When Christians are arrogant and atheists are not…REALLY???

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by Kenneth Justice

~ Sitting at a table with an atheist and Christian in recent months, the conversation came to an impasse and the Christian friend of mine said to the atheist, “You are simply stubborn because you will not consider the possibility that you are wrong”. However, as I sat there listening to the two of them, I couldn’t help but notice that the Christian was being just as stubborn as the atheist.

Religion, atheism, and morality are among the most discussed topics when I sit down at coffee. While fellow coffee goers are always talking about the latest buzz when it comes to politics and social events, ultimately much of the conversation ends up going back to ethics, morality, and the meaning of life.

One of the difficulties when talking about these issues is that it is often difficult to navigate the line between people’s differing views on religion, metaphysics, and atheism. More often than not people come to the table in these discussions with their minds already made up. Western philosophy (the worldviews that you and I come from) trains people to believe that they are entirely right about what they believe unless someone can prove them wrong, and it makes for quite a few difficulties in dialogue.

At coffee recently a good friend of mine said to me that everything he believes is emphatically correct unless someone proves him wrong. While on the face of it that might make sense, in reality it is a nonsensical position with which to build your worldview. Such an attitude creates a never-ending series of arguments, because instead of being open to dialogue, it renders the person to be close-minded and stubborn.

Imagine a child that comes to every discussion thinking they are ‘right’ about everything; the parent would have to argue with the child on even the most simple of subjects. And as you and I know, children most definitely do not know everything; they need to be taught.

The philosopher Rene Descartes said “Some years ago I was struck by how many false things I had believed, and by how doubtful was the structure of beliefs that I had based on them. I realized that if I wanted to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and likely to last, I needed – just once in my life – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations”

So for Descartes, this newly found knowledge led him to a new attitude; that nothing should be accepted as true unless it had been proven to be true.

What a joy it must have been to talk about life with Descartes, a person who didn’t start every conversation with an air of all-knowingness, but was open to hearing alternative positions and ideas. A person who was quick to listen and consider, rather than disagree and argue.

As the Proverb says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame”.

Obviously, you and I have certain preconceived notions, it is simply a fact that cannot be denied. Yet the question that lies before is also quite simple; will we choose to come from the position that we are entirely correct about what we believe, or will we choose to strip away our preconceived beliefs and open ourselves up to more constructive dialogue?

If you are a Christian and want atheists to be open to the idea that they are wrong about a universe that lacks an all-powerful and all-knowing god, then you yourself must also be open to the idea that god does not exist. Is that too difficult a pill to swallow?

Francis Schaeffer, one of the most influential protestant thinkers of the 20th century was very adamant about his position on this subject; “how can Christians expect atheists to be open to being wrong, but they themselves will not be open to being wrong” he asked.

It is the height of arrogance for a Christian to come to a dialogue with atheists and expect of them something they themselves will not do; consider the possibility of being wrong about their preconceived notions.

But Kenneth, I KNOW that God exists, why would I even for a moment consider the possibility that God does not exist?” you might be thinking. Yet isn’t that the very thing that is going on in the mind of the atheist; “I KNOW that God does not exist, why would I even for a moment consider the possibility that God exists?”

It is a simple issue of justice, is it not? To be fair and just, to truly love your neighbor as yourself, shouldn’t you expect of your neighbor nothing more than you yourself are willing to do?

Stripping away our preconceived notions is difficult to do, and being the imperfect creatures we are, we will never be truly objective; we will always be polluted by elements of our humanity that are beyond our control. But if we are committed to maturation, if we are committed to having positive dialogue with people on the other side of the aisle, then we must begin letting go of our one dimensional mode of thinking. We must let go of our close-minded attitude, we must allow a spirit of humility to flow over our being, and open our minds to new ways of thinking.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,

Kenneth



Categories: Culture & Society

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36 replies

  1. Ah, Christians and atheists. I love some of each variety, which is not to say I don’t find them all to be insufferable.

  2. A good friend of mine and I were talking about the importance of an open mind and embracing diversity in the human race the other night. I feel like having a closed mind is a really good way to be unhappy. I believe in God, but I keep my mind open to the possibility of God not existing. Also, I get along much better with people when I consider their truth as much as I consider my own. My point? It’s best to have an open mind. 🙂

    • I have this friend that some days she believes in god, and some days she doesn’t. Sometimes that is how life is; it depends what side of the bed you wake up on 🙂

  3. Another bonus of allowing for that possibility that your core beliefs are wrong, is that on thorough examination, you may find an even deeper connection with what you originally believed.

  4. as long as we see ourselves as individual, exclusive entities we will always live in fear of our brother and build walls between us for personal protection. . . . uniform/belief systems/philosophies . . . it’s all the same damn thing . . . . . .

    “Dear GOD make me (anything) . . . . except my brothers keeper!”

    “Don’t worry Jimbo. you’re the only one who can do that, but until you do you will NEVER know me anyways . . . so these bucket fulls of prayers you keep sending my way will continue to pile up unanswered until you do” . . .

  5. Unfortunately people’s beliefs actually trump any proofs you give them. A person with strong beliefs if given proof against them will say loudly that the proof is biased. If two people with opposite beliefs are given the same set of data they will often come to very different conclusions. I try to be as opened minded about everything as possible but I find that the main difference between me and most people is that I understand I have these strong, unshakable biases and opinions while most people think they know The Absolute Truth.

    • Well said Trent, for some reason people are hell bent on believing that they know ‘the absolute truth’ as opposed to recognizing that what they adhere to his either an ‘unshakable bias and/or opinion”

  6. I don’t know why you say that Western philosophy trains people to believe that they are entirely right about what they believe unless someone proves them false. My understanding is that the opposite is true – that nothing can be taken for granted. This is why mathematicians have struggled for centuries trying to demonstrate the foundations of mathematics (only to fail in the end, thanks to Godel’s incompleteness theorem.) It’s why the foundation of the scientific method is that no scientific theory can ever be certain.
    Everything is open; nothing is known. When it comes to religion, agnosticism is the only intellectually defensible certainty.

    • Steve,

      There tends to be an attitude in western society (both in Europe and in North America) in which arrogance permeates many of the views that people come from; as though the values, ethics, beliefs, and cultural mores that we adhere to in the West are beyond dispute and that the rest of the world’s views are secondary. We see this in the wars that Western countries have initiated; countries like Great Britain and the United States view themselves as the ‘moral police’ or ‘world police’ and march around the earth trying to solve problems via warfare. Obviously, not every citizen in the West has this arrogant attitude, but as a general rule, this does indeed tend to be true.

    • Interesting. The author of this article, Bruce Thornton, puts forward a strong case that the West is complacent and is vulnerable to violent aggression from militant Islam and nationalist Russia. He suggests that we should be less willing to tolerate differences and more willing to spend on defense.
      I don’t think he’s advocating humility; rather the opposite.

  7. One thing that I hope for is my mind to stay pliable. I never want to stop learning something new. I’m afraid that my loud strong personality may someday allow me to proclaim myself all learned out and I will begin to believe that my wisdom should be imparted to the wipersnapper with no thought to my own learning. Maybe I’m there now and can’t see it!

    – the wifey

  8. Ha! I totally disagree with you here, proving that Christians can come at things from opposite ends, too 😉

    “It is a simple issue of justice, is it not? To be fair and just, to truly love your neighbor…”

    I don’t think it’s simple at all. Love is complicated and often requires you to stand up for things. To truly love your neighbor is not always about trying to empathize and walk in their shoes, there’s another side to love that involves saying no and standing up for what you believe in. We show this kind of love towards children, setting boundaries, saying no sometimes. We show it towards addicts too, refusing to enable them, cutting them lose so they can hit bottom. Love stinks sometimes, it’s painful and it seldom wins you a whole lot of friends.

    If you genuinely care about somebody however, you’re not going to focus on fair and just, because those things quickly become more about you than the other person. Love does not seek to boast of it’s fairness and justice, love seeks to genuinely do what’s best for another person. Sometimes what’s best for another person feels very unfair and unjust. Again I’m thinking of children here, when they injure themselves, you just want to provide comfort, but too much comfort can get crippling. Love sometimes calls you to tell them to suck it up, walk it off. No, that’s not really fair and just, but it can be what’s in their best interests. Or when it comes to snacks, yes, fair and just dictates that everybody get the same size piece of cake, but love tells you that a 30 pound child should probably not consume the same amount of sugar as a 220 pound man. So to be loving in that situation, you must be unjust and unfair.

    • IB, it doesn’t surprise me that you would disagree. When it comes to parents and children, you’re right. A parent’s job is to set the rules, establish boundaries, and dictate “proper” behaviors. But I don’t think Kenneth is talking about parents and children. He’s talking about dialogues between adults. And what I find interesting about many Christians is their need to “witness,” to proselytize, to convert the heathens.

      If you feel, as Christians do, that one can only be saved if one believes in God and embraces Jesus, then to “love” another is to save them and that means getting them to accept your truth. Because you believe yours is the only truth, the real truth. You feel it is your calling to get your neighbor to see the same truth you see. Because if your neighbor doesn’t, life has no meaning for him or her. He or she has no moral compass. He or she is condemned to eternal damnation because they don’t believe what you believe. That, to me, is Christian arrogance.

    • “Because you believe yours is the only truth, the real truth”

      We have anti smoking campaigns, global warming, recycling, all sorts of things people advocate for quite arrogantly, demanding you believe and comply, because they feel they are in possession of the one and only truth.

      It is astounding how many times people deliberately visit my blog or send me an email to make sure I know I am deplorable, arrogant, and full of bad ideas. Think about that Doobster, not all atheists are like you, many of them deliberately pop into my tiny speck of the universe just to inform me I’m arrogant, delusional, and full of bad ideas. Now who is actually being arrogant here, me because I chose to exist with my faith or the dozens of people who feel entitled to inform a random stranger that she’s an offense to all they hold dear?

  9. The thing is, people don’t really believe something because they are intellectually satisfied that it is true. They believe something because that’s what their heart says is good. Intellectual arguments completely miss that, which is why they rarely sway anyone’s mind.

    Personally, though I’m a theist, I don’t think I have to change anyone’s mind. I do love ideas, thinking, and reasoning. But until I’ve reached someone’s heart, I have not touched them at all. And it is the direction of the heart, not the direction of the mind, that determines a person’s ultimate course. The mind goes where the heart tells it to.

    It also helps that I don’t think you have to believe in God intellectually in order to go to heaven. Rather, I believe that you have to believe in the qualities of God, which are especially concern and compassion for one’s fellow human beings, and a desire to serve others because we care about them and love them.

    “Belief” is not something we merely do with our head, but something we express with our hands. “By their fruits you will know them.” What we do shows what we really believe.

  10. I totally agree with you, and also, as I experienced, a real connection with God (a very up-to-date one) can help being humble and not humiliate the other or being arrogant…

    Actually, in the movie God’s Not Dead ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2528814/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1 )there are three good arguments between an atheist philosophy professor and a believer student. For me, it was also a tool to see “behind” the other’s reasoning. Well, I shouldn’t say others, there are only us…

    🙂

    Have a Blessed Day for You and Your Beloved People!

  11. This reminds me of what Oswald Chamber said, “It takes God a long time to get us to stop thinking that unless everyone sees things exactly as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God’s view.”

    To me, not being able to accept that our thinking may be faulty is the height of arrogance. We’re all muddling through the dark in our own way. And it’s amazing what one learns when our heart is open to what others have to say.

  12. You’re so new age Kenneth lol 🙂 That’s a good thing though. It is definitely in our best interest to be willing to put aside the ego and be willing to listen and entertain the notion of being wrong. Widening perspectives is an important element to becoming better for sure. But I hate being wrong lol. Just saying. 🙂

  13. I believe God comes in many packages – God of Christians, God of Jews, God of Muslims, god of gold, god of ego, god of pain, god of disbelief. We all believe in many Gods and not necessarily the same gods on any given day.

  14. One could make the same argument also between a Christian and a Muslim. I never understand how the Christian doesn’t understand why someone born into a different religion is also just as sure that their religion is correct as you are about yours and yet they will still insist that they are right and the other person is wrong.

    The interesting thing about many religions is that they are not big on you having lots of doubts. And while I think that having doubts can strengthen faith in a healthy way, the religious establishment would rather see you suppress those doubts lets one of those doubts should lead you away from the religion damning your soul to some eternal punishment. To the atheist there is no punishment to changing your mind, and on average I would put the atheist in a category of “more likely to change their mind” than someone who is religious. Not that there aren’t fundamental atheists who couldn’t go toe to toe with the most stubborn of the religious.

    Like your quote from Descartes indicates waiting for proof before concluding is the essence of science and inductive reasoning. But the problem is that “what is proof” and “what is evidence” differs amongst people. The Bible is not proof of things that are true. Yet if you believe that the Bible is the word of God, and you are certain that there is one, then anything in the Bible has to be right, if God is never wrong. So if we want people more reasonable, the question is how to we get them around falling into these traps?

  15. It may be my age (58), but one of the things I find most endearing about my adopted faith (Buddhism) is the absence of arrogance. When I retired from Catholicism as a teenager, I had a great deal of brainwashing and ready answers to undo. But I would confess that I was equally arrogant as an atheist. I’ve settled on a “somewhere in the middle” philosophy that is quite ready to admit it may be and probably is wrong, does not recruit, yet provides a moral/ethical framework nonetheless.

    Another thoughtful post by you Kenneth, thank you for tackling the tough ones so insightfully!

  16. ““But Kenneth, I KNOW that God exists, why would I even for a moment consider the possibility that God does not exist?” you might be thinking. Yet isn’t that the very thing that is going on in the mind of the atheist; “I KNOW that God does not exist, why would I even for a moment consider the possibility that God exists?”

    That is exactly what is going on! This is part of what makes communication difficult.

    “Stripping away our preconceived notions is difficult to do, and being the imperfect creatures we are, we will never be truly objective; we will always be polluted by elements of our humanity that are beyond our control.”

    Once again true. I recently did some examination of myself and found that I cannot be completely objective about ANY subject. I am never neutral about any debate there is. I will automatically be closer to the worldview of one person or group than another.

  17. Many Atheist that I’ve come in contact with believe they stand outside their own indictment on emotional debate; however, the Atheist becomes just as much of a zealot when they refuse to consider any opposing groups ideas. At this point they have taken a stance against the ideology of pluralism; which at this point would make their ability to reason very similar to those who belong are Fundamentalist and at times, see Lenin, have joined the ranks with the likes of those like the IRA, KKK, ISIS, and or Al Qaeda. The extremist’s belief is the enemy of liberty.

    As Trent said above, we all have our biases; notwithstanding, it becomes an issue when we let those said biases keep us from dialoging with our fellow humankind.

    Callie and Culture Monk: It is my belief that if one remembers that reading to the mind is like food and water to the body, applying is like exercise to the body. Ones mind will stay pliable for the duration of their days. “I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.” – Samuel Johnson

  18. I like the quote attributed to Gandhi: “All religions are true.” I’ve never understood the Christian’s need to be right, or for most people of faith’s need for explanation. I identify as an agnostic leaning towards Buddhism. Though I was raised Christian, I really only identified as having “faith” through eastern meditative practices. And, as my understanding of the unknowable expands, I have less and less need to define it. In fact, I’d say it CAN”T be defined by our puny minds. So while I see truth in the religions of the world, I can’t be bothered to convince anyone of any particular set of beliefs, and I don’t have much patience to be witnessed too.

  19. This post touched a chord, Kenneth. Over the last few days, I have had a series of similar discussions about spirituality and science vs. God with people – and they seemed so intent on “winning” they made it sound like a debate. Their stance was pretty much since you can’t prove me wrong I am right.
    I have never felt the need to be proven wrong before I’d admit that there could be a different side to the story; that is usually my assumption. Needless to say, I sucked at debates in school, but I think that I’m more reasonable during discussions. I don’t need a win, just a conclusion! 🙂

  20. To be fair to both atheists and Christians who sit and have coffee with you, it’s good that people have at least drawn some conclusions about ethics and morality.

    Those “fellow coffee goers are always talking about the latest buzz” might never even make the connection that how they view politics really stems back to how they view morality and the meaning of life.

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