Posts Tagged with “atheism”

Naturalistic Humanism as Religion

Atheist BenchSo an Atheist group had a granite bench placed next to a Ten Commandments monument at a Florida courthouse. It has been inscribed with an odd collection of quotes like, “An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.” This got me thinking about the tendency of naturalistic humanism to borrow from religion. I’ve decided to start a series of posts detailing this ideological bleed-over.

Example #1 comes from well-know Atheist and writer Sam Harris. In an essay titled Science Must Destroy Religion, he laments the need to practice religious tolerance, says that religion is spoiling the fruits of human inquiry, and calls on scientists to blast, “the hideous fantasies of a prior age.” But he ends the essay with a suggestion that, “We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs.” He continues:

We must learn to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity – birth, marriage, death – without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality… When we find reliable ways to make human beings more loving, less fearful, and genuinely enraptured by the fact of our appearance in the cosmos, we will have no need for divisive religious myths.

The problem here is that in naturalistic humanism, man is a cosmological accident without free will, a “wet robot.” Birth, marriage, and death are just biological necessities, often driven by the function of reproduction. There is no being in control and there is no ultimate purpose for mankind in the universe. This hardly makes us more loving, less fearful, and enraptured by our appearance in the cosmos. Our emotional needs don’t have an answer in naturalistic humanism so they must be “borrowed” from religion. Even Sam Harris doesn’t presume how to do this. That’s not to say that people haven’t tried. I’ll explore some of their ideas in further posts.

God is Good?

C. S. Lewis once wrote about the meaning of the word Gentleman.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman… But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behavior? They meant well. To be honorable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. –Mere Christianity

I think the same thing has happened with the word good. Let’s see how it was used in the Bible, in relation to God the Son:

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. (Matthew 19:16-17)

The seeker in this passage used the “modern” version of the word good, the idea of something that is acceptable or pleasing. Jesus Christ responded that there is only one Good person – Good with a capital G, if you will. In essence, Jesus Christ was linking Goodness and Deity. It’s as if he said, “Either you’re using that word incorrectly, or you’re calling me God. Which is it?”

The noted late Atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote about the goodness of God:

If Christians modify the dictionary so that no action of God’s could ever be bad, assigning the word “good” to God’s actions says nothing. They hope to make an important statement with “God is good,” but debasing the dictionary makes the word meaningless.

In fact, like the word gentleman, it is the modern definition of good that has been debased.

Let me borrow C. S. Lewis’s words, slightly modified:

To call God “good” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “good” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object.

When we call God Good, we aren’t paying him a complement, we’re stating a fact; not “God is good,” but “God is Good,” with a capital G. As a gentleman’s title was a characteristic of his position, so the title of Good is characteristic of God’s position. He is the absolute moral standard, and without his standard of Goodness, good hardly means more than what the speaker likes.