The other day I had an exchange with an atheist friend on Facebook. We’ve had a couple exchanges in the past, so there is a context to some of the things being said. He posted a graphic of a Christian ditty-response (in other words, not the best kind) to the recent school shooting up in Connecticut, and expressed outrage at the audacity of Christians to suggest that God did nothing to help because He’s “not allowed in schools anymore.” In any case, I attempted to draw out some inconsistency between what he said he believed, and the outworking of that belief in the face of something like this tragedy. If at times my words seem careless or irreverent, it’s merely for the sake of argument, and constructed to elicit a response. The following is our exchange. His name has been changed to protect his identity:
Me: One bunch of meaningless atoms ends the life of another bunch of meaningless atoms and we’re supposed to act like it’s something other than natural selection happening… I’m glad there aren’t many really consistent atheists.
Bro: It is a form of natural selection in its broadest sense, but we don’t have to live by natural selection if we can all look out for each other. And what makes everything so meaningless? Because I happen to think my life and atoms have plenty of meaning. And besides, what does natural selection have to do with this post?
Me: The outrage isn’t justified. If atheism is true.
Bro: Why not? People’s lives were taken. The only life they have was taken. That’s the only tenet of atheism that may exist, so it’s clearly justified.
Me: Well I suppose you can call anything “justified” if atheism is true. There aren’t any rules. Only what bunches of meaningless atoms individually find “meaningful,” whatever that means. Maybe the killer thought he was justified.
Bro: Yes, it is what people find meaningful. What I find meaningful, others will not. And that’s totally awesome. Maybe the killer did think he was justified, but that’s not for the greater good of humanity. When you have mental instability, there’s a lot of crazy stuff you are going to think of that normal humans just aren’t going to consider or will never go through with.
Me: Perhaps. In all honesty, I’m glad that you aren’t a consistent atheist, Bro.
Bro: I don’t know even where consistency doesn’t take place. Atheism: the lack of belief in a God. I’d say I’m pretty consistent with that. Any other thoughts are superfluous and have nothing to do with atheism, that’s just me being a human being with thoughts.
Now my question to you is….if these kids are in heaven (as most people are saying via posts, memes and interviews….plus the general concept of them not breaking any vital rules simply because they’re too young to), what’s the tragedy then? If they can have their mortal lives terminated and live with God forever, with no chance of ever going to hell because they can no longer be “tempted by evil or sin,” then honestly, isn’t that a great thing? Because I’d say so, if Heaven really is the main goal. And furthermore, shouldn’t we be praising the terrorist for getting them to heaven and carrying out God’s plan for them?
So idk, if you wanna talk about things not being justified, I don’t see how a believer can think these kids are in heaven AND think it’s a tragedy. That, to me, sounds like the real inconsistency.
Me: I guess that’s one thing that always confuses me. Some say atheism is no belief in any god, some say it’s a belief that no god exists, others say it’s belief in no god but one (“i contend that we’re both atheists…”). The point is that you hold things of value for which your atheism ultimately cannot account. I don’t expect atheists to go out and randomly murder everybody. But that’s not because atheism is true. If atheism were true, that would tick off a lot of people. But, it would also please lots of other people. Thing is, there’s no legitimate way for one group to tell the other they’re wrong. Maybe the one group doesn’t care about the “good of humanity.” Atheism doesn’t *require* them to.
No one should rejoice when sin happens. Christianity doesn’t teach that either.
“Because I’d say so, if Heaven really is the main goal.” ~ And it’s not, of course.
I guess, to put it most simply, atheism doesn’t tell people what they *should* believe. I think you’d agree. Atheism also doesn’t tell people what they *shouldn’t* believe. If there really is something people should or shouldn’t believe, then, atheism is insufficient to the task. As you said, people make their own “meaning.” The only consistent atheistic position is nihilism: there is no value or meaning, and any construction of “value” or “meaning” is a mere illusion, ultimately.
Intuitively, we reject this notion. But if atheism is true, we shouldn’t care. We reject meaninglessness because we know there is meaning. There is purpose. There are values humans should hold, such as the value of human life. We know this because God values life, and we reflect his character.
It’s a horrible thing the killer did, and he will face justice. But not because atheism is true. The families will grieve for their lost loved ones, but not because atheism is true. We will call this act absolutely evil, and others like it, for years to come, but again, not because atheism is true. You hold values not given to you by atheism. This means there’s more to your belief than atheism.
Bro: Well atheism is simply no belief in God. That’s it. It’s not even an assertion that there is no god. That would be gnostic atheism, which there is NO WAY to tell if there isn’t a god. And like I said, I’ve resigned to that. However, I think it’s painfully obvious that the gods we see (Christian god, allah, etc.) cannot exist. As I’ve said many times, the only god that could exist is a deist god who no one’s ever heard of before. Because the characteristics and attachments of these gods we see cannot exist (Eg, if Christianity is correct, then the world was created 6,000-10,000 years ago….that is obviously wrong so right off the bat, that god can’t exist.)
So when the argument against the Christian god comes from an atheist, it’s not really a denial of any god existing or an assertion that there can be no god….it’s just that particular god cannot exist. And that, yes, I will hold true to. And that’s why I ask the question about heaven.
I’m not saying to rejoice, but logically, there is no tragedy if these kids really are in heaven. So something is wrong with this situation. Maybe you don’t believe these kids are in heaven, but I think most people are going to say they are. Maybe you think the killer will face justice like you said….but is punishing this guy FOREVER really the answer, especially from a so-called loving God? No, I can’t believe that will do anything either. I think by the 10,000th year of eternity, Adam Lanza would be sorry and the families of of these kids (who were in heaven anyway, so again, there really was no tragedy) would eventually have to say enough is enough.
I have the fury and sadness because no of this is going to happen. I don’t believe in the safety net of heaven for these kids and that this is it. 20 kids….gone forever. Some might’ve grown up to be great people, some might’ve grown up to be killers themselves. We’ll never know but that has to play out. Taking away that option because he was mental is a horrible, horrible thing.
And if heaven isn’t the main goal, then what exactly is? Because if it’s just being a good person, hey, I’m being a good person too and I don’t need god to do it. There are Muslims who are doing good too, and they’re going to spend an eternity in fire-filled hell if you are right. How does that not make heaven with the clouds and living with God the main goal?
Me: “(Eg, if Christianity is correct, then the world was created 6,000-10,000 years ago….that is obviously wrong so right off the bat, that god can’t exist”
And the *Bible* says this, where? Who cares what Christians say. The Bible is what sets the standard for Christianity. Not Christians. One day you’ll understand this, I hope. What you consider atheism is different from what the next atheist considers atheism. There’s no book of atheism by which we can set the record straight, so your opinion is tossed into the pool with all the other opinions. But none of that is the point anyhow.
The highest goal in Christianity is God and his glory. This does not always mean getting to heaven. Don’t tell me how you either don’t get that or don’t agree, because I already know. I’m just correcting that point for you.
You did admit, though, that your anger stems from the lack of justice to be done. I think the notion of justice legitimately quells the feeling of futility in the face of evil. Families of victims have “closure” when murderers are brought to justice, so this isn’t an alien notion. While you disagree that eternal punishment is a good answer, atheism’s lack of an answer is nothing less than despicable. If atheism is true, this deranged killer got off easy. He didn’t have to suffer. He killed as many people as he wanted to and now he can “rest in peace.” If that isn’t an evil belief, I don’t know what is.
Bro: Well then you’re saying Christians are making stuff up? If so, talk about an opinion being tossed in the pool with others. That was just one example. You have Noah’s Ark and plenty of other things that just weren’t feasibly possible to allow for this to be justified as nonsense.
Well how can the goal be God and his glory if you’re not with him for eternity? That doesn’t make any sense at all. Wouldn’t you need to be with him and NOT in Hell for that goal to be achieved? It’d make zero sense if you lived a life devoted to God and then when the time comes, you get sent to Hell (for clearly unknown reasons).
I’m not angry about the lack of justice, I’m just saying that’s a fact of life. Because if Lanza lives, we take him to jail for the rest of his life or give him the death penalty. That doesn’t erase what happened. Nothing will erase what happened, especially for these families and this community. And yes, there’s some “closure” when murderers are brought to justice, but that’s nothing more than vengeance, which is just as evil of a concept. Like when we caught and killed bin Laden. Did that REALLY do anything to alleviate the matter? I don’t think so.
And besides, if you told me that Lanza was going to suffer ETERNALLY for this, I’d say that’s way too much. That’s not justice, that is evil to me. Sooner or later, especially in a non-human, soul form or whatever the hell you’d like to call it, he’s going to be sorry. And that moment is where the punishment should end (not to mention, God would know when that moment is….).
And actually, as far as I’m concerned, the killer didn’t get off easy. He ended his life. The one thing he has is gone too. He has paid the price, it’s unfortunate he took so many people with him. That ultimately becomes nothing more than a self-inflicted death penalty, which may have been his sentence anyway if he were alive. That or he’d be in prison for life. Ultimately, as long as these people are out of the public and not able to inflict more damage, that’s what needs to be done. Unfortunately, Lanza was just one grain of sand on the beach because there are plenty of others who can shoot up a mall or school tomorrow as well. It’s possible to combat this, I’m just not sure how. One thing is for sure…prayer is not going to fix it.
Me: I’m saying not everything Christians believe is a teaching of Christianity (“1+1=2” is not in the Bible, for instance). God is glorified in many ways that don’t include going to heaven. I won’t reproduce every instance in the Bible where that’s the case. Just read it. I don’t think you’d find anyone that agrees with you that justice equals revenge. Again, I don’t know how atheism lets you consider anything “evil” to begin with. If the end of life is an adequate punishment for the murder of children, then all the philanthropists who have died have received nothing less than the punishment for murdering children. And vice versa.