• Is atheism a good thing?

    I went to my wife’s church yesterday to see our three children singing in the choir. The kids were very cute, of course.

    I was less impressed with the service. First of all, I noticed that attendance seemed to be down. I wonder if the church is not catching on. It’s been going for about seven years but really seems to be stagnant.

    The sermon was awful, with the pastor going through the opening bit of Psalm 78:

    1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
    incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
    I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,
    things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
    We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
    the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done.

    5 He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
    which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
    that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
    and arise and tell them to their children,
    7 so that they should set their hope in God
    and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments;
    and that they should not be like their fathers,
    a stubborn and rebellious generation,
    a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
    whose spirit was not faithful to God.

    From the reading, the pastor’s message essentially boiled down to the idea that children eventually come to mirror the real faith of their parents, so you parents need to make your faith true and important in your lives. The first part of the message apparently reflects the research on children’s’ belief  conducted by sociologist Christian Smith. The second part was the “so what?” with the pastor encouraging the flock to find the will to believe the faith they profess in church service.

    For me, however, the take-away question was whether to think about atheism as a personal value. That is, I wondered if atheism itself was a good thing, and so something worth advocating in my own home.

    Readers, thoughts?


    Since I am here: One of my favorite theses is that the Christian Old Testament is an entirely different text than the Hebrew Scriptures of Judaism. The Psalm makes a good example of this. Here is Jewish rendering of the same lines as above:

    1. A maskil of Asaph. Hearken, my people, to my instruction, extend your ear to the words of my mouth.

    2. I shall open my mouth with a parable; I shall express riddles from time immemorial.

    3. That we heard and we knew them, and our forefathers told us.

    4. We shall not hide from their sons; to the last generation they will recite the praises of the Lord, and His might and His wonders, which He performed.

    5. And He established testimony in Jacob, and He set down a Torah in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to make them known to their sons.

    6. In order that the last generation might know, sons who will be born should tell their sons.

    7. And they should put their hope in God, and not forget the deeds of God, and keep His commandments.

    8. And they should not be as their forefathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, who did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.

    The Christian version re-casts the psalm for Christology and for modern gender sensibilities, as verses 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 plainly show. I won’t go over a line-by-line comparison, but the two versions differ greatly through and through.

    Category: Home LifeReligion


    Article by: Larry Tanner

    • Aggie

      Personally, I see atheism as morally neutral.
      Humanism is a good thing, honesty is a good thing, clear-thinking is a good thing, curiosity is a good thing– but I think atheism itself is only good based on its connection with other ideas/values. IMO, atheism can go astray when it seeks to be a value in itself– and especially if it starts defending itself as a type of orthodoxy or an absolute or irrefutable conclusion.

      • I agree with Aggie. I no longer see atheism as a good thing in and of itself but as a product of other good things (e.g., critical thinking, skepticism). Were I a parent, I’d be inclined to promote these other things ahead of atheism.

        • Agreed. As a parent, I’ve taught my children how to think critically and ask questions, I haven’t taught them what to believe about the supernatural because I want them to get there on their own. Dale McGowan talks about this approach a bit in Raising Freethinkers.

          (We have taught them what to believe about crossing the street, of course.)

      • lartanner

        Aggie: although I am inclined to agree with your statement that “atheism is morally neutral,” I wonder about the -ism part. Can an -ism actually be morally neutral? Does atheism, as an -ism, automatically imply a set values to (or maybe about) the belief?

        • lartanner

          Now that I think some more, I see two separate issues:

          (1) Atheism as itself something to value.
          (2) Atheism as prescribing values.

          • Aggie

            lartanner: I see it like this I suppose. Honesty is something to value– so if one is being honest and it that leads to atheism, then atheism has a true (but derived) value.My Christian past shows its influence here I suppose. IMO, traditional Christianity often regards its dogmatic “Truth” above intellectual and moral honesty. In its more extreme forms, atheism can do that as well– though not to the same degree. (Strong atheists sometimes come across to me as too judgmental towards non-atheists, describing them as immoral, stupid, etc. IMO, this can undermine the humanism that often accompanies atheism–and which I think is more valuable than atheism itself.)

            • lartanner

              I’m puzzled by one part of your answer. For a Christian, doesn’t intellectual and moral honesty lead to Christian “Truth”? The very theory of Christianity holds to the intellectual and moral correctness of Christian belief. Where intellectual assertions or moral acts diverge from Christian belief, such assertions and acts move away from honesty. Th truth always remains with Christianity.

    • kraut2

      Atheism is a positive value in itself as it frees the mind from the baggage of an invented belief system that bears no resemblance to reality.
      Atheism as part of the spectrum of skepticism prevents the adherent from blindly following truth statements made without supporting evidence.

      • Jack_Ma

        Belief in Christian dogma is psychologically traumatizing to an innocent child. She is told that she is inclined to evil by her corrupt nature and must seek salvation from the very god that will put her in hell otherwise.

        This instills self-suspicion if not outright self-loathing as virtues. It sets the child at war with herself permanently, as a virtue.

        Not traumatizing your children is good.


        • lartanner

          A few years ago, my oldest daughter (she must have been somewhere between 4 and 7 years old) was upset that I would never be with her in heaven because of my non-belief in Jesus.

        • Tom More

          Actually, its Christian doctrine that the human will can only choose what it perceives to be good, and its just the plainest fact in existence that we sometimes choose lesser goods over better ones. Most of parenting is directing through this reality. Self-suspicion? Self-loathing? Christian doctrine? Maybe read some of the 2000 year tradition before you trivialize it and misrepresent it. Misrepresentation traumatizes. And by the way.. God doesn’t “put”anyone in hell either. If you want to hate and abhor christianity.. then by all means do so.. but perhaps confront it as it actually is first. And I’d love to hear a coherent rendering of the the ultimate ground of experience and existence that is anything other than Personal. Radical incoherence as I posted elsewhere. Good luck.

      • Steve Willy
        • lartanner

          “atheism is incoherent.”

          I love that one.

          • Steve Willy

            My original comment kicks atheism in the balls and leaves it curled up on the ground in a fetal position gasping for the air that it tacitly knows it doesn’t deserve but that it selfishly sucks down anyway to satisfy its solipsistic hedonism.

            • lartanner

              I see. Well, thanks for pointing that out. I wouldn’t have realized otherwise that damage you’d done to atheism. I’ll be sure to run out straightaway to join the church of the flying spaghetti monster.

              Odd how detailed you get above for someone who’s supposed to be superior to “solipsistic hedonism.”

              Sounds to me like you are desperately trying to convince yourself.

            • Steve Willy

              Try not to trip on your neck beard on the way out of your parents’ basement, you pseudo-Freudian Hitchens-Dawkins parroting megadouche.

            • lartanner

              Squawk! Megadouche, megadouche. Squawk! Look at the threatened creationist. Squawk!

            • PACT

              you can always tell how insecure some religious types are by the anger they demonstrate when their beliefs are questioned. They know deep down that their beliefs are based on a lack of reason and this hurts them. Then instead of following the teachings of jesus about humility they let their pride blind them so that they don’t have to evaluate their beliefs. If they truly had faith your indifference towards their religion wouldn’t upset them half as much

            • Steve Willy

              Wow, you’re an atheist? You must be really smart. A real free thinker. Liberated by reason. Except, well…. Let’s put the faux-analytical hyperbole away for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, teleological argument, First Cause/Unmoved Mover, the impossibility of infinite causal regress, the necessity of at least one unconditioned reality, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality… While you sit there in your Hitchens-Dawkins parroting bubble and regurgitate pseudo-intellectual douchisms, your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life.

            • lartanner

              “Shattered at your feet”

              I love how Christians adore images of people suffering in confusion and pain. It’s the stock and trade of the religion.

            • Paul Boillot

              Steve, I just want you to know: you are my favorite.

              Don’t stop doin’ what you do.

            • Steve Willy

              If you believed in anything outside of your own solipsistic nihilism, you would stop doing what you do.