The atheist letters: Poking holes

by Don Hartness

That last post reminded me that our time is at an end…

It is so easy to get sucked into endless arguments over theism vs. atheism. As I stated when I started this series, the goal was never to prove anything. As with so many other things in life, it is not the conclusions or the argument itself that matters, but the journey.

If, after reading any of these posts, you decided to dig a little deeper, reach a little higher, or broaden your sight a little further, then I achieved my goal. Even if you didn’t, the journey produced unexpected rewards for me, so it was all worth it.

The personal loss was intense, the potential loss of faith very real, and the atheistic argument was compelling for a while…until I began to see through the cracks.  If I had to sum up the reasons for my rejection of an atheistic world-view, it is simply found in this statement:

It is not the evidence presented by atheism, but the evidence that is left out.

A lot of evidence. For example…

Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path of salvation or he does not. (p.3) – Sam Harris, “Letter to a Christian Nation”

To which I say “yea”, if we mean through Him, but “nay”, if we include all the dogma, doctrine, and  theology built up around Him by those who claim to be His followers. Or did you not read:

“But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.” – John 4:23 (expanded)

“In truth” , as in not some doctrinal statement (a common malady among scholars and academic types) but truth, as in not lying to yourself and others. Combine this with…

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 (expanded)

…and you see “through me” is through a Spirit that will not only enable you to be more truthful, but will reveal when you are being a liar. These two quotes, combined with the following…

“…by their fruits you will know them…”

…and you begin to get a picture: it is not one’s religion which determines salvation. Do all paths lead to heaven? No: no path leads to heaven. However, any path can lead to heaven. It all depends on who is guiding you.

Some would accuse me of heresy here, but to them I ask a question: do you think knowing only a person’s name means that you “know” that person? Who is the one that knows the Guide? The one that keeps the Guide’s command to love; not the one that correctly espouses this or that teaching. It is not a matter of knowledge; it is a matter of doing. Do you think God would bar someone who follows His command to love, using His power to do so, even if they don’t correctly know His name through no fault of his/her own?

This example points to a fundamental truth I discovered again and again in the atheistic argument: many of these arguments get the right answers to the wrong questions. Which brings me to another point…

To those that point to the 32,000 different denominations in Christianity (a number I cannot affirm or deny) as proof that there is no true Christianity, I say this: if anybody comes to you claiming that they are a true Christian because of this doctrine, that book, or this teaching, I would immediately suspect that they are not. After all, you can’t observe “fruit” in cyberspace…

“The greatest virtue of atheism is its moral seriousness. It is impossible to do anything other than admire the criticisms and passionate demands for justice directed by atheists against the corruptions of – shall we say – the French church of the eighteenth century.” – Alister McGrath

And when I look at atheistic criticism of religion, I am often inclined to agree (for the focus is often on teaching and defending “correct” doctrine, not on producing fruit). But when I compare that same criticism to the path I walked, I realize two things:

  • First, the critics are not talking to me.
  • Second, the critics believe they are, in fact, talking to me, though they are not.

“Faith” does not mean an absence of doubt, nor does it mean an absence of thought. Many can’t seem to get their mind around that.

Take, as an example, all the contradictions in the Bible, both explicit (contradictions between books) and implicit (the difficulty in seeing a loving God in the Old Testament, for example). So many arguments directed against my faith rest on these citations.

“If the Bible is inerrant like you claim,” they say, “how do you explain these contradictions? If God loves you, why would he give you a flawed book?”

“I never said the Bible is inerrant,” I reply simply. “If it was, I would be following the book, and not the Guide. The book is not God.”

(And when the more astute point to the first chapter of John, and I counter by pointing out that there is a difference between the “Word” and the “word”, it really bends their noodle…)

When I point out that biblical inerrancy is a recent doctrine easily disproved (for how can a perfect book come from imperfect human pens?), and that the book is a work of literature describing the experience of others who sought God (which makes it an invaluable resource, but still not worthy of worship), and that those experiences necessarily include personal and cultural biases, then I am accused of rationalization while summarily dismissed.

And why? Because the root of the problem lies not in the evidence, but in the presuppositions: if you start with atheistic presuppositions, you arrive at atheistic conclusions…

“What proof do you have?”

So I talk about the way my life was changed, including who I was before and who I am now, only to be dismissed and ignored, because subjective experience is inadmissible…

I then point to others who tell similar experiences, only to watch them dismissed as “delusional”…

I highlight various teachings, pointing out that they are as profound today as they were yesterday, only to watch those teachings dispersed through relativistic parallel, scorned as impractical, or dismissed as “common knowledge”. This, even though “common” was once not so common, or when “common” seems unattainable by many. After all, have you ever tried to love your enemy?

Some people step forward with a miraculous testimony, but even this is scorned. Failure to reproduce the miracle on demand is seen as proof against the existence of said miracle (even though such a demand demonstrates a failure to understand the word “miracle”). Even miracles directly perceived are immediately dissected for an alternative explanation. That which cannot be explained scientifically is placed in stasis until an explanation is found, or simply dismissed as “not possible” if one cannot be found. The point isn’t whether the miracle is legit (I, too, am a natural skeptic) but that a true miracle would never pierce atheism, no matter how flamboyant.

Atheistic premises arriving at atheistic conclusions…

Evidence of a Creator (i.e., creation) that is mechanistically explained in some way to  exclude God is dismissed. Evidence in the form of phenomenon that cannot be mechanistically explained is dismissed as a “god of the gaps” argument. “I may not be able to explain that, but give me some time, and I’ll find an explanation that excludes your whole ‘god’ thing.” There is no evidence for the atheist because all evidence is a priori excluded.

And that is why our time is at a close.

If none of this begins to move you to even consider a theistic perspective, then all I can say to you is simply this: this series was not meant for you.

I already got what I needed.

And I am not the Guide.

Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone that commented through the course of this series. You were also a part of what I needed. 🙂

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