I read an article in Outreach Magazine on Christopher Hitchens, the prominent atheist author and debater. The magazine has a recurring column called My Life, So Far, which contains interviews with people from various backgrounds regarding faith.
I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for Mr. Hitchens, though, judging from the tone of the article, he does not ask me to do so. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June of 2010. When asked about it in Outreach, he said the following:
I’m currently undergoing a strong course of chemotherapy to annex the cancer in my esophagus. Anyone who wants to pray for me has my blessings. However, I know of no way to show there is a relationship between prayer and outcome. (emphasis mine)
Some may interpret these words as simple unbelief. Not me. I read this as veiled hopelessness.
To what extent is that the very essence of atheism? A fervent disbelief in God and a beleaguered acceptance of the frivolity of life, perhaps?
There was a time in my life where I chose to blame God for my circumstances, but deep within my soul I knew that I was wrong to do so. What is it about the atheistic world view that is the opposite of my unfortunate cop-out? “Knowing” that there is no God, throwing up one’s hands, and embracing life as an out-of-control set of unpredictable events set in motion by chance and chaos, whose outcome is eventually nothingness.
Of course there are the adamant, caustic atheists out there that seem to believe as Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, illustrates from the pulpit on occasion…
- There is no God, and
- I hate Him.
I have not heard Hitchens’ debates and am by no means an expert on the man and his beliefs. But this quote in particular hints at a man who has resigned himself to his lot in life.
The last question in the article is also telling…
How I’d like to be remembered – any answer would be vain and in vain – but I’d like people to really appreciate my essays on literature.
This soul, created by the God who sent His Son to die on a cross for the salvation of mankind, wants to be remembered for his writings about writings.
I have no idea if he will ever read this. If he did, I would ask him to recall what he already knows about God and scripture, and to realize that he doesn’t have to know everything in order to have faith. Faith in the God that loves him. Faith in the Word of God, which has been proven time and time again. Faith in God’s Son, Jesus, that died a criminal’s death and shed His blood so that He could spend eternity in Heaven.
God doesn’t ask us to prove the Bible. He just asks us to believe it, and to trust in Him. There are so many things in this life we do not understand, and it is OK to fail at explaining an infinite God with finite language and intellect. His love never fails, and He does answer prayer.
Did you stop by via a Google or Twitter search and believe the same way as Mr. Hitchens? Salvation is free for you, too. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Check this out.
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10 ESV)
18 thoughts on “Atheism: Coming to Terms with Hopelessness”
You really need to research Hitch. He’s an atheist with no belief in, or blame of, a god or gods. And he doesn’t believe that faith is a good thing to have.
“Salvation is free for you, too. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.”
No thanks. I have no good reason to believe your salvation or your Christ exists, so that stops me before I would even consider if I needed salvation.
In the same article, he characterizes religion as “innate in the human species and is an expression of… goodwill.” I can’t speak to whether or not he believes faith itself is good or bad.
There is Heaven to gain through faith in Jesus. It would be cruel not to tell others about Him.
Thanks for commenting!
“innate in the human species and is an expression of… goodwill.”
I’d be interested to know what is between the words ‘of’ and ‘goodwill’. Knowing Hitch, it could be anything.
Having heard Hitch speak and read his works, I can pretty much guaranty that he thinks faith is a bad thing. He did, after all, write ‘God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’.
“There is Heaven to gain through faith in Jesus. It would be cruel not to tell others about Him.”
I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell people. Just don’t expect atheists and skeptics to believe you unless you can provide the evidence for Heaven or Jesus first.
I’m not sure what was in that space. It was written that way in the article.
That is why I do what I do. We as Christians are told to be about the business of telling others about Jesus. As I said in the post…
My knowledge and vocabulary are VASTLY insufficient to describe God, Jesus, Heaven, or anything related.
You are absolutely correct when you say you are no means an expert on the man. He is someone who has taken great joy in his life and lived it to the fullest in a way many people can only dream about. You want to pray for him? Go ahead. He’s stated several places that doesn’t bother him. You want to pity him, though, you probably should go elsewhere. He, nor any other atheist I know, wants it or needs it.
And for the record, the “There is no God, and I hate him” bit is an old, ridiculous strawman argument. You cannot hate what doesn’t exist. Many do hate what the worship of gods has done to the world, but that’s not the same thing in the least.
Thanks for agreeing with me about my lack of expertise in all things Hitchens! However, I never said I pity him. I do feel sympathy for his plight, and even more sorrow for the hopelessness that is the basis of the post. As far as going “elsewhere” with my pity is concerned, I’m confused. It’s MY blog! Where should I go?
The fact that he is perceived as a man living a joyful and full life is the basis of my post. To quote Norman Geisler…
I stand by the Matt Chandler quote. But I agree that men are certainly capable of doing things in the name of God that God does not condone.
Thanks for commenting!
“But if there is no purpose for life or destiny after this life, then how is that possible?”
Because we recognize and create purpose in our own life. The fact that there is no life after this makes it more precious. And the lack of destiny means we have more control to do what would be fulfilling for us.
“So why then do most atheists live as if there were meaning?”
Because ultimate meaning isn’t the only kind of meaning there is.
“My knowledge and vocabulary are VASTLY insufficient to describe God, Jesus, Heaven, or anything related.”
Again, that’s fine.
I’m not saying you have to ‘prove the Bible’. I’m only saying that, if your goal is to convince the skeptics and atheists, bringing forth evidence would be an effective way to start. If you don’t want to convince skeptics and atheists, then don’t worry about it.
I don’t intend to belabor the point. Attempting to convince anyone is not my goal. I could site historical, genealogical, scientific, cultural, and sociological evidence that points to the validity of the Bible, in addition to hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus, but, again, that is not my goal.
Jesus changed my life! He saved me! I am forgiven, I live for Him, and I am eternally grateful to Him! THAT is a fulfilled life! I want as MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE to experience eternal life and a personal relationship with Jesus.
He is real because I KNOW Him.
“He is real because I KNOW Him.”
It’s crappy pseudoscientific statements like this that are the reason I’m an atheist. You can’t KNOW Jesus or god in the way that you know your friends, family or any number of REAL people, because you cannot converse with or understand a fictional entity. It is for this reason that I cannot claim to KNOW Santa Claus (whilst it is fair to say that I know OF him, albeit through folk tales and television specials).
You don’t KNOW Jesus, you don’t KNOW God, you KNOW what has been told to you about these characters. And as a result of the circular reasoning which faith uses, (Jesus is real because it says so in the bible, and the bible is true because Jesus said it was), you now feel that you have to claim personal connection to this character to validate it.
1. You don’t believe in Jesus, and
2. I am fooling myself.
Think I got it! Thanks for commenting!
“God doesn’t ask us to prove the Bible. He just asks us to believe it, and to trust in Him.”
That’s fine and good for you, but what about the people god hasn’t spoken too? You might say that he has spoken to me and I just haven’t been listening, but that doesn’t carry any more weight than if I were to say, “he hasn’t spoken to you, you are just a crazy person.” So rather than trying to convince people to have faith in something they don’t and wont, you have to secularly argue your point of view on how we should practically behave.
Now, you say he suffers from a “veiled hopelessness” but what exactly would you have him hope for? An afterlife? Immortality? He doesn’t need or want either. The idea that hope and faith are comforts can not be denied but that they are virtues that everyone needs to be happy is quite a logical leap that no one like Hitch or my self is even a little ready to make.
He wants people to remember him for his “writings about writings” because that is what he spent most of his time, energy and passion on. If it sounds dumb to you then don’t concern yourself with it but it was what he loved to do. You shouldn’t be so flippant about someone else’s life’s work.
“Us” is everyone. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32 ESV).” Anyone who has ever done anything wrong (read, sin) is called to believe. Truth is not dependent on who believes it.
The idea that we live our lives with no hope for tomorrow or no real answer to the problems of life is a hopeless premise, and not just from the point of view of someone who will see Jesus face to face someday. Again, the reality of Heaven is not dependent on the individual’s “logical leap”, or lack thereof. If this life is all there is, then it’s end is a true end. What hope is there in that?
I never said his work was “dumb.” If anyone is relying on what they produce on this earth for their immorality, then they labor in vain. The atheist by definition believes in all things being, to a certain extent, temporary – no soul, no afterlife. Christians believe everything on this earth to be absolutely temporary except for the souls that inhabit our earthly bodies. THAT is my main concern.
First of all I’d like to commend you for having a more accurate idea of the atheist view point than many of you fellow Christians. Indeed I do believe that everything is temporary except matter and energy in their most basic forms and there is no afterlife, only birth and death. However hopeless is not a good way to describe my world view. I recognise that I have been imbued with this gift, some call it consciousness, or free will, or a soul, and that this gift has a natural explanation. Because I have this I have an enormous capacity to feel pleasure and happiness or pain and sadness. Of course its possible there is a higher power that made this all possible but there is no logical reason to believe that. It doesn’t really matter which one of us is right since neither of us is likely to convince the other. I just want you to understand that brights aren’t hopeless people just because we don’t have an infinite future and that it’s still possible to be a moral, happy, successful person.
Also although I happen to think he is right about almost everything he says about religion, Hitch is kind of a dick. if you are looking to understand what most reasonable non believers thing about the world see Dan Dennet. Below is a link to an interview he did on Charlie Rose’s show with Bill Moyers (Charlie Rose had just undergone surgery). Atheists have long been accused of not being able to talk about religion for any period of time with out getting passive aggressive or just straight up aggressive but I think Dennet is good at avoiding that mentality. Let me know what you think.
Do you consider yourself more agnostic in your tendencies? You acknowledge the possibility of a “higher power.” In your view, what is the basis of morality if there is no eternal perfect standard? Is it relative based on the individual (just asking for my own information)?
I downloaded the video and will watch it on my iPod tomorrow. Thanks for passing that along. I didn’t really write this as an indictment against Mr. Hitchens, but as a commentary on the specific statements in the article. However, since writing it, I have read some other information to make sure I am characterizing my statements as fairly as possible.
I would prefer not to label myself but to simply explain my position and allow you to label me in you own head as you see fit. I do not believe in the Abrahamic god. I find his very nature to be logicaly contradictory and many (not all) of the bible’s factual and moral claims to be impossible and immoral respectively. I think a god that demands we exalt him on threat of damnation doesn’t deserve it and a god that should be exalted doesn’t care if we know about or praise him, so why bother even thinking about it. Instead we should focus our efforts on reducing suffering in the material world with secular efforts of science and philosophy and politics.
However, I am hesitant to use the word atheist for a few reasons. The first is that Atheist, while embraced by a large portion of people with similar views as mine, is sort of a nebulous term. It implies that we are one group of people with the same beliefs. It allows intellectually dishonest apologists to lump us in with Pol Pot and Stalin or say that atheism is just another religion. the former is one of the most insulting things I have heard in almost every debate on the subject of religion and the latter is not all that insulting but still false. I haven’t heard you say any of that so far so thank you for that.
The second reason is that any intellectually honest person has to admit that there are things they haven’t thought of and atheism seems to require one to be 100% sure. Suffice it to say that I am sure enough that there is no god that I sleep just fine at night taking my chances betting against Pascal’s wager.
As far as my basis for morality, that is a long and complicated answer but I would say in short that I get my morality from the same place you do, that is, my brain. I think about how to minimise suffering and I go with the best option I can think of. sometimes its automatic sometimes it takes some pondering sometimes my own selfish desires get in the way but when that happens I can see the negative effects and it better equips my intellect to act morally in the future. I mean do you think that the reason you don’t go around raping and murdering whoever you want is because the bible tells you not to or that somehow god somehow instils these virtues in us from birth? If he does, he’s missed a great many people to be called all powerful. We call those people sociopaths and they make up a significant portion of the population and even the Christian population. they are born without morals and we can actually scan the brain to find out what part is damaged or dysfunctional to make these people act this way. Our free will and our morality is a series of tricks, perpetrated by nature on us. That doesn’t make them not real it just means they aren’t magic or super natural. Its rather like sawing a woman in half in a magic show. The ignorant audience member thinks its real magic and the smart one knows its fake magic. Of course the paradox is by real magic I mean the magic that doesn’t exist and by fake magic I mean a tricky slight of hand that is perfectly possible. there is no magic eternal morality. Only tricks for us to try to see through.
Sorry I haven’t replied in the past couple of days.
I’m not seeking to label you, but merely to clearly understand your position. Regarding your characterization of God’s character, I believe, as you might expect, that God doesn’t demand that “we exalt him on threat of damnation.” Rather, He chose to sacrifice His Son to provide a way to prevent that eventuality. A God that would allow immorality and injustice to go unpunished could not be considered perfect and holy, and every single human being has committed such acts, so every single human is guilty of a punishable deed. Thus, hell. And that a God that should be exalted shouldn’t care if He is or not, well… if He isn’t exalted, then who is? He alone is worthy. He doesn’t force us to worship Him, even though He could. He desires a relationship, not a robot. But that relationship only comes through the atonement provided by Christ, who paid for our sin with His blood.
I only consider atheism a religion the way I consider being Baptist a religion: to be “religious” is to be devoted to a belief system to a fault. I’m not religious: I’m a follower of a Person, not a cause. Not all atheists are religious about their atheism, and I understand that completely. And I don’t think of Pol Pot or Stalin when I think of atheists.
Morality is my biggest issue with atheism. It has to do with comparative standards. You used me as an example, so I’ll go with that. No, I don’t go around raping and murdering, but it isn’t because the Bible says not to (primarily) or because God instilled that in my brain from birth (because that isn’t true). The reality is that, outside a saving knowledge of Jesus and an acceptance of Him as Savior, morality is just another word. By that, I mean that, for some, raping and murdering are perfectly acceptable things to do. For others, they are wrong. If we are to base our judgement of others on what society deems moral and acceptable, then we will always judge with a failed, human standard.
When one follows Christ, the Bible says “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).” Therefore, my morality is not based on earthly standards, but upon God’s standards (which are found in the Bible, as I eluded to above). Now, does this make me better than anyone else? Certainly not! I am a low down sinner like anyone else. The only difference is that when Jesus came into my life, He made me new. He forgave me of my sin, and I am blameless in His sight because I accepted what He did on the cross for me. So, when I do wrong, I confess it to Him. And I seek to serve Him, not out of obligation or fear or reciprocation, but out of a love for my Savior and a gratitude for what He has done for me.
I really do appreciate your candor over the past few days. I hope you’ll read some of the other stuff on here when you get a chance. My email and Twitter is on the About Me page.
I am only to happy to oblige as far as candour is concerned. These sorts of conversations really help me to expend some of my pent up intellectual energy. Discussing this sort of thing with friends and loved ones tend to be either really boring because we agree or really offensive cause we don’t. And I did flip through the rest of the blog but frankly it wasn’t that interesting to me. That’s a reflection of our disagreements and not on your blog building ability I’m sure so I wouldn’t worry to much about it if I were you. [Edit: while writing this I did come across a post on Professor Hawking that you might hear from me about so look forward to that] The only reason I read and then responded to this article is because it was about my beliefs or lack there of and I felt it was being somewhat misunderstood.
My only rebuttal to your last comment is why do I have to accept Jesus as my saviour to give give morality a proper definition. Why can’t I base my morals on solid facts like ‘bigotry causes suffering’ or ‘respectful discourse makes conversations more productive’. These are earthly standards as you put it and equip me to act every bit as morally as any believer and as far as I can tell, you don’t really disagree with me on that. The only difference is I haven’t accepted any assertions in the absence of evidence. As Dennett said in that interview, let it be true that god has revealed himself to you and blessed you with faith in him. Now since he clearly hasn’t done any of this to me, your job is to support how you think we should act around each other in a secular discussion and defend your views with verifiable facts. If you can’t to that then either go find some facts or get a new opinion. Again, I’m not worried about beliefs like ‘Jesus died for our sins’ or anything like that. Just prescriptions for us to act on, like should gay people marry or is fornication always bad. These are moral questions that have right and wrong answers that are independent of our personal beliefs and disagreements over them can and should be discussed without any mention of a super natural being.
Since Jon is not on the net right now, I’ll attempt to provide you what the Bible says in an attempt to give answers to your queries:
Mark 7:20-23 records Jesus teaching on human failures such as those you’ve outlined:
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mk 7:20–23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way: in Genesis Chapter 1, God is repeatedly quoted during Creation saying “this is good.”
Man fell when, in the Garden of Eden, man listened to the deciever (Satan aka Serpent) rather than God–in hopes of asserting our will to decide good and evil for ourselves above God’s standard. Genesis Chapter 3 records this:
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ge 3:4–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
As Paul opens his letter of Ephesians, he reveals that God had a plan to adopt us back from our fallen state:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. [In love] 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Eph 1:3–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Jesus taught Nicodemus the simple truth behind God’s love and desire to rescue–redeem us–and this is recorded by John in his account of the Gospel (Good News) in Chapter 3:
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 3:16–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Many people have tried to find ways to God on their terms–but their terms remain by their will, and as I’ve showed, God is trying to fix that, not encourage it. An interesting attempt to “prove God” without reference to the Bible was by Thomas Aquinas. You can find that summary at:
The Bible discusses the problem of man trying to find God through human means. An excerpt written by Paul to the Church at Corinth says:
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 2:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The Bible outlines a very simple way to approach an understanding of God–the same way Nicodemus used. This way was summarized by Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome:
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ro 10:17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The writer of the letter to Hebrews, while using Noah as an example, outlines the importance of the role of faith:
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 11:6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
A site that I like quite a bit for looking up questions about God (and that I’ve found thus far to align well with the Bible) has a page you might be interested in, where it explores the idea of proving God in more detail:
Matthew records Jesus reaching out to those who had not subordinated their will–who were clinging to the soul sickness that was claiming their rightful state:
12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 9:12–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles records Peter as he clearly outlined how people must in faith respond to Jesus’ call to refreshment, while closing with the warning that there will be a curtain call on that call:
19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ac 3:19–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Satan decieved man, encouraging man to follow in his error of trying to take God’s place as the standard:
12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Is 14:12–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
John–the “Apostle of Love”–records a grim scene in Revelation where God, Holy and Just, consigns those who choose to live in rejection of God’s will to the same fate as was built for their deciever:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Re 20:11–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Please consider these words; I share them out of personal conviction (and therefore compelled by love) that the Bible is what it claims to be, that it is true, and that if each of us do not respond to God’s call, seizing salvation through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and then following Christ’s Lordship we will not only miss out on what our Creator meant for us, but we will remain forever shackled to the fate of the one who facilitated our broken relationship–and after judgement, we’ll no longer benefit from “spillover” of God’s presence with the saved among mankind. The Lake of Fire isn’t Satans House Party–it is an individual containment unit around each soul; forever consigned in torment to only yourself.
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