Wednesday, February 6, 2013

There is nothing beautiful and precious about being a meaningless piece of meat headed for total annihilation.


The philosophy of the New Atheists and their adherents continues to perplex me, mow including a theme that I hear from atheists more and more frequently: Life, they say, is more beautiful and precious to them precisely because there is no God.

Here's some of what I've read, on this blog and elsewhere (all emphases mine):


"…we [atheists] know we're lucky to have this one life to live to the fullest we can."

"Just because when I die I'll be gone for good doesn't make this life depressing -- it makes it all the more meaningful because it's all we have."

"For myself, I don’t see [the finality of death] as a grim reality, instead I see it as something beautiful. Death is nature's way of clearing out the old, and making way for the new. It is the circle of life; at death I will be able give back to the very Earth that provided me with such joy for everyday living." [This is what Mark Shea refers to as the Disney "Circle of Life" philosophy.]

"But for me, my not believing in God if anything makes my life more precious, knowing that we are here for such a tiny amount of time."

"And honestly to me, at this point, [the fact that there is no God] makes my kids that much more amazing and life more special!"


See, to me that makes zero sense. If I have chanced into an insignificant moment of life on a piece of rock in a mindless, impersonal universe -- where everything and everyone I love and cherish will end in ultimate meaninglessness and complete nothingness -- that makes life beautiful and I am lucky? I don't see it.

To my mind, the reasonable response to such a dark reality should be horror, despair, terror, hopelessness -- existential angst to the nth degree.

How could it be otherwise, if we really examine it?

Now, I could understand and intellectually accept if an atheist were to say to me: "Yes, the objective reality of our futures is bleak and dark and unthinkable. But since I'm here, I will make the best of things by seeking pleasure and comfort where I can. I will make the present bearable, even fun, to keep me from thinking of my and my loved ones' certain annihilation."

That would make sense to me: seeking pleasure in order to keep the despair at bay. But that is not what I am hearing from atheists. They are claiming today that because of their future nothingness, this life is better than if their lives had ultimate meaning and worth.

It makes no sense on its face, and it also begs the question: How do these comfortable, sheltered, well-fed, educated, recreating, productive First World atheists explain or apply the "beauty" of their view to the rest of the world?

I return to my standard question: What of the infant girl in China who is abandoned in a field and dies of exposure, knowing only pain?* Is her life "more beautiful, precious, and meaningful" because, instead of finding justice and eternal joy with God, she is existentially alone and utterly unloved in her short life of acute suffering?

Or what of the six-year-old boy tied to a filthy crib in a Third World orphanage, freezing under a thin blanket, sick and starving to death, never allowed outside to feel the sun, no one to cherish him… what is his value, absent a loving God? Does he feel the "preciousness" of his life, and does he see its beauty? Is he "lucky" to be on this one-shot wild ride, participating in this "Circle of Life" that atheists in the west so exalt?

How do these children, or any of the world's suffering masses, fit into the atheist's glowing picture, which now has been ratcheted up to being even more awesome, beautiful, and fulfilling than the alternative?

I am not implying that atheists ignore or make light of human suffering, because I know that they don't. But I am suggesting that this new line they are pushing is a fail. As a philosophy applied to all mankind, it doesn't make sense. As a subjective feeling, it appears born of desperation. If I am wrong, then someone show me -- while acknowledging the reality of final annihilation and the suffering of millions who will have known nothing but pain and loneliness -- how this godless universe is "more beautiful, more meaningful, and more special" precisely because of its godlessness. Show me (or show the readers, if I cannot be convinced) that it is not instead a dark, hopeless, existential nightmare.


I'll even stipulate, for the sake of argument only, that God does not exist. 

Okay, go.





*A previous post addressed the subject here, but it elicited no satisfactory answers; I just finished reading through the comments again; that was quite a discussion! 





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417 comments:

  1. Saint Damien (the Belgium Saint who helped an American leper colony in Hawaii) hit upon a similar thing. Some lepers used their illness to think about heaven. Some took the despair of their fatal illness and isolation to get drunk and have orgies. They even "kidnapped" young orphan girls. One of the first acts he did as a priest (and a good father) was to rescue an unwilling young woman from a group of drunk threatening lepers. Since he was alone as the only priest on the island, that act was very brave.

    Saint Damien, pray for us--especially us Americans.

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  2. Abigail, my parents just got back from Hawaii and brought back holy cards and medals and photos of Fr. Damian and the wonderful sister there…

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  3. Great post, Leila! I was just thinking in this vein the other day about what a person becomes in the absence if purpose and hope. I believe they become little more than a pleasure seeker - and pleasure is so very fleeting in this real world filled with suffering and pain.

    When our suffering has no meaning and our lives no purpose, comfort and pleasure are all that's left to keep one alive. But if those are the only pursuits that make life worth living, than it is inescapable that people who can have neither comfort nor pleasure are living essentially meaningless, pointless lives. And I believe that is why you see this mentality, on the part if so many atheists, that human beings who do not experience a certain "quality of life" are disposable. There is no real concept of human dignity with this mind set.

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  4. Kim, my thoughts exactly. I have yet to hear one of the atheists make a point about the meaning of a suffering child's life (abandoned, alone) apart from "potential" (which many lives never get to realize). What is their worth? How can a godless life be precious and beautiful to them? And if it's only precious and beautiful for those who "feel good", then isn't that giving human life a subjective value? Not all life can be valuable, then, correct?

    In the link at the bottom of the post, I quote an atheist who describes life and morality in terms of subjective feelings (again and again), even after she insisted that atheists are not feelings-based! It was fascinating to me, and I don't think she recognized it, even when I laid it out, using her own words for emphasis.

    Where is inherent human dignity in an atheistic world?

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  5. Based on things I have heard atheists say, I am guessing that they would say, "We should treat others the way we want to be treated. That is how we know how to treat other people. The child who is suffering is as beautiful as my own child and deserves happiness as much as my own child does, so we should help those who are suffering. I would want to be helped in my suffering, therefore I know I should help another in his or her suffering." Then I think you would ask, "Where does 'should' come from?" And I think they would say that it comes from experience. I think they might realize that other people have dignity, because they recognize that they themselves have dignity. They would probably not be willing to admit that our dignity comes from somewhere, just that it is recognizable and that where it comes from does not really matter.

    That does not answer what an atheist thinks of our ultimate value though. Do we have ultimate value if we end up as fertilizer? I guess they would say that what happens to us later doesn't matter. We can still recognize that there is inherent dignity now (and with that dignity comes a certain beauty, you could say) and not worry about how we will end up.

    Then I would have to ask, what about people who refuse to recognize others' dignity? Do they come to the same end as everyone else? Would their lives be the ones that are meaningless since they do not use their lives to benefit anyone else? The reason I ask that is because I had a very brief time to visit the Holocaust Museum in DC the weekend of the March for Life. Even in that very short time, seeing less than a third of the museum and not really being able to focus on it very well, I was left thinking, is it really possible that the people responsible for this evil just died away and will never have to answer for this? If I thought that Hitler, the evil doctors and guards at the concentration camps, all those who were most responsible for that evil, would just die and never have to answer for their crimes, then I would say that Hitler's life was meaningless, and the lives lost in the concentration camps were ultimately meaningless since there was no justice for them. If atheism is true, then Hitler and the children killed in gas chambers came to the same end, and if that isn't meaningless, then I don't know what is.

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  6. Sharon, all very good points. I saw that Dennis Prager recently took apart an atheist's response to the Sandy Hook massacre. Her words of "comfort" was that "your children aren't suffering anymore." Of course, that is little comfort, because now they just cease to exist at all. Annihilation complete. But it still does not touch the question: What is so beautiful and lucky about being here, if some of us only suffer, and all of us end up being annihilated, with none of our life's works or loves or contributions left behind?

    And what of the child who cannot be helped by anyone (there are legions)? What is the "beauty" there? Atheists talk of the "awe" they feel at being allotted time on this amazing planet and universe. But those who don't have their comforts don't feel that "awe" at all. Only fear and pain and loss. So, how does their philosophy hold? I don't want to know about what they want to do to help, I want them to address the reality of it, knowing that they cannot help these children (many of whom are dying as we speak), and no one else will either. Should those children feel the "beauty" and "awe" of this wonderful ride, too? Because I am certain that they do not.

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  7. I should clarify something, too.

    In this post, I am not asking what the meaning of life is, nor am I challenging any atheist on that point. In fact, I believe that we've established (and atheists have agreed!!) that ultimately life has no meaning. So, that's my starting point, it's where I stand in this post: stipulating (for the sake of this discussion) that there is no God. From there, then, I am asking atheists: Why is it "more beautiful" to be here and then annihilated, rather than live in eternal joy? Why is it "more precious" to have our origins in nothing, rather than in Love? Why is it "more meaningful" to be ultimately meaningless, rather than to have infinite meaning? Why is being ultimately unloved and purposeless a more "awe inspiring" reality than being loved by the ultimate Lover, forever? Why would we celebrate such a reality, and find it better than the alternative (even if, in the stipulation, the alternative is not real)?

    And, even if one could convince himself that this atheistic truth is "more beautiful" and "more precious" than a life sprung from and made for Love, how does that translate to the suffering masses, who cannot exactly stand in "awesome wonder" of the beauty of the universe, when they can barely breathe, barely survive, and may have never felt anything but loneliness and anguish on this earth?

    That is really what my brain needs to understand.

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  8. Sharon,

    "If atheism is true, then Hitler and the children killed in gas chambers came to the same end, and if that isn't meaningless, then I don't know what is."

    For the sake of argument: let's pretend that Hitler had a last-minute conversion, that the enormity of his offenses washed over him, that he felt honest and real contrition for his crimes, that he repented, that he accepted Jesus as his savior and begged God for forgiveness. Let's also assume that all his countless victims went to heaven. Everything that we've been preached to about Christianity would have us believe that Hitler would have been accepted into heaven, were his repentance and conversion genuine. Would Hitler and his victims meeting the same end in this scenario make the Holocaust more or less meaningful?

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  9. Andre, welcome! I hope you don't mind my fielding this.

    Since we are Catholic and not Protestant, we don't believe that people go instantly to Heaven upon their deaths. Most will go through Purgatory, and some will need much more purgation than others. There would be a great difference between what a repentant Hitler encountered upon his death, and what his victims encountered upon theirs. The purgation that Hitler would require before entering Heaven would undoubtedly feel very much like a long, painful, burning stay in hell. We rejoice to know that even the most depraved sinner can be redeemed, but entrance into the perfection and love of Heaven could only occur after justice and right order of his soul had been achieved -- very painfully.

    This previous post might interest you:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/12/purgatory-is.html

    May I ask your background? I am happy to have you here!


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    1. PS: Sharon, please feel free to answer as well! You know how it works here. And you know how I love to jump in. :)

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    2. Leila,

      Thank you for the warm welcome!

      I was born and raised Catholic (deluxe package - I was an alterboy from gradeschool through Catholic highschool), so I'm familiar with the concept of purgatory :)

      Given that the end result would still be an eternity in heaven for both Hitler and victims, I'm fine with how I phrased my point in relation to Sharon's question.

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  10. Leila,

    "Why is it "more beautiful" to be here and then annihilated, rather than live in eternal joy?"

    I wouldn't say it's automatically "more beautiful" to share in the atheist view point. However, I think what this question leaves out is that many atheist simply can't bring themselves to believe in something without evidence. To my mind, it's not weighing two equally valid propositions. There are many beautiful (and competing) views of what the afterlife holds. Just as all other individual faiths' views of the afterlife seem patently false to each other, so do all theist views seem to the atheist.

    I my experience was that of most Christian children, Christmas with Santa seemed so much more magical and wonderful than the first Christmas I experienced without Santa. That doesn't mean that as I grew up I no longer enjoyed Christmas. In fact, I started to appreciate the reality of what my parent's and relatives were doing, all the work they did to cultivate the spirit, all the sacrifices to afford the presents, etc. Even after I stopped believing, the general spirit of cheer and human solidarity still has me viewing Christmas as my favorite time of year :)

    So it is with my view of life. I'm more concerned with the fate of the poor now, precisely because I don't believe that their suffering will be rewarded later.

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  11. Andre, thanks! Then you are not exactly of the mindset of the "more beautiful" atheist view. Sounds like you are just making the best of it, which I can understand. Would you say that basically some folks (the suffering child with no hope, for example) just really got unlucky, and it would have been better had she/he never been born?

    By the way, if I recognized that Santa's non-existence meant total annihilation of me and all I loved, then I think I might actually not enjoy Christmas or anything else much anymore. :) The fact that I stopped believing in Santa was not such a blow, when the greater pleasures and truths of life were all still lying as a feast before me… much more profound, beautiful, and long-lasting than anything I could imagine in childhood, or that Santa could provide.

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    1. I terms of the child born into suffering being better off not born...I guess I just don't think that way. For one, it seemingly precludes the possibility that they'll get better, that their lives are doomed to suffering, and that children born into better conditions are guaranteed good outcomes.

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  12. Andre, so is what I said in the OP true for you? Could you say to me: "Yes, the objective reality of our futures is bleak and dark and unthinkable. But since I'm here, I will make the best of things by seeking pleasure and comfort where I can. I will make the present bearable, even fun, to keep me from thinking of my and my loved ones' certain annihilation."

    Because if so, I can understand that. That makes sense to me.

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  13. Andre, you would be the exception from an historical point of view, to care more for the poor as an atheist because you don't believe their suffering will be rewarded in the afterlife. History has shown us that in times and places without God, the poor suffered greatly with NO ONE to care for them. "Might makes right" in an atheistic, totalitarian culture in which government and the elite rule over the masses. Communist countries have been wise to ban organized religion so the poor masses wouldn't go getting any ideas that their dignity and inherent worth meant rights like food, water, clothing, and shelter should also be allotted them. The opportunity for work and a fair wage, with the ability to move up in the world by determination and ambition...Indeed, in countries where God has been removed I am certain that volunteer work and non-government charities are far and few between compared to countries full of citizens concerned about the importance of sharing God with others. Going to the nearest food shelter should show you that it is primarily Christian groups who are there volunteering their time...not atheists. And I mean no disrespect to say so, but it is just a fact that God-fearing people are statistically more likely to assist those in need than those who view this life as a temporary accident of evolution and nothing more.

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  14. Since many atheists, including my father-in-law, are deeply entrenched in science, biology and evolution, I would be willing to take a guess that they see the beauty in the survival of species (humans, animals, plants, etc..).
    That is the “purpose”. The “purpose” of earth and its inhabitants is to survive, evolve and exist. And that, in and of itself, is beautiful. Your purpose, according to your faith, is that of God.

    The fact that death IS a part of life is not scary, or fearful, nor is it viewed as “annihilation”. Using terminology like that puts an emotional spin on not-so-emotional circumstances. Atheists do not see life and death as painful, but a part of existence. I think maybe you are having trouble separating the two ideas. You are placing your own feelings, fears, into a theory that does not have feelings or emotions.

    Could it also be that instead of you understanding “nothingness” after death, that instead, you are envisioning some form of hell? That, subconsciously, you are unable to separate your beliefs from trying to understand an atheist, and in the process, again subconsciously; you are thinking that the atheist will be in hell, because they don’t believe in God? Are you truly able to separate your beliefs in an attempt to understand an atheists point of view, or are you combining the two? Is the thought of life being over, as in over, done, never happening again, does that thought scare you?

    We, humans, put emotion into our life. From the moment we are born, we are taught how to act, feel, and react. Take the example of the orphan you used in your post, just because you think she is suffering, is she really? Or is it just your interpretation, because you are personifying yourself in her situation, and in that you would be suffering? Can we suffer without knowing what comfort is?

    If a blind person is born that way, are they suffering because they have never experienced sight? What if the blind think of us sighted people as suffering because we have never experienced life without our total dependence on vision?

    As previously explained, my husband came from a family who are atheists. Loving, wonderful people, who have taught me so much and welcomed me into their home. My husband has a Mother that would go to the end of the earth for him, dotes on him, even though he is in his 30’s. And they are atheists. They see joy and hope in life and experience gratitude and love and all of the other wonderful emotions that you and I experience. Not believing in a God, doesn’t take that away. I’ve seen it and experienced it firsthand.

    My background? I’m Christian and grew up in a Christian home, my Mother was Catholic and converted to Christianity when she married my Father.

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  15. Those atheists' ideas about how wonderful it is living their lives to the fullest in their short time here were privileged as hell, and you're right to bring up the examples of the people who will never have those chances.

    That said, since we're discussing both human suffering, and why an atheistic universe might seem better, I'll say this:

    The theistic viewpoint can seem sadder and scarier than the atheistic one. If someone is to suffer senselessly (like a little child who starves to death before she's a year old), the universe seems a lot nicer if it's just a little pointless thing than if it happens while an omnipotent God looks on and doesn't intervene.

    So it's not so much that an atheistic universe would be so great, but that a theistic one can seem very depressing.

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  16. Also, you really can't expect someone to believe that the truth about existence is a horrifying one. Most people seem to come to terms with what they believe to be true. I've never met a professing theist who wished there was no God, or a professing atheist who wished that the Christian God was real.

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  17. Chris, but the existentialists (the "old atheists") understood the absurdity of life without a God. They were intellectuals, plugged into the logic of it all, taking it to its natural conclusion. The New Atheists are much fluffier, from what I've gathered, and try to put a happy face on the nothingness that we are hurtling toward. I can't make sense of that.

    I can appreciate the existentialists so much more. They make sense.

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  18. Hi Jennifer! First, just a quick clarifying note: Catholics are Christians (in fact, we were the first. :) ) Protestants came about around 500 years after Christianity (the Church) was established.

    No, I am definitely not positing some "hell" that comes after. I really mean "nothingness". Hell exists in my Christian worldview, and although it's scary to ponder an eternity there (as it should be), I don't confuse that with atheism and ultimate annihilation. And, I use the term "annihilation" without any emotional spin. I am trying to be accurate. Here is the definition:

    Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object ; having its root in the Latin nihil (nothing).

    Is this not appropriate for what we are discussing? If not, let me know why not. I like facts and clarity, and I am not "saying" the word with any emotion, I promise. It's factual.

    I had never heard that atheists don't ever (or rarely) fear death. Can you tell me more about that?

    As to the orphan suffering, and whether or not that would be subjective (i.e., perhaps he does not suffer at all)…. I am going to say that starvation, open sores, thirst, beatings and emotional neglect does hurt, even if no comfort was felt first (though surely we all felt comfort in our mothers' wombs). Are you positing that pain can only be known and felt if pleasure was felt first?

    Blindness has nothing to do with the pain of neglect, of hunger, of wounds, and of lack of love, so it's not in the same category of what I was discussing. For example, a blind boy can be born into a happy loving family, while another blind boy is dumped into a horrible institution that would make Dickens cringe. It's not the blindness that would cause the second boy to suffer.

    But, are you saying that the two boys would be experiencing the same level of happiness? Have you ever witnessed the suffering of children in those places (I've been involved with special needs international adoption for a while now, and it's pretty horrible)?

    Do you think that the child left out to die of exposure is "lucky" to have had her "awesome" shot at the world? Or, would your in-laws think that?

    I'm not understanding the beauty of the survival of the species if in the end the whole thing goes "poof", and there is no ultimate survival. It's temporarily beautiful, and yes, it can be enjoyed with our senses and our intellect. But how is it "more" beautiful and precious than if it had actual meaning, rooted in Love?

    (Note: I have never claimed that atheists don't have enjoyment or that they do not have normal human emotions; of course they do! Well, except for fear of death, apparently. ;) )

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  19. Chris, you said:

    If someone is to suffer senselessly (like a little child who starves to death before she's a year old), the universe seems a lot nicer if it's just a little pointless thing than if it happens while an omnipotent God looks on and doesn't intervene.

    God is actually very much involved in our lives, and He loved us to the point of taking on a human nature and undergoing the worst suffering in the world for us, out of love. He is not a detached deity, sort of watching things unfold. Not at all. Read the saints: there is no deeper lover or intimacy a human being can have, than with God.

    I don't think the world is nicer if we suffer and then go "poof", as opposed to we suffer and then get our reward (which is beyond any goodness or joy that we can imagine). It is wonderful to know that as St. Teresa of Avila said, the worst suffering in the world, from the point of view of heaven, will seem like a bad night at a bad inn.

    Let me try this: I went through tough physical suffering during natural childbirth. Had I been told that at the end of that agony, I would be obliterated, I would have not found that "nice" in any way. However, because I knew that my agony would be rewarded with the most glorious of rewards, i.e., a sacred new life to love and be loved by, the pain was all worth it, one that could be not only endured, but in a sense, welcomed.

    The bliss and fulfillment of every desire and longing in Heaven cannot be compared to annihilation. I don't know how, after a long hard life (and yes, we all suffer… if not now, then soon), one would not see Heaven as the more refreshing, rewarding, beautiful option.

    Even if I were an atheist (because remember, I am stipulating that there is no God), I would still wish that Heaven existed. (Who wouldn't want to fly, or go visit Pluto one day, after all? ;) )

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  20. Leaving the question of God aside, I think you're misunderstanding how some atheists view death because you're misunderstanding what you correctly identify as annihilation. The emotions you imagine--terror, despair--are those of a living, conscious being witnessing its own death. This would be horrifying! But it is not what death is. This is a common comparison which you have probably heard before, but I will experience the time after my death in exactly the same way I experienced the billions of years before my birth. We do not suffer in contemplating this void, even though it is just as vast as the one to follow. It does not cause me anguish that my loved ones were lost to me during the seventeenth century. It's hard to have the same kind of tranquility about the emptyness to come, because we treasure the life we have now, but leaving it will not actually feel like anything.

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  21. Andre, if we take the scenario that there actually is a God and that Hitler converted as he died (and I hope he did!), then the end isn't the same. What Hitler would experience at his death would not be the same thing that his victims would experience, as Leila has described. In comparison, if this world is all there is, then Hitler and his victims experienced exactly the same things at their deaths - a final end, a a transition into completely nothing. The good that you might do for others and the evil that you might do will be for you and for your victims/beneficiaries all the same. I understand that both Hitler and his victims could experience heaven, but the path to that end would not be the same, and that makes an enormous difference, as it acknowledges the reality of the evil that Hitler did.

    Chris, when you said this: "the universe seems a lot nicer if it's just a little pointless thing than if it (suffering) happens while an omnipotent God looks on and doesn't intervene" did you mean it seems a lot nicer because at least it's not an enormous disappointment, a dashing of the hope that there is a God who actually cares about them?

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  22. Plenty of atheists argue that if God were real, they wouldn't like him at all because he doesn't use his power to alleviate pointless suffering. They see God as a bad guy for that reason, among others. So for them a godless universe is better than a universe with a bad God.

    I believe in God, as I've said before. I don't even find the Problem of Evil all that bothersome, for the most part. But part of me feels like that if I had known true suffering, I would at least regard God as imperfect. I hope there's a Heaven, but if there is the world is still quite a sad place at times.

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  23. I remember that at one point I found the idea of complete annihilation comforting, and that original comment was me trying to remember why. I suppose the other reason was a guaranteed end to suffering--although that argument falls apart when you realize it's also a guaranteed end to happiness and love.

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  24. Chris, I agree. Suffering is a huge problem in thinking about God. I came the closest I ever did come to losing my faith over suffering, because I while I believed in God, I didn't think he was very nice. It's sad for me to write that now, because I realize it is such an insult to God, in the sense that it is an image that is so far from what he really is. I think the reality of suffering children is something that still calls for an explanation, but now I think the Catholic Church has the most, the best and the deepest answers to suffering. And yet, to someone who doesn't believe, the answers might sound cruel, almost like we're saying that suffering is good, but we aren't. I believe that God will make up for the suffering that children experience. I believe that Jesus suffered and through his suffering gave us a means of making great good come from our suffering, as unbelievably great good came out of his suffering. I believe that in our society that tries to avoid suffering by any means, we are depriving each other of great sources of grace, and we are far worse off for the completely futile attempt to avoid all suffering, as in the false promises of both abortion and euthanasia. At the same time, I believe that I am expected to help other people reduce their suffering as far as I am able, and that includes praying for them. I am sure that you, Leila and others can express this better than I can.

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  25. Chris, but if God is real and life on earth is just part of our journey meant to sanctify us so that we can be united with God in heaven, then suffering is no longer a problem but instead a means of our sanctification. Since we know only partly but God knows fully, He doesn't have to be imperfect. And if we view things from an eternal perspective and not simply an earthly one, the problem of evil becomes something we accept as a reality of a fallen world and, in many cases, something that God can and does use to draw us closer to Him.

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  26. "...but I will experience the time after my death in exactly the same way I experienced the billions of years before my birth."

    Rose, maybe we are talking past each other, because none of us had an "experience" of anything billions of years before our births. Nor will we experience anything after our deaths (if there is no God). But we are the only creatures who can know of and contemplate our own coming deaths. That is why we write and sing and analyze and wonder (and even try desperately to ignore) the coming end. Man generally (and reflexively) laments his future death, wishing to hold on to youth, trying to prolong life. Not all people, of course, but certainly most don't look forward to death with joy (aside from the saints, of course, and even they know that death is the necessary evil that brings us to the fullness of life).

    I also am unsure how we can have loved ones from the centuries past? I know of my ancestors, but I can't say that I "love" them (I really don't know them, never did, and while I am grateful that they lived, this does not mean I actually mourn their deaths), nor could they possibly love me, if there is no God.

    Thought experiment: If your plane goes into a nosedive from 30,000 feet, and you know that you are going to die (and die instantly), do you have a beautiful sense of peace about you, or do you wish like heck that you could avoid the dying (however painless it will be), and do you even feel fear at the thought of it? And not just quick accidents… there are plenty of folks who feel great fear when they are dying slow deaths of illness, even if their pain is managed. Death is not natural to us, and contemplating it doesn't generally bring warm fuzzies, no?

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  27. Andre, you said: "Given that the end result would still be an eternity in heaven for both Hitler and victims, I'm fine with how I phrased my point in relation to Sharon's question."

    Andre, so since a man who committed rape and is sentenced to 25 years will end up back at his home, just like his virtuous neighbor who never committed a crime, should we just forget the trial and "penitentiary" part of the rapist's life, and let him stay in his home the whole time? He and his law-abiding neighbor's end result are the same, after all (comfy in their homes).

    Or is there something about serving his time that is just and right? Is it necessary for him to serve his time, make amends, before he returns, rehabilitated to his home? Or is it really all the same?

    Do you mind my asking how old you are? I grew up Catholic, too, and almost left the Church in my adult years because of how little we were taught about our own faith. I don't remember ever learning about purgatory. Were you in a particularly good and faithful parish, with excellent catechesis?

    (Also, if you don't mind, please note the rules for commenting below. Unless you are adding to your previous sentiment, or unless you are correcting a typo, please put all comments at the bottom of the thread, as I otherwise have a hard time finding new comments! Thanks so much!)

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  28. For one, it seemingly precludes the possibility that they'll get better, that their lives are doomed to suffering

    But Andre, we all know very well that there are millions of children whose lives don't get better, and who live and die in misery. This happens every day, and has for ages. It is these children I am referring to. Some children's suffering never will get better. Some children who have already passed, millions of them, never did get better. So, is it "lucky" for them that they were here for their "moment in the sun" (as some atheists like to look at life), or would it have been better had they never been born?

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  29. I hope there's a Heaven, but if there is the world is still quite a sad place at times.

    Chris, you are right! It is a very painful, sad place, very often, even for us First Worlders. Sin is a terrible thing, and it's sin that brought us this suffering. We don't call it a "vale of tears" in our prayers for nothing! :)

    You are right when you say that their "argument falls apart when you realize it's also a guaranteed end to happiness and love". Indeed it is. I think anyone would choose perfect love over annihilation. Who wouldn't? I can see why people would choose annihilation over hell, though. But those who "choose" that need to be very sure that there is no hell, and only annihilation.

    Sharon, I think you say it very well! The interesting thing is, in my deepest, darkest suffering, the only thing that comforted me was the love of God and the knowledge of my ultimate home in Heaven. It literally comforted me like no sunset, flower, melody, human intimacy, or earthly pleasures could…. In fact, I remember thinking, "Without God, this darkness, this pain, this horror I am feeling would be so overwhelming, and completely unbearable." God's love was like a light, leading me, so beautiful. It is only God that brings hope and beauty and light to an otherwise pain-filled, despairing world.

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  30. Leila,

    First, sorry I misunderstood the comment system you have here, won't happen again!

    You asked if this would reflect my views:

    "The objective reality of our futures is bleak and dark and unthinkable. But since I'm here, I will make the best of things by seeking pleasure and comfort where I can. I will make the present bearable, even fun, to keep me from thinking of my and my loved ones' certain annihilation."

    How you would characterize my personal stance varies depending on how you define 'atheism', 'agnostic', and 'adeist'. I am certainly an atheist in the sense that I don't see evidence of divine intervention in the world and don't rely on the notion of a god having created the universe, etc. I don't rule out the possibility that the universe was created by a god, so in that sense I am not adeist, but rather agnostic.

    I wouldn't characterize our future as bleak or dark, those seem like emotional terms that wouldn't apply well to what I envision what follows the end of my life to be - which is precisely how I envisioned what came before my life. I think you're right to call it "unthinkable" though, much like what deep-sleep resembles. I also wouldn't reduce my aims in life to be the seeking of pleasure or comfort wherever it could be found, and certainly not with the aim of just taking my mind off the inevitable.

    Despite my belief - that to the best of my knowledge, we are made of (star)dust and so shall we return, I'm still concerned with ensuring that the next generation (who's number I hope will include some future offspring of mine) is left with more rather than less. More knowledge, more insight, more hope, etc. I hope to keep the memories of loved ones, that I carry with me, alive through my children. I hope to teach them to love other better than I and my generation have.

    I have to think that I will fear death at the end (hell, I do now), but not because I fear what's after (I don't fear sleep), but because I so enjoy this world, learning about it and experiencing it.

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  31. Manda,

    "History has shown us that in times and places without God, the poor suffered greatly with NO ONE to care for them. "Might makes right" in an atheistic, totalitarian culture in which government and the elite rule over the masses."

    I'm sorry, but there's little about this which is supported by history, at least not pre-20th century. You say "might makes right", which makes me wonder if you've ever heard of the 'divine right of kings'.

    The rest of your claims show only correlation, not causation.

    Today there are many secular aid groups who give of their money, time, and skill for humanitarian reasons alone, no strings or evangelism attached.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfam
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNICEF
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Red_Cross_and_Red_Crescent_Movement
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Red_Cross
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A9decins_Sans_Fronti%C3%A8res

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  32. Leila,

    You ask:
    "Or is there something about serving his time that is just and right? Is it necessary for him to serve his time, make amends, before he returns, rehabilitated to his home? Or is it really all the same?"

    I would start by saying that the nature of eternal bliss thereafter in heaven would dwarf (by definition) whatever purgatory had in store. Now, I suppose this could turn into a 'could God create a stone so big he couldn't life it scenario' with regards to pondering a just punishment for Hitler. My other point would be that your analogy isn't comparing like-for-like. It's possible to commit crimes grave enough to be sent to prison for life with no chance of parole/release. Not only that, but in your example, the convict has given up 25 years of his finite life as repayment for his crime. In my analogy, even if you concede the existence of purgatory, you have a sentence which is continuously being diminished in relation to the end-state.

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  33. "Despite my belief - that to the best of my knowledge, we are made of (star)dust and so shall we return, I'm still concerned with ensuring that the next generation (who's number I hope will include some future offspring of mine) is left with more rather than less. More knowledge, more insight, more hope, etc. I hope to keep the memories of loved ones, that I carry with me, alive through my children. I hope to teach them to love other better than I and my generation have."

    Andre, why?

    Also, knowing that everything and everyone you love, and all that you've worked for and lived for will ultimately come to exactly naught does not warrant the description of "bleak"? I think it does. "Sunny and hopeful" just doesn't cut it here, IMHO.

    "I have to think that I will fear death at the end (hell, I do now), but not because I fear what's after (I don't fear sleep), but because I so enjoy this world, learning about it and experiencing it."

    Help me out: I never feared leaving Egypt when I visited there some years back, even though I enjoyed learning about it and experiencing it. So, where is your fear of leaving this life coming from?

    As to the secular aid groups you mentioned…. isn't the Red Cross (emblem and original motto) tied to Christian origins? Also, the Catholic Church is the largest charity on the face of the earth, and I assure you, the charity is given with no strings attached to the recipients, regardless of their creed or any other distinctions. :)

    (And, thank you for clarifying your beliefs, that you are agnostic. I have never even come across the word "adeist" before, so I am learning!)

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  34. Leila,

    You point out that:
    "We all know very well that there are millions of children whose lives don't get better, and who live and die in misery."

    I didn't mean to imply that the chances of children to escape poverty were equal, or even remotely similar to those in better circumstances. I'm merely saying that it's not my position to say that they should have never been born.

    "This happens every day, and has for ages."

    This is what I'm trying to get away from. To me, I look at somebody like Mother Theresa - who thought that suffering brought people closer to God - and see a world-view that keeps people from doing everything they can to stop the suffering due to the belief that those who suffer on this earth are rewarded in heaven.

    Your view seems to take solace in the belief that this child be in a better place, and that religion can give those people suffering hope and comfort in this life. My question is what if this child has never heard of God? Where does that hope come from now? What if that child has heard of God, but not your God? Where is it's salvation come from now?



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  35. Andre, you said:

    I would start by saying that the nature of eternal bliss thereafter in heaven would dwarf (by definition) whatever purgatory had in store.

    Such is the nature of God's mercy, that even the most wretched sinner is never irredeemable, so long as he draws breath and is able to turn his will. I am so grateful to love a God of infinite mercy. The alternative -- an unforgiving "god" -- would about as bad as final annihilation.

    Now, I suppose this could turn into a 'could God create a stone so big he couldn't life it scenario' with regards to pondering a just punishment for Hitler.

    No, because a "could God create a stone so big he couldn't lift it scenario" is (literally) nonsense. God cannot go against His nature. He cannot be God and not-God at the same time. That is nonsense, as in illogical. But can there be a just punishment for Hitler? Of course. God is perfect justice. You cannot give perfect justice to anyone. But as for God, it is his very essence to do so.

    My other point would be that your analogy isn't comparing like-for-like.

    Totally agreed. We cannot compare, like-for-like, the perfect to the imperfect, the finite to the infinite, the temporal to the transcendent. But I wanted to try a rough analogy anyway. :)

    In my analogy, even if you concede the existence of purgatory, you have a sentence which is continuously being diminished in relation to the end-state.

    You (we) have no concept of the pains of purgation in purgatory and its effects on the soul. Second, each soul gets exactly what it needs and deserves in order to be perfected. The forgiveness of the sin(s) has already occurred while the soul still had earthly life, assuming the contrition occurred and was real. If the contrition was not genuine, the soul would not be experiencing the merciful, purifying flames of purgatory, but would instead be spending an eternity in the unquenchable flames of damnation in hell.

    All of this is not something we finite creatures can judge and execute.

    All I can do is praise God for his infinite mercy on those who turn their hearts towards Him in repentance, no matter how wretched and evil one's crimes and sins have been. We needn't worry that God would judge a heart or soul wrongly. He gets it right without breaking a sweat if you will. :)

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  36. Leila,

    "Andre, why?"

    I don't know. I suppose I see our lives as worth living in and of themselves. That I imagine each successive generation improving the experience of the next, and being content with having been part of that.

    "So, where is your fear of leaving this life coming from?"

    I'm not sure. I suppose you could say it's like getting to the end of a series of novels you've been in love with, knowing the author has died and there will never be another line written. You don't fear what you'll with the rest of your day...but you'll mourn not being able to continue in the adventure. I found Maurice Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are) description to be quite a powerful way of looking at this perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TH2OaaktJrw#!

    "isn't the Red Cross (emblem and original motto) tied to Christian origins?"

    Actually the Red Cross started in Switzerland, and it's motto is merely an inversion of the Swiss flag.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Red_Cross



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  37. I didn't mean to imply that the chances of children to escape poverty were equal, or even remotely similar to those in better circumstances. I'm merely saying that it's not my position to say that they should have never been born.

    Why not? If I were an atheist, I would easily believe and say that children who only suffer in this life should never have been born. It seems the humane thing. And logical.

    To me, I look at somebody like Mother Theresa - who thought that suffering brought people closer to God - and see a world-view that keeps people from doing everything they can to stop the suffering due to the belief that those who suffer on this earth are rewarded in heaven.

    But don't you see the irony in this? You use Mother Teresa as an example, but she proves the opposite. She and now her thousands of sisters are the ones caring for and comforting the suffering… alleviating their suffering while others ignore and walk by. How do you reconcile that the Church and her myriad charities work to relieve others' suffering a million times a day?

    My question is what if this child has never heard of God? Where does that hope come from now? What if that child has heard of God, but not your God? Where is it's salvation come from now?

    I answered that question, here:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/12/can-non-catholics-be-saved.html

    And children are less culpable than adults (many littles ones are not culpable at all). Jesus Himself said that "to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven." Now, if that isn't hopeful, I don't know what is. :)

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  38. Leila,

    "No, because a "could God create a stone so big he couldn't lift it scenario" is (literally) nonsense."

    I think the better description is paradox, especially seeing how much attention has been paid to the question: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox

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  39. Andre, I appreciate your honesty in saying "I don't know"…. it makes sense.

    That I imagine each successive generation improving the experience of the next, and being content with having been part of that.

    But in the end, what does it matter at all? It's all going to go "poof" and be meaningless. (Also, I wouldn't be content, as I don't see the world evolving morally at all; it's as brutal and violent and amoral/immoral as ever.)

    You don't fear what you'll with the rest of your day...but you'll mourn not being able to continue in the adventure.

    Yes, but you mentioned a fear of death (which I think is normal, by the way), not a wistfulness….

    Actually the Red Cross started in Switzerland, and it's motto is merely an inversion of the Swiss flag.

    Why does the Swiss flag have a cross on it? And, why did the motto of the Red Cross have to be modified because it was too "Christian-spirited"?

    I appreciate the discussion; you are a respectful and intelligent debater.

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  40. I think the better description is paradox

    Not a paradox. Show me a round square or a square circle. Are those paradoxes or nonsense?

    How can God act or exist against his nature? That's like saying Good Itself can sin, or Beauty Itself can be ugly.

    Is there anything that an omnipotent God cannot do? Of course, in the sense that He cannot do nonsense. He cannot act against His nature. (Acting against His nature would be, literally, non sense.)

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  41. Hi Leila,
    My fault if we're talking past each other, I was too vague. My point is exactly that: none of us has an "experience" of the time before our birth. That is what non-existence is. Not scary, not meaningless, not wondrous. Just nothing. As to your point about people generally lamenting their deaths, yes, that is clearly the instinctive feeling. My point is simply that we need not accept this impulse to fear nothingness as the "correct" answer and then search for meaning (God, for some people) to justify it. It is more reasonable to acknowledge that we don't actually fear nothingness itself, as long as we can remove it from the very charged label "death."
    When I referred "my loved ones," I meant the family I know and love today. It seems sad to most people to think of losing them forever when either you or they eventually die. Again, I was trying to illustrate that I did not feel sad three hundred years ago, when we were also not enjoying life together.
    All the arguments about how one "naturally" feels about death are true but somewhat beside the point here. It makes sense that we would fear death--from an evolutionary perspective, anyone that didn't avoid would not pass their genes on to us, and from a psychological one, we are afraid that we will actually experience annihilation (in fact, we cannot experience it, because there will be no self to do so). The question is whether this natural feeling gives us true information about what death is.

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  42. Rose, thank you for the clarifications. I think I understand you now. From an evolutionary standpoint, then (stipulating that there is no God), it is a good thing to fear death, then? Should we try to "not fear" or should we just go with what evolution has (rightly?) instilled in us?

    And to the question in my original post: Do you feel that life without ultimate meaning (and ending in nothingness) is "more" beautiful and "more" precious than if life had actual meaning and eternal love and life was our destiny?

    Now, totally off topic, but you brought up the evolutionary imperative to pass on genes: When people sterilize themselves or contracept for barrenness, is that going against our evolutionary instincts? Should we go with evolutionary instincts (sorry, for lack of a better term) or against them? Or does it just depend?

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  43. I have to eat and drink and defecate and shower and shave every day.
    I have to study and sit exams for the best part of my youth.
    I have to find a way to earn a living as an adult.
    I have to pay taxes.
    I have to respect the rights of others.
    I have to live by a thousand laws and regulations.
    I have to go under the surgeon’s knife and the dentist’s drill. (Heck, I even have to accompany others when they go trembling under the surgeon’s knife and the dentist’s drill!)
    I have to put up with my screaming kids.
    I have to clean out the cat’s litter.
    I have to tear myself away from seductive drugs and addictions.
    I have to sow and reap, and gather and store.
    I can’t live forever – although I want to.
    I can’t fly – even though I’d like to be able to.
    I can’t possess a hundredth of the things I’d like to.
    I can’t see half of what I’d like to – heck, I can’t even lift myself a few hundred miles off Planet Earth.
    You get the picture.
    And now you tell me that at the end of all this, I’ll simply go poof!
    I don’t get it… Is this the "beauty" and the "meaning" and the "preciousness" of life that you (atheists) are waxing lyrical about?

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  44. Leila,

    You say:
    "But don't you see the irony in this? You use Mother Teresa as an example, but she proves the opposite. She and now her thousands of sisters are the ones caring for and comforting the suffering… alleviating their suffering while others ignore and walk by."

    I think you'll find there's a great deal to be desired in some important aspects of the "care" she provided, especially in the area of what to do to ease people's suffering. She and her order have been criticized for not administering pain killers - on principle, not for lack of funds - even in the severest of cases. Her views that suffering brought one closer to God are at the core of this active refusal to treat suffering. While nobody denies that her order cares for many who would otherwise be ignored, that they are fed, cleaned, loved, etc., there's so much more that could be done for the people they care for.

    "Dr. Robin Fox, editor of The Lancet, described the medical care [in the Homes for the Dying] as "haphazard", as volunteers without medical knowledge had to make decisions about patient care, because of the lack of doctors. He observed that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients, so that people who could otherwise survive would be at risk of dying from infections and lack of treatment. Dr. Fox makes it a point to contrast the term "hospice", on the one hand, with what he calls "Mother Teresa's Care for the Dying" on the other hand; noting that, while hospice emphasises minimising suffering with professional medical care and attention to expressed needs and wishes of the patient, her approach does not."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa

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  45. "Since God's lifting power is infinite, the only way to have a stone too massive to be moved would be for it to have more than infinite mass.

    While there are varying kinds of infinity that mathematicians have described, nothing is 'more than infinite.' Even infinite things will fall somewhere within the taxonomy of infinities. Nothing is beyond that.
    So 'a stone too heavy for God to lift,' like 'square circle' and 'four-sided triangle,' is something you can say, but not something that can actually exist because it contains an internal logical contradiction. It is an intrinsically impossible thing.
    And thus not something that God can make.

    Yet it doesn't deny God's omnipotence because it doesn't fall within the range of possible objects."

    - Jimmy Akin

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  46. Andre, how many Calcutta facilities for the sick and dying has Dr. Fox established? Do they provide superior care than Mother Teresa's?

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  47. Leila,

    "I answered that question, here:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/12/can-non-catholics-be-saved.html"

    I think you misunderstood my first point somewhat. Without knowledge of God (and the possibility of heaven), that child will lack the hope in this life for something better in the next. You might take solace that your faith tells you that there's life after death, but the child does not.

    In terms of what the Catholic Church now teaches (post Vatican II) on the fate of non-Catholics, good on them to reverse their previously held position that salvation was only available through the Church. That's a message that's still filtering through the faithful though (non-Catholics should refrain from asking my grandmother what happens to them after they die).

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  48. Joanna,

    "Andre, how many Calcutta facilities for the sick and dying has Dr. Fox established? Do they provide superior care than Mother Teresa's?"

    I think you'll find my comments related to how atheists and believers might respond to the issue of suffering in this world. I can only speak for myself (as there's no atheist teaching to refer to), and I don't say Mother Theresa is representative of all Catholics, let alone all Christians, or all 'believers'.

    The point I was making was that, given that I believe we have but just this one life to lead, that we should strive to obtain the best results in this world. In contrast, somebody like Mother Theresa believed in an afterlife. She also believed that suffering in this life helps one to achieve salvation in the next. Because of this belief, among other things, she denied pain relief to those in her care, because she believed their suffering in this world would bring them closer to salvation.

    The above either is or isn't true, and you either find the denial of pain relief (as a matter of principle) good or bad. Dr. Fox's contributions to the poor of India have nothing to do with it.

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  49. On the contrary, Andre. If Dr. Fox feels he can provide superior care to the sick and dying of India than the Sisters of Charity, I wonder why he hasn't done so.

    And if, as you suggest, Dr. Fox'a opinion is that the poor and suffering should not be helped because it is a waste of resources, why should he care what Mother Teresa's facilities are like? He is not being forced to fund them.

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  50. Leila,

    "Why does the Swiss flag have a cross on it? And, why did the motto of the Red Cross have to be modified because it was too "Christian-spirited"?"

    If you know, do tell! I'm sure there's a fascinating history of why the Swiss flag has a cross on it. Given that neither the Red Cross' charter or it's mission relates to Christianity or religion, I'm not sure how it's relevant.

    I wasn't able to find anything on the Red Cross having to changed it's motto from "Amidst War, Charity", and unless Christianity has annexed the spirit of the word 'charity', I don't see why it should have to. :)

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  51. JoAnna,

    "On the contrary, Andre. If Dr. Fox feels he can provide superior care to the sick and dying of India than the Sisters of Charity, I wonder why he hasn't done so."

    So unless the editor of a peer-reviewed medical journal is willing to set up hospitals and clinics everywhere his journal reports on, he should not report on those places? Got it.

    "Dr. Fox'a opinion is that the poor and suffering should not be helped because it is a waste of resources, why should he care what Mother Teresa's facilities are like? He is not being forced to fund them."

    I'm not sure how you took his criticisms of a very well funded charity not administering pain medication to the dying (as a matter of principle), along with discouraging practices that would have saved lives, as somehow saying helping the poor was a waste of resources. He's saying they aren't doing enough, and purposefully allowing people to suffer needlessly because they think it has benefits in the afterlife.

    I notice that you didn't engage on the point of whether or not it was true that the Missionaries of Charity don't provide pain relief, or whether you agree that suffering is good because it brings you closer to God.

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  52. Andre, you misunderstand. My point is that before Mother Teresa, there was no help for these people. They died in gutters, suffering and alone. Any palliative care, even that as allegedly imperfect as that provided by the sisters of Charity, is a significant step up what was happening before.

    If Dr. Fox feels that Mother Teresa's methods are so substandard, then what is he doing to change it? Is he providing them with more money so they can afford more pain medication? Is he organizing and sending a fleet of doctors to provide free medical care for the people in her facility?

    Or is he being a typical first world holier than thou bureaucrat, Who is all talk and no action?

    People are free to criticize Mother Teresa's methods. But it is painfully obvious that everyone doing so feel free to sit on their behinds and do nothing to improve the lot of the poor and dying in India. She, at least, Was trying to help.

    So if you can provide evidence that Dr. Fox or any other critics of Mother Teresa have opened a free hospital in India to serve the poor and dying so people stop going to the sisters of Charity, I'll gladly eat my words.

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  53. I really don't get your logic, Andre. You are saying that unless people can provide perfect help, whatever help they do provide is a crime or somehow wrong.

    By your logic, we should never help those in need unless we can do it absolutely perfectly. Is that what you think?

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  54. Andre, I know it is de rigueur among atheists and Catholic-bashers to trash Mother T and her works (we've had long, long dialogues about this previously on the blog), but I have to ask you a basic question here, so that I can get my bearings.

    You are claiming that Mother Teresa wanted the poor to suffer needlessly to aid in their salvation. But that begs the question: Why would she have started homes for the dying if that were the case? Weren't they suffering needlessly (and even better!) before she went to the trouble of starting those homes? Surely if suffering is what she wanted for them, she could have left them in the gutter to die an agonizing death.

    Help me grasp your point.

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  55. You might take solace that your faith tells you that there's life after death, but the child does not.

    The solace is not in the here and now for the child, obviously! The solace will come in the attainment of Heaven (and full knowledge then, of all that came before and why). Heaven will more than make up for the suffering and "lack of hope" that the child felt on earth, so no worries there. It's like (and again, imperfect analogy between the finite and the infinite) when a much-loved child in America is born prematurely and lives in great pain (NICU, no touch, lots of needles, painful tests, etc…). He cannot fathom anything but the pain he is in. He might be said to have "no hope" -- yet the loving parents and healing doctors understand what he cannot: It will all be okay, and he will be healed and home. He will not wish he had never been born once he is home, warm, loved, healthy and safe. (And Heaven is infinitely better that that….)

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  56. In terms of what the Catholic Church now teaches (post Vatican II) on the fate of non-Catholics, good on them to reverse their previously held position that salvation was only available through the Church.

    Andre, sorry, could you tell me when you think the Church "reversed" her position on this question? Thanks!

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  57. Mottos and mission statements

    The original motto of the International Committee of the Red Cross was Inter Arma Caritas ("In War, Charity"). This Christian-spirited slogan was amended in 1961 with the neutral motto Per Humanitatem ad Pacem or "With humanity, towards peace". While Inter Arma Caritas is still the primary motto of the ICRC (as per Article 3 of the ICRC statutes), Per Humanitatem ad Pacem is the primary motto of the Federation (Article 1 of the Constitution of the Federation). Both organizations acknowledge the alternative motto, and together both slogans serve as the combined motto of the International Movement.



    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emblems_of_the_International_Red_Cross_and_Red_Crescent_Movement

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  58. Andre, I also want to point out that Mother Teresa's homes for the dying do not operate as hospitals. They exist to give the dying dignity and love before they pass away. They do the work that no one else wants to, and it's not fair to in any way compare their homes to medical hospitals. Hospital-building was not her mission. It may be someone else's, but it was not hers.

    As for suffering. As long as we are not sinning, we are to alleviate others' suffering as we are able. When the Church speaks of redemptive suffering, she is not saying to inflict suffering on others. She is saying, as Christ did, that where we find ourselves suffering, we are to pick up our Cross and unite it to Christ's suffering on the Cross, thus transforming it. Our suffering becomes redemptive, as Christ's was.

    There is no sadistic imperative to go out and stick people with pins, trip them, or withhold the means of comfort as we are able. No one is required to end all the suffering they see, either. (Can you imagine?)

    Here is more on the Catholic view of suffering:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/10/suffering-catholic-style-part-two-of.html

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  59. JoAnna,

    "If Dr. Fox feels that Mother Teresa's methods are so substandard, then what is he doing to change it?"

    Reporting on them, for one.

    "Is he providing them with more money so they can afford more pain medication?"

    You mean, in addition to the millions they already collect each year that they are already not spending on pain medication, again, on principle?

    "So if you can provide evidence that Dr. Fox or any other critics of Mother Teresa have opened a free hospital in India to serve the poor and dying so people stop going to the sisters of Charity, I'll gladly eat my words."

    You could simply type something along the lines of "secular charity india" into Google and see what happens. Also, I find it strange that you wouldn't consider the possibility of the SoC revising their policy on pain-medicine.

    "I really don't get your logic, Andre. You are saying that unless people can provide perfect help, whatever help they do provide is a crime or somehow wrong."

    Not only did I not say that, but I don't think there's any way to read what I've said and come away with this. Criticizing the way things are done is not the same as saying we should do nothing. I'm not trying to be rude, but at this point I don't think you're interested in engaging with the point I'm trying to make. Thanks for the discussion.

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  60. Andre, could you post the SoC policy on pain meds? I'm honestly in the dark on that.

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  61. Leila,

    "But that begs the question: Why would she have started homes for the dying if that were the case?"

    I don't think she started these homes for the sole purpose of having the poor needlessly suffer. I think she absolutely believed that what she was doing was the best way to care for the poor. They also clearly did help people to die with more dignity, surrounded by people caring for them. I think that is a good thing, and better than just dying alone on the street. I just happen to think that her view of suffering meant that pain-relief wasn't what part of what she meant by caring for the poorest, and that it should have been. I'm also not suggesting that this view, or at least how it relates to treating the dying, is representative of the rest of Catholicism, or their other charities.

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  62. Actually, I am very proud to have Mother Teresa as a representative of Catholicism. She is on her way to canonization for good reasons. I am still confused, though. You say that she simultaneously does and does not desire that the poor needlessly suffer.

    Can you clarify? I'm not trying to be difficult. It really does not make sense to me.

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  63. I mean this as no disrespect, but Andre are you catholic or not...I am a bit confused...

    Lorena

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  64. And here is the thing:

    Either Mother T was harming the poor, or she was helping them. It cannot be that the poor were simultaneously were better off under her care and worse off under her care.

    The funny thing about the critics of those who do good is that it's really hard to defend oneself. For example, I believe that I am objectively doing a good thing in raising eight really good kids (so far, no menaces to society!). However, I've had an atheist tell me that he thought I was guilty of child abuse for raising them Catholic (he was from the UK, and favored jailing parents who raised their children Catholic). Now, that is extreme, but I also know plenty of folks who would think I am "harming" my children for making them share rooms, not putting them in every dance/sport/club, choosing a charter school (as opposed to regular public school or private school), making them do chores, allowing them to listen to pop music, etc…

    So many criticism possible on how I am harming my children, and not doing "enough" or not doing it "right". That stuff just rolls right off my back.

    Now, Mother T's work and legacy and heroism is on a scale that is waaaaaaaaaay beyond my comfortable little life here, but I hope you get my point.

    It's really nice that Dr. Fox and others can criticize the work, and point out deficiencies, but meanwhile, the SoC continue helping the poor and not harming them. And most importantly, loving them and giving them back their human dignity.

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  65. I guess I fall into the camp of living an ultimately meaningless life since I am an atheist but I feel like I'm doing just fine. I'm pretty happy with myself and I don't feel the need to argue that life is better or more beautiful with or without a God. Its a roller coaster ride one way or another and I'm fine with both options. I also don't have a problem with the world continuing without me after I'm annihilated. It did just fine pre-annihilation and it will do the same post annihilation. We are still here after Jesus' human form was annihilated and we are still here after Hitler was annihilated. The one thing I am sure of though, is that the planet will annihilate all of us if we don't take a step back and look at how we are using its resources. But even if that does happen I'm confident that equilibrium will return to the planet eventually after we are all gone.

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  66. Leila,

    "You say that she simultaneously does and does not desire that the poor needlessly suffer."

    I'm saying that she started her missionary work with the goal of caring for the poorest, and that in her view, the relief of suffering was not an important part of that care.

    "t's not fair to in any way compare their homes to medical hospitals."

    I realize they were not hospitals, and that they were set up more as hospices. I think you'll find that hospices put quite a bit of emphasis on pain relief, in contrast to her homes for the dying. Also, the people giving the care at hospices are medical professionals, people that would be able to tell when a patient was not in fact terminally ill, and help get that patient the treatment they needed to survive. This was not the case in the homes for the dying.

    "When the Church speaks of redemptive suffering, she is not saying to inflict suffering on others."

    Saying somebody made little effort to alleviate suffering is not the same as saying somebody inflicted suffering. I'm saying the former, not the latter.

    I should point out that I think we're straying from my original goal, which was not to "bash" Mother T, but to show how aspects of religious tradition can make one less likely to be concerned for the suffering of the poor, than one who thought this live was all there is. I made that point in response to the idea that atheists aren't as concerned with the suffering of the poor.

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  67. citizensunited, that's actually nice to hear. I have no beef with the way you framed things…. If I were an atheist, I would think like you do. Makes sense. (Although I do think that final severing from the ones you love -- esp. if one has small children who will be left behind until they too are annihilated -- is no cause for happiness, exactly.)

    Are you young, and do you have children? Also, would you agree that those wretched ones, who cannot be helped and can only suffer, should have never been born? If I were an atheist, I would say yes.

    I will correct one thing: Jesus' body was in no way annihilated and in fact is very much in existence.

    Also, don't you think that the earth will also be annihilated one day?

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  68. "Andre, sorry, could you tell me when you think the Church "reversed" her position on this question? Thanks!"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumen_Gentium
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/rcc_salv.htm

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  69. Andre, I hope we have established the fact that I like you and respect your intellect and the way you are conducting this dialogue. But my brain is twisting trying to understand your last comment.

    I'm saying that she started her missionary work with the goal of caring for the poorest, and that in her view, the relief of suffering was not an important part of that care.

    What is "caring for the poorest" if it's not "alleviating their suffering"?

    Please, please, help me understand.

    I think later you actually made the statement that amounts to "Mother Teresa's religious conviction made her less likely to be concerned for the suffering of the poor than atheists are."

    Knowing who she was and what she did (and what her sisters continue to do), I just cannot wrap my brain around this.

    Her religious beliefs are why she gave up her entire life and spent it helping the poor, living with them, serving them, and then inspiring thousands upon thousands of young women to do the same.

    If caring the poor is not synonymous with relieving their suffering, then what is it synonymous with?

    And, can you mention any atheist-based charity (sprung from and founded upon atheist principles specifically, and run by atheists) that approaches in any way, shape or form the alleviation of suffering of the poor, cast out, and downtrodden in the way the Catholic Church (as the largest charity on earth) does?

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  70. Andre, are you stating that Vatican II (the mid to late 1960s) was the point of the "reversal" of the teaching about non-Catholics being able to be saved?

    I just want to make sure before I continue.

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  71. Mother Teresa was a slmple soul who wanted to love simply. She had a vision for how she could love and serve her neighbors (the least of these) anf she went and did it. Others can criticize her for not buying them all new sneakers or ipods or for not putting them all on pain meds or prescription drugs, but she was just trying to love and show love where perhaps it had not been shown or experienced before. If I started a charity and you sent me money you can't tell me how to spend that money. You can't force me to change my charity into a night club because in your mind a night club would bring more joy or comfort.

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  72. Mother Teresa was a slmple soul who wanted to love simply. She had a vision for how she could love and serve her neighbors (the least of these) anf she went and did it. Others can criticize her for not buying them all new sneakers or ipods or for not putting them all on pain meds or prescription drugs, but she was just trying to love and show love where perhaps it had not been shown or experienced before. If I started a charity and you sent me money you can't tell me how to spend that money. You can't force me to change my charity into a night club because in your mind a night club would bring more joy or comfort.

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  73. Leila,

    We've absolutely established mutual respect, in my view, so have no fear.

    "What is "caring for the poorest" if it's not "alleviating their suffering"?"

    I suppose I should have been more specific in terms of the lack of emphasis on treating physical suffering.

    "I think later you actually made the statement that amounts to..."

    I will say that what I said does not amount to your conclusion. What I'm saying is that if your religious views lead you to believe that the afterlife is the most important goal, and that physical suffering can help you reach that goal, there's a chance that you will place less emphasis on alleviating that suffering than somebody who sees no benefit in suffering at all, and seeks to reduce it as much as possible.

    "And, can you mention any atheist-based charity (sprung from and founded upon atheist principles specifically, and run by atheists) that approaches in any way, shape or form the alleviation of suffering of the poor, cast out, and downtrodden in the way the Catholic Church (as the largest charity on earth) does?"

    I'm not really sure what the point of this question is. I've made no universal attack of Catholic charities, and I've made clear that I'm not holding them guilty by association. I also think you're being quite narrow in allowing me only atheist founded and run charities - which would discount all the secular (though not exclusively atheist) charities I've previously mentioned. Even if there were no secular or atheist charities, I fail to see what bearing that has on what we've been talking about.

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  74. Leila,

    "Andre, are you stating that Vatican II (the mid to late 1960s) was the point of the "reversal" of the teaching about non-Catholics being able to be saved?"

    I'm no Church historian, or Canon scholar. From what I've read, it seems that Vatican II was when the official status of non-Catholics was settled. The shift may have begun earlier, I don't know.

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  75. Manda,

    "Others can criticize her for not buying them all new sneakers or ipods or for not putting them all on pain meds or prescription drugs"

    This is an absurd comparison.

    "If I started a charity and you sent me money you can't tell me how to spend that money."

    Perhaps not, but I would venture that many people did not know what their donations were actually going to, and might have been less likely to do so if they had.

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  76. Andre, if you have ever been on pain meds before (lortabs, percocets, hydrocodone, etc.) then you understand that they affect not just pain levels, but mental cognizance, personality, levels of affection, etc. Perhaps Mother Teresa wanted these 'poorest of the poor' to retain their mental capacities in their final moments so that the reality of the situation was not 'warm fuzzied over' with drugs and they could die with the sense to know they were cared for and loved? To me it seems much more dignified and compassionate NOT to administer drugs to everyone just to alleviate suffering.

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  77. ""Others can criticize her for not buying them all new sneakers or ipods or for not putting them all on pain meds or prescription drugs"

    This is an absurd comparison."

    Just saying pick your reasons to criticize her methods. Might seem absurd to you, but it's all relative. To you, pain medication is necessary. Perhaps not to others. I prefer a natural child birth so that I am completely aware of what is going on...so that I can cooperate with my body and my baby, and so that the experience is not masked over or artificial, if that makes sense.

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  78. Andre, I will grant you that the goal of secularists and atheists is often to relieve suffering above all else. In fact, I wrote a post about that, too:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/10/is-suffering-worse-than-death-part-one.html

    And, often secular doctors and nations and even hospices are so wedded to the opposition of suffering that their idea of "care" for the suffering is to euthanize them. So, I would agree that the Catholic understanding of "death with dignity" is in that sense diametrically opposed to that of the secular world.

    The reason all this is relevant is because your premise is that religious beliefs (specifically Catholic) might lead to "less" alleviation of suffering for the afflicted, while atheists or secularists would not have those barriers to providing comfort. It seems incongruent to me, given the massive scope and nature of Catholic charities across the globe, when I am not seeing any such atheist movements.

    Also, if Mother T and the sisters were not alleviating the physical suffering of those in their care, then what were they providing? Were they merely singing them hymns or reading Scripture to them? I am not trying to be flippant.

    In other words, what were the public's donations "actually going to"? What, specifically, do you think was/is going on in those homes?

    Thanks!

    (More on the Vatican II thing in a bit…. gotta make some phone calls.)

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  79. Leila, Thanks for your response, I’m going to try and respond to your points as best as I can…Wow, I just reviewed all I wrote, sorry it is so long (it's in two posts). :)

    "Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object ; having its root in the Latin nihil (nothing).
    Is this not appropriate for what we are discussing? If not, let me know why not. I like facts and clarity, and I am not "saying" the word with any emotion, I promise. It's factual." - Leila

    I understand your use of the term annihilation, as it would pertain to a single persons death. Their existence on earth coming to an end. Using the term, however, conjures up images of nuclear bombs and other catastrophes that I would not equate to any humans death (as long as it is a natural death J) When I think of my Grandmother dying in her sleep, I don’t think annihilation, I think peaceful departure. Using that term creates a sense of grandeur and overwhelming feeling with negative connotations. I don’t view death as negative.

    "I had never heard that atheists don't ever (or rarely) fear death. Can you tell me more about that?" - Leila

    I can e-mail my in-laws and ask them to make sure, but I know I have heard them speak of it on several occasions and yes, they do not fear death. It is a part of the existence of life.

    "As to the orphan suffering, and whether or not that would be subjective (i.e., perhaps he does not suffer at all)…. I am going to say that starvation, open sores, thirst, beatings and emotional neglect does hurt, even if no comfort was felt first (though surely we all felt comfort in our mothers' wombs). Are you positing that pain can only be known and felt if pleasure was felt first?" - Leila

    Using the situation of acute pain, physical trauma (beatings) and neglect, yes, I would agree that the child has endured suffering. I originally brought up the point after a paper I read on “Genie”, one of the first cases of “feral children”. In it they discuss her lack of human emotions, she is almost animal-like. Also one of the worst cases of child neglect in history. I wondered about suffering and whether it is subjective. Do we see suffering through the lens of our own existence?

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  80. Continued....

    "Blindness has nothing to do with the pain of neglect, of hunger, of wounds, and of lack of love, so it's not in the same category of what I was discussing. For example, a blind boy can be born into a happy loving family, while another blind boy is dumped into a horrible institution that would make Dickens cringe. It's not the blindness that would cause the second boy to suffer." - Leila

    Hunger and wounds, I agree, would cause suffering.

    "But, are you saying that the two boys would be experiencing the same level of happiness? Have you ever witnessed the suffering of children in those places (I've been involved with special needs international adoption for a while now, and it's pretty horrible)?"

    I have a disability and am strongly involved in advocacy of those with the same disability and am heavily involved in international adoptions of children with my form of disability. The children I see in the orphanages from Russia, China, Ukraine and India, most of them, are thriving. They are happy in their environment. Not all of them, of course. Now, do I feel a pang of guilt in not being able to “rescue” them and give them a life that I know, which I believe to be better than what they have? Yes. But that is subjective. I want those children to have a great life, like mine, because that is what I know and it makes me happy. Who’s to say they aren’t happy where they are?

    "Do you think that the child left out to die of exposure is "lucky" to have had her "awesome" shot at the world? Or, would your in-laws think that?" - Leila

    I don't think anyone, atheist or not, should consider that child “lucky” with an “awesome” shot at life based on the negative situation of neglect and physical pain like starvation and exposure. Just like myself as a Christian, I would feel sorry for that child for having to endure such pain.

    "I'm not understanding the beauty of the survival of the species if in the end the whole thing goes "poof", and there is no ultimate survival. It's temporarily beautiful, and yes, it can be enjoyed with our senses and our intellect. But how is it "more" beautiful and precious than if it had actual meaning, rooted in Love?" - Leila

    And this is where we come to an impasse. Since you are unable to fully understand what an atheist feels, your question posed to the group will never alleviate your misunderstanding. Did you sincerely ask the question with an honest belief that some atheist would change your mind? I think that there is nothing an atheist could say to sway your steadfast belief in Catholicism. So to be fair, you posed this question, not to learn and be changed by your beliefs, but to incite a discussion. Yes/No?

    Do you have the capacity to be open enough to the “other side” to honestly admit that what they believe is good and right for them? I’m unsure of this, because you see atheism as so utterly wrong. It’s the whole “Us Vs. Them” mentality of religion, and as long as that exists in your world, there will never be an ability to connect and see them as living a life that is right for them. You must see them as wrong, for you to be right, No?

    I wish you could believe my in-laws that they view life as meaningful and beautiful just as much you and I do in our faith. The beauty for them is in the science, for the earth and all of its inhabitants to thrive, produce and evolve, is the ultimate survival. That is the meaning, that is “the point”. Well, that and a whole slew of other wonderful friendships, family, eating, traveling, volunteering, etc. It’s about the here and the now, not the afterlife, since they don’t believe in that. I hope that helps. :)


    @Rose I agree.

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  81. Leila,

    "It seems incongruent to me, given the massive scope and nature of Catholic charities across the globe, when I am not seeing any such atheist movements."

    Again, here I think you're not being intellectually honest. You keep limiting the opposition to "atheist movements", and discounting all the non-religious charities because they are not explicitly atheist, or composed only of atheists.

    "In other words, what were the public's donations "actually going to"? What, specifically, do you think was/is going on in those homes?"

    I think the donations go to many different things, the Missionaries of Charity don't exclusively work in these Houses for the Dying, and those houses may not even represent a majority of their work.

    It's also besides the point as it relates specifically to how the views of the founder of the order on suffering might cause them to treat the poor differently than somebody that thought there was no benefit to be had from suffering. These views clearly don't affect the Church or all her charities in the same way, and the Church is not alone in it's views that suffering on earth yielding reward in the afterlife.

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  82. I think secular organizations also have the example of Christianity to thank for their existence. How many organizations to help the poor, including helping conquered people, existed in Ancient Greece or Rome? When the Visigoths destroyed villages, did they build hospitals in their wake? When there was no philosophy in India that encouraged citizens to help the overwhelming numbers of poor in Calcutta, what inspired Mother Teresa to do so? I do not know about Mother Teresa's treatment of pain. I would have to research that. The best way to research it would be to go to Calcutta and volunteer to serve with the sisters, to see exactly what an unacceptable job they might be doing in helping the poor. And really, if anyone wants to criticize the sisters for the way they save the poor from rotting alone in the streets and thinks they can do better, they should have at it! I understand that there is nothing wrong with investigating Mother Teresa's work, but criticism that does nothing to improve the perceived inadequacies is lame at best. So easy to criticize, so hard to pull the maggots off the body of a man dying in the streets.

    To go back to Rose's comment about fearing death, I heard that same idea raised just a few days ago - the idea that Christians find the idea of "nothingness" at death to be fearful - "Why are you afraid of that?" was the question raised. Personally I cannot see how it would make sense to be afraid of death if death meant nothing. What could there be to be afraid of? So no, I do not believe in life after death because I am afraid to believe otherwise. I have said that there is reason enough to fear meeting God, but that is a fear that I really have to work on. Outside the fear that means a sense of awe, there is no reason to be afraid of him, if I focus on his mercy and on a trust in his forgiveness, the way St. Terese trusted in his forgiveness. I suppose I don't like being told I'm wrong, and in a way I fear that discomfort, but instead I can just ask that my errors be corrected now rather than later. There is a lot to meditate on in those matters, but no, I do not turn to religion as a way to avoid a really illogical fear of nothingness.

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  83. To try to clarify what the Church teaches about suffering, which I am sure what Mother Teresa would have believed (again, I would have to research the claims about her supposed encouragement of suffering among the poor), we definitely are to help those around us who are suffering, as much as we are able. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do to me" are the clear words of Our Lord. If we care for them, we care for him. If we ignore them, we ignore him.

    However, we all know that it is impossible to avoid all suffering. We will suffer. But we know that there is value in our suffering - it is not useless, and used well, it can become a means of great grace for ourselves and others. I read somewhere recently (I thought in the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist but can't find it in there now) that the Church has the best answers to suffering - why there is suffering in the world, what we should do about it for others, how the evil of suffering can actually be used to conquer other evils just as the evil of Christ's crucifixion conquered the evils of death and permanent separation from God.

    On the other hand, the world tells you that suffering is bad and only bad, and that it should be avoided even at the cost of performing great evil. Most especially are the promises that abortion and euthanasia will lead to reduced suffering. Never mind that such promises ignore the suffering of the unborn and the suffering of the post-abortive woman, but in the case of euthanasia, as we try to escape the unavoidable aspects of suffering caused by illness and old age, we understand as Christians that we are throwing away a suffering that could win graces for others. That is not to say that we do not help the ill or elderly avoid suffering! It is just admitting that in running away from unavoidable suffering by killing the ill, elderly or unborn, we are missing out on the great good that God works through that suffering. I don't know how an atheist sees this except as a contradiction - we know suffering is itself evil, we must try to help others in their suffering, yet we will not do evil in order to avoid suffering, and we actually know that through God, the evil of suffering can be used for great good. How do you view that, Andre?

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  84. Leila, remind me never to read your blog before I start homeschooling for the day. I always find myself saying, "Oops, I'm supposed to be teaching my children!" Fascinating discussion.

    I know you've discussed this before, but I don't get the logic behind atheists saying their world view makes life more "beautiful" and "precious." Not because of the many great points you've brought up in this post, but because there is no meaning or beauty or love or good if there is nothing outside this world. All we have are chemical reactions, evolution, and social constructs. So how can an atheist criticize Mother Teresa? (I realize Andre is not truly an atheist, but he seems to speaking for them here, as so few real atheists have taken up your challenge.) How can an atheist criticize anyone's behavior? What is the basis of it? To what standard are they comparing it? How can they love their children? Why is a beautiful world/life preferable to an ugly one? Who sets the standard for beauty? And what difference does their "making a difference" ultimately amount to, if man is no superior to the dinosaurs, and will one day like them be gone? No one will remember, no one will care.

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  85. Sharon,

    "I don't know how an atheist sees this except as a contradiction - we know suffering is itself evil, we must try to help others in their suffering, yet we will not do evil in order to avoid suffering, and we actually know that through God, the evil of suffering can be used for great good. How do you view that, Andre?"

    I don't know that this view of the medical community pushing euthanasia on people is accurate. Most of the answers I've heard from doctors on how they want to die (which I echo) are along the lines of: no extraordinary measures to prolong life, no resuscitation, being at home surrounded by those you love, and afforded something to manage any pain there might be. This notion that doctors want to heard everyone into the slaughterhouse in the name of mercy is foreign to me. I've only ever heard doctors speaking of making the patient as comfortable as possible in their last hours.

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  86. Jennifer, thank you! I only have a moment, so this will seem a bit rushed, and I am sorry.

    I am not using annihilation to conjure up any image. I am using it as defined. I never thought of a bomb, just complete nothingness of what was before. Annihilation can be (and often is) very quiet).

    I have never claimed that your in-laws do not actually feel happy. I trust you that they do! Why would I doubt what they feel? I know many people who feel happy in situations that objectively should not (or might not seem to) elicit happiness.

    As for "us vs. them"… I think you misunderstand. First of all, my original post was not about debating the truth of atheism vs. Christianity. But let's at least frame that the right way, if you want to talk about it: Either something is true, or it's not. So, either Christianity is true, or it's not. Same with atheism: Either God or gods exist, or not. There is no way that two contradictory statements can both be true at the same time. "God exists" and "God does not exist" cannot both be true at the same time. So, I may feel that Christianity is "right for me", but if God does not actually exist, objectively, then I am wrong in my belief in God. The truth would in fact be that God does not exist, and no amount of my "belief" would change that objective truth.

    The same can be said for atheism. If God exists, then atheism is wrong, no matter what the atheist feels about it.

    Can we at least agree on that point? (Without saying which side is right or wrong, but just acknowledging that two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time.)

    If there is a God, and if Christianity is true, then holding to the tenets of atheism would in fact not be good or right for your in-laws, no matter how happy they feel, correct? Again, I'm not trying to prove Christianity is true here, but asking you to stipulate that it is, and then ponder your in-laws' situation if so. Truth matters, doesn't it?

    And if there is no God, it doesn't matter, ultimately, what anyone thinks, believes, feels, or wants. Do you agree?

    And, I am glad you see some wonderful, happy orphanages in Eastern Europe and around the globe. I know there are some, certainly! I don't have to direct you to the documentaries (or the blogs of my friends who have adopted and been there amongst the starving, neglected and abused children) to convince you that there are plenty that are not so conducive to happy, thriving children, because as you've mentioned, you know that those unfortunate places exist too, with many legions of children who suffer there. Those are the ones of which I speak.


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  87. Again, here I think you're not being intellectually honest.

    Ouch! That hurts more than anything else, as I try to always be intellectually honest! Perhaps it's more that we don't understand each other? You have said that the Church (or Mother T) withheld care and comfort and alleviation of suffering, when the very mission of Mother T and the Church was to go out and give comfort to the poor and diseased and afflicted.

    I see her doing that on the most massive scale imaginable, precisely because of the religious mandate to do so (such is the mandate of Love). And, I don't see that atheism (or secularism) has in any way eclipsed the work that religious folks have done in helping the poor (and not just monetarily, but with their whole lives).

    I could be wrong… I could be missing something. But I think you might be missing something, too.

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  88. Hi Leila,
    I must admit, I did not take the time to read all the comments here, so I apologize if I am repeating anyone. Maybe you are diving into the philosophy of atheists, which, as a Catholic, I do not agree with, but, when I read these claims, I can't help but see a kernel of truth in them.
    The saints are always encouraging us to meditate on our death. In fact, St. Frances de Sales said that keeping our death in mind is one of the ways we can quickly grow in holiness. When I think about how short this life is, and how I only have 1 life to live, it makes me want to live the best life possible! For me, I take it to the level of "I only have one life to glorify God with). Although they don't believe in God, an atheist might experience something of that fire too? Loving the people in their life as much as they can, and bettering the lives of others?
    While I know that the underlying philosophy of atheism may not ultimately lead to that conclusion, as Catholic who believes God created every human being in His likeness, maybe, although they reject Him, their tendency to see beauty anyway is a reflection of Him? (Him who put in every human heart a desire for beauty and life?)

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  89. Connie, ha ha on the first! And, excellent questions.

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  90. JenF, I see truth in what you say! The atheist wouldn't know that they are made to enjoy beauty because Beauty Himself made them to respond to it, but yes, we as Christians can see that that is why they respond as they do. But logically, if there were no God and no Beauty (Objective), the rational response to being nothing but a bundle of chemicals reacting (with no ultimate meaning) should be "Gosh, this sucks that what I call "love" and "goodness" and "beauty" is actually meaningless firings of chemicals in a tiny piece of meat, set on a rock, which no one will one day remember, nor care about, because it will all go "poof".

    That just sucks, no matter how one tries to sugar coat it, or revel in "feelings".

    But I agree, from a Christian perspective, we know why all humans feel love and awe and beauty and joy and preciousness, even atheists.

    And meditating on our own deaths is a very good thing. In Catholic writings, it's referred to as "our hour". The hour of our death is the pinnacle moment for a human being….

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  91. Connie,

    Thanks for your question. Would you think it uncharitable if I characterized your question as being "where/how can atheists get their moral bearing?", am I in the right ballpark?

    If you ask most Catholics or Christians that same question, they'll likely give you a response listing/combining divine revelation, scripture, and the Ten Commandments.

    Let's take the Ten Commandments. Not that it would preclude the possibility that God could have revealed himself earlier, but the Ten Commandments are hardly the oldest recorded set of laws - The Code of Ur-Nammu dates back to ~2000BC, with Exodus occurring in roughly 1500BC.

    Do you think that we as a species would have survived long enough to receive such a divine revelation if we lived under the impression that murder, theft, rape, etc. were permissible? That until the tablets were brought down from the mountain, there was a lot of ambiguity on these topics?

    That most Christians now look back on parts of the Bible with disgust should give you a hint as to whether or not we can figure out morality on our own.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Ur-Nammu
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_of_the_Bible



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  92. Leila
    Not sure if I can shed light on your questions but I'll try. First of all, you know I am not an atheist so please take these points as an attempt to describe the atheist point of view (I know many atheists) instead of challenging me as though they were mine.

    First of all you consistently ask the question why an atheist would choose a world view of meaninglessness and annihilation vs a world of a loving God, an afterlife, etc (I can't remember all your exact words). But that is a misunderstanding on your part. Atheists don't necessarily choose to not believe in God---they just don't. It is not a reactionary position, it's just that a person can't believe in something they see no evidence of. And atheists don't see any evidence of God, so how could they believe in God? Their viewpoint is not a choice, just a reflection of what they observe about the world.

    And, while I can't speak for the atheists who said they value life more because they don't believe in God, I think it makes sense, on a certain level. These may be inane examples but I hope they make a point: Imagine you absolutely loved peaches, or rainbows, or a certain kind of music, or whatever. And you were eating what would be your last peach ever, or seeing your last rainbow ever, or hearing that music for the last time---wouldn't you savor the experience more than if you believed you had many more chances to experience these things? What if you had one last chance to visit a loved one before they died? Wouldn't that visit have more meaning to you than if you assumed you would see them many more times? And so doesn't it make sense that if you thought you life would completely end that you would especially savor the experience of being alive now?

    Again, though I understand this way of thinking, it is not my own.

    And about the question of the starving child--I can't imagine anyone saying that child's life is beautiful. I suspect the atheists who made those statements were talking about their own lives being more beautiful, not the lives of people in terrible suffering. Maybe I'm wrong about that, in which case I have no idea why an atheist would say that.

    But I do know atheists who say a belief in God is a cop-out for not helping people in need (because the will be rewarded for their suffering in heaven later) But I agree with you that the vast network of Catholic charities blows the roof off of that assertion.

    (to be continued...)

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  93. continued...

    And on a more personal note, though I believe in God and in an afterlife (beliefs I have because of concrete things I've observed, not because of religious tenets I was taught or read in a book), my idea of an afterlife is much more vague than your very clear and specific ideas of purgatory and heaven. But I would love to believe those things. I think it would be incredibly comforting to believe in a very personal God and that I would go to heaven and be with all my loved ones. But I don't believe it (I'm not saying I believe it isn't true--because how would I know--I'm just saying I have no evidence to believe it. I would love to make a choice to see the world (well, almost) as you do, but it's not a choice I can make it--it would only be a wish.

    My former brother-in-law could not make sense of the world and so he chose to become a Hari Krishna and believe in reincarnation--it was the only way he could accept the injustice in the world--to believe that we are reborn based on the karma we have created in past lives. And I always thought it was so silly of him to adopt that viewpoint based on his emotional needs and not on objective experience.

    I hope this makes some sense. I envy you your beliefs. I'm sure they give you more comfort than mine give me, though I would be a lot more scared, I think, if I didn't believe in God at all.

    Also, I have a really hard time understanding your assertion that the lives of your loved ones would have no meaning to you if you knew they had no afterlife. It sounds really heartless. I can see why you're attached to your beliefs but I can't imagine you would think your children's lives had no meaning at all just because they might not exist after their physical deaths.

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  94. We know that murder, rape, theft, etc., are immoral because of Natural Law, or the universal moral law that is written in our hearts. (If there is no God, it would not be objectively immoral to rape or murder, by the way. It would only be dictated as such by society; many societies have been okay with rape and murder. In atheistic world, the strongest people with the biggest guns get to determine morality, no?


    That most Christians now look back on parts of the Bible with disgust should give you a hint as to whether or not we can figure out morality on our own.

    What parts of the Bible disgust me?

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  95. For those passing judgment on Mother Teresa, I have to say:
    1. I grew up in Calcutta, lived withing walking distance of the head office of the Missionaries of Charity, met Mother Teresa several times, liaised on various business matters with her, and visited some of her homes. Her spiritual director, Fr Celeste Van Exem was a close friend of our family, dropped by at our home regularly and provided us with many insights over the years into Mother Teresa's spirituality, values and mission - and formidable challenges.
    2. It is totally false to say that Mother Teresa was averse to treating illnesses or alleviating pain medically. It just so happens that Mother Teresa personally gave my mother injections (as she did others) when she (my mother) was poor and sick (before I was born). My mother is still alive and here with me to testify to the fact.
    3. Mother Teresa's nuns provided food, shelter and medication to countless thousands in her homes (as they still do).
    4. It is only when a person is on death's doorstep that they are transferred to the order's Home of the Dying. The nuns do this to protect the inmates of the homes from the discouraging sight of others dying in their midst - in their midst literally, as they're all housed in large rooms together, dormitory style.
    5. I have visited the Home of the Dying. I have also visited plush hospices here in Sydney (Australia), where I now live. The overall ambience is no different in either. Here, people are in comfortable rooms. Most are on some level of palliative care. Some moan and groan, some are quiet. There, in the Home of the Dying, people were in rows on the floor of a common room, most with their heads cradled in the lap of a nun or a volunteer. A few moaned. Most, if not all, had an ethereal peace about them, even though I could tell from their heaving, emaciated chests that they were nearing their end. Yet not one was screaming in pain or complaining about anything. NOT ONE. And there were scores of them.
    Did this fellow Dr Fox (and other knockers of Mother Teresa's work) note this amazing little fact (this patently miraculous fact) in his critical discourse on Mother Teresa's methods of providing care? I suspect he didn't. Incidentally, the Missionaries of Charity have never ever received a red cent in any grants or income from any civil authority or government. All of their funding has always come from donations, small and large, from all over the world. I could also tell you of some truly extraordinary ways that money for Mother Teresa's mission came - large sums of money at times, from total strangers, again and again - just at the moment when it was most needed. Nothing but a miracle could explain the phenomenon. Just as nothing but a miracle can explain what I saw in the Home of the Dying - the blessed peace there. God has His ways. Neither His mind not His love operate like how we operate.

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  96. Leila,

    "You have said that the Church (or Mother T) withheld care and comfort and alleviation of suffering, when the very mission of Mother T and the Church was to go out and give comfort to the poor and diseased and afflicted."

    I don't think I've said (at any point) that Mother T withheld care and comfort, let alone accused the entire Church of this. I've said that Mother T's views of suffering may have caused her to not place enough emphasis on alleviating physical suffering in the Houses for the Dying. I then took that as an example of how it might be possible for a religion to, in theory, be so concerned with the afterlife that it places less effort on helping the suffering experienced in this life than might somebody only concerned with preventing as much worldly suffering as possible.

    "And, I don't see that atheism (or secularism) has in any way eclipsed the work that religious folks have done in helping the poor (and not just monetarily, but with their whole lives)."

    Give us a few thousand years, we're playing catch-up :)

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  97. Andre,

    Have you read this part of the Catechism?

    "The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life."

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a1.htm

    Catholic teaching (not atheism) holds that man would naturally have codified laws because of our human nature and ability to reason. These basic laws of right and wrong are written on the heart of man. Of course an ancient civilization would have had such laws because of course there would have been civilizations developing for our entire history.

    There is no Catholic teaching that all moral law began with Moses.

    Atheism, on the other hand, holds that whatever morality we have just sprang from some unintellectual soup of matter, and is even still, merely a matter of those Newtonian machines we call brains.

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  98. Yes, I am wondering which parts of the bible I should be disgusted with...

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  99. Leila,

    'Natural law' is a broad concept, with many versions that require no deity to operate.

    "many societies have been okay with rape and murder"

    You are correct, in fact you can find many examples of societies doing so with God's blessing and/or command in the Old Testament.

    "What parts of the Bible disgust me?"

    Much of Deuteronomy, I hope. Though by no means is that the only OT book to contain troubling passages.

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  100. "Give us a few thousand years, we're playing catch-up:)"

    Andre, forgive me, but really? There have always been atheists, have there not? Even before the Catholic Church developed hospitals and education beyond the nobility?

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  101. Where in the Bible does God condone rape and murder, Andre?

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  102. Stacy,

    "Have you read this part of the Catechism?"

    No, but natural law is not a concept born of, or unique to, the Church.

    "There is no Catholic teaching that all moral law began with Moses. "

    That isn't what I said.

    "Atheism, on the other hand, holds that whatever morality we have just sprang from some unintellectual soup of matter, and is even still, merely a matter of those Newtonian machines we call brains."

    Atheism is merely an assertion that there's no evidence for god(s). It makes no other claims.

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  103. JoAnna,

    "Where in the Bible does God condone rape and murder, Andre?"

    (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)

    "As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you."

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  104. Andre, do you believe that absolute truth exists? Where does the moral law come from, and do you recognize a universal natural law? Man's conscience is a result of evolution and our desire to continue to exist in the world through future generations? Do we refrain from things like rape, murder, and stealing because being polite is helpful to a peaceful existence, or should we not commit adultery to avoid things like stds? I am honestly just curious about your beliefs concerning natural law and it's origins.

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  105. Leila,

    I feel like some of the issues I'm bringing up are leading us further from the OP, so I apologize. I don't want to come off as Catholic-bashing, and I certainly respect peoples' right to believe whatever they want.

    I think I'd like to point back to my first response to you, the essence of which Johanne may have done a better job capturing. I'm not hear to challenge anyone's faith, just trying to give an honest response.

    I'll be happy to continue answering questions that deal with the OP, but otherwise I'm not sure I'm helping in this thread.

    Thank you all for your time!

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  106. Sorry, Andre, but can you elaborate? I don't see how God is either commanding or condoning murder in that passage. What is your definition of murder?

    I also recommend this blog series: http://jimmyakin.com/2012/10/the-dark-passages-of-scripture.html

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  107. I am waaaaay behind, so forgive me.

    Johanne, I do understand your points, so thank you. I, personally, would find the eating of that last peach very bitter, or that final good-bye to my loved one almost unbearable, if I knew that there were nothingness after that. To me, there is no "happiness" in it.

    Also, you said: "First of all you consistently ask the question why an atheist would choose a world view of meaninglessness and annihilation vs a world of a loving God, an afterlife, etc."

    Not sure I consistently ask that? I understand that some folks want to believe but just can't. I would never phrase it as a "choice" in that way, and if I have, then it was not exactly what I meant. The folks I have quotes present the option as "better than" the alternative, not just that they have no choice but to believe it. I understand that many atheists simply cannot see that God exists…. even those who may want desperately to believe (and at that point, Pascal's Wager comes in, and we can choose "faith seeking understanding"…. it's amazing how beautifully God rewards such a step).

    And just to clarify my earlier statements to Jennifer: I don't mean to imply that poor people cannot be happy. Some of the most joyful people and cultures in the world are not materially wealthy, including children. The most misery to humanity comes more from lack of love and family and community than any other kind of misery. Mother Teresa articulated that very well, and indicted our materially rich but spiritually poor cultures, in which terribly lonely, miserable souls are all around us.

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  108. If you are not getting these comments in your email inbox (if not, please do! Click "subscribe by email", below), then go back and find Francis' comments, above. I just released them from spam. He has been to Mother T's homes.

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  109. Andre,

    "No, but natural law is not a concept born of, or unique to, the Church."

    THAT is Church teaching. :-)

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  110. Andre, no worries! I don't mind at all when things go on tangents. Some of the most interesting things come from tangents.

    I must have misunderstood you… I thought you had said that Mother Teresa was withholding pain medication on purpose in order that the sick or dying would suffer, thus aiding in their salvation?

    I am glad that is not what you meant!

    I will take your word that you are not Church-bashing.

    Here is a link showing that the Church's teaching on non-Catholics' salvation is consistent:

    http://www.catholic.com/tracts/salvation-outside-the-church

    In fact, Feeneyism was condemned by the Church pre-Vatican II (Fr. Feeney was excommunicated in the '50s, after being first dismissed by the Jesuits in the '40s.):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feeneyism

    Does your grandma hold to Feeneyism?

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  111. Johanne, you said:

    Also, I have a really hard time understanding your assertion that the lives of your loved ones would have no meaning to you if you knew they had no afterlife. It sounds really heartless. I can see why you're attached to your beliefs but I can't imagine you would think your children's lives had no meaning at all just because they might not exist after their physical deaths.

    Please, don't misunderstand. The lives of my loved ones would have subjective meaning to me. But that meaning would be grounded in… nothing. We would have to acknowledge as atheists that none of our lives, including the lives of our children, had any ultimate or objective meaning at all. It's not heartless, it's heartbreaking. I wouldn't want it to be true, but it would be the simple truth, if there were no God.

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  112. Manda,

    "Andre, do you believe that absolute truth exists? Where does the moral law come from, and do you recognize a universal natural law?"

    If you have the time, this is a good approximation of what I believe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTKf5cCm-9g

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  113. Andre, whoa, that is long! Any summary you can give?

    Also, what do you think of the New Atheists vs. the existentialists? I've come to conclude that the existentialists are a lot more intellectual, less fluffy than Harris, Dawkins, et al. Did you see my two-part (so far) series with Dr. Kevin Vost?

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  114. Andre--

    My point was actually a bit bigger than that: where can atheists get any objective standards, if what we can see (with the help of science, okay?) is all that exists? How does the word beauty, for example, have meaning? How can they appeal to spiritual values? How is love more than a chemical reaction or social construct?

    BTW, absolutely no offense taken. I love a good argument on things that matter.

    I agree with Leila and Stacy on Natural Law. We are not arguing that only Catholics/people of faith could see Natural Law. We are responding to your point that there were laws before Moses. Of course! Catholics who were not ignorant would never claim otherwise. Nor would we claim that atheists can't make or obey laws. But if they were consistent, atheists would have to say that laws are made to protect society, not to conform to some universal good. Good and evil, then, would be social constructs, not objective standards. So how can an atheist make the world a "better" place? According to whose standard? Although atheists can follow Natural Law, they couldn't have made it up. Where did it come from?

    And about love: I'm not saying that atheists can't love people. I'm again pointing out that they are being illogical to appeal to love, as in saying they could love more or just as much as theists. What meaning could the word love have, beyond some feelings that can be measured by science and following society's notions of behavior best suited to maintaining itself? I'm not sure if I'm being really clear here, but I'm doing my best.

    Love is either something chemical/physical, in which case it is a misnomer; or it is something spiritual, in which case an atheist should surely deny its existence. So an atheist who brags about how much he loves his children/the poor, etc., is not really an atheist, or hasn't really thought out the implications of atheism.

    What I am really saying is what Leila has said many times on this blog: the old atheists took their lack of belief to its logical, ugly, meaningless conclusions. The new atheists "want to" throw out God, while keeping life meaningful and beautiful. It just doesn't work.

    Peace.

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    Replies
    1. Connie,

      There is more than one philosophical theory, besides the divine command theory, which is commanded by God. Atheists, or non believers of a God, still have moral guidelines and are able to be guided by principles based on logic and rationality. To suggest that they are incapable of making the world a better place, because they don't believe in God, is an illogical comment, at best. My Mother-in-law, who considers herself an athiest, is a social worker, who assists low-income, learning disabled adults in getting better care, housing and independence. Your comment offends me and my family.

      Here's a link to Kants Moral Philosphy..

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/

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  115. Leila,

    "Andre, whoa, that is long! Any summary you can give?"

    A paltry cliffs-notes version would be:

    Imagine a theoretical scenario where all sentient beings are experiencing the maximum amount of suffering for the maximum amount of time. Grant that this is a worse-case scenario. Now imagine anything better than that. You now have the start of an objective moral continuum that you can move up or down on.

    He takes that and evolves it into what he calls a moral landscape, where there are objective moral peaks and valleys that we can observe.

    "Also, what do you think of the New Atheists vs. the existentialists?"

    I'd be lying if I said I'd ever read anything by the New Atheists, though I've listened to countless hours of talks and debates. I've read some of old-school existentialists, and it's true that they're more procedural than the NA. They're also less emotional, and I'll reserve that as my main criticism of somebody like Hitchens. To be fair, I would say that the NA are standing on the shoulders of a lot more science than the old-school existentials, and might not feel it as necessary to be as rigorous.

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  116. Andre,

    Total tangent here.

    I listened to part of your video, and I have a question for clarification.

    He says that to understand good and evil, we must have a "growing scientific understanding of the human mind."

    What does he mean by "mind"? The brain?

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  117. Connie,

    I'm curious, when you say, "laws are made to protect society, not to conform to some universal good", what do you consider the 10 Commandments to be? Social pact or universal truth? If universal truth, why the omission of things like slavery?

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  118. Stacy,

    "What does he mean by "mind"? The brain?"

    I would think that, to the extent the former depends on / is a manifestation of the latter, yes.

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  119. Connie, where have you been all my life?????! :)

    You are right to ask the questions you do. And, from my experience asking atheists about love, they would absolutely admit that love is just a chemical reaction:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/05/is-christian-love-gibberish.html

    Nothing transcendent there.

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  120. Andre, I think Peter Singer operates on a "less net suffering" basis for his morality. That is why he is okay with infanticide and euthanasia, and even some milder forms of bestiality.

    The best way to end all suffering of sentient beings is to kill them all humanely, no? Is that on the scale at all? It's the only thing that really works.

    While Singer is okay with killing born infants and the infirm/elderly, if it brings about more net happiness for the ones affected or left behind, he has also talked about animal suffering, and has said that he would be okay with killing all the chickens on earth if that would end their very serious suffering.

    It actually seems logical, from an atheist standpoint. Thoughts?

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  121. Leila,

    "Andre, I think Peter Singer operates on a "less net suffering" basis for his morality. That is why he is okay with infanticide and euthanasia, and even some milder forms of bestiality."

    I'm not sure if you realize how frustrating it is to be painted with the same brush as everyone who happens to also find no evidence for god.

    I don't know any atheists that would support a mere "less net suffering" basis, with no weight put on maximizing the best outcome for the most beings.

    "The best way to end all suffering of sentient beings is to kill them all humanely, no? Is that on the scale at all? It's the only thing that really works."

    The goal of Christianity is for as many people as possible to achieve Heaven, no? If that's all there is to it, why not appoint one person to kill everyone that we know would make it to heaven (maybe even keep one priest around to hear his confession at the end so that he too is saved)? I mean, why leave room for them to fall from grace, right?

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  122. Andre,

    "I would think that, to the extent the former depends on / is a manifestation of the latter, yes."

    Thank you, but that's not a definition.

    If the "mind" is an object of science, then what is it?

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  123. Leila, LOL. I've been avoiding blogs like the plague. Until I started writing one. I once wrote a novel on this theme of no spiritual world = no love, but I couldn't get it published. Maybe atheists would call that a "good" thing!

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  124. Stacy,

    "Thank you, but that's not a definition."

    Granting that you didn't ask for a definition, rather what I thought he meant...I don't know what else to tell you :)

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  125. OK Andre, but you said this represents where you are. When I said "what does he mean" of course, I meant just that. What is the definition? Can you give it?

    If the "mind" is an object of science, then what is it?

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  126. Imagine a theoretical scenario where all sentient beings are experiencing the maximum amount of suffering for the maximum amount of time. Grant that this is a worse-case scenario. Now imagine anything better than that. You now have the start of an objective moral continuum that you can move up or down on.

    Why is this the baseline? How do morals fit with suffering?

    Oh, no, this isn't going into the direction of there being different sizes of infinity, I hope.
    Soon we'll be going down the old road of square rt of negative numbers...

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  127. Stacy,

    Is this a quiz? I was told there would be no math :)

    Offhand? I would say that the mind is a manifestation of our self-consciousness; allowing for the generation of thoughts and ideas, as well as the processing and interpreting of both those ideas, and the input from our senses.

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  128. Nubby,

    "Why is this the baseline? How do morals fit with suffering?"

    Ask Mr. Harris :)

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  129. Andre, when I said that about law, I was speaking of how an atheist must view the law. How can there be universal truths when only the physical world exists? I guess I equate atheism with relativism. Correct me, if I'm wrong on that.

    Universal truth does not mean the sum total of all truths that could be expounded. We believe in the development of doctrine. I've just been studying the Sermon on the Mount with my kids, where Jesus talks "big time" about the limitations of the law of Moses. Rather a universal truth is true for all peoples and places.

    Yes, I believe "thou shall not kill" is a universal truth, not a social construct. Man was made in God's image, so no one else should be able to snuff out his life. If it were only a social construct, we could, say, get rid of all blue-eyed people for the good of society. (Pardon me, if you have blue eyes. Nothing personal intended.) We believe the Law of Moses propounded the Natural Law. It's the bare minimum.

    I might not be able to continue this discussion any longer because of the duties of my vocation. Don't assume I'm silent because I couldn't answer your arguments. I'm probably just sweeping the kitchen!

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  130. Actually, I'm asking you, for means of discussion.

    Where did he pull this baseline from?

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  131. Connie,

    "We believe the Law of Moses propounded the Natural Law. It's the bare minimum."

    So, 'Don't be jealous' made the cut for the bare minimum, but not 'Don't own people'? I find that strange.

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  132. Nubby,

    "Where did he pull this baseline from?"

    If I recall correctly, it was because it's easier for people to imagine great suffering and agree on what the absolute worst-case might resemble, than it is to agree on what the best-case might resemble.

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  133. With regards to the original question about life being "more precious" one way or another, it seems to me that atheists who say this are sacrificing the clarity of their own opinions in order to make an emotional appeal (or an assertion of superiority, if we're being cynical) to Christians. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are utterly incompatible with my beliefs--for myself, at least, I am quite convinced that they do not exist. So when I consider my mortality, I don't compare it to a Christian's view on the same. For an atheist to assert that their worldview makes the universe "more special" seems like an unproductive argument just for the sake of reassuring themselves that there is nothing at all good about the "opponent's" side. We should seek and be satisfied by truth, not comfort.

    As for the evolutionary stuff, the language really is a huge tripping point for any group of non-scientists trying to have a meaningful discussion. A "good" trait from an evolutionary perspective is one that makes its bearer more likely to have fertile offspring. So a robust sex drive, fierce maternal love, and an impulse to murder one's sexual rivals all fit the bill quite well*. Lust, sacrificial love, and jealousy are all things that "evolution has instilled in us." Clearly, these are not all things we should go with! Our instincts are just an amazingly complex hodgepodge, some adaptive, some piggybacking, some vestigial, etc. Unless you've decided to make "making the bearer more likely to have fertile offspring" your sole moral criterion, "naturalness" should play no role at all in your evaluation, whether of the fear of death or the morality of contraception.

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  134. Oops, that stray asterisk was a typo. No footnote will be forthcoming :)

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  135. If I recall correctly, it was because it's easier for people to imagine great suffering and agree on what the absolute worst-case might resemble, than it is to agree on what the best-case might resemble.

    Again- so how do atheistic morals fit with suffering? Tie them together for me, please.

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  136. Nubby,

    "Again- so how do atheistic morals fit with suffering? Tie them together for me, please."

    I'm not really sure what you're asking. Are you asking why is suffering viewed as bad by atheists?

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  137. Leila,

    Thanks for your response. To answer your question, that either Christianity is true, or atheism is true, and that neither can be true at the same time, yes I agree. Either there is a God, or not.
    The issue is in the details. I do believe in evolution, based on radiocarbon dating. So, this affects my answers to your question.

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  138. Andre,

    "Is this a quiz?"

    No, you linked the video and said it is "a good approximation of what you believe."

    "I was told there would be no math :)"

    It's not a math question, it's a science question. (Being snarky, forgive!)


    "Offhand? I would say that the mind is a manifestation of our self-consciousness; allowing for the generation of thoughts and ideas, as well as the processing and interpreting of both those ideas, and the input from our senses."

    It is something material? That's what I'm getting at, which is why I asked if he/you meant it is the brain. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, the object of that science is the nervous system (of which the brain is part), the atoms and molecules that make it all up. It is an empirical science.

    So I'm wondering what he meant by "mind" when he said "we need a growing scientific understanding of the mind."

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  139. Stacy,

    Watch this (much shorter) video to get the math reference: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2011/12/25/it-was-my-understanding-that-there-would-be-no-math/

    "It is something material?"

    No, I don't think the mind is material. However, I don't think that means you can't empirically study the mind, if that's what you're asking.

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  140. Andre, regarding Singer, I understand your frustration. But Singer is the most lauded bioethicist around. He is truly beloved. You have mentioned a sufferings-based model, and he had come to mind.

    I actually think Singer is eminently logical. If I were an atheist, I would not be able to find any unreasonableness in his theses. At least as far as I've seen. But since I am not an atheist, of course I find his beliefs horrifying and chilling.

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  141. Johanne, you said: "But I would love to believe those things. I think it would be incredibly comforting to believe in a very personal God and that I would go to heaven and be with all my loved ones. But I don't believe it (I'm not saying I believe it isn't true--because how would I know--I'm just saying I have no evidence to believe it. I would love to make a choice to see the world (well, almost) as you do, but it's not a choice I can make it--it would only be a wish."

    You can have it all. It is your birthright. And it is all true. And yes, you can make the choice to believe it. If you do, you will be rewarded with the grace of understanding. God rewards our efforts, and our leaps of Faith. Your soul isn't drawn to the beauty of it for no reason. Your soul is responding to truth exactly as it should, as it was made to.

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  142. Leila,

    "But Singer is the most lauded bioethicist around. He is truly beloved."

    I'm sorry, but I would ask that you provide some evidence for this claim.

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  143. Rose said
    "Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are utterly incompatible with my beliefs--for myself, at least, I am quite convinced that they do not exist. "

    I am always very interested when I see a comment like this from an atheist, so I'm glad you here so I can ask the two questions that come to mind: 1. What convinced you? and 2. Do you accept the fact that you could be wrong?

    Thanks for that clarification about the footnote! I'm one of the people who would have hunted all over for the all-important additional information! :)

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  144. Rose, your first paragraph… I love it and agree totally. Thank you!

    Later, you said this:

    Lust, sacrificial love, and jealousy are all things that "evolution has instilled in us." Clearly, these are not all things we should go with!

    Why not?

    Jennifer, just to clarify, there is nothing in Catholicism that is opposed to evolution, as long as it is not assumed to be an atheistic evolution.

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  145. Andre, his CV from Wiki:

    Peter Albert David Singer AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, preference utilitarian perspective. He is a major proponent of biocentrism (ethics).[1] He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory.

    On two occasions Singer served as chair of the philosophy department at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics. In 1996 he stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for the Australian Senate. In 2004 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, and in June 2012 was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to philosophy and bioethics.[2] He serves on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal. He was voted one of Australia's ten most influential public intellectuals in 2006.[3]

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  146. HEADS UP!! We are approaching 200 comments, the point at which horrible Blogger throws a monkey wrench into every good discussion. If you don't hit the "subscribe by email" link below, to get the comments in your email inbox, you will have to try to remember to click on the barely noticeable "load more" link every time you want to read new comments, or else wonder where everyone went and why we all stopped so abruptly! It's a pain in the arse system. Have I mentioned that I hate Blogger?

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    1. Nuts.... the little link to subscribe by e-mail has disappeared again. Why just me? It was so nice when it was working for me. So much easier to follow the comments that way!

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  147. At 12:15 p.m.. Andre said this: "Atheism is merely an assertion that there's no evidence for god(s). It makes no other claims."

    This is the most sensible thing I've read all day.

    There is no organization called Atheism with a set of written rules. People who identify as atheists believe all kinds of different things. They just don't believe in a god.

    I know lots of people who are atheists -- they're among my family and friends. They’re good and kind and loving – in fact, it’s quite offensive to suggest that the love they feel for their spouses, their children, their parents, siblings and friends is somehow of lesser quality than the love you feel.

    Some of the people I know who are atheists grew up in religious homes and some didn’t. It is accurate to say that they don’t believe in an afterlife but the lives they’re living have profound meaning. Many of them volunteer in their communities, in their kids’ schools, in service clubs. They’re excellent neighbours. There’s a church in my neighbourhood that collects cooked food once a week as a donation to those in need. I have several friends and neighbours who regularly contribute casseroles, platters of sandwiches, pies, cookies – and they’re atheists. They give to the “poor” quite as readily as anyone I know from church. They just believe in doing good and that’s how they’re raising their children.

    You may ask, why would they do that – what makes them choose to live good lives, caring for others, raising their children to know right from wrong, sharing what they have with those less fortunate – if they’re not propelled in that direction by God? I think they get a great deal of satisfaction and joy from living their lives the way they do. I’m sure they couldn’t comprehend why you would even ask the question.

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  148. Andre, you said:

    The goal of Christianity is for as many people as possible to achieve Heaven, no? If that's all there is to it, why not appoint one person to kill everyone that we know would make it to heaven (maybe even keep one priest around to hear his confession at the end so that he too is saved)?

    The goal of Christianity is the salvation of souls, which is accomplished by and through Love. It is accomplished through the love of God and the avoidance of evil. Souls are saved by grace. Appointing a person to kill would be a moral evil. That person and everyone involved in the "scheme" would be doing evil, and certainly not be on the road to salvation. There would be nothing of Christianity in such a scheme.

    I mean, why leave room for them to fall from grace, right?

    Because free will (the room to fall from grace) is necessary. The nature of love requires that we be free. If not, then we might as well have been God's puppets or slaves from the beginning.

    But that contradicts the nature of love.


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  149. Lily, whoa, whoa, whoa!

    You said:

    it’s quite offensive to suggest that the love they feel for their spouses, their children, their parents, siblings and friends is somehow of lesser quality than the love you feel.

    Except that I never said that. I have no doubt that atheists feel as much love as anyone does for their spouses and children! Could you tell me what sentence I said that gave you your impression? Thanks!

    What I said about love had nothing to do with whose love "felt" better, or who loved their family more.

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  150. You may ask, why would they do that – what makes them choose to live good lives, caring for others, raising their children to know right from wrong, sharing what they have with those less fortunate – if they’re not propelled in that direction by God? I think they get a great deal of satisfaction and joy from living their lives the way they do. I’m sure they couldn’t comprehend why you would even ask the question.

    And again, Lily, I never asked that question.

    I said that there is no ULTIMATE meaning to anything in this life if there is no God. That is the truth, and even the atheists I debate with have admitted that. Whatever meaning we give our lives now (and it would have to be subjective, no?) will ultimately be gone in the end. So there is no ULTIMATE meaning to anything in an atheistic world.

    But I never asked the question that you claimed I asked, and I never would.

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  151. Jennifer, you said to Connie:

    To suggest that they are incapable of making the world a better place, because they don't believe in God, is an illogical comment, at best. My Mother-in-law, who considers herself an athiest, is a social worker, who assists low-income, learning disabled adults in getting better care, housing and independence. Your comment offends me and my family.

    Who said that an atheist is incapable of doing good or helping to make the world a better place? What is with all these straw men popping up, and all this "offense" where none was given? I am truly confused. How about reprint the quote you take issue with, and then respond to the quote, not a straw man. Thanks!

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  152. Re: Lily's comment:

    it’s quite offensive to suggest that the love they feel for their spouses, their children, their parents, siblings and friends is somehow of lesser quality than the love you feel.

    I think the issue here is that there is only one English word for love even though there are varying degrees of love. Of course everyone (for the most part) feels an affectionate love for their families. However, Catholics recognize a deeper degree of love, known as agape love, which God desired for us to share with everyone. Agape love can be likened to selfless love, which always involves sacrifice and putting the other person's best interests first and desiring their ultimate good.

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  153. Okay, I think I found the "offensive" statement from Connie:

    So how can an atheist make the world a "better" place? According to whose standard?

    What she is driving at is that without a universal moral law (objective truth/objective standard), what does "better" mean? Better than what? From an atheist's perspective (not a Christian one, which because of Natural Law, everyone tends to default to), how do we describe or understand "better"?

    And as for "love"…. Again, from the point of view of professed atheists, love is merely a chemical reaction in the brain. That would seem a different quality than the love that Christians speak of, which is certainly not just a chemical reaction in brain matter. So, we Christians know that atheists' love is actually transcendent, and so much more than chemicals reacting, but the point is that the atheist cannot believe that higher quality of love! (Even though it exists for them as well as anyone else!)

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  154. Sorry. I inferred -- but perhaps I misunderstood.

    Connie wrote about love for atheists being a chemical reaction. She concluded:

    "And about love: I'm not saying that atheists can't love people. I'm again pointing out that they are being illogical to appeal to love, as in saying they could love more or just as much as theists. What meaning could the word love have, beyond some feelings that can be measured by science and following society's notions of behavior best suited to maintaining itself? I'm not sure if I'm being really clear here, but I'm doing my best."

    The next time you directed a comment to Connie, you said:

    "Connie, where have you been all my life?????! :)

    "You are right to ask the questions you do. And, from my experience asking atheists about love, they would absolutely admit that love is just a chemical reaction:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/05/is-christian-love-gibberish.html

    "Nothing transcendent there."

    Maybe I read the wrong meaning into this.



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  155. Hi Sharon,
    My answer will definitely be something of a disappointment! I was not really raised with religion--my family are practicing Jews, but all atheists (it's quite common, but I find a lot of Christians are confused by it. I am very happy to have gotten an excellent religious education out of it). So there was no "deconversion" moment, so to speak, no single piece of evidence that tipped the scales. It is a basic principle of rationality that the most likely theory is the simplest one that accounts for all observable events. All religions seem like theories that are vastly more complicated than is defensible. It is quite true that there are many questions that seem unanswerable from a naturalistic view point (side note: not all or even most atheists subscribe to a naturalistic worldview, and this confusion tends to muddy a lot of discussions). However, I know that every single thing we know about the universe was first an imponderable mystery, then an unsolvable mystery, then an as-yet-unsolved mystery, and finally no mystery at all. Given this precedent, my impulse when confronted with an imponderable mystery is not to classify it as a separate kind of truth that can only be answered by the supernatural.
    I absolutely accept that I could be wrong about this, as well as every other thing I think I know. Evidence can support a hypothesis, but never prove it. My confidence about atheism is not as strong as my confidence about gravity, but it is one I am willing to build my life on.

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  156. Andre,

    PJMedia -- Gotcha! :-D

    "No, I don't think the mind is material. However, I don't think that means you can't empirically study the mind..."

    How do you study something empirically if it isn't material?

    (Atheists ask believers this all the time!)

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  157. Thank you, Leila! I really have no interest in the bickering that often goes on between Christians and atheists--it's very refreshing to see relatively little of that here.

    I realize this seems like a cop-out, but I don't think I can answer your "why" in a way that I'm satisfied to have represent atheist thinking in this discussion. One of the disadvantages of this position is that there's no catechism for me to consult! I think I do have a responsibility to wrestle more with moral philosophy, read a lot more, and try to justify and codify my informal inclinations. It doesn't excite me intellectually as much as it should, so I need to prod myself into a more vigorous investigation. However, there is a rich history of philosophy that does not depend on theism--Singer is not the only voice out there.

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  158. Okay, the floor is swept. I'll try to make this quick.

    Jennifer and Lily, I never said nor inferred that atheists cannot love people, do good, or be kind. In fact, I stated just the opposite. But I am saying that it is illogical for an atheist to believe in love as more than a chemical reaction, or goodness as more than a social construct. I am sure lots of atheists are good people. But on what basis can they believe in love? Maternal instinct, etc, that I can understand. Warm feelings stemming from chemicals in the brain, sure. But are either of those what is meant by the word love? Atheists should not appeal to spiritual (i.e., non-physical) realities when making an argument for atheism.

    Andre--the Law of Moses did regulate slavery, just not in the 10 Commandments. One of those regulations said slaves had to be freed every 7th year, so that they were really more of what we call indentured servants. I do think that's a starting place that qualifies as "the bare minimum." But I am really not that interested in discussions of the Law (that's sooo last Covenant). I'm more concerned with the love and beauty question. And so far it has either been ignored or misinterpreted.

    So, somebody, tell me: how can an atheist believe in true love?

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  159. Stacy,

    "How do you study something empirically if it isn't material?"

    Please tell me you weren't building up to this as some sort of 'gotcha' question...
    To answer your question, I have no idea how they study gravity. I understand a great deal of math is involved :)

    "(Atheists ask believers this all the time!)"

    Then those atheist are ignorant, see gravity.

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  160. Connie,

    "One of those regulations said slaves had to be freed every 7th year, so that they were really more of what we call indentured servants."

    Ohhh, good! Not only am I sure that indentured servants were treated very well, but I'm sure the life expectancy back then was super long, and 7 years was in no way was likely to encompass most of ones adult life. :)

    "So, somebody, tell me: how can an atheist believe in true love?"

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but did not some holy fellow say something along the lines of there being no greater love than to lay down one's life for another? Are you saying that you don't think atheist are willing to do this, or do you just not understand why they feel this way?

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  161. Lily, but atheists do believe that love is a chemical reaction. How could it be more?

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  162. Leila,

    "Andre, his CV from Wiki:"

    All you've shown is that he's a big deal in his native country. You made a larger claim than that.

    Anecdotal evidence is awful, but I'll go that route anyway. The only time I ever hear Singer mentioned is as a straw/boogey man by the pro-life movement. I've never heard him mentioned, much less cited in any other context.

    That there are older and better examples of moral frameworks based on the balance of suffering/well-being (Kant comes to mind), but somehow it's always Singer that comes up. Strange.

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  163. Andre, indentured servitudes is not the same as chattel slavery. The Israelites knew what chattel slavery was (remember Egypt?). Do you hold that indentured servitude is inherently evil?

    Also, Singer is the bioethics chair at an Ivy League university. Here in America. Progressive America is very enamored with all things Ivy and atheist. And if they were horrified by Singer getting such an exalted position (it is a scandal, really), they would have made a peep. No peeps that I can tell.

    Of course atheists will lay down their lives for their friends, and of course they love their families deeply. But atheists also believe that love is a chemical reaction in brain matter. What would be the higher, spiritual, transcendent meaning to an atheist? Help me out. What is love, to an atheist?

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  164. Rose, my husband was an agnostic Jew (up until he converted to Catholicism, at the same time I reverted, six years and three kids into our marriage). You are right that there can be Jewish atheists (he has them in his family), but it's weird to me to call them "practicing" Jews. After all, all the ritual in Judaism, all the laws/liturgies/practices were/are in the service of the One, True God. I find it the saddest of ironies that the people who sacrificed all to bring the God to the world would eventually kick Him aside and keep the shell and trappings. Of course, not all Jews have jettisoned God.

    I appreciate your tone and intellect here in the discussion!

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  165. To the atheists reading, I received this email from a reader today. If anyone wants to field it, please feel free!

    Leila,

    I'm wondering if you could ask the atheists a question? Or maybe you already have? Why do they "send good thoughts?" or "think about you tonight?"

    I am asking this based on some observations I've made in an online forum. I'm not asking to be snarky, I really don't understand. Frequently a user on the forum will have posts titled "Could you spare a prayer for me?" or "Prayers warriors, I need you!" Of course, when one open the thread, there is a situation that needs...prayer. Now, this isn't a religious forum at all, but there are users who are religious. Obviously. But then, there are those who aren't religious at all. Are atheist, or agnostic, or just may not know "what" they are. So why do they post things like "I will be thinking of you tonight."

    I understand expressing empathy. "I'm sorry to hear this, I hope things work out" wouldn't bother me at all. But why "send thoughts your way"? How does one do that? Are your thoughts powerful? If they are powerful, your thoughts, then does that acknowledge some higher something?

    I find the contrast of the two realities fascinating. On one hand, you have a person who clearly believes that praying is an action that will accomplish something. And in the reply you have a sort of passive aggressive response implying that prayer is worthless but that "thoughts" are something physical that can affect change. Or a misunderstanding that prayer is nothing more than thoughts?

    Anyway. If you ever run out of questions to ask. This one intrigues me.

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  166. This is all pretty tangential to the thread, but I find it interesting, so I hope you don't mind! It's obviously true that Jewish ritual is directed towards the worship of HaShem, but Judaism has always been an ethnoreligious group. It really is profoundly different from Christianity--the trappings of a Catholic mass really would be a sad shell if the worshippers did not believe, but the elements of Jewish practice are nationality and ethnicity as well as religion. Practice and belief are not as closely tied in this context, and it is not really a conflict of terms to refer to my family, who keep kosher, observe Shabbat, etc., as practicing.

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  167. Rose, historically speaking, when did (large parts of) Judaism become secular and atheistic?

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  168. There's not really a simple timeline, because Judaism has always had secular cultural components even among religious communities as well as religious practices among atheist communities. I would say (as a total layperson who spent a lot of time in Hebrew school) that the first secularizing movement was the Haskalah ("Jewish Enlightenment") of the 18th century, which encouraged integration into European society and a secular curriculum of Hebrew language and Jewish history as the basis of a modern Jewish identity. 19th century Zionism is also a primarily secular movement (actually, a lot of haredim were opposed to the creation of a Jewish state before it was brought about by God). Likewise the Jewish Socialism of the early 20th century (see the Bund in Poland). The unsubtly-named Humanistic Judaism movement started (I think) in the mid 20th century, but as far as I know it's a pretty much entirely American phenomenon.

    Information overload, I know--sorry! :)

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  169. Andre--

    You're still not understanding me. I'm not sure how I can make my meaning clearer. I am emphatically not saying an atheist cannot be loving. I am not saying no atheist past or present ever has been. I am saying that the word love, as it is commonly used by people both religious and non-religious, means more than a chemical reaction or an instinct. There is a spiritual element to love--is there not? If you say no, then I take it you mean that it's just a word we use for something chemical. What does an atheist mean when he talks about love? Does he mean treating others kindly? Laying down your life for another person is certainly love. And I believe an atheist could do that. But how would he explain it? How would he judge it as better than not doing so? Why would he--not Jesus--see that as loving? Maybe I'm missing something.

    And the indentured servant thing: I think we agree, as I said several comments ago, that the Mosaic Law fell short of the ideal. I never claimed that it was perfect, only that it was based on Natural Law and was the bare minimum of morality. You are the one who has kept referring to the Law of Moses, as though Catholics believe there could be no higher morality. I/we don't. It was a first step in the right direction. Indentured servanthood is not the same as lifelong slavery. And there were other stipulations in the Law about treating servants well. I had ancestors who were indentured servants in early America, so I don't make light of this. But they were eventually freed and became respected citizens. Would I want to be an indentured servant? No. But I don't really see the relevance of this to the conversation on whether atheists believe in objective good and evil, except in this way: if you do not believe in objective good or evil, how can you criticize the laws of another people and time? What's your standard that shows the Law of Moses fell short? I will admit freely that mine is the Gospel. :)

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  170. Rose, thank you! I am always learning! So, it seems like it's more of a latter days thing… Not for many thousands of years did Judaism separate itself from God. I still can't wrap my mind around it. For my husband, the interesting thing is that his family (atheist/agnostic) were not happy with his conversion to Catholicism, but if he had become a Buddhist, they probably wouldn't have been as upset. Although ironically, he now, as a Catholic, embraces all the truths of Judaism that he never believe in before! (Moses, the prophets, all the truths of the Faith; he simply found the Messiah… the one he never actually believed in before his conversion!)

    And to their credit, his family is very much accepting of his Catholicism now. That is a real gift.

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  171. Leila,

    "Andre, indentured servitudes is not the same as chattel slavery. The Israelites knew what chattel slavery was (remember Egypt?). Do you hold that indentured servitude is inherently evil?"

    You know, I wonder after reading a question like that, why is it that I, as an atheist, am somehow the one with no moral compass, bumbling around with only biology and chemistry as a guide to right and wrong?

    A few thoughts:

    You make it seem like the Jewish experience of bondage somehow made them more humane...yet much of the Old Testament suggests otherwise.

    You ignore that, even if the slave owners adhered to this supposed 7-year limit on slavery proscribed in the Law of Moses, and did let their slaves go - many times the slave had no say in his fate at the start. This wasn't like signing up for a 7-year stint in the army, this was often "sorry bud, you're a spoil of war, but don't worry, work real hard and we'll give you your freedom in a few years".

    I'm curious as to what your religious justification for indentured servitude is? Also, how would you distinguish prostitution (which I assume your against), from indentured servitude - especially considering how frequently the same principles are applied.

    "Progressive America is very enamored with all things Ivy and atheist."

    I think you're giving away a serious bias here, as well as unfairly stereotyping many different groups.

    "And if they were horrified by Singer getting such an exalted position (it is a scandal, really), they would have made a peep. No peeps that I can tell."

    Could it not also be that those not familiar with the pro-life rhetoric have never heard of Mr. Singer?

    "But atheists also believe that love is a chemical reaction in brain matter."

    I keep seeing this refrain, as if to atheists that were all it was. Again, keeping in mind that it's quite difficult to speak for (or otherwise summarize) atheists as a whole...this is what I would say: 'love', like so many other feelings we experience, is fundamentally rooted in biology/chemistry. By no means does this mean that these are all merely bio/chem, it just means that we understand that those elements are at work. Just because love has a bio/chem component, it doesn't mean it's automatic, separate from free-will, or any less powerful in it's expression.

    Ultimately, when I hear: "what is love to an atheist", I don't hear a question. I hear an assumption that without a belief in God, one cannot possibly understand love, or that the love one has is somehow less profound or meaningful. This is problematic for those of us who have always considered themselves as fully capable of the experience of love, but that can't bring themselves to accept what they believe there's no evidence for.

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  172. Connie,

    "I am saying that the word love, as it is commonly used by people both religious and non-religious, means more than a chemical reaction or an instinct. There is a spiritual element to love--is there not?"

    I would invite you to look up a definition of 'love' and then get back to me on whether or not it's commonly understood to have a spiritual element.

    "I think we agree, as I said several comments ago, that the Mosaic Law fell short of the ideal. I never claimed that it was perfect, only that it was based on Natural Law and was the bare minimum of morality."

    Now natural law supports indentured servitude? Interesting.

    "You are the one who has kept referring to the Law of Moses, as though Catholics believe there could be no higher morality."

    No, I keep referring to the Ten Commandments, which are frequently held up as the foundation for moral truth, despite not getting to the issue of murder until the second half, devoting 40% to the worship of God, and finding the prohibition of jealousy more important than that of not owning people. You'll notice that the closest it gets to commanding you to love your fellow man is telling you to obey (honor) your parents.

    "if you do not believe in objective good or evil, how can you criticize the laws of another people and time?"

    Thank you so much for bringing this up. It first betrays a lack of knowledge of all the intellectual work that's been done creating objective moral frameworks that don't rely on the notion of a god. Second, it betrays one of the core principles of the Church, that it's message is timeless and universal. Here you're guilty of the same moral relativism as those the Church is so fond of criticizing. Either it's always been wrong to own people, or it's never been wrong. An institution claiming universal/eternal knowledge of right and wrong should have the courage to confront that.

    Even if we take the great leap of faith and assume that all the indentured servants in the Bible entered into this bondage of their own free will (we know this isn't so), were well treated (this MIGHT MAYBE be so), and promptly released (see previous)...it would say nothing of the Church's long periods of silence on all the instances of full-fledged slavery that followed.

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  173. Framing the Ten Commandments as the absolute cornerstone of Jewish or Christian religious law would be a mistake. The OT has many, many commandments. When Jesus was asked which was most important, his answer was not one of the Ten Commandments.

    By the way, Leila, Andre's right that you can't just say that all atheists believe this or that. What are your thoughts on the ones who aren't strict materialists, like Thomas Nagel?

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  174. Andre, I'm about to hit the hay but I couldn't go without briefly addressing a couple of your points. I am starting to get the feeling that you are really not interested in making distinctions about the "slavery" question (or the concept of inherent evil). If you want a more in-depth understanding of the long history and different types of slavery/servitude, you can start here:

    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=1201

    And here:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14036a.htm

    But again, that is only if you are actually interested in learning about it, and not only wanting to club the Church and trash the Bible and get personal (which it is sounding more and more like, when you make statements such as: "You know, I wonder after reading a question like that, why is it that I, as an atheist, am somehow the one with no moral compass, bumbling around with only biology and chemistry as a guide to right and wrong?" (Note: No one said that you personally have no moral compass, but I hear this defensive comment from atheists often.)

    As to Singer: Who in the pro-life movement would have ever heard of him if the progressive left had not put him in his coveted position? Lots of kooks out there are ignored every day. This guy is given prestigious honors and chairs, and not by the pro-life crowd.

    Here's one that I can't make sense of:

    It first betrays a lack of knowledge of all the intellectual work that's been done creating objective moral frameworks that don't rely on the notion of a god.

    "creating objective moral frameworks"? Did you misspeak? Humans cannot "create" something that is objective. The objective moral law exists outside of any human effort, activity or even existence. How can an objective moral law be created? Help me out.

    And then there is this:

    Ultimately, when I hear: "what is love to an atheist", I don't hear a question. I hear an assumption that without a belief in God, one cannot possibly understand love, or that the love one has is somehow less profound or meaningful.

    But, if even life itself (once everything and all of us are gone) has no ultimate meaning, then how can love have an ultimate meaning? We Christians believe that love never ends, is transcendent, and has infinite meaning. By contrast, an atheist's view of love is that is has to end at some point, correct? So right there, by definition, it is "less meaningful" than the Christian understanding of love, which is never-ending and transcendent. If you disagree with what I just said, then what am I missing?

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  175. Wow!! What a debate. I have learnt so much from just reading through these responses ... well, the first half at any rate, and skimmed the last half. I am absolutely no debater, and am humbled by the amount you all know, but I wondered if it was worth putting my tuppence into the ring?

    I am a Catholic convert, from Pentecostalism. I grew up in a home that I guess could be called Godless, but possibly not athiest. There was lots of witchcraft however. However, regardless of all this, at the age of 10 I knew there was God. For me, that was the end of the story. I cannot account for this. I cannot even defend it, as I'm hopeless at apologetics or even the fine style of debating you all are involved in. But I knew. It wasn't even belief. It was absolute knowing. Now I guess a solid athiest would say the same.

    My brother is a self declared athiest. One day he asked me how I would feel if it could be objectively proven there was no God. It was a genuine question. I actually couldn't give much of a logical answer or defend my belief system which appeared to have just been a part of my genetic makeup to my brother! My answer as I recall was simply that my life would be no less good/bad for getting to the end and finding out it was all a load of nothing.

    Hard times hit us all, and when in the middle of my crises, I cried out to God for help, none appeared to come. Sometimes I was helped, Sometimes I wasn't. For whatever reason, I never, ever, ever stopped believing. I would scream at Him. But I never stopped believing. I actually reached a point whereby I envied my brother. He had such a 'sane' approach to his life.

    Now I am in the Catholic church, I have 'reasons' for my suffering. But it's still suffering whichever way you look at it.

    Recently I met a Christian (non-Catholic) who turned her back on her faith because she could find no relief for her suffering. And this act alone, relieved her immensely. She has decided there is no God. And she is happy.

    I'm not really contributing much to this discussion on an academic level, but I guess I often wonder, and am grateful (and the church I think calls this Grace) why I was born with such an inherent belief system, whilst my brother having dipped his feet in the Christian pond declined, declared Atheism, and is incredibly happy!!!!

    So interesting. You are all great debaters!!!!!

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  176. Leila,

    "I am starting to get the feeling that you are really not interested in making distinctions about the "slavery" question (or the concept of inherent evil). If you want a more in-depth understanding of the long history and different types of slavery/servitude"

    At most, you could say that the slavery described in the Bible gave the slaves SOME rights. At the same time, it endorses the taking of slaves as spoils of war. As for addressing the concept of inherent evil of even mere indentured servitude, I thought I made it clear that's exactly what I viewed it as.

    "Did you misspeak? Humans cannot "create" something that is objective."

    Would it help if I phrased it as "creating frameworks to find objective morals"?

    "But, if even life itself (once everything and all of us are gone) has no ultimate meaning, then how can love have an ultimate meaning?"

    To be clear, this is your view of atheism as a "believer", and your definition of love. Please look up 'love' and show me where it's qualified by whether or not one views existence as eternal.

    "an atheist's view of love is that is has to end at some point, correct? So right there, by definition, it is "less meaningful" than the Christian understanding of love, which is never-ending and transcendent."

    If your view of the afterlife turns out to be correct, then yes, your love will indeed be never-ending (as to transcendent, I don't think that's limited to the religious). However, for the atheist, that's a big "If" :) I don't think that there's any real difference in practice between the two, at least not here on good ol' planet Earth.

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  177. Andre,

    You said, "Please tell me you weren't building up to this as some sort of 'gotcha' question..."

    >>No, I'm trying hard to get you to define your terms.

    “I have no idea how they study gravity. I understand a great deal of math is involved.”

    >>They observe and measure the rate of falling objects.

    “Then those atheist are ignorant, see gravity.”

    >>No, they would say that gravity can be measured using matter. They can “believe” gravity exists because they can see objects fall and measure the rates. Again, it’s empirical (observable and measurable).

    We are talking about the “mind.” You say it is immaterial. You say it can be measured empirically, but you don’t say how. How? How do you empirically measure the mind if it is the immaterial product of the material brain?

    The question I’m trying to get you to answer is whether or not our minds are complete functions of our brains. It underlies this entire discussion.

    (And if you go back to my first question about your video, you'll see that is specifically what I asked you.)

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  178. Liz, hello and welcome!! That is so interesting! I agree that there are many happy atheists (and many happy folks of every creed, as well as miserable folks of all stripes and beliefs). What would your brother (or any atheist you know) say of the folks (like the children in my scenarios) who only suffer on this earth? What is their value or meaning? Would it have been better if they had never been born? It's a question that I think only one person has answered (my memory could be faulty), saying that such a child was not "lucky" to be here. I agree, if atheism is true. What is that child's value or meaning in an atheistic world? There are so many millions of them. I know you are not an atheist, but I wonder if you have discussed such things with your bro? I can see young, First World atheists finding a lot of "happiness" in living the material west.

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  179. Chris, you said:

    "When Jesus was asked which was most important, his answer was not one of the Ten Commandments."

    You are exactly right, and here is the passage (Matt. 22:40): "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love you neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

    The first (Love God) is encompassed in the first three Commandments, and the second (Love your neighbor) in the last seven.

    I am unfamiliar with Thomas Nagel. Does he believe in the metaphysical? Can you give us some information on his beliefs? Also, just to be clear, I don't believe I ever said "all" atheists believe this or that? There are so many millions of individuals, I can't imagine "all" of any group believing exactly the same things. We must generalize about ideas and philosophies to a certain extent though ("atheists are [generally] materialists"), or we could never speak or dialogue at all.

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/09/generalizing-is-not-bad-thing.html



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  180. Andre:

    As for addressing the concept of inherent evil of even mere indentured servitude, I thought I made it clear that's exactly what I viewed it as.

    So, you think it's inherently evil for convicts to pick up trash along the highway?

    Also, here is a wiki answers definition of indentured servitude:

    Indentured servitude is when there is a contract between two parties saying that one party agrees to work for a defined amount of years, usually 3-7 years, in exchange for clothing, food, shelter, and other essentials instead of money. Was a way for poor people to come to America because would agree to do labor in exchange for travel costs and food/clothes/home.

    You think this kind of agreement is inherently evil? Never to be allowed? Two parties can never agree to such a thing? If I were a peasant in need of work, food, and shelter (what I needed to survive), I would actually be fairly ticked if this option was denied to me, frankly.

    Would it help if I phrased it as "creating frameworks to find objective morals"?

    It helps a little, but to "find" objective morals, that would mean they exist outside of us, right? What is their source?

    As for love, can you post the definition that you like, here, and we can go from there?

    You said:

    I don't think that there's any real difference in practice between the two, at least not here on good ol' planet Earth.

    Agreed!! I never said there was a difference in practice. I said there was a difference in meaning, ultimately. A big difference. But in practice? No. And there wouldn't be, for whether atheists know it or not, the reasons they know love and experience love are because they were made by Love, for Love. ;) They are humans made in the image of God, just like the rest of us. Our human experiences would not be different.

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  181. Stacy,

    ">>They observe and measure the rate of falling objects."

    Sorry, the whiskey makes me sarcastic sometimes :)
    I mentioned gravity precisely because it's an immaterial force we can only measure indirectly through it's effects on material things.

    "We are talking about the “mind.” You say it is immaterial. You say it can be measured empirically, but you don’t say how. How?"

    I would say you can measure aspects of the mind empirically by observing the impacts that certain states of mind can have on the brain, through the various neuroimaging techniques we have.

    Does that help?

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  182. Leila,

    "So, you think it's inherently evil for convicts to pick up trash along the highway?"

    Red-herring. Crime and punishment are not the same thing as slavery, or indentured servitude.

    "You think this kind of agreement is inherently evil? Never to be allowed?"

    First, your wiki answers passage makes no mention to all the instances where these servants did not enter willingly into the contract, were worked-to-death before the end of their term, or otherwise treated with less than full dignity. So yes, I think this sort of arrangement is morally wrong.

    "As for love, can you post the definition that you like, here, and we can go from there? "

    I'm always partial to good ol' Merriam/Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love



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  183. Leila,

    "Two parties can never agree to such a thing? If I were a peasant in need of work, food, and shelter (what I needed to survive), I would actually be fairly ticked if this option was denied to me, frankly."

    What if the agreement were indentured sex-servant? Would that now be ok? What about run-of-the-mill prostitution? Is that ok?

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  184. What if the agreement were indentured sex-servant? Would that now be ok? What about run-of-the-mill prostitution? Is that ok?

    Of course not. Sexual activity outside of marriage is inherently immoral. Nothing could justify it, even if the sex were consensual (like in routine cohabitation, or prostitution, or porn). So, nope.

    Work, however, even contracted work, is not inherently evil. Are you claiming it is?

    The abuse of workers is evil, though, so as soon as the worker is treated as less than human or with less than human dignity, then the arrangement has been corrupted. But it's the abuse, not the service itself or the contract, that would be immoral.

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  185. As to your definition of love, yes, I would agree that it is an attachment (a strong one!) and feeling of affection.

    And the rest of what I said still stands. You believe that feeling or attachment has its source in chemicals in the brain, and that it is a product of evolution, correct? And that it ends at death? So, it's largely functional, utilitarian, if we analyze it? Even though it feels profound and wonderful. (If we are talking about love as a "feeling", which I think we are?)

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    1. Although that dictionary definition is very base, very truncated.

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  186. Leila,

    "Of course not. Sexual activity outside of marriage is inherently immoral."

    What if the contract included a civil-marriage?

    "Work, however, even contracted work, is not inherently evil. Are you claiming it is?"

    There's quite a gulf between 'contracted work' generally understood, and indentured servitude.

    "But it's the abuse, not the service itself or the contract, that would be immoral."

    I'm saying that the history of that type of contract shows that it lends itself quickly to those abuses mentioned.

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  187. Andre,

    "I would say you can measure aspects of the mind empirically by observing the impacts that certain states of mind can have on the brain, through the various neuroimaging techniques we have. Does that help?"

    Yes, somewhat. If someone says "I'm happy" you can measure brain activity and look for patterns. That is neuroscience. But (sorry to be insistent) it really doesn't explain what you (or Sam Harris) think the "mind" is, and that's what I'm trying to get out.

    I bolded this part before so you'd answer it. It is critical to the discussion. Can you please answer it?

    Is the mind a complete function of the brain?

    To clarify, or ask anther way: Is there any aspect of the mind that is not a manifestation of the brain?

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  188. Andre--

    The Law of Moses put limits on divorce, but did not totally forbid it. Jesus said Jews should follow the Law of Moses. He also said divorce was wrong. Was He a moral relativist?

    Chattel slavery, which sees people as property with no human rights, is always wrong. But the Law of Moses didn't allow this. Some aspects of the Law of Moses fell short of the ideal. Christians follow the Gospel, not the Law of Moses. So I am done arguing over this point.

    Thank you for defining what you mean by love. And for admitting that the Christian view of love, if Christianity proves true, is higher than the atheistic one. I think that was one of the main points of Leila's post.

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  189. Stacy,

    First, let's be clear, I'm no neuroscientist :) I linked to Harris based on a question of where I thought a secular framework for finding objective morality could come from.

    "Is the mind a complete function of the brain?

    To clarify, or ask anther way: Is there any aspect of the mind that is not a manifestation of the brain?"

    I mean, ANY aspect? I don't know, and I don't think anyone could ever claim to know that as a certainty. For the purposes of this discussion, I will say that I don't think there's any evidence so far to support the idea that the mind is anything other than a manifestation of the brain.

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