Saturday, January 31, 2009

Memo from the Grand Atheist Conspiracy Council

While we call ourselves “disevangelists” we are not completely synoptic. An example is Scriptulicious’s post on January the 30th. In it, he quotes Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias’s claim that atheists have “no reason for being, no morality to espouse, no meaning to life, and no hope beyond the grave.” Scriptulicious’s bone of contention with Zacharias is the implicit claim that Zacharias, as a biblical theist, does have reason for being, morality, meaning, and hope; Scriptulicious’s counterclaim is that there is no biblical basis for Zacharias to think this way.

I don’t disagree with this argument, but while considering what to write as a comment to the post, I realized that my own thoughts were distinct enough to merit their own post. Where Scriptulicious’s concern was the accuracy of the statement, I would question why Zacharias would make such a statement to begin with.

As to Christians having a hope an afterlife, Scriptulicious makes the very valid criticism to this belief by saying “the Bible does not give a uniform voice about life beyond the grave”. But what of the accuracy of Zacharias’s claim that atheists have no hope beyond the grave? Well... duh! This is almost a tautology; if any atheist did believe in life after death, I would question if she were truly atheist.

So, why does Zacharias even bother pointing it out? Does he think atheists don’t realize this? Of course, Zacharias knows fully well that atheists don’t hope for a life beyond the grave; so, it seems unlikely that he is writing to convert atheists. I suspect that he is preaching to the choir who already hangs their collective hats on the belief that this life’s meaning is derived from a hope of an afterlife.

Bearing in mind that, for Zacharias’s intended readers, life’s meaning is derived from the afterlife, consider the claim that atheists have no reason for being (and I would equate this to the claim that atheists have no meaning to life, unless someone can show me how the two ideas are anything more than semantically different). On the one hand, we could question the accuracy of the statement. I feel, as an atheist, that with only one life to live, I appreciate life a little more and try to make this one life of mine count for something. But, again, I am more interested in why Zacharias claims that atheists have no reason for being.

Zacharias, who had attempted suicide at age 17, must have felt what it’s like to live a purposeless life (though it should be noted that he was Hindu at the time, not atheist). Shortly after the suicide attempt, he converted to Christianity. Could it be that Zacharias is so filled with love of his fellow man, a love instilled in him by the God of the Bible (of all things!), that he wants to save us from the purposelessness that he himself felt and then share with us the uplifting meaning he gleans from the Bible?

Good on him, if that’s his motive. But, as I mentioned before, it doesn’t seem like atheists are his intended audience. The criticisms I’ve read of Zacharias’s book (such as the reader reviews on indicate that he doesn’t so much as try to understand or accurately reflect the atheistic viewpoint, even going so far as to distort it. I’ve even found similar criticisms of him by other religions.

So, if these criticisms are true, and Zacharias deliberately distorts atheistic viewpoints (dare I say, lies about them?), we should now consider his last remaining point: that atheists espouse no morality. Once again, the accuracy of this statement could be questioned when we see how secular values (human rights, for example) have been adopted (sometimes begrudgingly) by Christian sects, or even completely ignored (as seems often the case with Islam). So, why would Zacharias say this?

Call me cynical, but when I hear a theist say that “if there were no God, then men would have license to commit whatever heinous atrocities he desired”, what I interpret that to mean is “if there were no God, the theist himself would feel he had license to commit whatever heinous atrocities he desired.” In other words, the only thing holding Zacharias back from rape, pillage, and murder is his belief in God.

Never mind that Zacharias’s viewpoints are an appeal to emotion, and don’t actually prove that God exists; never mind that doing the right thing only upon fear of punishment is not exactly what we’d call moral behavior; never mind that Zacharias might, in actuality, be moral, even if his God didn't exist (which, by the way, He doesn't). Consider only this: if the people who read and listen to evangelists and apologists like Zacharias -- a people who, if not for a belief in the reward of an afterlife, would find no meaning in this life -- if those people actually believe that atheists espouse no morality, what a monstrous gang of demons we must seem to them.

Apologist is a bit of a misnomer because the word connotes that Zacharias is defending his faith. Quite the inverse of the NFL, where the best offense is a good defense, apologetic rhetoric like his appears to me to be a rallying cry: A) to instill an “us vs. them” mentality among the faithful, B) to instill a fear of the demonic “them” in the faithful, and C) to exhort the fearful faithful into taking the offensive. Now, being a peaceful man I wonder: what is the objective of this offensive?



  1. Philosobot,
    this is an excellent post, I will not be able to access the internet or comment further until later tonight.

  2. Christians attack non-Christians because they are ignorant. I honestly don't see the point in it. I don't believe in the Easter Bunny but I don't try to convince others to not believe in the Easter Bunny. I also have no intentions of starting a blog trying to explain how the beliefs of those who believe in the Easter Bunny are false and created by man not by the Easter Bunny.

  3. Zee: I totally agree, I wouldn't blog against the Easter Bunny either. Unless Easter Bunny believers started preaching that non-believers were the root of all evil, or that Bunny-belief needed to be taught in public schools alongside science, or that the Easter Bunny's name should be printed on American Currency or added to the pledge of allegiance, or that Bunny-believing institutions shouldn't pay taxes, or that my tax dollars should go to support warlike Israel because it would help bring about some long hoped-for apocalypse. No, it would take quite a lot before I'd blog against the Easter Bunny.

  4. You lost me on what the Easter Bunny would have to do with Israel... althought I half recall something about the Easter Bunny named Peter Rabbit that I saw on South Park one time that might relate. You do make a very good point. The problem is a lot of people are making money off the Easter Bunny even people who don't believe in the Easter Bunny. Thats a tough one to do anything against.

  5. Perhaps Scriptulicious would like to expound on the Israel-Easter Bunny connection. He follows that more closely than I.

  6. Hey Zee & Philo,

    Philo's reference to Israel has to do with the justifying ideologies behind the unconditional support that Israel has from America and behind Israel's treatment of its largest, first-nation minority: the Arab Palestinians.

    Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and it has enjoyed this status since 1976. In per capita terms, direct U.S. foreign assistance amounts to a subsidy of $500.00 per year per Israeli. Egypt, the second largest benefactor of direct U.S. foreign aid, in comparison, receives a per capita of only $20.00 per year per Egyptian. Israel is no longer the fledgling, vulnerable democracy it once was; it is capable of holding its own, and most of the tensions it experiences with its neighbors have to do with Israel's ongoing violations of UN and ICJ human rights violations.

    The largest demographic to lobby for and to support Israel is the American Evangelical Christian. Evangelical eschatologies often veil Christians to the human rights violations in Israel-Palestine. Instead of advocating the oppressed as the biblical prophets and Jesus apparently called for, the Evangelical is often the morally heinous advocate for the suppression of first-nation Palestinians. And they do this because their desire for end-of-world apocalypse blinds them to here-and-now moral imperatives. This is another example of how dogmatic commitments can blind devotees. In this case the dogma is grounded in the Bible's land allotments to historical Israel.