Monday, June 7, 2010

Protestants and Atheists

One thing I have noticed over and over again is the parallels between the conversations Catholics have with protestants and the ones they have with atheists.  Newman talked about atheism simply being a more extreme form of protestantism. That they have gone down the same road. Just the atheist has gone down it further. He rejects more of God's revelation and substitutes more of his own ad hoc assertions. Both value truth and reason. That is why you can have arguments with them. They think their position is rational and true and they are willing to try and prove yours is not. That is different from the popular SBNR (spiritual but not religious) crowd. They could not care less about truth or reason. They are just about experience. So we have quite a bit in common with both atheists and protestants in that we have not given up on the idea of our intellect seeking truth.

But where do these arguments go? There are a few common areas. First of all, we go to history. For atheists we try and show the first Christians had good, rational reason to be Christian. For protestants we try and show the first Catholics had good, rational reason to be Catholic. Now most atheists don't think Jesus believed about Himself the things that Christians believe about him. Namely that He is God and He came to save sinners and He demands absolute obedience from every person. If they believed that they would be caught in the liar, lunatic, lord trilemma that CS Lewis posed. So they assert that modern Christology was invented by somebody sometime after Jesus. Never mind who or how or when. Just assert it must have happened because I don't want to believe the alternative.

Similarly, most protestants don't believe the first Catholics believed things about the church that Catholics believe about her today. Namely that she is the visible body of Christ, that she is protected from error by the Holy Spirit, that she has legitimate authority from God that we are to obey. So they assert modern Catholicism was invented by somebody sometime after Pentecost. Never mind who or how or when. Just assert it must have happened because I don't want to believe the alternative.

Then there is the moral argument. Essentially saying that their system allows people to simply disagree with any morality that might flow from it. That can create a dangerous trend towards gradual moral decay. They argue that they are moral people and they don't see how one could logically question basic morality. But they won't address the question directly about what could be done if somebody does. If you have an atheist like Adolf Hitler or a protestant like David Koresh what reason is there to say they are wrong? Are all opinions equal or do we have an objective standard to declare some moral codes to be inadequate? These arguments are always hard because people don't understand the difference between something being objectively wrong and something being wrong in their opinion. Both atheists and protestants have themselves as the center of their thinking and have trouble reasoning from any other perspective.

There is also talk about atheism and Protestantism being unworkable. This is a combination of history and morals. What has happened to protestant communities? What has happened to atheist regimes? There is a huge double standard here. Catholics are chastised for not delivering utopia. All the standard sins are repeated ad nauseum. Galileo, the crusades, the inquisition, the priest abuse scandal, etc. Never mind about whether atheists or protestants have done better because they haven't. Just throw mud and maybe nobody will notice your system has never worked. Sure it works for individuals to justify what they want to justify. But as a long term foundation for society these belief systems have failed frequently.

Now the biggest problem with Protestantism is schism. The biggest problem with atheism is genocide. Even though the logic is parallel it is important to note that genocide is a much worse problem than schism. Atheism not only ends up in a worse spot but in generally gets there quicker. Atheist regimes generally need very few years before they start filling up internment camps. Protestants often need decades before they start to experience schism.

The parallels continue but I am starting to get a bit long. The point is that the fights between protestants and atheists can confuse us. We tend to think of them as two different beasts. Worse yet, we let protestants handle the atheists and we focus exclusively on protestants. Atheists see themselves as the new protesters. If getting rid of the church was progress then getting rid of the bible is more progress. They see the hypocrisy in protestants objecting to one and embracing the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment