World Religions - Atheism


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How is Atheism a religion? What can Christians and Atheists agree on? Where do we disagree?

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  • Break into groups. Discuss!With #1: The more confident you are in a belief, the less you feel the need to fight for it. The less secure you are in your own knowledge, the more threatening another person’s beliefs can be.
  • Is Atheism a religion?Most of us think of religion strictly as belief in God. But as we’ve seen in this class, religion is much broader than that. Religion is about how we understand the world, the nature of reality. We could also say religion is belief about God, which would obviously include atheism.
  • Theism is belief in God. We are theists.Atheism is belief that there is no God. (Many atheists will say “Atheists have no beliefs. That’s what atheism means.” More on this later.)Agnosticism is ignorance concerning a higher power. Nontheism is not participating in the discussion.We’ll be discussing Atheism tonight, though much of what we cover may hold true for the others.
  • The shift from a premodern world to modern was huge. Massive changes swept through Western Culture. This is the time of the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the rise of Humanism. The biggest shift from Pre- to Modern was in Epistemology (or, how we know stuff). In the Premodern world, Truth was revealed from the gods. In the Modern world, Truth is discovered by humans.
  • Protestant Reformation fractured the Church and created a power vacuum. Suddenly, a lot was in question.The next 200 years saw an explosion of philosophy and scientific inquiry. One of the most famous and emblematic of this period was Rene Descartes, who coined ‘I think, therefore I am.’ This is the cornerstone of the Enlightenment. What can we learn? Descartes also crystallized the Scientific Method, which had been in use in one form or another since Ancient Greece. This period gave rise to the Scientific Method as we know it, which enabled Western culture to discover an amazing amount of knowledge in a very short amount of time.Despite the fact that many of these philosophers and thinkers were Christian, these developments led to conflicts between science and religion (is Truth from God or is Truth ours to Discover?) Many of these brilliant Christian thinkers were made to choose between their faith and their vocation.The Church couldn’t recognize this false dichotomy. Galileo conflict  Science (Modern tool) contradicts the Bible (a Pre-modern document). This leads to a very real problem:
  • We often pit science and religion against each other because we think they answer the same questions. A classic example is rain: many gods in the ancient world were thunder gods (like Ba’al or Thor). Why did it rain? Because god made it rain. But as we used science to teach us more about the natural world, how it’s organized, what natural laws govern it, we didn’t need gods as an explanation for rain any more.This understanding of God is called the “God of the Gaps” – the more we understand about the natural world, the less there is for God to do.
  • This perspective gave rise to Deism, the grandfather of Atheism. Several of our influential founding fathers were Deists (e.g. Franklin and Jefferson) – it was the trendy Enlightenment faith. Deism reimagined the world as a giant machine that God put together, wound up and then left alone. God is not personal or involved in any way in the world (no supernatural).So the Jefferson Bible is the Gospels without any miracles or resurrection. Just Jesus’ teachings.Deism was an important step towards Western Atheism. It recognized that the world functions pretty well on its own, according to natural principles. And God grew very distant from the world.
  • 1700s – the world as a machine made more and more sense (Deism is in vogue as the religion of several important founding fathers).1859 – Darwin’s Origin of the Species provides a reasonable accounting of the origins of life without appeal to divine creation (shift from “The best explanation is God!” to “We just haven’t figured out the natural process yet.”)1900s – Carl Sagan was an immensely important atheistic thinker who denied the existence of a personal god. His “Sagan Principle” is often quoted by Atheists today – Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
  • We’re most familiar with this Atheist story – someone who was raised Christian but who has left the Church and abandoned belief in God for any number of reasons. Most commonly, it’s disillusionment with a church that forbids questioning, positions itself as anti-science or cannot engage serious criticism.These are persons who were raised Atheist.These persons were not really raised anything. They may have gone to Church a few times, but they don’t really think about religion much if ever. They’re not really atheists on purpose (usually), but just because that’s what they’ve grown up knowing. We’ll talk more about these people in another class-period.These are persons who really did their homework and became convinced of Atheism. They’re smart and well-researched. They know their stuff, but are typically open to conversation and continued learning.Bottom Line: Don’t assume you know an atheist. They’re as diverse a group as Christians are. You have to build a relationship with them. Learn their story. Earn the right to be heard.
  • Philosophers et alTwo very important 20th century figures:Madeline Murray O’Hare – Founder of American Atheists (activist group); Removed Bible-reading from public schools in 1963Carl Sagan – wrote lots about rationalism and science, including “The Burden of Skepticism”.
  • These are the New Atheists, a group that began to form after 9/11 and gathered steam in the late 2000s. These four leaders (called the “Four Horsemen”) argue that religion should not be tolerated, but eliminated.They are becoming figureheads in the burgeoning Atheist community.
  • Atheism has gathered a head of steam. We’re beginning to see Atheist art and merchandise. In other words, Atheists are starting to act like a group with a particular set of symbols and beliefs. Atheists have begun holding meetings, and recently an Atheist Church even opened in London. Another group of Atheists held a birthday party for Charles Darwin.In what is the logical next step, many Atheists are turning back to religious behaviors. They’re looking at what religious people do that’s so meaningful and attempting to create godless versions of those rituals – like teaching, sharing common meals, even singing songs together. They recognize that humans doing things together is meaningful.Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton is a great example of this trend. It’s noteworthy that many atheists think this is a waste of time, but this seems to be the overwhelming trend. Atheists want a place to belong, too.
  • Materialism is the belief that only the natural world exists. All things are reducible to matter and material properties. So gravity isn’t material, but it’s explainable by understanding the nature of matter (we have a formula for gravity). Religious impulses, emotion, etc. are all reducible to brain chemistry.
  • The world is getting better. Humanity is progressing (evolving). Science is the tool we will use to make the world a perfect place.In religious terms (which an Atheist would not use), we could say that Science is the vehicle of Salvation. Knowledge will redeem the broken world. The enemy of humanity is religion (more on this in a minute).
  • Humanism is a philosophical position that affirms humanity’s basic goodness and sufficiency. We don’t need religion to be better (in fact, religion gets in the way). Combined with progressivism, these beliefs teach that humans are getting better, that we will ‘save’ ourselves with our combined progress and knowledge.The greatest value of humanism is personal liberty. Anyone or anything that interferes with that is immoral.
  • Atheism obviously has some sharp critiques of religion. The most common are:Crutch for the emotionally weakOpiate of the massesPrimitive beliefs (pre-science)DivisiveMoral failures
  • Above reproach?Atheism points out that anything beyond reproach, critique or questioning becomes a dangerous weapon. With such a sharp divide, how can we build bridges to Atheism?
  • No such thing as an objective discussion of religion. We all speak from a particular place and a particular set of experiences (that’s the whole point of this class). This goes for Atheists, too.
  • Materialism vs.Supernatural (not ‘God of the gaps’)Humanism vs. DepravityAre rituals enough?Progressivism vs. Science as a toolEschatologyIs the Human the highest good?
  • Functional vs. Material creationArguing about Evolution is not the most important thing you can do. A person can believe in Evolution and still be a Christian. Christians will lose the Materialism argument. Because it’s a bad argument. It’s a false dichotomy.The Bible is not a science textbook. It’s a religious document. It’s seeking to form us as persons.Christianity cannot afford to be anti-science.
  • Functional vs. Material creationArguing about Evolution is not the most important thing you can do. A person can believe in Evolution and still be a Christian. Christians will lose the Materialism argument. Because it’s a bad argument. It’s a false dichotomy.The Bible is not a science textbook. It’s a religious document. It’s seeking to form us as persons.
  • Materialism vs.Supernatural (not ‘God of the gaps’)Humanism vs. Depravity (and along with this, we don’t necessarily think Personal Freedom is the greatest good.)Are rituals enough?Progressivism vs. Science as a toolEschatologyIs the Human the highest good?
  • The problem with Progressivism is that the human heart is not getting any better. In fact, the 20th century saw the worst atrocities in history committed by atheists. So far, the worst in the 21st have been religious radicals. What does that tell us?Atheists want to put that all at the feet of religion. Christians put it at the feet of humanity.
  • Materialism vs.Supernatural (not ‘God of the gaps’)Humanism vs. DepravityAre rituals enough?Progressivism vs. Science as a toolEschatologyIs the Human the highest good?
  • By far the biggest challenge for atheists is a ground for morality. For the Christian it’s the problem of Evil. A Christian’s most powerful weapon: “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out.”
  • Atheists may do the same things they accuse religious persons of. GRACE. They’ll not see it in themselves. We should be gracious and kind, not defensive. Remember the Sagan Principle: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. There can be no greater proof than the life of Jesus lived out in front of an atheist.This is an irony: the best way to engage an atheist is probably not with rational argumentation. That has a place, but building a relationship and establishing some mutual respect will go a lot further.
  • Morality matters a lot. Winning arguments often loses friends.Don’t offer resources if you’re not going to read some too.Especially in the Midwest, religion is a painful topic for a lot of atheists. Don’t make it worse.
  • World Religions - Atheism

    1. 1. World ReligionsThe Gospel and Friendship in a Pluralistic Suburb
    2. 2. What Do You Know? 1. Share a doubt you’ve had about Christianity. 2. Do you have any personal experience with Atheism? 3. What do you know about Atheists? 4. What questions do you have about Atheism?
    3. 3. Our “Mars Hill” Methodology • A basic introduction to the faith’s worldview 1. • Areas of agreement between that faith and 2. Orthodox Christian theology and practice • Areas of disagreement between that faith 3. and Orthodox Christian theology and practiceGOAL: To equip you to build a truth-seekingrelationship with someone of another faith.
    4. 4. AtheismTo Build a Better Person
    5. 5. Wait… this is a Religion class! Belief in God? Worldview
    6. 6. What’s in a Name? Theism = God Atheism = No God Agnosticism = No Knowledge Nontheism = Nonissue
    7. 7. Modernizing Pre- Modern Modern
    8. 8. Enlightening 1500s Protestant GalileoReformation 1600 Descartes
    9. 9. God of the Gaps?
    10. 10. Deism No Room for God
    11. 11. Progress? 1700s 1500s Industrial & Protestant American 1900sReformation Revolutions Carl Sagan 1600 1859 Descartes Darwin’s & Galileo Origin of the Species
    12. 12. Atheism Today Cultural Nontheists Atheist Post- SkepticChristian
    13. 13. Atheist “Saints & Scriptures”
    14. 14. Atheist “Scriptures”
    15. 15. Atheism in Community
    16. 16. Key Beliefs: Materialism
    17. 17. Key Beliefs: Progressivism Science
    18. 18. Key Beliefs: Humanism
    19. 19. Critique of ReligionCrutchOpiatePrimitiveDivisiveMoral failure
    20. 20. Critique of Religion
    21. 21. Building Bridges to Atheism We need to hear their critiqueOur beliefs are not beyond critique We both value seeking truth Morality matters!
    22. 22. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree
    23. 23. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree Nature of Nature
    24. 24. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree Why What
    25. 25. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree Materialism Theism
    26. 26. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree Nature of Nature Human Nature Nature of Community Nature of Salvation
    27. 27. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree Humanity is Not The world is getting better.
    28. 28. Where Christianity and Atheism Disagree Nature of Nature Human Nature Nature of Community Nature of Salvation Nature of the End Nature of Authority
    29. 29. The Biggest Problem Ground for Problem Morality of Evil
    30. 30. Make Room for Grace
    31. 31. How Not to Build a Friendship Don’t assume Atheists are immoral. Don’t lead with arguments. Be ready to do some homework. Don’t be defensive.
    32. 32. How to Be a Perfect Stranger Be respectful. Be a student.Be prepared for aggressive persons. Don’t lead with your faith.
    33. 33. Got Questions?•• @jrforasteros• Submit Questions