act morally should be a contradiction for them. What is really being asked here is- how is morality grounded? Is morality determined by majority rule and power alone or is it grounded in some other way? And this is why the writer’s “answer” completely misses the point.
Just as an aside, one has to love this line: “Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains…”
One has to read that several times and let it sink it to get a sense of how many things are just being assumed or left unsaid. I could write an entire post just on her off-handed attempt at an explanation with this one comment. What would it even mean to say that “core moral values” were “wired” into our brains? The description “moral” is something she is noting (a little) after the fact. She is naming it “moral” in 2013. What was it initially? Nothing. We could name it “immoral” now if we wanted to and also say it was “wired” into our brains. Or, we could name it “oatmeal” and say it was wired into our brains. See the problem here? The only thing the materialist can tell us we were hard wired with was a survival impulse. There are many ways to “survive” and some are moral and some are not. But that, of course, is another question. One the writer seems completely oblivious to. The rest of her “answer” is question begging to say the least.
2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”
Again, this completely misses the point of what most people are asking or trying to find out. Related, as far as “creating” one’s own meaning- wasn’t that just what any given 20th Century tyrant was doing? Or the tyrants of today? Or a gang leader? Or certain CEO’s? Isn’t that what everyone incarcerated in prison right now was doing? Again, see number one above. What should “meaning” look like and what sort of behavior should it inspire? That might be an important aspect to “creating” meaning. Beyond that, the real question being asked is-why would we even care about “meaning” in a meaningless universe, let alone try and create any? Where would that longing, desire, or need even come from? Isn’t creating meaning sort of like creating Santa Clause? We know there is no ultimate meaning to life (i.e. it doesn’t exist just like Santa Clause) but for some reason it makes us feel better to think there is meaning. How is that psychology different than the very thing theists are accused of in “creating” god? If the answer is, “Because we know our meaning is false or doesn’t really exist,” then why shouldn’t the response be, “Then, in reality, there is no meaning in your life, right?” So the question is a little more complex than she seems to realize.
3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”
The answer: No.
Wow, I didn’t even know where to start with this one. Her response was just a window into her own assumptions. Since she assumes that “faith” means without reason or evidence- she just goes on from there and chases phantoms. Read her answer, she just pours contempt on theists as people who haven’t “bothered to think” about what they believe—of course she states it in a reverse sort of way. Wow. And on top of that she throws in philosophical category errors to boot. I hope she’s not held up as some sort of standard other atheists are looking up to or trying to emulate. Wow.
4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”
The answer: No.
Well, except for a number of philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and other cultural commentators who do see it functioning like a religion (See for instance John Gray, Robert Bellah, or Frans de Waal). All the recent talk about atheist evangelism is out there for a reason. The rest of her response basically boils down to, “How dare you compare what we do to your stupid, evidence lacking, unreasonable, and illogical type of community!!!” Preach it sister. Right, it’s not a religion. Someone please pass the plate.
And it goes on from there. Her “answers” (the real insult here) from thereon display the same pattern with the same philosophical depth as that printed on a shampoo bottle to just rinse and repeat. Also note that the issues that I unpacked from these questions, she was light years away from “answering.” In reality, she answered nothing here. Before she gets so angry, she may need to actually attempt to truly “hear” what the other person is saying or try to ask, even if they are asking it in an awkward way. After all that, I will also say this: Christians should ask these questions in better ways and if they learn the person they were addressing was insulted or offended, they should apologize and ask a better question.
To the writer, Greta Christina, I would suggest she follow her own advice.
If you want to understand more about Christians and Christianity — that is awesome. Many of us are more than happy to talk about our faith with you: that’s how we change people’s minds about us, and overcome the widespread myths and misinformation about us. But maybe you could do a little Googling before you start asking us questions that we’ve not only fielded a hundred times before, but that have bigotry and dehumanization and secular privilege embedded in the very asking. And if you do want to know more about Christianity, please stop and think about the questions you’re asking — and the assumptions behind them — before you do. Thanks.