An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Conclusion: The Judge, the Servant King, and the Box Top
- I’ll wrap up the book in this video, covering now only the conclusion, but also two of the appendices that follow.
- Geisler and Turek tell a story about a young man brought before a judge for drunk driving. The judge as it turns out, is his own father. The young man is obviously guilty, but he pleads to his father, promising to live a life of charity from now on. The Judge explains that he has no choice — the law says the punishment, either time in jail or a fine of $5,000, must be imposed. The young man protests that he can’t afford to pay a $5,000 fine. So, rather than see his own son go to jail, the Judge steps down off the bench, takes off his robe, and hands his son $5,000 from his own pocket, paying the fine himself. The son, of course, accepts his father’s free gift. The judge’s dilemma in this little tale, say Geisler and Turek, is similar to God’s.
- “What’s the only way God can remain just but not punish us for our sins? He must punish a sinless substitute who voluntarily takes our punishment for us (sinless because the substitute must pay for our sins, not his own; and voluntary because it would be unjust to punish the substitute against his will). Where can God find a sinless substitute? Not from sinful humanity, but only from himself.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, p. 378)
- A few problems with this scenario: First, salvation in Christianity isn’t based on paying a fine; it’s based on human sacrifice, which itself is an extension of the animal sacrifice rituals that had been practiced by Jews for generations before the time of Jesus. It’s not a reluctant God inventing a loop-hole for us, his beloved children, to squeeze through. It’s an authoritarian God demanding tribute. Apologists like to use the metaphor of Jesus paying our debt because that makes it seem like an offer we’d be insane to refuse. Get out of having to pay what we owe by letting someone else pay for us? What a deal! Except, that isn’t really the deal. Jesus may have been God, according to Christians, but he was also fully human. He had a dual nature. Which means he really suffered on the cross — in fact, evangelicals like Geisler and Turek display a perverse fascination with the indescribable suffering they believe Jesus felt leading to his death. Which means it isn’t a matter of just letting someone else pay your debt. To receive salvation as a Christian, you must implicate yourself in an act of human sacrifice. You must affirm that the bloody, horrific execution of Jesus — a man you believe to be completely sinless, 100% innocent of any crime — was done in your name.
- The choice we are offered by the Christian God isn’t “Let me pay your fine or go to jail.” It’s “become party to a human sacrifice or go to Hell.” And I won’t do that. I don’t believe for a second this is an actual choice that I’m faced with, but if it were, I’d rather go to Hell than attach myself to such a horrible crime, and be rewarded for doing so by being forced to spend eternity praising the God who imposed such a monstrously immoral choice on me in the first place!
- By the way, Geisler and Turek claim that the reason God does it this way (rather than just forgiving sins and letting everyone into Heaven) is because God is perfectly just, and must punish our sins. The fact that God would impose such a choice on people — human sacrifice or damnation — demonstrates that he is most certainly not perfectly just. The fact that he believes the crimes of the guilty can be transferred to an innocent which can then be punished in place of the guilty — in other words, scapegoating — demonstrates that he’s working with primitive concepts of guilt and innocence. Which makes sense, since this God was first invented by primitive people.
- Geisler and Turek address the myth, as they call it, that being a good person will get you to Heaven:
- “According to this view, it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re a ‘good person’ and your good deeds outweigh your bad. But this is false, because a perfectly just God must punish bad deeds regardless of how many good ones someone has performed. Once we’ve sinned against an eternal being — and we all have — we deserve eternal punishment, and no good deed can change that fact.” (p. 378)
- Why is it that the eternal nature of God demands eternal punishment for us — temporal beings who committed temporal sins? Infinite punishment for finite crimes — that’s not fair, is it? If I was convicted of breaking a federal law, should my imprisonment last as long as the federal government does? It seems to me that a truly just system would determine severity of punishment based on the severity of the crime, not on the longevity of the government (or God) whose law was broken.
- Again, not sounding so perfectly just to me.
The Servant King
The Suffering of the Servant King
- Geisler and Turek try to help us understand how God saves us while respecting our freedom by quoting from Philip Yancey’s rewrite of Kierkegaard’s Parable of the King and the Maiden, which is itself based on a story from the Bible where King Solomon disguises himself as a shepherd in order to get some pussy from a peasant woman.
- The king realizes that he could never be sure that the woman actually loved him if he came to her as himself — she might just be saying she loved him because he’s the king and she fears offending him. So he renounces his throne and goes to her as a beggar.
- This, you see, is what God did for us by coming to Earth as Christ.
- “Imagine, the Creator of the universe humbling himself by coming to serve, suffer, and die at the hands of the very creatures he created! Why would he do this? Because his infinite love compels him to offer salvation to those made in his image. And taking the form of a human servant was the only way he could offer us that salvation without negating our ability to accept it.” (p. 380)
- I have something to say about this, but first let me summarize the next chapter because it’s relevant to what I want to say.
The Box Top
- Speaking of Christians loving to jack off to Jesus torture porn . . .
- In this section, Geisler and Turek describe the crucifixion and the suffering of Jesus in lurid detail. For two and a half pages, from the whipping of Jesus, to the Roman soldiers mocking him, to the forced carrying of the cross, to the nailing of Jesus to the cross, to the agony of hanging and slowly suffocating to death, Geisler and Turek wade knee-deep through the blood of Jesus. It’s like a mini-novelization of The Passion of the Christ, really. Then, after Jesus is dead, Geisler and Turek say this:
- “Jesus went through all that so you and I could be reconciled to him, so you and I could be saved from our sins by affirming, Father, into your hands I commit my life.” (p. 383)
- Could I make a suggestion? Why not wait until after we’re dead to present us with the choice of whether or not to accept Christ? Presumably, God has perfect answers to all my ethical and philosophical objections, so why force me to make my choice — a choice which will determine my eternal fate, mind you — before I have all the facts? Sure, right now I would tell God to take his offer of salvation and shove it up his ass, because I’m not down with scapegoating and human sacrifice. But maybe once God explained to me his reasons, I’d see things his way. Why is it too late to accept Christ once you die? Why, once you stand before God and have irrefutable evidence that he exists, are you denied the option of saying, “Hey, I was wrong, I admit it, I see that now. Please forgive me. I want to go with you.” Why must we choose to accept Christ on faith rather than knowledge? What does God have against informed consent?
- Oh, and as for the bit about God having to become the beggar king because otherwise he’d never know if we accepted him out of true love or out of fear — have Geisler and Turek forgotten that God can read minds? Not only that, but at several points in the Old Testament, he also demonstrates the ability (and the willingness) to change our minds — to confuse our languages, to harden our hearts, etc. So, on both God’s supposed respect for our freedom and free will, and on his concern that our love for him be sincere, I call bullshit.
- Hey! It’s the return of the least-inspiring religious metaphor ever.
- The box top to the jigsaw puzzle of life, the picture that shows us where all the pieces go, is the Bible. (I know, I can tell you’re surprised.) Why? Because the Bible answers these five questions about life:
- Where did we come from?
- Who are we?
- Why are we here?
- How should we live?
- Where are we going? (pp. 383-384)
- Of course, the Bible doesn’t have the correct answers to any of those questions. What Geisler and Turek are telling us to do, essentially, is ignore the fact that the puzzle we’re assembling is starting to look nothing like the picture on the box. In fact, just stop putting the puzzle together altogether and look at the box.
Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?
- The whole book has been one incredibly long wind-up, and now here’s the pitch:
- “Whom will you serve? God leaves that choice in your hands. Love knows no other way. In order to respect your free choice, God has made the evidence for Christianity convincing but not compelling.” (p. 384)
- Because as we all know, if you want to convince someone else of something you know to be true, you have to present a good case, but not a great case. You have to leave some big gaps in your argument, so they can plausibly reject it. Because if you present them with clear, testable, irrefutable evidence of the truth of your claim, then you’re robbing them of their free will.
- A bit more from Geisler and Turek as they complete their pitch:
- “We end with the greatest news anyone could ever hear. Your choices do matter. Your life does have ultimate meaning.” (p. 387)
- You condescending pricks, I know my choices matter. I know my life has meaning. I don’t need your Bible or your God to tell me what my life means. I decide what it means. My choices matter because they affect me and the people around me, my friends and family, my community, my species and my planet — not because someone in authority decides that they matter. Meaning imposed from above, paradoxically, is meaningless. So if you think your life means something because God tells you it means something, congratulations: your life means nothing.
- “Finally, have you ever thought about questioning your doubts? Just ask yourself, ‘Is it reasonable to doubt that Christianity is true in light of all the evidence?’ Probably not. In fact, in light of the evidence, you ought to have a lot more doubts about atheism and every other non-Christian belief system. They are not reasonable. Christianity is. So start doubting your doubts and accept Christ. It takes too much faith to believe anything else!” (p. 388)
- Yes, sirs!
- Am I really supposed to respond positively to being spoken to that way? “Start doubting your doubts!” You first, motherfucker. You stop dismissing your doubts. You stop hiding behind your faith that the Bible is true no matter how much reality contradicts it. You take a step that’s not in faith, if you have the courage.
- The evidence, as we’ve seen throughout this series of videos, points away from Christianity, not toward it.
- And atheism is not a belief system. Not that Geisler and Turek understand atheism at all — and why should we expect them to? They don’t understand Christianity, and they’ve devoted their lives to that.
- Before I end, let me cover two of the three appendices that follow this conclusion. The third appendix is a brief one criticizing the Jesus Seminar, and it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the book, it’s pure ax-grinding, so I’m going to skip it.
- This appendix consists entirely of an imaginary conversation between an atheist and a Christian on the problem of evil. The atheist asks all the right questions (from the Christian’s perspective, at least), and the Christian gives all the right answers. There’s nothing here you likely haven’t heard before.
- Why is there evil? Because of human choices.
- What about natural disasters? Those are the result of us living in a fallen world, which can be traced back to Adam and Eve, meaning natural disasters are our fault, too.
- Why doesn’t God come back and redeem the world already? Because God does things on his timetable, not yours.
- Why does God permit suffering? Because we learn more from suffering than from pleasure.
- Pretty much Christian problem of evil boilerplate. It goes on like this for twelve pages. Then, near the end, the atheist tells the Christian: “I must admit that your intellectual answers make some sense, but evil still bothers me.”
- Hey, wait a minute — I’m an atheist! And this atheist in the book said he thinks the Christian answers make sense! Maybe there’s something to this Christianity stuff afterall . . .
- (That, apparently, is the response the authors anticipate.)
- And hey, we’re not done with the adventures of Atheist and Christian!
Appendix 2: Isn’t That Just Your Interpretation?
- The conversation continues. This time, the atheist has read the Bible and is arguing with the Christian over his interpretation. The Christian begins by whipping out the Road Runner tactic, claiming that the atheist can’t say that the Christian’s interpretation is wrong unless he knows which interpretation is right. Here’s a bit following that exchange:
- Atheist: Stop that!
Christian: Stop what, being logical? (p. 402)
- No; stop resorting to tricks and rhetorical distractions rather than actually engaging with the substance of my arguments.
- The Christian asks the atheist what evidence he has that atheism is true, and the atheist responds: “Evil and science.”
- The frustrating thing about this is that Geisler and Turek have had conversations with atheists. I know, because they write about them in this book, and I’ve watched video of Frank Turek having his ass handed to him by Christopher Hitchens. It’s not that they don’t know what atheists think, or why we think it — they are being deliberately dishonest. The problem of evil points out a contradiction between the claims about God’s benevolence, and the existence of suffering in the world. It’s not an argument against the existence of God — it’s an argument against what Christians claim is the nature of God. The existence of evil doesn’t disprove God, and I don’t know any atheists who claim that it does.
- As for science: Over the last three hundred years or so, modern science has continuously revealed to us a natural world that requires no supernatural power, no God, in order to function as it does. God is an unnecessary assumption. We don’t need him. There’s no scientific reason to believe he exists. So I don’t believe he exists.
- The conversation continues in this appendix much the same as in the previous one, with the Christian effortlessly fending off the weak objections offered by this Straw-Atheist. It all leads to the Christian convincing the atheist that if Christianity is true, he ought to believe it no matter how it conflicts with his personal political views. And the atheist agrees.
- Well, of course he does. And so do I. But here’s the distinction they fail to make: believing Christianity is not the same thing as believing in Christianity. If I honestly thought the claims of Christianity were true, that its God existed, that Jesus was his son, that the only way for me to get to Heaven was to accept him as my savior, I’d believe it. But I wouldn’t accept Jesus as my savior. I couldn’t. As a moral person who values my freedom, most particularly my intellectual freedom, I would be incapable of accepting the offer Jesus is making.
- So it seems Geisler and Turek have failed, even if I grant them every single point they make. They haven’t convinced me that Christianity is true, of course, but even if they had — even if after reading this book, I truly believed that the Bible was the Word of God and Christianity was the one true religion — I’d rather go to Hell.
Next book: Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell