Athiest Contradictions

I have decided to come up with this more precise category dealing with contradictory notions of atheism than dumping my brief thoughts into ‘Observations’ because I want to tease out certain ideas a bit.

One of the things I have noticed in the decades I have been having discussions with atheists is that there are a number of memes out there that atheists adopt, often without much thought or reason. These statements are made as if they are self-evident facts, though in reality there is little warrant for believing them at all.

One such claim is along these lines – ‘Atheism is not incompatible with spirituality’ or ‘Atheism is not the opposite of spirituality’.

Atheists who say this are often doing so in response to the fact that modern atheism is rooted in a a material or naturalistic view of the world, a view which fails to account for many aspects of human experience.

The problem with this view though is a rather straight-forward one – spirituality means nothing if it doesn’t have something to do with a spirit or spirits – that is, with an immaterial being or aspect of being. That would seem to be an idea wholly incompatible with atheism, and so it is contradictory for an atheist to makes such claims.

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11 Responses to Athiest Contradictions

  1. freiaberfroh says:

    Although I am an atheist, I completely agree with you. Of course atheism is incompatible with spirituality – the contrary is said only to make it seem more appealing to those who irrationally fear that a lack of a belief system is somehow ‘hollow’.

    However, most importantly, this doesn’t mean that a life of atheism is a life devoid of the experiences casually attributed to ‘spirituality’. The problem is that the terminology needs to be clearer. The best alternative I have so far come across would be to say: ‘Atheism is not incompatible with the numinous.’

  2. jackhudson says:

    I am all for clarity. I often think that many of the conflicts in such discussions arise from the vague use of terms. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Amytheist says:

    again, you are confused.
    the definition of theism is belief in the existence of one or more gods (you don’t even have to worship them. you simply have to believe that at least one has existed at one time or another).
    atheism is the opposite of theism. the lack of belief in any god.

    any atheist or theist who claims that either is anything more or less is incorrectly informed.

  4. jackhudson says:

    Well then your problem is with you fellow atheists who make such claims, not me. You might want to work to clear up their confusion on the subject.

  5. One such claim is along these lines – ‘Atheism is not incompatible with spirituality’ or ‘Atheism is not the opposite of spirituality’.

    The problem is that you are giving a narrow definition when other people are using the word in other ways. Are they talking about crystal healing crap? Sure they can believe in that, though I don’t respect unsubstantiated beliefs much. Are they talking about feeling awe at how wonderful life and the universe is? I feel that all the time. Are we talking about God? Well, then, no. Of course not. What about ghosts? Those are spirits. Again, I think that belief in ghosts or poltergeists or whatever has no merit, but atheism is not a bar to believing in nonsense.

    All are valid definitions, but you arbitrarily chose to focus in on only one and then interpret that to mean they are using yours when they probably are not. So you are not faultless in misunderstanding them. Me, I avoid the word entirely because it is so ill-defined. When I hear the word, I tend to substitute “flakiness” in its stead because it is so often used in the New Age manner.

  6. jackhudson says:

    I appreciate the post, but again, I am not the one using the imprecise language. I am merely pointing out that taking it on face value, in the ordinary use of the word, ‘spirituality’ is contradictory to atheism. If atheists want to express some novel emotion, it is up to them to express themselves more accurately; the rest of us shouldn’t have to change words to suit them.

  7. moriahbethany says:

    I found some interesting Bible passages today.
    Here are some passages from the Bible.
    Exodus 21:7 (This is only one passage that condones sexual slavery)

    7″If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free (E)as the male slaves do.

    8″If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.
    Exodus 21:20
    20″If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.

    21″If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; (M)for he is his property.

    Leviticus 19:19 (Petty much?)

    19′You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; (W)you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.

    Leviticus 20:9 (put your child to death)

    9′If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.

    Deuteronomy 23 ( Well crap, there goes all the teenagers)

    10″ If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp.

    Deuteronomy 22:21 (how to treat a girl who is not a virgin on her wedding night)

    21then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has (K)committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus (L)you shall purge the evil from among you.

    And there are many more. These words are the word of God. I struggled with this for a long time and eventually realized that I couldn’t cherry pick the parts I liked and dispose the rest.This book has to be all true, or not at all. I was surprised to find that when I “lost my faith” I was still the same person. I still live my daily life trying to alleviate human suffering and trying to be happy. The only real difference is that I don’t feel guilty over trying to make myself believe something that deep down didn’t make any sense to me. Check out the verses for yourself!

  8. jackhudson says:

    Thanks for your comments moriahbethany.

    You bring up some interesting points; points which are well documented on the web, and which are often parroted on atheist websites (amazing that you just happened to find them “today” 🙂 ), but ones which I think a lot of people, both Christian and Non-Christian think about often and so warrant a response.

    Rather than get into the specifics of each verse (all of which I am familiar with) I think a couple of general points are in order.

    Your main point seems to be this:

    These words are the word of God. I struggled with this for a long time and eventually realized that I couldn’t cherry pick the parts I liked and dispose the rest. This book has to be all true, or not at all.

    It isn’t clear why it follows that because you don’t ‘like’ these parts, they aren’t then true – or the word of God. I mean do you like the ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ part? Does that then make it true? Does the fact that we like or dislike anything in life make it more or less true?

    So it appears what you are really saying is, “Because these particular passages do not conform to my modern sensibility of what is right and wrong, I do not believe Scripture is the Word of God.” This is a perfectly reasonable statement, though again it really does nothing to prove whether the Bible is or is not the word of God, and certainly says nothing about whether God exists.

    What it does demonstrate however are certain fundamental misconceptions both believers and unbelievers have about what it means to say, “Scripture is the Word of God”.

    First a few things it doesn’t mean:

    It doesn’t mean every passage in Scripture can be taken in isolation and treated as if it is moral imperative for some current action.

    It doesn’t mean that every action of persons written about in the Bible is morally justifiable.

    It does not mean that the words of the Bible have some magic ability to cause us to understand them without any sort of historical or contextual or theological comprehension of what we are reading. Like most books, the Bible requires you to know something before you read it. This isn’t to say one has to be a genius to read the Bible, but it does mean that one needs to go much farther than picking out a few passages and concluding one understands them.

    What it does mean when we say that ‘Scripture is the Word of God’ is that it is the primary means by which God has communicated who we are, who He is, and how we might have a relationship with Him. This knowledge has moral, existential, social and even legal implications, but it is not primarily about those things, but rather it is about a person we understand to be God, and our relationship with Him. Through the lens of this relationship with Christ, we can properly view Scripture. Outside of this lens Scripture really makes no sense – its liking trying to understand hieroglyphs without the Rosetta stone. We sense that it communicates something, but can never be certain of what.

    And because we have Christ, we can say some things about the law that came before.

    One of the things we can say about it is that it was imperfect – that it wasn’t the last word on what God had to say about human relationships. Another thing we can say about it is that the law was limited in part by human sin and weakness – in a very real sense God could not do with us what He fully intended to do with us until His plan was completed in Christ. Another thing we understand looking back at the history and context of Scripture, is that the whole of the law wasn’t a moral imperative – much of it was civil and social, a means by which to organize a unique society in history, the nation of Israel.

    We also know that the law, fully implemented, indicts us all – in fact, that is what it was meant to do! It was a multi-century demonstration that humans cannot hope to achieve moral goodness by command alone, that we desperately need to be transformed from within. The idea that moral goodness can simply be understood naturally, or taught or even imposed has been disproven consistently in human history – there are no societies without corruption or moral failings.

    So being bothered by certain aspects of the Old Testament law isn’t unwarranted – but it is a very wrong reason to reject Christ. Not only wrong, but nonsensical in that Christ is in part the response to the failings of the Old Testament law – why would you reject that which is an acknowledgement and solution to your very serious concerns?! That doesn’t make much sense does it? Christ is in fact the only hope we have to achieve moral goodness which mere law or knowledge can never achieve – if you reject Him, there really is nowhere else to go that doesn’t have the same shortcomings you detected in the OT law.

    None of the things I have said fit into the typical atheist/theist debate jargon, which is often overtly simple-minded and antagonistic, but it is the best way to understand these issues and I would invite you to re-consider your evaluation of Scripture by looking at it thoughtfully through the proper lens. Hopefully this is helpful in thinking through these ideas as you consider them here and on your own blog.

  9. Very well said Sir, all I could add is amen brother!

  10. Sentinel says:

    Excellent comments, Jack – thanks for all the food for thought.

  11. jackhudson says:

    Thanks for the feedback Sentinel – I checked out your blog a bit; great stuff there!

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