atheism

Power Can Be A Big Problem

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The problem, in my mind, is the abuse of power.  Now let me tell you what I am talking about. Over the past several years, I have spent a large amount of time reading about what has been called “The New Atheism” and its critique on religious faith.  Having grown in popularity after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this movement points to the 9-11 attacks as an example of the evil that can be done in the name of religious faith.  That is often followed with a longer list of historical events in which evil has been done by religious believers - the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, etc.  The number of books that have been written criticizing the philosophical underpinnings of the New Atheism, along with their near complete blindness concerning the benefits of religious faith on culture (criticism that has even come from fellow atheists) is no small number.  These books often point out, accurately, that some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century were perpetrated by governments committed to an atheistic philosophy - Stalin and the USSR, Pol Pot and Khamer Rouge,  Mao and the PRC, Kim Sung II and the DPRK, etc. 

Now, my reason for citing these examples of the evil committed by certain atheistic regimes is not for the purpose of “tit-for-tat.”  It is not a “right back at you” moment; not a “Yeah, but look at what you did” kind of thing.   Honestly, I think those of us who claim religious faith need to listen with a discerning ear to those who have claims against us.  And though I have many philosophical disagreements with the current atheist movement, I will grant them this truth, there have been times when evil, even great evil, has been done by those of religious faith. There has been evil that has been done in the name of God.  That is a painful reality, but it is the truth, and we who have faith should own it.  It is by no means the whole story of religious faith, but it is as a part of the story.  But those of no religious faith have the same problem.  Great evil has been done by those with a purely materialistic worldview.  Apparently, evil makes for strange bedfellows.

So when it comes to the human capacity for cruelty, the issue of religion or non-religion does not seem to be the necessary factor.  As I look at this matter, it is the presence of power, and its abuse, that is the common characteristic.  Every human community has some kind of structure of power.  In regard to political structures, power is the possession of control or command over others.  I heard a famous American politician once say, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”  Power becomes the precursor to evil when it is used to impose one’s worldview or one’s will on others.  In explanation of the evil done by the atheistic regimes, Bo Jinn offers this critique, “The governing ideology behind every one of these [acts], . . . involved the proposition that there was no power greater than their own.”    I would add that for the times when evil has been done in the name of religion, it has occurred because those in power felt empowered by God to maintain orthodoxy or to purge away what they considered evil.  

For those of us who are Christian, it was our Lord who reminded us that power is something that we should be suspicious of.  Two of his disciples once asked him to sit on his right and on his left when he came into his kingdom. Which means they wanted to sit in seats of power. To this request Jesus replied:

You know that the rulers of Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your  servant. . . .  Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. 

Our understanding of power is to be different.  It is not about the imposition of our way of life on others through the strength of force.  It is about the sharing of our way of life through acts of service and commitment to the common good.  It is not the love of power that motivates us; it is the power of love that moves us to act.  Dr. King said it this way:

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands for justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

For both people of faith and people of no faith, the issue of power and how it is used is of utmost importance.  We must always ask ourselves, what principles, ideas and beliefs are behind the use of whatever power we have been given.  As can be seen, we are all more than capable of using power to achieve the wrong end.  Which means we also have the capability of using power for the right end—a more just and compassionate world.  It is within our power to make the right choice.    

 

Bo Jinn, "Illogical Atheism: A Comprehensive Response to the Contemporary Freethinker From A Lapsed Agnostic"

Actions Speak Louder Than Doctrine

By J.C. Mitchell  

I hear Christians of all types say how you treat one another is more important than doctrine.   I can think of two men that remind me of this reality.  The first is John Meis, a student who subdued the shooter at Seattle Pacific University. In Meis’ statement  he writes, “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man.”  He held him for the authorities, and yet still saw the murderer as a person.  This is a powerful statement and it truly comes from a deep faith, which I imagine has been shaken.  I must admit it gives me hope for the world and Christianity that this college student would compose such wonderful response to a horrific experience and share what he saw: another man, not a monster.  I do not need to know John Meis’ doctrine to know that even in restraining another, and specifically a murderer, he still saw and thus treated Aaron Ybarra as a person, and certainly at one of the most trying times of seeing the Creator’s hand in every person.  Meis remarks it was the Divine that empowered him.

The other man that reminds me that how we treat one another is more important than our doctrine is Frank Schaeffer who wrote Why I am an Atheist, Who Still Believes in God: How to give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace.  Schaeffer recounts his life thus far, with wonderful and powerful prose.  Now I would not peg Schaeffer as an atheist, for he prays daily and is an active member of a Christian congregation, but he embraces his doubt.  I find this refreshing, and this should not be confused with being agnostic: “I don’t view my embrace of opposites as a kind of agnosticism. I view it as the way things actually are. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God. I’m not that person. I believe and don’t believe at the same time.” (14)  While this may not seem possible to some Christians or atheists, it is Schaeffer’s experience of the Divine, of the world, and thus we should explore this with him, for it has led him to a place where it is easier to give love, create beauty and find peace.

I would love for everyone to share their faith journey, but what makes Schaeffer’s particular interesting is that his parents were famous evangelicals, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and he was involved in promoting the religious right. He rejected religion altogether, but now is able to fully embrace the mystery of the wonderfully mysterious love many of us call “God.”  Schaeffer shares his epiphanies and doubts in an engaging way weaving his life experiences, Biblical knowledge, scholarship, and art, that I imagine atheists and Christians (or for that matter all people of faith) would agree with his conclusion, which I started with: how you treat people is more important than what you believe.

Schaeffer shares moving stories about his very conservative parents who would have told you that homosexuality is a sin, yet they saw each person as a child of God and saved any judgment for the divine, even renting a home to a lesbian couple.  This proved to be the same non-judgmental love he felt when as a teen he and his now wife found themselves as unmarried and pregnant.  His parents embraced him and Genie, for doctrine about marriage is not as important as love.

One of the most interesting points Schaeffer makes is comparing Denmark and the USA.  In Denmark,  the culture lives the mission of Jesus, by taking care of everyone and providing education to everyone, but very few go to church.  While in the USA we consider ourselves to be a religious nation, and we know children go to bed hungry, have inadequate health care available, and education is influenced by your property taxes.  This juxtaposition of cultures has to rattle all Christians to consider what is more important: your dogma or how you treat the social other?

“How we treat others is the only proof of truth we have. That proof is not found in any book. It is only found in the expression of unconditional trust we may sometimes see in the eyes of the people who know us best.” (91) It is in our families and those we are close to where we, like Schaeffer, find the unconditional trust and love many of us call the Divine (God), and when we can look at those that have hurt us and others and see them as a human, we are on the way of truth. 

How we treat one another is according to Frank Schaeffer the key, and I believe Jon Meis lived that out in that instance he saw a “a very sad and troubled young man” even if do not agree with Meis’ belief that “God gave [him] the eyes…”  Meis did. 

 









An Atheist Reminder of How Christians Appear to Everybody Else

By Gregg Cooley

As a child of the 60’s growing up in Chapel Hill, NC, I remember well the days of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws, separate water fountains, and very specific “lines” between White communities and Black communities (most of which were nothing more than rotting shacks with dirt floors and maybe an old wood stove for heat). Racism and bigotry was, and still is, a horrific blight on America’s promise of “liberty and justice for ALL,” and that “ALL people being created equal.”

The modern version of Jim Crow Laws aimed squarely at the LGBT community are being proposed from one end of the USA to the other, in Russia, and throughout Africa, all of which are connected to US Christians and Evangelicals in positions of power and influence. There is nothing “Christ-like” about these laws and initiatives; this hatred is certainly not the “will of the God” that I learned of as a child attending Episcopal Church every Sunday. I learned that God was LOVE, though my thorough reading of the Bible would eventually steer me toward atheism, and teach me of many instances where God was anything but loving, but I digress.

I have had friends and family tell me that I paint Christians with too broad a brush, and that I’m basing my opinions of them on the actions of a few.

My response to that is: If the actions of those few paint you in a bad light, then it is your responsibility as a Christian to scream just as loudly as you can, and to call-out in the public square, that the hypocrisy of those who act and legislate in such a hateful un-Christ-like manner are the true abominations in the eyes of your God.

These laws are resulting in the murders, suicides, and imprisonment of innocents, whose only “crime” is being born with same-sex attractions … if those of you who are Christians in the truest sense of the word do nothing to denounce the actions (loudly) of these impostors, then you are as guilty as they are through your acts of negligence.