Don’t Think Like an Atheist

We live in a much different society than in ages past.  Modernity tends towards skepticism in a way that no other age has.  In this regard, it is important to meet the questions of the day and the people in doubt where they are at.  We must understand how they think in order to lead their thoughts to higher truth.

But as we open the door to the atheist mind, it is important to remember that doors mean travel in either direction.  We hope to be bring the light of faith to atheism, but we have to remember that the darkness of atheism can dull our light of faith.

I am not talking about mere open-mindedness here.  We should listen to the arguments and ideas of the non-believers.  While Catholics have the fulness of truth, we do not have a monopoly on truth.  If someone in their atheism speaks truth and wisdom, we should acknowledge and accept it because all truth an wisdom ultimately comes from God.

The danger to which I am referring is the subtle assumptions that a skeptical culture has plastered on the walls of our mind.  We’ve already ceded much of the high ground, so our task is already difficult.  Rightly or not, there are several ideas floating around the culture that are taken as given truth that we must also avoid.

Below are a few points to keep in mind to resist having our minds match in lock-step with an unbelieving culture.

1. Faith is not an opinion.

I wrote an article a while back about the distinction between opinion belief and knowledge.  And while the ideas are easy enough to comprehend, behaving accordingly is not always easy.

I once had a student who thought that the 9/11 hijackers actually received their 72 dark-haired virgins after they died.  When I said I was quite dubious of this, their response was, “But that’s what they believe.”

From this person’s point of view, faith is simply a matter of taste and what you believe shapes the reality around you.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are not sharing our opinions on doctrinal or ethical matters.  We are stating things which are objectively true or false.  When we encounter those who do not know Christ, we should of course be patient and charitable, but that doesn’t mean we should give up.

But let us say that we come across someone who is diabetic, but has never heard of insulin injections.  We tell them about how great insulin would be for them, but they don’t buy it.  Do we throw up our hands and say, “Well, I tried.  I guess if that’s his opinion, I’ll live and let live.”?  No, of course not.  If we cared about this person, we would do everything in our power to get them to take the medicine, because their lives would truly be better with it than without it.

Christ is real and He is the only way to salvation.  When we come across someone who does not know Christ and His salvation, we cannot throw up our hands and leave them in their darkness.  We must believe that their lives truly will be better with Christ in it.  We must believe that no one will ever truly experience the love of Jesus and not have their lives improve.  This does not mean that they won’t ever turn away (I am a daily example of this, being a sinner).  But Christ is objectively the greatest medicine for the soul.

2. Reason is not the same thing as science.

We moderns are incredibly good at our science.  One of the reasons why is because the scientific method has yielded such amazing fruit.  The method is based on skepticism and empiricism  In other words, nothing in science is accepted until it can be verified with the senses (or measuring instruments).  As Dr. Peter Kreeft has pointed out on a number of occasions, this is excellent when applied to science, but not when applied to theology or philosophy.

The mistake modern people make is that they think the theories of science are the same as the laws of reason. In science, this is a good principle.  But you cannot use this in the most important areas of life.

Love, courage, honor, truth, goodness, and beauty are not empirical things that can be measured and quantified.  Even the laws of logic are not based on empirical observation.  Empirical observations only have value because they are based in the laws of logic.  We only accept the conclusions of science because we accept the truth about non-empirical laws of human reason.

And even the best scientific conclusions only give us probability, not certainty.  The theories of relativity, evolution, etc. are currently the best ways to explain the data, but they will be chucked to the side if we find a better way to explain it.  But we will never get rid of the laws of reason and logic because they are, in a sense, more real than the theories of science.

Faith and Reason are not opposed.  God is author of both the truths of revealed religion and the truths of scientific reasoning.  This is why most of the great scientific advancements of the last 2000 years came from the Western Christianized world.

3. The universe is more, not less. 

Modern culture tends to reduce the things in this world to its basest elements.  When people argue that we should give condoms to high school students, the principle is usually, “They are going to do it anyway.”  In other words, they are slaves to their biological urges. And what is the big deal?  Sex is just a bodily function for reproduction.  No, wait, not even reproduction; it is purely for pleasure.

Do you see how it has all been reduced?  All of the mystery, spirituality, morality, and inherent symbolism in sexuality is reduced to its most primal elements.  All of the above elements are looked at as ornamentations, add-ons to the real, simple thing.  

But as Peter Kreeft pointed out,

Music is not ornamented poetry, and poetry is not ornamented prose.  Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry.

Prose is not the original language; it is poetry made practical.  Even poetry is not the original language; it is music made speakable, it is the words of music separated from their music.  In the beginning was music.

Atheists look at a thing and try to reduce it to its basest components.  Believers look at a thing and look to its eternal significance

Atheists see things that are base and all grandness and glory are fictions that we add to it by our human minds.  Believers see grandness and glory incarnated in a particular thing.  But that thing always points to something higher.  It is not just a thing but a sign of something more.  There is no reason, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, to accept that romantic love is merely sublimated sex as opposed to the spiritual truth that lust is fallen love.

While you are trying to have a Christlike effect in the world, be aware of how the world is having an effect on you.

Copyright © 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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