Friday, December 07, 2007

Why Are Atheists So Angry?

A response to Dinesh D'Souza's post, "Why Are Atheists So Angry."

Dinesh, you say "angry" like it's a bad thing. Is that so? Is anger really a sign of moral failing as you imply?

If so, why is it that Christians and the authors of Scripture so often wax eloquent about the "wrath of God"?

Let's say you had a dog that got into the garbage, or did something else worthy of punishment. In response, you rig up a system by which you can keep the dog continually in agony without killing him. And let's say that for ten years you listen to the dog's howls of torment with teeth gritted in fury thinking, 'You deserve it, you bastard!' before your wrath is sated and you can put the dog out of its misery.

You'd have to be awfully mad at that dog to do that, wouldn't you? Most likely, anger and vindictiveness like that is not something you would really be capable of. You or nearly any human being, save for the sort a sane society would have to keep trussed up like Hannibal Lechter in "Silence of the Lambs."

Now, the canonical Gospels portray Jesus (that great icon of peace and mercy) as claiming that God will torture people in fire *forever* for failing to have the proper set of beliefs. After Gandhi has screamed in agony for ten trillion years for the crime of believing in the wrong deities, King Tutankhamun for having been born a few centuries before Yahweh decided to start any of his One True Religions, etc., the nightmare is only just beginning.

Yahweh will continue to hear the cries of the damned with teeth gritted in fury thinking, 'You deserve it, you bastards!'...forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever. If the New Testament is to be believed, the creator of hundreds of billions of galaxies will never, ever be at peace in his own heart (or equivalent thereof), for all eternity.

While he may dote on the relative handful of people who managed to grovel before him in the proper way so as to become his little pets, he will still spend all of eternity seething with wrath at the majority of his children, whom he tortures unrelentingly.

Think about that for a moment. Think about the sheer magnitude of hate, anger, and sadism it would take for any being to want any other being to suffer so horribly, and keep right on suffering, forever.

Now, if you are going to worship a being whom you believe manifests anger and hate on this level and call this being the epitome of moral perfection, what basis could you possibly have for criticizing the anger of an atheist who merely writes commentary in a book?

You imply that atheists are hypocritical, since they cannot really believe God does not exist if they're so angry at him. The immediate flaw in this 'analysis' is that if atheists "really" believed in God (and did not choose to toady before him in hopes of currying his favor), their response would be one of stark terror, unless they had some expectation of being able to defeat God somehow. At the very least, we would expect "atheists-who-really-believe-in-god" to invest in a chariot of iron (Judges 1:19).

"Atheism" as an untrue denial by someone who actually believes in God would be silliness on the par of a capitalist in Stalin's Russia saying, "Bah! Stalin doesn't exist!"

That is, if we define "God" as some omnipotent super-spirit of the Universe. It is quite possible and rational to say that the Biblical God does exist--as an idea. People can hate ideas and the practical results of those ideas without agreeing that the ideas are true. In fact, it is more common for people to hate ideas they genuinely consider to be false. Or would you accuse the people who show up at Ku Klux Klan rallies to shout angrily at the Klansmen of being closet racists themselves?

As to the claim that the Biblical deity exists as anything other than an idea in people's heads:

You feel a stabbing pain in your side, and you think it could be appendicitis. Quick! What do you do?

A) Call the elders of the church so you can be healed by the prayer of faith (James 5:14-15)

B) Call 911 and have an ambulance take you to the hospital

If you chose "B," you are acting on the premise that the passage in James is inaccurate, that healing comes from science and reason and human effort, rather than the miraculous power of God. Oh, you can try to give God credit for the surgeon's skill afterwards (regardless of whether the surgeon was an atheist or a Hindu or some brand of Christian you consider to be heretical), but when push comes to shove, you trust in "the arm of man" rather than in God.

You live in the same godless Universe we do.


Blogger S. Williams said...

Many religious teachers—especially in Christendom—say that God has this eternal fate in store for the wicked. But is that really what the Bible says?

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17, King James Version) Here, instead of the word “hell,” more modern translations such as Lamsa and The Jerusalem Bible have preferred to retain the word that appears in the Hebrew text, “Sheol.” But to what exactly does “hell,” or “Sheol,” refer? The Bible book of Ecclesiastes gives more information about Sheol. It says: “All that your hand finds to do, do it with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) If those in hell, or Sheol, cannot think or know or act, surely they cannot be suffering. It is not, then, surprising that even faithful servants of God went to Sheol. Jacob thought he would go there when he died, and Job hoped that God would hide him there and thus bring his sufferings to an end. (Genesis 42:38; Job 14:13) Would these two faithful servants have hoped—or even asked—to go to a burning, fiery hell along with the wicked? Certainly not!

But how do we understand Jesus’ words when he said that those who do not do the will of God will go into “the fire that cannot be put out,” or into ‘a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’?—Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 13:42. In discussing this place, Jesus did not use the word “Hades,” the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Sheol.” Rather, he used the word “Gehenna.” This word referred to a refuse dump close to Jerusalem, called the Valley of Hinnom, where a fire was kept burning to destroy the garbage. It was a fitting term to make Jesus’ listeners think, not of eternal suffering, but of complete destruction, annihilation by fire. The Revelation given to the apostle John speaks of a “lake that burns with fire and sulphur” into which are thrown all those who practice bad things. (Revelation 21:8) If hell exists, this must be it, since the wicked go there. But this same Bible book tells us that death, inherited from Adam, and Hades will be thrown into this same lake of fire. Can these two abstract things suffer? No. But the fire here can and does represent their disappearance, which will take place once they have ‘given up those dead in them,’ that is, after the resurrection of the dead.—Revelation 20:13, 14. These last examples show that fire is only a symbol for annihilation, or eternal destruction. So there is no suffering in the lake of fire, or Gehenna, any more than there is in Hades (or, Sheol), where faithful servants of God, as well as wicked people, go. But if we go a little deeper into the subject, we will better understand why we cannot believe both in the Bible and in the existence of a hellfire.

What would you think of parents who kept their children imprisoned day after day, or even tortured them? If you would be disgusted by such acts, should you not also be disgusted by a god who would cause his children to be tormented forever in fire? The fact that the true God is not like that is seen from the reproofs he addressed to the Israelites who had ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ Jehovah insisted that this was ‘a thing that he had not commanded and that had not come up into his heart.’ (Jeremiah 7:31) Since God had never thought of such things, how could we imagine that he would create a hellfire for his creatures? Yes, if cruelty and torture disgust us, how much more must they disgust God, who is love?—1 John 4:8. The doctrine of hellfire also goes against justice. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul explains: “The wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) Moreover, he tells us: “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” If death completely removes a person’s indebtedness, why should he then suffer eternally for only a lifetime of sin?—Romans 6:7. Thus, the Bible shows that hellfire, as it is generally understood, does not exist. And this knowledge allows us to form a relationship with God that is based on love and not on terror. We suggest that you keep on examining the Bible and learn how to please him properly in order to be among those who will see that wonderful day when Hades, or Sheol, the common grave of mankind, will disappear forever.—1 John 4:16-18.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin Crady said...

Thank you for your comment. You do make some good points with regard to "Sheol" and "Gehenna." I also liked the one where Yahweh is portrayed claiming not to have thought of the idea of making children "pass through the fire."

However, there are still quite a few passages that do support the conventional interpretation (repulsive as it is).

For one thing, you do not address the part of Mark 9:43-48 where it refers to "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Obviously, there would be no such thing in Gehenna if the people there were dead and gone.

Jesus' tale of "The Rich Man and Lazarus" portrays an afterlife of conscious suffering for the unbeliever. Perhaps this is "just a parable," and Jesus didn't really mean to teach a doctrine of an afterlife of punishment. That would simply make him a poor communicator, creating the idea of a torturous afterlife and appearing to ground it in reality by including Abraham (supposedly a real person) in the story.

In the ninth chapter of Mark, Jesus refers repeatedly to Gehenna ("Hell") as a place "where their worm dieth not." (v.44, 46, 48)

Of course, Biblical religion would be far less malevolent without a doctrine of eternal torture. I quite agree with you on the injustice of such a notion, and its incompatibility with the concept of a loving deity.

However, despite a few propagandistic statements about how loving Yahweh is, the Bible doesn't really portray him that way. He is repeatedly portrayed as being filled with wrath, unleashing brutal campaigns of genocide and enslavement (e.g. Numbers 31). He is portrayed openly boasting of his jealousy, to the point that it says his name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14).

This is completely incompatible with the concept that "God (Yahweh) is love," especially if we use the definition of "love" (Gk. agape', translated as "charity" in the KJV) given in I Corinthians 13:4-8. If "love is not jealous" (v. 4), and Yahweh is jealous, then Yahweh is not love.[1]

With regard to your citation of Ecclesiastes, the author of that book apparently didn't believe in any afterlife at all, even for the good:

"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any [thing] that is done under the sun."

--Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

You sound like a Jehovah's Witness to me, and Jehovah's Witnesses definitely claim that the dead will have a "portion forever" "under the sun" (i.e. in an Earthly paradise). Presumably you have some way of dismissing Eccl. 9:5-6, which will probably work just as well for conventional Christians wanting to dismiss the tenth verse of the same chapter, which you cite.

As someone who does not see any evidence that Yahweh/Jehovah exists as a supernatural power able to grant or deny any sort of afterlife, I don't really have a stake in a JW vs. Christian debate on "Hell."

The point of my post was that believers are hypocritical to sneer at atheists for being "angry" (though many atheists aren't) as if that were universally bad, when they worship a god of ferocious wrath. This point stands, even if the deity's anger is not everlasting.


1. The Greek word for "jealous" (Strong's 2206) is used in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 34:14, and in I Corinthians 13:4 (rendered as "envy" in the KJV).

3:35 PM  

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