God-Stories vs. Godless Stories

I’m reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, a very well written novel in the fantasy genre (a genre I love and which I am writing in as you can see here). One his little side stories made me think about religious versus atheistic stories and what relation they have to love, goodness, and activism to help and change the world.

I’m not seeking to prove or even give evidence for or against any religion in this musing. I have to say honestly, though, that I am dissing the atheists’ story. So maybe I’m giving a subjective argument against the materialist-naturalist-atheist meta-narrative. But you be the judge.

I’m interested in the main Jewish and Christian stories. Some of what I say here could be equally applied to Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and I’m sure other religious stories. That’s irrelevant to me for now. Mainly, I’m interested in how the atheism story doesn’t line up in spite of the protests and feeble Vulcan logic of Hitchens and the other new atheists. (Actually, Spock would do far better, so I shouldn’t malign the Vulcans).

There are four stories I want to comment on:
(1) The Mount Sinai story.
(2) The Yeshua (Jesus) story.
(3) The world to come story.
(4) and the materialist-naturalist-atheist story.

The Mount Sinai story selects a people (the Jewish people) and appoints them as the priests of divine holiness to the world. Included in the demands of this story are ritual issues (the purity laws) and ethical issues (treatment of the poor, the marginalized, love of neighbor, etc.). I’m not saying the Mount Sinai story has no problems (slavery tolerated and legislated, divine warfare, etc.). But it is a story raising human beings up to a level of responsibility and inspiration through promises of union with God.

The Mount Sinai story inspires and motivates love, justice, and ultimately equality (the role of non-Jewish peoples in the Mount Sinai story enters in through the Abraham narratives and a few other themes so that, properly interpreted, the Mount Sinai story is not just a Jewish story).

The Yeshua (Jesus) story assumes the truth of the Mount Sinai story (a fact sadly distorted in Christendom as plenty of Christian theologians will agree). It is a story of a man who came healing and serving and who ultimately remained faithful to a vision of hard calling from his Father (God) who required death in the face of evil.

The Yeshua story, properly interpreted, leads followers motivated to join Yeshua in the work of healing, serving, and even sacrificial love. Just as Jewish history has examples of faithfulness as well as unfaithfulness to the story, so does this one. Judaism motivates many to loving activism and so does a vibrant, biblical Christianity.

The world to come story says that this world contains in it goodness that will endure forever and badness that will come to an end forever. Nothing good in this world will not be better in the world to come and nothing bad in this world will survive into the world to come. This is a Jewish and Christian story.

The world to come story, properly interpreted, is not about ignoring this present world but renewing it in stages along the way to the world to come.

By contrast with all of these, the materialist-naturalist-atheist story rejects any transcendent beginning for human beings and any goal or purpose for history or the future. We came from randomness and end in randomness. Feeble attempts at ethics include the idea that “we’ll be happier during out short, meaningless lives if we give to charity and/or work for peace and wellness.”

The points at which the atheist story actually works are the points which undercut and overthrow the story itself. For example, we might compare human life to a dying patient in a sick bed. And one kind of atheist story could go like this: to be ethical is a beautiful thing, like giving water to a dying child to ease their passage. That sort of story is moving. But it is moving precisely because it values something irrational and wonderful, something non-material and supernatural. It values love for love’s sake. It values comfort and nourishment. It looks beyond this life, admit it or not, and suggests that such values have enduring meaning.

Theoretically, religious faith leads to greater love and goodness and activism. In practice, we know that religious faith is linked to hypocrisy and evil as well. Theoretically, atheism leads to abandonment of values and ethics. In practice, we know that in many cases agnostics and atheists practice love, goodness, and activism.

The difference is that theory in the religious stories lines up with what practice should be.

And that makes the materialist-naturalist-atheist story a false one — if you believe in love and goodness and activism.

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10 Responses to God-Stories vs. Godless Stories

  1. flowfreetome says:

    You have studied the theist stories. Am not sure if you have studied the atheist stories. I wonder what makes you overlook those stories many of which have wonderful wisdom and truth as well.

  2. flowfreetome:

    Thanks for commenting. I’d be glad to consider that I am wrong. Please share a story with me.

    I warn you: I’ll likely say that what is beautiful in the atheism story is something which contradicts atheism. You see, one of the things I am saying in this very article is that atheists can’t help contradicting themselves. Randomness and meaninglessness are not built into us. I think this is because we are not random or meaningless.

    Derek

  3. “But it is moving precisely because it values something irrational and wonderful, something non-material and supernatural.”

    You had me until the last word.

    I have no problem valuing irrational, wonderful and non-material things. But that doesn’t make it supernatural.

  4. NotaScientist:

    Got it. And I’m glad for pushback from those who perhaps lean more to the atheist side (is that where you’re coming from?).

    Super simply means “beyond” or “above” (as does supra). So, you would say there is nothing which transcends nature?

    Yet you believe in the reality of the non-material, you say. Do you really?

    If there is more than matter (energy, as you know, is matter and matter is energy), then what is there?

    So, why are you so convinced that beyond-nature is impossible?

    Derek

    • “Yet you believe in the reality of the non-material, you say. Do you really?”

      Depends entirely how you define non-material. Concepts are certainly non-material, but I wouldn’t call them supernatural.

      “So, why are you so convinced that beyond-nature is impossible?”

      I’m not convinced it’s impossible. I see zero evidence backing up its existence, and therefor will not believe it exists until or unless there is.

  5. By the way notascientist, I really liked your information at your blog about water bears. Some time back I linked it here on Messianic Jewish Musings.

  6. notascientist:

    You believe in concepts as an example of something non-material. Good.

    Not too many months ago I started ad never finished a series on C.S. Lewis’s book Miracles. I made a point, derived from Lewis’s writing, that the mind itself refutes strict materialism.

    So, you already have evidence of something beyond nature: thought.

    Not a big jump to the idea of an infinite mind from our finite minds, is it? I do not offer this as some sort of proof for God’s existence, but I simply mean: the argument from materialism that God is not real falls flat.

    If you want, click the category C.S. Lewis here and find some of those posts. You may consider reading Miracles. It’s quite a good book.

    Not trying to go all evangelist on you or anything, but just as a “notascientist” loves showing people a glimpse of knowledge in his area, so I love sharing glimpses of knowledge in the areas I study.

    Derek

    • “So, you already have evidence of something beyond nature: thought.”

      It’s not beyond nature. It is the interpretation of our physical bodies of the electrical activity in our brains. That’s very natural.

  7. I wanted to hear you say that (our thoughts are merely electro-chemical reactions).

    I think it is an absurd idea. I think the mind-is-merely-chemistry argument fails to explain a host of phenomena about thought-reason-intellect not to mention shared dreams, thoughts, concepts, etc.

    But, if you want to say that, then you run up against another C.S. Lewis idea: why trust reason (the mind) when it is nothing more than random reactions? Really, the only legitimate worldview from that presupposition is nihilism.

    Is that where you truly want to rest your philosophy? And if it is, can you blame those of us who might accept partial evidence for something more?

    Derek

    • “I wanted to hear you say that (our thoughts are merely electro-chemical reactions).”

      Well, no. Our thoughts are our interpretation of electro-chemical reactions. There’s a slight difference.

      Pain, for example, is our interpretation of certain kinds electro-chemical signals created by our bodies to indicate harm or injury. The signals themselves aren’t ‘pain’. But it’s how our minds interpret those signals, that’s what we refer to by that name.

      “I think it is an absurd idea.”

      You’re free to think so. But I think you’re wrong. And I think the simple fact that we can alter thought and consciousness by using chemicals or electricity is a huge nod to the fact that that is what thoughts are.

      “why trust reason (the mind) when it is nothing more than random reactions? ”

      Two reasons: evidence and pragmatism.

      The collective shared observations and evidence of everyone will either back up or fail to back up the conclusions of our reasoning minds.

      Technically, I understand that there is a possibility that all of my experiences could be a hallucination, or that I’m actually a brain in a vat undergoing a Matrix-like virtual reality. But pragmatically, I have to act as though reality is real and I can at least somewhat understand it or else I would have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. And I’m fine using that very tiny bit of pragmatism.

      “Is that where you truly want to rest your philosophy?”

      I don’t know what you mean by this. Depending how you mean ‘philosophy’, I have no use for it. I rest my understanding of the universe in evidence.

      “And if it is, can you blame those of us who might accept partial evidence for something more?”

      I do not blame anyone who wishes to think there is more to themselves than just their natural bodies.

      I think they’re wrong. But I don’t blame them.

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