Contend Earnestly: Thanksgiving for Atheists, etc.?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving for Atheists, etc.?

Thanksgiving is coming up this Thursday where we all go against Proverbs 23:20 where it states, "Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat"
Okay, hopefully not the first part of the verse, but most likely with the second half. Good job. What most don't realize is that if the gorge their face with food it is just as bad as getting drunk, but that post is coming up in my last of the 10 Steps to Become a Legalist. As a Christian, we have much to be thankful for. If you are a Christian you even know that Thanksgiving isn't the only time that we are thankful, but we are thankful daily to the One who has supplied all our needs. What I wonder is what happens at an Atheist's, and others, table on Thanksgiving evening.

When I think of Thanksgiving it is a special day to direct my thoughts and prayers towards the Giver of all good things. This isn't the only time, but a special time. It is like Valentine's Day. If I only love my wife once a year, we have some issues. But, I celebrate Valentine's Day with my wife as it is a special time of year to display my love towards her.

But, this had me thinking...what about the Atheists, Deists and Open Theists?

The Atheist's Thanksgiving?

So, what happens around the table and on this day? Do they sit around and thank themselves? Do they thank the big bang, chance and time for everything that has been given to them? If they are true atheists, in the form of Darwinism, they should thank the goo for not making them like the black people who are less evolved (according to Darwin).

I would love to sit around with an atheist on Thanksgiving and watch him praise himself for all the good things that he has done for all those around him. Because as we get to the bottom of it, on what basis does he judge what is good and what is bad? They have no moral compass based on their strict belief that man is just a machine. So, I wonder if they live out their beliefs and not only thank themselves for all the "good" that they have created, but I wonder if they thank themselves for all the "bad" that they have done as well? Because what is good to them might be evil to another. And according to their belief system this fits fine, until someone comes and murders their child. Then what? Was that action evil or good? Maybe to the person murdering their child, it was good. So, how does Thanksgiving look like then? It would be quite interesting to see how they give thanks and watch their heads spin if they have multiple cultures represented at their table as we watch them argue over what should be given thanks for and what should be abhorred. Maybe a little comical too.

The Deists Thanksgiving?

This would also be very interesting to watch on Thursday evening as they gathered together. Like most of our forefathers, the Deist does believe in a god who created the universe, but they see him more like someone who created the watch, wound it up and let it go. After that, this god, just watches the universe go wild but never interjects. So, no miracles and really no divine providence in any way besides the start of the "wound up watch" we know as the universe. Most notably, Thomas Jefferson, as he has his own bible where he cut all the miracles out of the Bible, including the resurrection of Christ, to fit his heresy.

So, what do they do on Thanksgiving? In the end they can't pray, because God won't do anything or listen to their prayers, because he is an absent god without a real care about the universe that he created. They have to, in the end, thank themselves, as the atheist does, because the only providence found is in the creation account (which is a miracle in itself) but all the rest of decision making and providence comes from the man, not the God who created them.

The Open Theist Thanksgiving?

When the Open Theist wakes up on Thanksgiving day, he must be just as surprised as God is that he didn't die in his sleep. So, both the the Open Theist, and their god, give out a big "woo hoo" for making it through the night. But who does the Open Theist thank on Thanksgiving? He can't thank God because he had no control of what was going to happen. As far as God knew, the person wasn't going to make it to this year's Thanksgiving and has no control if the turkey bone is going to choke him when he accidentally swallows it.

How can you thank a god that doesn't even control the next minute, much less, this past year? The Open Theist Thanksgiving must be a very confusing one for him and their god. They both kind of scratch their heads, look at the years past events, and just thank chance that they ever made it through.

In the end, the Open Theist, again, has to thank himself for freely making every correct choice to make it to this year. He has to thank himself for forgetting where his keys were, so that he left that morning 10 minutes later, only to find out that if he left on time, he would have been involved in the head on collision at the near by intersection. He has to thank himself for making the correct free choice of choosing to leave his bank job for another because his god was caught off guard on the financial crises as much as he was.

As we look to this Thanksgiving, even if we hate most of the surrounding aspects of it, we have to direct our attention to the Most Holy God who is sovereign over all things. This is the only way that your Thanksgiving can be truly directed off or yourself and on to the Creator and that is if you believe that he truly is the only Providential Sovereign God.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
James 1:17

8 comments:

natamllc said...

Seth,

to have a bit of humor at your expense,

us "first nations sorts", as in California Indians, we got it from both views, the Alantic and the Nords and Spainards and from the Pacific and the ruskees fur trader types!

Why would a damn savage such as I am be thankful for a bunch of Indians on the East coast of the not then United States helping out those white guys?

We faired no better as we had to help the ruskees out on this side because they were just as mean! :)

Beavers anyone?

Kylyssa Shay said...

Atheists thank the people responsible for making their life good rather than neglecting to thank them and thanking a god instead. Do you thank the grocery store clerk who you bought the food from or your boss who provided you with a job so you could pay for it? Or is it just fine to ignore them and pretend god put the food on your table instead of hard working farmers, truckers, stock boys - and the person who lovingly prepared it?

I'm a bit afraid that you think that your belief in Christ is the only reason you don't run around committing crimes and killing people - I'd better go lock my doors and windows in case your faith becomes shaken. Doing good is its own reward, in my book.

To see other things atheists are thankful for you can check out this article
To see where atheists think morality comes from you can check out this one
To see why we don't run around killing people because we don't have a god to threaten or reward us you can go here

Jim Sabiston said...

Seth,

I am a first time visitor, having stumbled across the page while googling another topic, but felt the need to help correct an ongoing wrong when I saw your post.

Your commentary only serves to make clear your provincial christian based viewpoint and lack of understanding of the world around you. In the process, you freely slander entire classes of fine people. Not very christian behavior. Only recently another writer editorialized a very similar article. I provide the link below. Please read the article and the amazingly polite and heartfelt comments that follow this misbegotten display of small minded bigotry:

http://www.times-herald.com/opinion/op-ed/A-few-religious-thoughts-to-ponder-595375

I was raised christian and am constantly appalled at the smug, self-righteous behavior regularly displayed by my bretheren. I find I prefer the company of atheists and agnostics these days, as their universally high moral standards are based on reason rather than a mythological diety that threatens eternal hellfire for any transgression.

Please educate yourself about the real world and the people in it before posting such trash. On the chance that you will take this suggestion to heart, please visit this very well written and admirable site to learn what atheists are really like:

http://www.daylightatheism.org/

The owner of the site is one of the finest - and moral - young men I know and I am proud to include his caring, intelligent atheist parents among my friends. You should be so fortunate as to say the same.

To answer your question: Who do atheists thank? We thank our friends for their friendship. We thank our family for their support and companionship. We thank our neighbors for their company and support within the community.

And, lastly, we renew our commitment to each other to try and leave the world a better place than we found it. All this without once slighting or slandering another human being.

Jim S.

natamllc said...

Jim

for what it is worth, this is me commenting on your words not Seth,

But, I don't suppose Seth is going to be to far off this mark as I know I am not:::>

Luk 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
Luk 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

And it's ok that you view life the way you do.

I would not expect anyone who has not been touched by the Hand of God to view life any differently.

In fact, they cannot unless God touches them and reveals to them "Eternal Life".

May Our Good Lord touch you then!

michael

Seth McBee said...

Ms. Shay an Mr. Sabistan.

Thanks for stopping by. I do not doubt that you might be, or know many moral atheists. The problem is that if you use your logic to the full extent, it doesn't make sense on why you would choose to be "moral" or "immoral" or on what grounds you base what is actually moral or immoral.

I thank the same people you thank at thanksgiving, but then I thank the personal triune God who made those people and gave them the faculties to do the work that they do.

Just by stopping by and calling me a bigot or hateful is not going to further discussion or expose the dilemma that you face everyday if you live out your logic. Because anyone that believes that impersonal matter gave them a personality has no grounds to make decisions on morality in any way.

By thinking that impersonal matter gave you a personality to even engage logic and morals is like thinking a tractor created the farmer. It is interesting that the atheists and agnostic won't take the simple proofs found all around them for the fallacies in their arguments and instead decide to ignore their own logic and live in ways that are completely against their own beliefs.

If you believe that you come from an impersonal beginning how can you ever even think of having personal morals, convictions or logic? It really makes no sense.

I hope this finds you well. I know you will think that I am being a bigot or that I am closed minded and hateful or prideful. None of these things are true. Actaully quite the opposite. I have come to the conclusion that I am merely finite, with a finite mind and utterly sinful. So, instead of looking inward to answer infinite questions, I look outward to an infinite God who is good, loving and perfect and has all the answers, because he himself is the answer. He is personal, therefore I can be personal. He communicates, therefore I communicate. He loves, therefore I can love.

I look outward, because inward only proves to be fallacious, ignorant and prideful. Not the other way around.

Jim Sabiston said...

Ms. Shay an Mr. Sabistan.

“Thanks for stopping by. I do not doubt that you might be, or know many moral atheists. The problem is that if you use your logic to the full extent, it doesn't make sense on why you would choose to be "moral" or "immoral" or on what grounds you base what is actually moral or immoral. “

Dear Seth,

This statement is utter nonsense. Morality through the ages has always been based on the evolved needs of the society in question. All moral societies, and religions, have at their core a common set of moral structures based on evolutionary needs. It would be fair to say the Ten Commandments provide a good example of this common internal structure. The simple reason is that no society can last without this sort of mutual beneficial coherence at its center. Christianity did not create this structure. Judiasm seems to be the first to put it in writing, but writing was a pretty new invention at the time. The same behavior is universally found in aboriginal peoples who have never heard of Christianity. Atheistic morals stem from the same source. They are inherent to all humans, theistic or otherwise. Individuals deviate from this behavior, but these people exist both within and without all religions.

Your reasoning is flawed and meaningless and serves only to support a self-serving logic loop.

“Just by stopping by and calling me a bigot or hateful is not going to further discussion or expose the dilemma that you face everyday if you live out your logic. Because anyone that believes that impersonal matter gave them a personality has no grounds to make decisions on morality in any way. “

First, I did not refer to you as a bigot. That would be rude. However, your article certainly reflects a position that could, quite easily (unavoidably?), be construed as bigoted. It is my primary purpose to point out that simple fact. Your statements made in the article are flat out wrong, period. Your writing only serves to propagate a prejudiced, slanderous myth. Second, moral judgments are the sole province of the morally religious!? Your terrible conceit shows. History is filled with the horrors against mankind fomented by the ‘moral‘ faithful, Christians included.

“By thinking that impersonal matter gave you a personality to even engage logic and morals is like thinking a tractor created the farmer. It is interesting that the atheists and agnostic won't take the simple proofs found all around them for the fallacies in their arguments and instead decide to ignore their own logic and live in ways that are completely against their own beliefs. “

Another flawed conclusion. If we change one word, the statement makes more sense: “It is interesting that the religious won't take the simple proofs found all around them for the fallacies in their arguments and instead decide to ignore their own logic and live in ways that are completely against their own beliefs.”

All evidence points in the other direction. The only evidence for Christianity is found in a book written by men. Science finds evidence from many sources and the evidence is independently verifiable by anyone willing to make the effort. As regards the creation of personality, spend a little time reading up on the cognitive sciences and be amazed by the complex wonder that the mind is. But it remains a natural creation. Much of our behavior, yes, including moral behavior, can find its basic roots on the behavior of social animals. The unique human quality is self-aware cognizance.

“If you believe that you come from an impersonal beginning how can you ever even think of having personal morals, convictions or logic? It really makes no sense.”

On the contrary. Again, your deeply biased and self limiting viewpoint shows. Again, morals, conviction and logic are the sole province of the appropriately religious!? I repeat – an utterly stunning conceit.

“I hope this finds you well. I know you will think that I am being a bigot or that I am closed minded and hateful or prideful. None of these things are true. Actaully quite the opposite is true. I have come to the conclusion that I am merely finite, with a finite mind and utterly sinful. So, instead of looking inward to answer infinite questions, I look outward to an infinite God who is good, loving and perfect and has all the answers, because he himself is the answer. He is personal, therefore I can be personal. He communicates, therefore I communicate. He loves, therefore I can love. “

I hope this finds you well, too. No ill will is intended by my post. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is my intent to show you the error in your position. I respect your belief in Christianity. I neither wish to sway you in any way from that belief nor expect to. I was raised Christian and I know the teachings and what it means. I am finite as well. We all are. I am not sinful. I refuse to accept the concept of original sin. I am very fallible, however, as this is part of the human condition. I love also, but because I have the courage to do so. I look both inward and outward - inward in an attempt at better self-understanding, outward to gaze in awe and wonder at the creations of the natural universe.

I will take you at your word that you are not hateful or prideful in intent., but your writing sends a clearly different message. I hope you are not close minded, because then you may accept my statements in the spirit they are intended and recognize the truth in them. I do not go around haunting religious sites picking arguments. This is actually the first time I’ve done something like this. That in itself is a statement of how your article hit me – in all the wrong ways. I will close with this thought: While I no longer practice Christianity, I respect the core concept that underlies it. As Gandhi once famously stated:” I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”, most Christians have wandered from Christ’s true teachings and become prideful, self-righteous bores.

Regardless of religious affiliations, Jesus’ main gift to mankind was the concept of agape love – as defined in Wikipedia: “The word has been used in different ways by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including Biblical authors. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.” This is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. Your writing does not reflect this core concept. People can, and do, live full, satisfying, moral and meaningful lives that are neither empty nor filled with angst simply because they are not Christian. You would do well to learn this simple lesson. Once you understand and act on that simple reality, you will be in a far better position to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

ps: in preparing to post this followup, I noticed your post regarding your grandfather’s passing. Please allow me to extend my condolences to you and your family. Regardless of our respective positions, when a loved one departs, those of us remaining still feel the loss of a loved ones presence.

Seth McBee said...

Jim.
I do agree with Ghandi on that point. Although I, of course, do not agree on Ghandi on most of his other points. Christians as a whole have disappointed many through the years and this is why it is so important to point people to Jesus and not to ourselves. We are sinners and will sin and keep sinning. We are just like you, no different morally. The main difference comes in where we put our trust and the fact that we desire to do the things of the Lord and we seek Him for forgiveness.

Our job is to point people to Christ, not ourselves. Churches filled with hypocrites? Yes, because churches are filled with people...errr...sinful people.

This has always been the case, even throughout biblical history, most of those seen as mighty for the Lord did sinful acts and deplorable deeds. The difference between them and the pagans of their day? They turned to their Saviour, Yahweh.

I still don't understand one point though.

How can you get a personality from a nonpersonal beginning? Big bang, etc.? This is impossible.

As far as morals. How can you ever deem someone as doing something good or evil without a personal beginning that deems certain things as good or evil? Without this personal beginning and absolute morals become completely arbitrary and what is good for you could be completely evil to someone else and therefore you can never make the claim that something is actually good or evil...it is always arbitrary.

You might claim the conscience (you might not) but again, how do we get these moral understandings...i.e. conscience...from an impersonal beginning?

And in the end, if it is an impersonal beginning that created us, what does it matter if I do someone good or not? Why does it matter if I have no one to answer to? There is no person to have a relationship with, so in the end, if I want to kill your mother and deem it good, on what grounds can you say that I am evil in doing so or that I should not?

Jim.
I honestly thank you for your heart felt words about my grandfather and thank you for this discussion.

Jim Sabiston said...

“Jim.
I do agree with Ghandi on that point. Although I, of course, do not agree on Ghandi on most of his other points. Christians as a whole have disappointed many through the years and this is why it is so important to point people to Jesus and not to ourselves. We are sinners and will sin and keep sinning. We are just like you, no different morally. The main difference comes in where we put our trust and the fact that we desire to do the things of the Lord and we seek Him for forgiveness. “

Seth,

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Gandhi was a Hindu, so differences of opinion are to be expected on that front. But, that said, yes, there is much truth in the quote as you note. People are people with all the baggage that that implies. We are the same, speaking from moral terms, more than you may realize. This is precisely my original point.

“Our job is to point people to Christ, not ourselves. Churches filled with hypocrites? Yes, because churches are filled with people...errr...sinful people. “

LOL!!. Well, yes. I prefer ‘fallible’ people, but our basic concept is very similar here, so we actually agree on the main point. There are far worse things that can be done than to point people towards Christ, especially if you mean his original teachings and not the corrupted interpretations that seem to prevail in the news today. On that note, I recommend a book for you to read: “Beyond Belief – the Secret Gospels of Thomas”

You can find a brief description at the bottom of this page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagels

“This has always been the case, even throughout biblical history, most of those seen as mighty for the Lord did sinful acts and deplorable deeds. The difference between them and the pagans of their day? They turned to their Saviour, Yahweh.”

I will go along with that for the most part, but the detailed history is far more challenging.

“I still don't understand one point though.

How can you get a personality from a nonpersonal beginning? Big bang, etc.? This is impossible.

As far as morals. How can you ever deem someone as doing something good or evil without a personal beginning that deems certain things as good or evil? Without this personal beginning and absolute morals become completely arbitrary and what is good for you could be completely evil to someone else and therefore you can never make the claim that something is actually good or evil...it is always arbitrary.

You might claim the conscience (you might not) but again, how do we get these moral understandings...i.e. conscience...from an impersonal beginning? “

Ah. Now we get to the center of it. These are very good questions and not easily answered. The explanation (or one possible explanation, to keep all the options open) lies within the study of human cognizance. This is of particular interest to me, as I’ve long been driven by a desire to understand what makes us human. I will attempt to give a fairly comprehensive summary, but it is a broad and complex subject. I will do my best, though – wish me luck.

I commented in my earlier post that the main unique quality of humans in our cognizant, self-awareness. There is much ongoing research into the origins, nature and mechanisms that underlie this self-awareness. Research indicates that our subconscious functions have much in common with the higher mammals, and especially primates. However, our higher brain capacity allowed the development of increasingly complex social interaction and related social structures. There are a number of competing theories as to the time-line and developmental triggers, but the general idea is that this steady trend towards increasing social complexity and interaction resulted in what we call ‘self-awareness’ – what we generally think of as being conscious individuals. Individual ‘personality’ is the representation of our integrated personal functions within the society as individuals. Our ‘self’ is a combined function of inherent subconscious behavioral tendencies (which vary in degree from person to person) combined deeply with the culture we learn from our parents early on and our social associations later. A parallel development, and very closely related to the development of consciousness, was the evolution of culture – the rules of social interaction within a specific group. Different cultures evolved independently of each other, separated by geological conditions. Today, we see these differences in the form of national and ethnic variations – defined precisely as local cultures. The needs of biological survival provide a solid moral behavioral basis as a starting point, but it only carries you so far. The advent of human social interaction introduces massive complexities to this issue, which are addressed (with admittedly mixed results) by cultural development.

Most cultures have a very similar basic structure to them, built around what we refer to as ‘moral’ behavior. This commonality is essential, as a society will not flourish without this ‘moral’ core (thou shalt not kill, steal, etc.). Once one gets above this basic layer, the behavioral details are subject to the endless unique variations that actually define the differences between cultures. (what clothing is acceptable, what food is acceptable, etc.).

Accordingly, what is considered ‘moral’ behavior varies from culture to culture, as can be easily seen today and throughout history, but the variations are built on a common base which is sourced directly from a behavioral model that simply promotes survival of the group in question. Things go somewhat askew when populations increase to the point that the various cultures come in direct contact and their respective differing behavioral rules conflict and/or the groups are competing for resources. This condition summarizes, in a single breath, much of human history for the last few thousand years.

Religion is very much a part of cultural development and why each culture tends to have its unique theology. Religion is an extremely effective transmission device for behavioral codes and this is why it pervades very nearly all known societies. It works! One interesting aspect of religion is that it need have no bearing on reality, provided that the belief set works within the societal needs of its environment and the members of that society believe in (or at least follow) its dictates. Simply examine religions other than your own – Islam or Gandhi’s Hinduism - for competing, but successful, ‘wrong’ cultural models. Christianity works the same way.

Whew! I think that covers the big parts! If you are so inclined, the following books provide some very in-depth studies on these very points:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin%27s_Cathedral – Focuses on religion as an organizing, motivational device within societies. It uses a number of examples but takes a very deep look into the development of Calvinism as a topic of study.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_Explained - Takes a more general approach to human cognizant perception and why we believe what we believe. The focus is on non-western, third world cultures and provides some fascinating functional examples.

“And in the end, if it is an impersonal beginning that created us, what does it matter if I do someone good or not? Why does it matter if I have no one to answer to? There is no person to have a relationship with, so in the end, if I want to kill your mother and deem it good, on what grounds can you say that I am evil in doing so or that I should not? “

This seems to be an underlying fear of many theists. They see the ‘deity defined’ morality as the only possible moral definition. The thought is misguided on two fronts. The first is essentially what I have written about above – a basic moral code is essential to the survival of a society – they already exist. Without it, there is no ‘us’ to be moral – the code follows the basic needs of survival and provides a moral groundwork for all that follows. Any culture that allows the willful, random killing of its members (or any other major disruptive behavior) will not last long.

The second is the recognition that all religious moral codes can be traced only to a human source. Yes, these sources are generally credited to ‘divine inspiration’ and I will leave that alone for now, as it does not impact on my main point. All cultures, and the secondary moral codes (those that exist above the critical survival level – the primary basic codes remain constant) change over time. They are changed by man without divine influence as the culture progresses. There are many examples of this progression. The changes are generally brought about by general consensus within a particular society. Violate the code and the society will prosecute you. That is sufficient reason to behave according to the rules.

But let’s go past that point a bit. A common argument is made that ‘would you rather associate with a man who behaves morally because he is afraid that God will punish him for his crimes, or with a man who behaves morally because he believes within himself that it is simply the right thing to do in the context of his obligations to self, family and society?’ The question is often offered in a somewhat snarky fashion, but it makes a very valid point. I choose the latter, as that person has built their moral code on a far more solid foundation and will be in a better position to evaluate those situations that the old texts could never foresee.

“Jim.
I honestly thank you for your heart felt words about my grandfather and thank you for this discussion.”

I am pleased on both fronts. The thought was extended in good faith and intent and I am pleased that you recognized it as such. This discussion is important. If we can come to a mutual understanding, even if we do not change our respective overall positions, we have progressed in a good direction.

I hope you and yours remain well.

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