Friday, August 04, 2006

Sentimental atheism

In my observation, an apostate is often more moralistic than someone without any Christian background at all. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1.Leaving the faith leaves a void. The void is often filled by substituting politics for theology.

To take a few examples, Victorian socialism was the offshoot of apostates who lost their faith in God, and then relocated their lost faith in the betterment of man.

In America, this carried over into the social gospel.

Likewise, many mainline denominations substitute political activism for evangelism and traditional theology.

The creed of the political left becomes the creed of the religious left. The agenda of the political left because the agenda of the religious left.

They are still missionaries, but their missionary zeal is politicized and secularized.

Left to their own devices, Christians are generally apolitical. They only mobilize on the political front when they feel that their faith and their traditional lifestyle is under attack.

2.In addition, unless the Christian home in which an apostate was raised resembles something out of Carrie, a Christian upbringing can have the ironic effect of giving him a rose-tinted view of the human condition.

For while the child hears about original sin and total depravity from the pulpit, his actual experience is far more positive.

And that’s because he’s led a sheltered life and a charmed existence within the walled garden of a Christian family or local church.

So, even after he leaves the faith, he is still basking in the afterglow of his formative experience.

Likewise, it takes a long time for a “post-Christian” culture to fully revert to its pre-Christian bestiality.

If, by contrast, he had grown upon in Sodom and Gomorrah, he would be thoroughly corrupt.

3. So the apostate is a mutt: one part Christian to two parts atheism. He doesn’t exemplify the character of purebred infidelity.

Rather, the repercussions of his secular outlook are often diluted by the lingering influence of his early, Christian conditioning.

4. And this inconsistency is an effect of common grace. The people of God benefit from the fact that many unbelievers are better than their creed. Their inconsistency is a blessed inconsistency. God has frozen them in place before their metamorphosis was complete. Before they reach the end-stage of infidelity.

So it can, in a sense, be hazardous for a Christian to point out the inconsistencies in secular ethics. For an unbeliever can resolve the tension in either of two directions—one more benign, but the other more malign.

4 comments:

  1. Astute observations, Steve. Atheists enjoy the benefits of living in a society that has generally embraced biblical morals (in Western civilizations, anyway) regardless of how much they would like to deny it. They never really get to see the fruit of their naturalistic philosophy, at least not up close. How would they enjoy living in China or North Korea? They wouldn't, unless they could bring their current "social contract" with them. Generally atheists would adopt the outward morality of the second table of the law (man's duty toward other men), but they detest the first (man's duty to God). They also detest the spiritual nature of the second table of the law (that lust is adultery, that covetousness is idolatry, etc.) because they don't want a morality that touches the heart. They prefer the shell of an outward morality, so society will be peacable, but don't want to be bothered about what's inside them....

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  2. At the risk of this turning into a chorus, Amen, brother!

    I'd note, however, that the Social Gospel was pretty much uboquitous in the West.

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  3. In my observation, an apostate is often more moralistic than someone without any Christian background at all.

    In my observation, apostates, Christians, and those raised in secular homes are all equally capable of virtue or doing what is harmful.

    Leaving the faith leaves a void. The void is often filled by substituting politics for theology.

    This is tripe. Theology demands certain political considerations -- and so your politics undergo coevolution with your theological outlook.

    To take a few examples, Victorian socialism was the offshoot of apostates who lost their faith in God, and then relocated their lost faith in the betterment of man.

    And it was many of these apostates, joining up with some liberal and some conservative Christians, [mostly the former] who accomplished great things for man, and whose hard work paid off in what we enjoy experiencing -- abolition, suffrage, child labor laws, environmentalism, safe working conditions, social security...etc etc

    Likewise, many mainline denominations substitute political activism for evangelism and traditional theology.
    Politics and religion are hardly strange bedfellows. Agendas are agendas.

    Left to their own devices, Christians are generally apolitical. They only mobilize on the political front when they feel that their faith and their traditional lifestyle is under attack.
    ...um, I don't know what planet you live on, Steve, but I live in America, and I can say that your statement is as alien to my experience as seeing liberals who only mobilize when they feel that their secular values and humanistic lifestyles are under attack.

    Political apathism is largely a function of economic conditions. People tend to get "soft" when the economy is good. Wars and civil liberties are always hot-button issues for religion and politics.

    In addition, unless the Christian home in which an apostate was raised resembles something out of Carrie, a Christian upbringing can have the ironic effect of giving him a rose-tinted view of the human condition.

    A romaticized view of humanity is also largely a function of your economic conditions. People growing up Christian in the ghetto see a far different level of human need and depravity than those of us treated to the suburbs by fate. I would also argue that a strong education gives us a holistically-accurate picture of human beings -- what they are capable of on both ends of the behavior spectrum.

    And that’s because he’s led a sheltered life and a charmed existence within the walled garden of a Christian family or local church.
    Sheltering is a function of riches as much as cultural blinders and prevention of cultural exposure.

    Likewise, it takes a long time for a “post-Christian” culture to fully revert to its pre-Christian bestiality.
    That's funny, considering the pre-Christian "bestiality" of Rome, compared to the post-Christian "bestiality" of Christendom.

    If, by contrast, he had grown upon in Sodom and Gomorrah, he would be thoroughly corrupt.
    What if he grew up in Athens, and walked with Socrates?

    So the apostate is a mutt: one part Christian to two parts atheism. He doesn’t exemplify the character of purebred infidelity.
    I'd love to hear your explanation/definition of "the character of purebred infidelity" -- especially considering the character of purebred fundamentalist/theocratic/Dark Age thinking I can easily use as a contrast to temper your pinkened view of Christian character.

    Rather, the repercussions of his secular outlook are often diluted by the lingering influence of his early, Christian conditioning.
    Why is it, you think, that the most thoroughly Christian culture in the world at the moment -- America, experiences the murder rates, teen pregnancies, etc., that she does?

    So it can, in a sense, be hazardous for a Christian to point out the inconsistencies in secular ethics. For an unbeliever can resolve the tension in either of two directions—one more benign, but the other more malign.

    Or the unbeliever can point out the inconsistencies in Christian ethics, and then investigate and shore up their own.

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