Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas and the Battle for Everything

A few days before Christmas, I engaged in an interesting debate with an atheist regarding my previous blog post:, a post which sought to lampoon various atheistic billboards. I am pleased to say that the discussion was very fruitful and did not devolve into name calling, which is a credit to the individual with whom I was debating. At any rate, the discussion left me thinking about the consequences of each of our respective world views. He began the discussion by arguing that evolution, random mutation, and natural selection provide a sufficient basis for atheism. He concluded a series of arguments by saying (this took place much later in the discussion); "It seems very little exists outside of our minds. It is difficult to say what, if anything." I began the discussion by pointing out that while evolution is effective in describing a process, it is severely wanting when it comes to accounting for the origin of that process. As to his final assertion that essentially reality exists in the mind, I made the case that in practice such a world view would be functionally impossible. Indeed, if there were no universals, progress would be unsustainable, and everyone would be wandering around in their own reality, like a bunch of patients in a mental institution.

My reason for bringing all of this up is not to to ridicule my opponent's position (for I truly appreciated his willingness to carry his logic to its appropriate end) but to highlight where both forms of logic lead. When most individuals think of Christians and atheists, they tend to categorize the former as one who is willing to "take a leap of faith", and the latter as one who is not. However, this is (I think) an oversimplification of both sides, as if one just believed for no reason at all, and the other decided to not believe because intellectually he could do naught else. In each of these instances a metaphysical "leap" is necessary. That is to say, when confronted with the world that is presented to us, we must determine what we believe. Is there any meaning to life, or is life arbitrary and without purpose?

From the theist's standpoint, he looks at everything that surrounds him- from science to aesthetics to religion and morality- and concludes that while he may not understand everything, he must leap towards the idea that there is some larger Reality binding everything together. In fact, he would argue that in some sense it would require more faith to believe that all of life, the good with the bad, has come to us via a series of cosmic accidents so numerous that the number is utterly unfathomable. By contrast, from the atheist's perspective, the world itself is, in a certain sense, evidence against the world. So in the face of the physical evidence, he is inclined to "leap" to the metaphysical conclusion that everything can be attributed to nothing.

One finds justification for leaping forward towards a greater Reality, while the other looks at reality and finds justification for leaping backwards towards nothingness. Mind you, the latter's leap is a far more irrational than the former. For why would you conclude that there is no God based on the fact that the world is both intelligible and incredibly conducive to the development of life (however you wish to regard that life)? In this sense then the rationality of the atheist actually works to destroy rationality. After all, what value has "reason" if in using it you discover that there is no reason at all?

So what does this all have to do with the Babe in Bethlehem? It may sound like hyperbole to say it, but I do think that this debate should be entitled the "Battle for Everything", with Bethlehem serving as the front line. Indeed, it is no wonder that at the moment of Jesus' birth, the forces of the "Nothing" (led by King Herod in this instance) were trying to hunt down and kill the Lord of "Everything".

When it comes to the existence of God, what is most lacking from a theistic perspective is the absence of any concrete evidence. If the divine remains in the abstract, or just an idea, then God is still consigned (from our point of view) to the realm of the theoretical. If God is not concrete, then who is to say that even we are? This is the danger and horror of modern Cartesian thought. In such a philosophy, the only thing that is certain is one's own thought, a premise that itself becomes progressively shaky, as anyone knows who has ever spent too much time alone (think I Am Legend and Cast Away). On the other hand, if there are things that are real and independent of our thoughts, then perhaps there is an objective truth, perhaps there is a world independent of ourselves. According to the Christian Faith, Jesus came into this world to save it... and I believe that to be true. However, I do not simply hold this because my heart tells me it is true- I believe it because the Incarnation is the only thing that actually makes my faith rational and concrete. Truth be told, it is the only thing that makes rationality rational and concrete.

If there is no objective world in front of me, and everything is a product of my imagination, then you, we, me, all of us, are potentially in a state of delusion, and that includes every scientist arranging their phylum and kingdoms like deck chairs on the bow of the Titanic. So to call Jesus my Savior is correct, but it may perhaps be even more correct to call him my Sanity. For if the he was born in Bethlehem, then I have a right to believe that I do have objective dignity and value. And if he is truly the Son of God, then I can be confident in saying that the Holocaust was wrong, and that goodness is in truth really Good. Heck, I even have a basis for saying that science is truly scientific. In a universe without the kind of meaning I just described, the only rational thing would be a bullet in the brain.

Back in the mid 1980s there was a movie out called The Never Ending Story (based on a book by the same title). It was by no means a perfect film, but I do remember something about it which I thought particularly insightful. The story was about a boy who, in an attempt to avoid bullying, hides in his school's attic with a mysterious book he "borrowed" from a bookstore. Alone in the attic, he becomes completely engrossed in the book. What makes the story so unique is the fact that in some mysterious way the boy becomes drawn into the story he's reading and is called upon by the characters in the narrative to help preserve their enchanted land. However,  the boy naturally struggles to believe that he has a role in the outcome. But as is his doubts persist, the villain of the story gains strength and threatens to destroy everything. The name of this "creature" is called the "Nothing". As I watched this story as a child, I truly became terrified by this beast, though I had no idea what it could possibly be. All I knew is that it would destroy the beautiful realm in which the story took place. As the film reached its climax, you discover that the Nothing is precisely that. It is not so much a monster as it is a kind of insatiable mouth which devours everything in the narrative; from the characters, to the fair country, to the very universe in which the story resides. And so the boy has to decide whether or not he will believe that the story is real, or subject it to annihilation.

It is interesting that atheists often call Christians (and other people of faith), believers of childish fairytales. Presumably they believe that these childish stories are based on unreality (whatever that is). Sadly, it never seems to occur to them that there may be a real purpose to these narratives other than mere escapism. What doesn't dawn on them is that these kinds of stories are generally imaginative ways to point out to children that life has a metanarrative, that is to say, life has a direction and a point, which is not reducible to a series of random accidents. Yet perhaps that is the point in the end, for in spite of the fact that the world is obviously imbued with any number of marvels and miracles, all these individuals seem to see is chaos and chance, and in spite of being confronted daily with the magnificent complexity and intelligence of nature,  they cannot see any Intelligence in it at all. Thus, we are left with an atheistic paradox, one that makes the Christian "leap of faith" seem pedestrian by comparison. Indeed, when it comes to drawing assertions about the "why" and the "how" of the world around us, the atheist comes to this stunning conclusion: seeing means not believing.      
"The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable assertion to deny the stones in the street; it will be religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream. It will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending not only the incredible virtues and sanities of this life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and skies with a stranger courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed."   

                               - G.K. Chesterton: Heretics 1905

Friday, December 20, 2013

The 29 Most Hilarious Atheist Billboards… And What They Should Really Say

It's the most wonderful time of the year... Although as a Christian I appreciate all of the joyful things that take place during this time of year, I have to say that I also kind of enjoy the atheist billboards that seem to adorn the season as well. What would December be without the great martyrs of atheism trying to make colors like red and green forbidden, or those magnificent "secret Santas" who work behind the scenes to make sure that trees are prohibited from the public square, or better still those altruists who stand firm against those propaganda-laden songs which attempt to remind us of charity and good will towards others. Nevertheless, these modern day Puritan party poopers, have their own form of propaganda, and one of their favorite proselytizing tricks is attempting to create disciples via the medium of gigantic billboards. And while it is true that not all of the billboards and advertisements that are featured below are Christmas related, it has become part of my Advent tradition to see what coal our modern day Scrooges have accrued throughout the year. To be honest, the general overtone of the following billboard messages should inspire sympathy more than anything. It as if these individuals are starring in the Grinch movie and are completely unaware of that fact. Their messages come in two forms. They either try to convince you by employing pure cynicism (i.e. you don't believe this idiotic stuff, do you?), or they do so by attempting to co-opt various Christian virtues, while attributing them to atheism instead (i.e. I am full of love without religion). Frankly, the whole thing smacks of desperation, and is particularly sad during a time of year where religion hangs in the air like a party that's just waiting to happen. Meanwhile in the face of all this merry-making, these modern day Humbugs declare with all of their pride and cynicism; "I would rather be boiled in my own pudding than go to your party!" And yet we must respond, not with a similar contempt or derision, but with the jollity and humor of uncle Scrooge's kind nephew who declares; "We will keep inviting you every year to our celebration until you agree to come!"             

1. The Atheist Story of Creation

…But if man created God, then who created Man?

2. The Happy Atheist

"…And also I'm going to cut your family up into little pieces and store them in my freezer. Or was that not obvious by the maniacal look in my eyes?"

3. The Atheist Baby

"Yes, please do not indoctrinate me, and also please don't put words in my mouth either, because that pretty much amounts to the same thing". Oh no, it's too late! Look at those brain-washed baby eyes.

4. The Ironic Atheist

…or read.

5. Atheist Family Values

Wait a second... I thought science freed me from having to put my faith in something?

6.  The Worst Argument For Atheism 

Whatever these people believe, I want to believe the exact opposite.

7. When Atheists Contemplate

Penny for your thoughts, sir… Oh my, I do believe I have overestimated their net worth.

8. The Santa Atheist

…So said the man who looks nothing like any version of Santa Claus I've ever seen (thank God).

9. Atheist Airlines

Come fly Bah Humbug airlines, where we feel the need to wear Santa hats, smile broadly, and announce that we don't believe in God for no apparent reason!

10. Happy Winter Solstice

"We were simply going to leave this as a question, but since we are such champions of letting people 'think for themselves,' we decided to answer it for you."

11. Is Reality a Person?

"…Because unlike a Christian, I would never try to personify something that was intangible."

12. Senior Atheists

"Now Kay, why are we posing for this photograph again? Don't worry, Harlan, just smile and look happy like the young man told us."

13. The Charitable Work of Atheists

So true! And I want to thank all of the atheists out there for the indisputable fact that they are the primary force behind all the charitable works in the world today.... Oh, they're not? Who is then? Primarily religious organizations? OK, never mind then.

14. Hospitality and Atheism

"… And also I like reading, wearing goddess T-shirts, and entertaining guests. Would you like to try some of this fried stuff I made??? It's shake n' bake and I helped!"

15. Atheist Couples

"…But not too old for the latest hipster convention, or the most recent edition of Awkward Family Photos."

16. Pride and Atheism

"OK, I'm not quite proud yet. But I'm tryin' real hard. It's not easy to believe in nothing, but if you stop your brain from thinkin' and make it fuzzy like so, you too can have just as constipated a look on your face."

17. Atheists and Reason

So taught the Catholic Church more than a thousand years before this blind dude.

18. The Workers Paradise

Signed - Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Stephen Uhl.

19. Truth and Atheists

 …What is truth?

20. Romance and Atheism

So said the guy whose marriage proposal sounded something like this; "Hey woman, what you say we get hitched in Vegas this weekend?"

21. Awkward Atheist Family Photos

"…If you're wondering why this photograph should convince you in any way of the merits of atheism, we at the Coalition of Human Reason are working on that answer. We promise to get back to you when we find it."

22. Atheist false gods 


"…. Actually, there is one god that I cling to, or rather "hug". I know as an atheist I am not supposed to have imaginary friends, but the trees, they call to me, and I to them. And yes, sometimes we sit together for hours without saying a word and then I spontaneously hug them. Is that so wrong? Go atheism!"

23. The Atheist Non-Sequitur

...Said the girl out of nowhere, apropos of nothing.

24. The Atheist Formula for Success

…Oh, in case you were wondering, that's supposed to be a good thing.

25. Atheist Religion

"Religion not required... Except for this one time when I decided to quote one of the most popular religious/moral sayings ever to be uttered in the history of the world."

26. The Holy Book of Atheism

"If you would like to read more from the Book of Jenn, you can find it on or the Self-Worship section of your local Barnes and Noble. In this masterpiece of modern literature you will discover such brilliant insights as "prayer won't help", and "you can accomplish stuff when you do things". Most importantly though, Jenn reveals the secret to true happiness: 'Without God, everyone is good. And without a standard, you can't possibly fall below it.' Brilliant! Thank you Jenn for proving to me that atheists are not as naive as Christians!"

27. Atheism is Love

"…. You believe me don't you? Please Please believe me! Hey look, I can prove it. See, I made the shape of a heart with my fingers."

28.  An Atheist Celebrates Christmas  

"...So yeah, we decided to put Chinese food in there because we thought that if we didn't it would look too much like a Christian billboard, and that would kind of defeat the point, wouldn't you say?"

29. An Atheist Celebrates Christmas Part 2

Wait, so then why am I writing to Santa? Oh, that's right, not to be logically consistent, but rather to make a point...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent in Hell… and a Way Out

This is Hell: people fighting over useless crap because the useless crap is 40% off the original price. The great irony of this particular type of hellish instinct is not that it can be simply ascribed to a kind of mindless contempt for Christmas. To the contrary, it is a worship of Christmas. Every day is Christmas in Hell- which perhaps explains why my greatest nightmare is to one day hear Christmas songs played in town over a loud speaker during the dog days of summer. In this sense then you may call me an atheist, for I do not believe in the God of instant gratification.

The problem consists primarily in the fact that the Christmas Hell believes in has no Advent, and therefore no expectation of a child. It is a barren wilderness of wires, buyers, and hysteria; an ostentatious revelry without any discernible reason for celebration; a mass of bodiless hands ceaselessly grabbing and pulling at one another, with the lone requirement, not that they are obtaining something valuable, but simply that they are taking it from someone else. Such will be the destruction of the spirit of Christmas. Hell knows this, for this is the prescription for the destruction of all things. Use it until its useless. Which is why Jesus once likened Hell to the local garbage facility, the place of "wasted" things, a tidal wave of refuse.

On the other hand, Advent from a believers perspective (or as it was originally intended), is a season of anticipation. Just as one awaits with longing for the birth of a child, so we too have great expectations about what the future holds. But since the future has not yet arrived, we are incredibly careful never to be too presumptuous about the results. Just as there is a kind of muted hope and longing in the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel, so a spirit of prayerful silence is always apropos during this season. However, the silence about which I speak is a contemplative one, a pregnant pause if you will, not one that is dead, empty or depressing.

Recognizing the need for a little jubilation during this season of quiet exuberance, the Church offers several opportunities to celebrate the coming of Christ (in ecclesial language it is called a foretaste). For example, there is the Feast of St. Nicholas, which allows for a little mini-Christmas during Advent in which parents sometimes leave treats/presents for their children in empty shoes in front of the bedroom door (a practice which recalls events from the life of the real Saint Nicklaus). There is also the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, wherein the Church celebrates the conception of Mary in her mother's womb without the stain of original sin. This feast really does provide a foretaste of Christ's coming, for in a singular way this miracle tells you that God is about to do something extraordinary. Then there's Gaudate Sunday, which is the third week of Advent and proscribes that the congregation engage in an ecstatic burst of early Christmas cheer, shedding for a day the more somber penitential colors for something a little more bright and cheerful. Even so, as Christmas rapidly approaches, believers are asked to pause once again in order to prepare for the final push. During this period the worshippers are asked to recite the "O" antiphons, which are the liturgical and spiritual equivalent of labor pains. These take place during the final days before Christmas, beginning December 17th and concluding on the 23rd- "O Wisdom from on high, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O Desire of Nations, O Emmanuel…. Come Lord Come!

These birth pangs, coupled with this joyous season of preparation, are the perfect recipe for the Christmas season, nay, they are perfect recipe and disposition for joy in all seasons of life. The spirit in which one prepares for the coming of Christmas is the true Tao of living, the perfect rhythm of joy and gratitude. The virtues that are imparted during this marvelous season of Advent are the virtues of Heaven (and incidentally the "vices" of Hell): patience, longing, humility, gratitude, and anticipation. All who nurture such dispositions will never want for the wonders of God, and will soon discover that it was for this that we were made. Children understand this more easily than we, in part, because we have the power to make them wait for their glorious gifts. But we as adults must nevertheless rediscover this child-like spirit by being obedient, not to our biological parents, but rather to our theological ones. Indeed, we must follow the season in the spirit that Our Mother the Church has instituted it (with approval from the Father of course). If we will only follow this instinct, we will not only discover the joy of Christmas' past, but so also the joy of Christmas present and future. For instead of being exhausted by the imminent approach of Christmas and wishing to put an end to it, we will rejoice and exult in the realization that the jubilation and celebration has only just begun.