A few weeks ago, I posted an entry titled A Loving God? in which I argued that, contrary to what many believe, the Christian God is not loving and the Christian community is not "love-centered," because: (1) A loving omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient God wouldn't create a world of suffering or allow a hell to exist in which human souls could suffer eternally, (2) A loving God wouldn't require us to love him in order to avoid eternal torture in hell, and (3) Christians are generally no more loving than agnostic, atheistic, and other religious people. I concluded by saying: "It continues to amaze me how human beings can use their intelligence to rationalize belief in a "loving God" that is neither loving nor the least bit plausible."
A few days ago, Gary replied with a thoughtful comment that I think deserves more exposure than it's likely to get buried in the comments section of my post. So, I'm reposting it here along with my reply to each point.
Like Dr. Carl Sagan I am both a scientist and an agnostic.
Unlike you and the late, great Carl Sagan, I am not a scientist, but like you and Sagan, I am agnostic or, as I sometimes call myself, agnostic panentheistic, even if I'm not exactly sure what "panentheism" means.
There is no proof either way to support the existence or non-existence of a God.
Just as there's no absolute proof that there's no, to use the example offered by a later commenter, a "Flying Spaghetti Monster," but this doesn't mean that we don't have ample reason to justifiably and very strongly doubt the existence of both.
I am always amazed at the vitriol that is expended by atheists at those of faith. Why bother? It will not effect a true believer and when taken to the extreme I am reminded of the religious fanatics we all despise.
I'm not surprised by the "vitriol," unless I'm surprised that it isn't far worse.
Suppose you relocated to another country where the dominant religion worshiped the Flying Spaghetti Monster god, and this belief permeated the culture to such an extent that no one could be elected president or to any other high office without espousing belief in this god; people seeking political power ostentatiously wrapped themselves in symbols of this religion to psychologically manipulate the populace into supporting them or their dubious if not destructive proposals; proponents of this religion tried to block or vitiate the teaching of certain kinds of science in the public schools and to have their religious beliefs taught alongside this science and to have public school children pray to their god and pledge their allegiance to a nation existing "under" that God; and these same proponents of a religion that teaches that we should love our neighbors as ourselves and feed the hungry, house the homeless, and take care of the sick were often among the most unloving and uncharitable people around.
Don't you think you might feel more than a little frustrated and consequently angry surrounded by all of this entrenched foolishness, coercion, and hypocrisy? Don't you think you might speak out against it and try, by whatever means you could. to weaken the hold of this religion over the minds and hearts and politics of the people around you?
However, I can't say that I see all the "vitriol" that you suggest is out there. People often accuse the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett of vitriolic diatribes against Christianity, but it seems to me that their books and talks are not so much vitriolic as strong assertions of facts and reason against what is largely religious nonsense.
It has absolutely no effect other than to entrench the fanatics on both sides which invariably leads to violence. This is utter stupidity.
Where is "violence" coming or on the verge of coming from the agnostic and atheist "fanatics"? Indeed, where are these fanatics? Who are they?
Why are atheists so frightened or disgusted by those who choose to follow a religion?
I suspect that most atheists are more disgusted than frightened by monotheists, unless those monotheists happen to be AK-47 wielding, suicide-bombing Islamists, and wouldn't you be too if you were surrounded by believers in the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a setting similar to the one I described earlier?
The vast majority are productive members of society who cause no harm to others(my wife is Wiccan hence the use of the term) and carry on with their lives. Many of them perform charitable (in other words they donate their own money...not relying on the taxpayers to do it for them... or their time) deeds on a weekly basis(something the atheist community does not I might add) and the rest at least on a yearly basis. Why in the world would any group choose to vent their spleen on someone like that?
I think a case could be made that they do cause harm to themselves and others. First of all, their embrace of nonsensical exoteric monotheism may blind them and others to the potential of secular reason or esoteric spiritual practice to evoke actual wisdom, personal growth, and positive transformation of society and culture. Second, monotheistic teachings on hell are monstrous and, when imposed on children, arguably abusive. Third, when theists try to foist some of their religious beliefs (e.g., opposition to evolutionary theory, opposition to birth control, intolerance toward gays) and practices (e.g., school prayer, teaching of some version of intelligent design) and to codify their beliefs into law (e.g., criminalizing homosexual relations and abortion), this could well be harmful. As for religious people being more charitable than atheists, I'm not sure this is true. Can you document the truth of this?
Go after the murderers, or the animal abusers, or the child abusers, or anyone who is doing harm.....but no they instead choose to waste their time and many tax dollars in court going after someone who chooses to believe in a God. What the heck for?
Are you saying that atheists don't "go after" animal and child abusers or others who do harm? Don't atheists, as much as anyone else, revile them, ostracize them, throw them in jail, and sometimes even execute them. What do atheists do to religious believers who act within the law? How do they unfairly "go after" theists in court?
As an aside I allways like comparing the currently held scientific theory(or belief if you prefer) on the creation of the universe by the leading cosmologist in the world.
Briefly cosmologists theorise that the universe started from a singularity about the size of a Neutron(one half of the size of a Hydrogen Atom nucleus) and in a massive explosion between 12 an 20 billion years ago all the matter in the universe expanded from that singularity and spread out in a flat universe billions of light years across. The Christian theory(or belief if you prefer) starts...
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
One version is that which I am most familiar with, the other was written thousands of years ago by a primitive non-scientific people and yet...they sound pretty similar to my ear.
For one thing, scientific cosmology eliminates the extra and possibly needless step of invoking a cosmic personage who intentionally designed, created, and presides over the universe and who rewards those who love and obey him and tortures those who disbelieve in him and disobey him. And science isn't faced with, in my opinion, the impossible of task of reconciling an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent creator God with the ubiquitous presence of evil and suffering. In other words, scientific cosmology seems more pleasingly parsimonious and plausible than the monotheistically religious one.
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