Odd similarities

There is an weird sort of parallel between many atheists and theologically liberal Christians: Making up a false version of God.  The difference, of course, is that one group doesn’t believe in their false version and the other does believe in their false version.  But the end result is the same: Self-worship, or making up your own version of the universe. 

Many atheists mischaracterize the God of the Bible, such that they don’t believe in a god that doesn’t exist.

Many theologically liberal Christians mischaracterize the God of the Bible and believe in a god that doesn’t exist.

Both groups take things out of context and only read the parts that (they think) support their views.

With the atheists it is a classic case of asking about the god they don’t believe in and then responding, “Oh, I don’t believe in that god, either.  I believe in the one who revealed himself in the Bible.”

With the liberal Christians it is simply a form of idolatry.  They have made a god in their image that agrees with them and comforts them, but it isn’t the true God.  They disagree with Jesus over and over on important issues and either don’t notice it or it doesn’t bother them.

0 thoughts on “Odd similarities”

  1. An outstanding post,. I John warns Christians to “keep yourselves from idols” — a kind of odd commentary from one who has just made the breath-taking comment “our fellowship is with the Father and the Son” — but the point being made, I think, is that any false view of God is ultimately idolatrous.

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  2. Are we seriously doing bodycounts now? To what end?

    Does “atheists kill more people” = “God exists” ?

    “Many atheists mischaracterize the God of the Bible…”

    Well that’s true, but again it doesn’t make him any more believable. It’s another “Courtier’s Reply.”

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  3. Boo, if you concede the claim that atheists frequently mischaracterize the Christian conception of deity, then I’m not sure how that doesn’t undermine the atheists’ credibility in arguing against that conception. If you don’t understand a concept in the first place, just why in the world should anyone take your word for why the concept is implausible or unbelievable?

    And, I doubt that Winter Knight would argue that, if it is the case that atheism has resulted in more bloodshed than religion, that somehow proves the existence of God.

    But if that’s the conclusion you immediately reach, perhaps you’re not in the best possible position to lecture others about what is and isn’t believable.

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  4. Neil, it seems to me that one of the more troubling similarities between theologically liberal Christians and those who are explicitly antagonistic to Christianity is this:

    The liberals use the latter’s rhetorical tools, when it suits them.

    I suspect that they have the mindset of using whatever tool is closest to hand. They abhor, for instance, the Bible’s clear teachings regarding Hell, salvation exclusively through Christ and His shed blood, and sexual morality. Militant atheists regularly attack these teachings, and the theological liberals just use what others use.

    The problem is, the athiests don’t stop where the theological liberals would like: the same tactics they use to sneer at creation — and it is a sneer more often than it is an actual argument — they also use to attack the more fundamental doctrines, such as the historical and bodily Resurrection.

    If a theological liberal ever decided to be truly consistent and applied to the ENTIRE Bible those tools he uses to prune what he doesn’t like, there would hardly be anything left.

    What would be left, couldn’t be called Christian in any real sense.

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  5. Neil,

    Personally, I make no distinction between atheists and liberal “Christians” since in practice they are one and the same. Atheists are simply more open about their theological perversion. (Although, if you happen upon an Episcopal church or United Church of Canada congregation you might feel that Unitarian Universalists are more conservative and Gospel preaching than them.)

    Seriously, one of my pet peeves are liberal “Christians”, mainly due to the act that they are at once a walking, breathing, obnoxious contradiction AND spit on the precious name of Jesus whose blood they claim saved them.

    (If they claim to be Christians, whether they believe He died for their sins or not, they’re by default giving assent to the fact that Jesus died in their place and rose bodily from the dead for their justification. Whether they actually show any evidence of actually believing it or not, this is what they are saying whenever they use the phrase “I am a Christian.”)

    A godly man of the Word once said that if you deny every Scripture in the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and all but the most basic moral tenants of the Christian faith, yet call yourself a believer, either get soundly saved or change your name!

    His bondslave,

    David

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  6. I am SO glad you said that Neil. There are a number of Christans practicing idolatry and either refuse to admit it or refuse to open the book and read it for themselves. I would say even some that knock on my door and have the nerve to ask me, “Do you know Jesus?”

    I have to fire right back with, “YES, but do you?”

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  7. Hi Bubba

    “Boo, if you concede the claim that atheists frequently mischaracterize the Christian conception of deity, then I’m not sure how that doesn’t undermine the atheists’ credibility in arguing against that conception.”

    It neither strengthens nor undermines it; the character of God is irrelevant to the question of his existence. If you are an atheist because you don’t like the character of God, then you’re not an atheist, you just don’t like this particular god.

    “But if that’s the conclusion you immediately reach, perhaps you’re not in the best possible position to lecture others about what is and isn’t believable.”

    That certainly is not the conclusion I immediately reach, and I don’t intend to lecture anyone on what is and is not believable. People will always decide that for themselves. I do however question the portrayal of negative / positive consequences as an argument for or against the existence of God. “These people didn’t believe in God (we think) and look how many people they killed” is not an argument for God’s existence. Neither is “look Johnny became a Christian and now he’s off drugs” an argument for God’s existence.

    Yes, I know Wintery Knight may have brought it up for other reasons, and I get just as irritated when atheists try to prove that every despot in history was actually a believer.

    I’ll say it again, it’s IRRELEVANT to the question of God’s existence.

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  8. I agree that the immoral behavior of Group A is irrelevant to the objective truth of what they believe, Boo — though it may indicate whether the group really believes what they say they do — but I think it’s extremely presumptuous to conclude that that’s what Wintery Knight was aiming for.

    On the question of what’s relevant, you say that atheism doesn’t hinge on an accurate portrayal of the Judeo-Christian God.

    Even if that were true, it would be frankly more productive for atheists to argue, as you do here, that the details of Christian theology are irrelevant, rather than get those details flat wrong. If someone tries and fails to understand the basic facts of another group’s beliefs, it does call into question the individual’s ability to think clearly.

    But I’m not sure it’s true, for at least three reasons.

    1) At the most basic level, I don’t see how one can argue for or against the existence of any concept unless the concept is at least partially defined.

    Atheists will say that they deny the existence of all small-g gods, but pantheists believe that the universe ITSELF is a deity, and surely most atheists don’t deny the existence of the universe simply because some people happen to worship it. Atheists are thus arguing, not against a literally limitless concept of deity, but against a concept that is at least partially limited to exclude consideration of simple pantheism.

    (One limit might be transcendence: atheists deny the existence of deities that transcend the physical universe. This would be a position against the existence of the deity Christians worship, but not against the universe that pantheists worship, or the ancestors or animals that others worship..)

    2) Some of the arguments atheists invoke appear to have Judeo-Christian theology in mind. The most obvious example is the problem of pain, where atheists point to the existence of sometimes unbearable pain to argue against the existence of a loving and powerful God.

    This argument takes aim at the Christian conception of God, since Christians affirm both God’s omnipotence and His omnibenevolence. As I understand it, Islam teaches an essentially unknowable deity, so this argument has no impact on the existence of their deity, and their theologians have no intellectual obligation to address it.

    3) Beyond all this, atheists routinely make a habit of attacking the Judeo-Christian God in particular. Dawkins, for instance, smeared God as portrayed in Jewish Scripture as “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    They might have their reasons for this: in the culture in which they live, Christianity is at least nominally dominant. It is probably the specific religion the atheist rebelled against, and it helps ensure controversy and the ensuing sales without running the risk of a fatwa.

    Whether the reasons exist or not, atheists do frequently attack the Judeo-Christian concept of God specifically. When they do that, it most certainly matters that their ideas about our faith are sometimes spectacularly wrong, and it is most certainly the case that Christians are not wrong to respond.

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  9. Those are good points, Bubba. I would certainly not begrudge Christians a suitable response to an attack such as you quoted there. I would also point out, again, and this time to Dawkins, that just because in his opinion God has all those characteristics, it doesn’t necessarily follow that God doesn’t exist.

    I would also agree with you that atheists largely focus their attacks on Judeo-Christianity. (I’m talking now about atheists in the west, I have no idea of what the prevalence of atheism is in eastern countries). This is because most of us would have grown up with at least a superficial knowledge of it, and many atheists may have been believers at some time in their lives. Of course many Christians love to point out that we’re too scared to attack Islam (some people call this “fatwa envy”), conveniently forgetting about some prominent atheists of recent times who have done just that, and who’s lives are in danger as a result. But no, it’s certainly not habitual for atheists to launch scathing attacks on Muslims, but then neither do Christians, and probably for the same reasons.

    Actually that brings me to another point; I’m curious as to whether you would consider knowledge of other religious texts, and exegesis of those texts etc. a prerequisite to having any sort of discussion with a proponent of that particular religion, regarding the truth of his beliefs? Or is superficial knowledge good enough? If he were to accuse you of “mischaracterizing” his god and his faith, how would you respond?

    I must admit I don’t quite follow you with regard to Pantheism. Of course I accept the universe exists, but I wouldn’t expect it to respond in any manner to worship.

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  10. I don’t think it’s necessary for a Christian to have a thorough knowledge of the Koran, or a Muslim to have a thorough knowledge of the Bible, for there to be productive dialogue between those two members of the two faiths — a dialogue where common ground is sought in order to advance a common goal, or even a dialogue where one seeks to convince the other to convert.

    All that is needed is a humble willingness to argue in good faith: the Christian doesn’t have to accept the Muslim’s claim that the Koran is authoritative, but he shouldn’t presume that a scholarly Muslim has no answers at all to at least the more obvious difficulties with his faith’s scriptures.

    (To see what I’m talking about, consider an earlier exchange at this blog, where one skeptic made the VERY glib claim that “Jesus himself expected his return within the lifertime of a generation.” As I pointed out, the context of the passage doesn’t support that conclusion. Wolf threw out the sort of gripe about the New Testament that you could find a the site of any skeptic whose petulance far outweighs his critical thinking skills, and he presumed that there was no answer for it. It’s that sort of presumption — both arrogant AND ignorant — that precludes a useful conversation.)

    As I understand the belief, the Muslim sanction of taqiyya, or lying to non-believers, makes good-faith discussions difficult, but it’s not clear that all Muslims practice this.

    Again, it comes down to humility and good faith: I don’t have to tell a Muslim what his book says in order to explain what the Bible says and argue for its trustworthiness — to explain that man can do nothing to earn salvation, that the documentary evidence of the New Testament is incredibly strong regarding its claim of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that the New Testaments fulfills the Old Testament without having to downgrade its trustworthiness in the least.

    About pantheism, my point is that atheism isn’t a rejection of the existence of all small-g gods using the broadest possible definition of “god” — i.e., something that man worships.

    Some men worship the sun, some their ancestors, some the trees and birds and animals, and some the entire universe. Atheists generally do not deny the existence of these things.

    Instead, what they deny is the existence of anything that fits a LESS BROAD definition, and anything that restricts the definition necessarily introduces new concepts.

    Strictly speaking, pantheism doesn’t necessarily entail an expectation that the universe will respond to worship; it doesn’t even entail the moral obligation to worship the universe. In its simplest form, pantheism simply means belief that the universe is God.

    About the universe, you write, “I wouldn’t expect it to respond in any manner to worship,” but here you’re introducing a concept that refines what you mean by deity: you imply that atheism doesn’t deny just any deity (e.g., the sun or one’s ancestors), it denies a responsive deity.

    That’s not anywhere near as precise as the God of the Bible, transcendent but personal, one Being in three Persons, perfectly just and loving, etc.

    But it’s still a refinement beyond a denial of all small-g gods, however they’re defined.

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  11. Hi Neil,

    A book I started reading today made me think of this post. Its called: The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism- Ravo Ravindra

    He says something in the introduction I think is important to note here..

    No two spiritual paths can be exactly the same, even though there are many parallels and areas of agreement between them. Each path has its own specific center of gravity. And the most important thing from a practical religious point of view is to actively search for and respond to a way, a path of inner intergration. That alone can lead to salvation or freedom or truth.

    I believe this is the root of all dissenting opinion within the churches, temples, and synagogues. Because ‘it is written’ Believers think they have a right to mold and shape society into what God wants. The authority bestowed by Jesus replaces ‘do it or go to hell’ with ‘do it or be locked out of heaven’. Christians have been caught up in practice far too long and forgot the main message was LOVE.

    Ravindra goes on to say, “Still, not only the theory but even the practice of a path can be illuminated by a light coming from another tradition. What is important to appreciate is that no spiritual path can be true if it is essentially devised here below by human reasoning. A true path depends on the will of heaven; it originates from above. There cannot be a way from here to There, unless it first be laid from There to here.”

    That my friend is some powerful stuff from a Non-Christian who fell in love with the Gospel of John. One does not have to give up the fundamentals of their own ‘way’, just to accept something agreeable from another. I think Atheists deny the ridiculous contridictions of ritual and practice more than the existance of God or a ‘higher power’.

    Who can blame them when believers can’t even seem to agree amongst themselves!?

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    1. Hi Mizclark,

      The first quote is fairly standard religious pluralism, which I find to be
      thoroughly false. The New Testament teaches 100 times directly and
      indirectly that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Many of those are found
      in the Gospel of John. The OT was equally clear that there is one God. So
      other religions aren’t just a little different if they deny that.

      I wish Christians agreed more, but God knew there would be disputed matters
      and gave guidance for how to handle them (e.g., Romans 14). But to disagree
      on the essentials is to concede that one is not to be accurately called a
      Christian.

      I agree that the true path would come from God and not human reasoning.

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  12. Hi Neil,
    I think that it speaks volumes that both liberals and atheists can sit the the same room, discussing their beliefs, or lack of it, and no one gets mad. Put an orthodox believer in their, and hatred is fired at him from both groups. You and I have been to such blogs where that happens. That should tell us a lot.
    Blessings

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  13. Hmm, it seems that it is only natural to question the judgment of a person who so blatantly misrepresents a foundational issue. Some atheists have thought through theology better and deeper than most Christians. I don’t think this is the case in general, though, and the same goes with liberal Christians.

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  14. Yes Neil that was the only point I was trying to make. I am unsure of what Mr. Ravindar’s religion is, but it was SO interesting to hear Jesus’ philosphies so clear and precise from a non-believer.

    Sometimes it makes me wonder how on Earth someone with such a clear understanding of the message–still would not believe?

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