If I had to sit in Heaven forever, knowing that there are these people - millions and millions, probably billions of people - suffering these eternal horrible torments, and there was nothing I could ever do for them… that, to me, would be Hell.
No one disbelieves the existence of God except the person to whom God’s existence is not convenient… there are no atheists so thoroughly sure of their unbelief as to be willing to die a martyr’s death for it. – Herman Bavinck
Given Tumblr’s formatting, I couldn’t reblog this directly, but I saw this quote over at @revelation19‘s blog. This quote has hidden misconceptions about atheists. They are, however, implied strongly enough, so we can draw them out and make them more explicit.
For starters, there’s the misconception that a) atheists enjoy sinning or choose non-belief because it allows them, at the very least, the semblance of avoiding culpability and accountability; or b) atheists suppress the truth of god in their unrighteousness, which is nothing more than a bigoted way of restating the previous statement. This line of thinking is problematic because Christians conveniently forget that we also lack belief in every other god. Thus, without justification, a Muslim could assert that Christians don’t believe in their god because his existence inconveniences them. A Hindu can say the same thing. It’s an assertion without qualification and can thus be dismissed.
The second half of the quote is the most inept part. Why should I be willing to die a martyr’s death for atheism? The Christian has once again conveniently forgotten that we have no belief in an afterlife. To the contrary, we maintain that this is the only life we will ever have the privilege of living. We therefore would not surrender it due to ideological or political views.
On top of that, it is implied that dying a martyr’s death for anything implies the truth of what the martyr died for. People have died for Jesus; people have died for Allah; people have died for Buddha; people have died for Marx. Richard Carrier puts it succinctly:
[T]he fact that believers are willing to die for their belief does not confirm their belief is true, since there have been willing martyrs for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Marxism, even paganism, and many other religions and ideologies throughout history. In the right social conditions, such martyrdom doesn’t even slow recruitment because such willingness to die is normal for such movements, not unusual. As W.H.C. Frend says of that time, “there was a living pagan tradition of self-sacrifice for a cause, a preparedness if necessary to defy an unjust rule, that existed alongside the developing Christian concept of martyrdom inherited from Judaism.” Christian martyrdom particularly made sense from a cultural and sociological perspective. Many sociologists studying world martyrdom movements have found they have a common social underpinning throughout history, from aboriginal movements in the New World to Islamic movements in the Middle East. For example, Alan Segal says that in every well-documented case a widespread inclination to martyrdom “is an oblique attack by the powerless against the power of oppressors,” in effect “canceling the power of an oppressor through moral claims to higher ground and to a resolute claim to the afterlife, as the better” and only “permanent” reward. “From modern examples,” Segal concludes, “we can see that what produces martyrdom,” besides the corresponding “exaltation of the afterlife,” is “a colonial and imperial situation, a conquering power, and a subject people whose religion does not easily account for the conquest.” Some of these subjects are “predisposed to understand events in a religious context,” and are suffering from some “political or economic” deprivation, or even social or cultural deprivation (as when the most heartfelt morals of the subgroup are not recognized or realized by the dominating power structure).
Richard Carrier as quoted in Loftus, John W. “Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 64-65. Print.
The fact that an atheist is unwilling to die for the sake of non-belief isn’t a mark against atheism. It definitely doesn’t imply that lacking belief in gods is a demonstrably false position. If that were the case, given Carrier’s quote, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Marxism, and any religion or ideology people have died for are equally and incontrovertibly true.
Another point that can be made is that atheists are opposed to the rampant extremism found in the major world religions. Martyrdom is a symptom of such extremism and is therefore something we simply wouldn’t adopt. We don’t think it’s necessary to die for one’s beliefs or lack thereof. We think it more productive to sit at a table to discuss the (de)merits of the views in question. Sacrificing a life for sake of a favored view is means to draw attention to said view or a failed attempt to prove the presumed truth of a given view. For the religious, martyrdom is driven by the belief that the martyr will be eternally rewarded for sacrificing her terrestrial life. Atheists lack belief in such promise makers and therefore cannot believe in such promises. Martyrdom serves us no purpose.
Ultimately, if god existed, his existence wouldn’t inconvenience me. I’ve gone on record many times and stated that even if he existed, I wouldn’t worship him. He’s an assailable being in many ways similar to human beings and is therefore unworthy of obeisance. I have many times stood in agreement with Stoics and other Greek philosophers who have stated that good and just deities wouldn’t require my worship or punish me for denying them veneration. I cannot fathom an ego so fragile that it would require that of me, that it would corner me with an ultimatum: obey me or be cast out from my presence for all eternity. This quote is the height of Christian hubris and ineptitude, and serves as nothing more than another failed attempt to poison the well and mischaracterize what atheists actually stand for.
If I had to sit in Heaven forever, knowing that there are these people, millions and millions- probably billions of people, suffering these eternal horrible torments and there was nothing I could ever do for them, that, to me, would be Hell.
Richard Carrier, The God Who Wasn’t There (2005)
An interesting lecture by Prof. Richard Carrier, deunking Christianity (and religion as a whole)
(using plain historical and scientific evidence, logic and
He starts with a
simple historical timeline of religion, which started some 40.000 years before
Jesus ever showed up (also way before the universe even existed, according to
some bronze age belief systems).
Judaism is nothing
more than Ideas borrowed from other cultures and religions like Zoroastrianism
with some things added here and there for convenience. Christianity emerged
from Judaism, mixed with ideas from other local religions/traditions, and Islam
is basically plagiarized from Judaism and Christianity…
IMHO, a pretty watertight case for the idea that ALL religions are man
That someone would want another human being to suffer, or would even tolerate the idea, for committing no crime at all but being reasonable, is truly frightening. A religion that breeds such people is a genuine plague upon the earth.
Richard Carrier, “Sense and Goodness Without God.”
… fears of what the “true moral facts” may turn out to be are as irrational as fears of what the “true facts” may turn out to be on the origin of life or the universe or any other subject whose true results may contradict your cherished beliefs. And it’s always irrational to reject empirically established facts and replace them with what you prefer to believe.
Dr. Richard Carrier explaining how Christianity could have developed without a historical Jesus. Very interesting. The general idea is that Jesus and his teachings were added to make Judaism accessible to gentiles. Without the necessary blood sacrifices, circumcision, and clothing / dietary restrictions they would be able to expand the religion more easily. I think this is likely the reality of what happened.
Contrary to popular belief, the names of the four Evangelists were assigned to their respective Gospels decades after they were written, and on questionable grounds. And Paul, of course, did not actually see the resurrection, since he only encountered Jesus years later in a vision, and he mentions no other kind of evidence than that.
Richard Carrier, “Sense and Goodness Without God.”
The quest for a historical Jesus has failed spectacularly. Several times. Historians now even count the number of times. With the latest quest (numbered “the third”) and its introduction of criteria, the concept of Jesus we’re supposed to believe existed is actually getting more confused and uncertain the more scholars study it, rather than the other way around. Progress is supposed to increase knowledge and consensus and sharpen the picture of what happened (or what we don’t know), not the reverse. Instead, Jesus scholars continue multiplying contradictory pictures of Jesus, rather than narrowing them down and increasing their clarity – or at least reaching a consensus on the scale and scope of our uncertainty or ignorance. More importantly, the many contradictory versions of Jesus now confidently touted by different Jesus scholars are all so very plausible – yet not all can be true. In fact, as only one can be (and that at most), almost all must be false. So the establishment of this kind of “strong plausibility” has been decisively proved not to be a reliable indicator of the truth. Yet Jesus scholars keep treating it as if it were. This has left a confused mass of disparate opinions, vast libraries of theories and interpretations essentially impossible to keep up with, and no real efforts at improving or criticizing the worst and gathering the best into any sort of coherent, consensus view of what actually happened at the dawn of Christianity, or even during its first two hundred years.
I won’t recount the whole history of historical Jesus research here, as that has been done to death already. Indeed, accounts of the many “quests” for the historical Jesus and their failure are legion, each with their own extensive bibliography. Just to pick one out of a hat, Mark Strauss summarizes, in despair, the many Jesuses different scholars have “discovered” in the evidence recently. Jesus the Jewish Cynic Sage. Jesus the Rabbinical Holy Man (or Devoted Pharisee, or Heretical Essene, or any of a dozen other contradictory things). Jesus the Political Revolutionary or Zealot Activist. Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet. And Jesus the Messianic Pretender (or even, as some still argue, Actual Messiah). And that’s not even a complete list. We also have Jesus the Folk Wizard (championed most famously by Morton Smith in Jesus the Magician, and most recently by Robert Conner in Magic in the New Testament). Jesus the Mystic and “Child of Sophia” (championed by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and John Shelby Spong). Jesus the Nonviolent Social Reformer (championed by Bruce Malina and others). Or even Jesus the Actual Davidic Heir and Founder of a Royal Dynasty (most effectively argued in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor, who also sees Jesus as a kind of ancient David Koresh, someone who delusionally, and suicidally, believed he was sent by God and charismatically gathered followers; not surprising, as Tabor is also a Koresh expert, having been an FBI consultant during the siege of Waco, and subsequently authoring Why Waco?). There are even recent versions of Jesus that place him in a different historical place and time, arguing the Gospels were mistaken on when and where Jesus actually lived and taught. Or that conclude astonishing things like that he arranged his own execution to effect a ritual sacrifice to magically cleanse the land. We even get confused attempts to make Jesus everything at once (or half of everything at once, since most theories are too contradictory to reconcile), for instance insisting we should understand him to have been “a prophet in the tradition of Israel’s prophetic figures…a teacher and rabbi, or subversive pedagogue of the oppressed…a traditional healer and exorcist, a shamanistic figure…[and] a reputational leader who brokers the justice of Yahweh’s covenant and coming reign,” whatever that means.
This still isn’t even a complete list. As Helmut Koester concluded after his own survey, “The vast variety of interpretations of the historical Jesus that the current quest has proposed is bewildering." James Charlesworth concurs, concluding that "what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions." The fact that almost no one agrees with anyone else should compel all Jesus scholars to deeply question whether their certainty in their own theory is really even warranted, since everyone else is just as certain, and yet they should all be fully competent to arrive at a sound conclusion from the evidence. Obviously something is fundamentally wrong with the methods of the entire community. Which means you cannot claim to be a part of that community and not accept that there must be something fundamentally wrong with your own methods. Indeed, some critics argue the methods now employed in the field succeed no better than divination by Tarot Card reading – because scholars see whatever they want to see and become totally convinced their interpretation is right, when instead they should see this very fact as a powerful reason to doubt the validity of their methods in the first place.
Richard Carrier (2012. Proving History: Baye’s Theorem and The Quest for the Historical Jesus, p. 12-14)