Monday, April 11, 2005

An Atheist's (Inconsistent) Moral Outrage with Jesus

Dialoguing with atheists is a lot like fishing but the odds are better. When you go fishing you cast your line into the water and patiently wait for a bite though you have no guarantee that you'll catch anything. When discussing matters of morality with an atheist, you know that if you wait long enough you'll catch something. Despite the atheist's claim that morality is simply a matter of social convention or personal preference, at some point she'll (a little gender sensitivity there) say something revealing that she really believes in objective moral truths. In other words, at some level, she lives and thinks in a manner consistent with the Bible and contrary to her espoused system of belief.

The following exchange illustrates this point. It began with Ron, the atheist, objecting to Jesus' saying that "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" (Luke 14:26). Previously I had sought to explain the necessity of understanding a culture's linguistic practices if one was going to properly interpret literature from that culture. For example, in this case, the parallel saying in Matthew 10:37 makes it clear that Jesus was not calling his disciples to positively hate their parents but to love Him more: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthyy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." Not surprisingly, Ron wasn't interested in literary lessons so I focused on his moral objection:

KP: Why do you think it's wrong for one to hate his/her parents?

Ron: It would be wrong for me to hate mine! but surely you jest!

KP: Why would it be wrong?

Ron: Are you serious?

KP: I'm serious in that I'm asking you to provide a justification for that belief in light of your worldview. I mean, you might think it's wrong, but in a universe that consists exclusively of matter, there are no absolute moral standards or ethical obligations, are there?

Ron: It is injustice, if not ingratitude to pay love, with hate, compassion with scorn, caring with indifference. I can only speak from a human point of view. I am not moral, I am ethical!

KP: But what is the basis of your concept of justice? What is justice in a materialistic world? And what is the foundation for your system of ethics?

Ron: My own sense of justice

KP: Oh, so returning hatred for love to one's parents isn't REALLY unjust as you said, it's just that it doesn't conform to your personal sense of justice, right? In other words, justice is whatever an individual decides it is?

Ron: Is there a problem with my sense of justice? Only a madman would say what Jesus said and if he existed at all, which I really doubt, he was one!

KP: So are you saying that justice is a matter of personal preference?

Ron: Justice is always a perception from the individual, whose other perception are you talking about,a god's? LOL

KP: So then it's not unjust in an objective sense to hate one's parents? If someone else thinks it's just to do so it is?

Ron: You have a point? make it!

KP: I'm asking a question? Care to answer?

Ron: Come on, what has this to do with the fact that you cannot produce that which you are talking about? [This is a reference to Jesus' body. In previous conversations Ron maintained that without it, there is no proof for the resurrection]

KP: Well, I see you want some time to think about that one so get back to me when you've done so. I've got to go. Hope we can talk soon.

1 comment:

Mike - said...

I've had the same sort of conversations, and it's bewildering to me how the person I’m dialoging with can't see the inconsistency in their reasoning. What about it is hard to understand? You almost have to conclude there must be something else going on beneath the surface.

It’s the strength of the point you were making to that guy that is in large part responsible for my becoming a theist.