Stealing from God! Do atheists derive their values from Christianity?

Published on 5 November 2023 at 14:46

A recurring assertion made by Christians in conversations with atheists is the claim that non-believers derive their morals and values from Christianity, insinuating that without appealing to the Christian god, non-believers lack a foundation for their values. Putting aside this false dichotomy, the fundamental essence of these Christian values warrants examination in this discourse. In this discussion, our aim is to undertake a comprehensive exploration, delving into the core of these values. We'll investigate their nature, evaluate their alignment with personal values.


The quintessence of Christian values finds its expression in two pivotal proclamations discovered in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 37: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This serves as a just and uncontroversial point of origin for comprehending the fundamental nature of Christian values.


 Exploring the first of these commandments—to love God with all that you are—initially appears reasonable if the God of Christianity mirrored the omni-benevolent deity of philosophical discourse. Regrettably, the character of God portrayed in the Bible diverges significantly from the philosophical concept. Extensive volumes of literature and countless debates have focused on this particular disparity, a topic I intend to elaborate on in subsequent discussions. The God depicted in the Bible is characterized as vengeful, jealous, and brimming with wrath, having been attributed with various acts that challenge the very essence of humanity. This portrayal of God raises substantial ethical and moral concerns. Such a deity, marked by a history of crimes against humanity, appears unworthy of the devotion, adoration, or love from compassionate and empathetic human beings.


Consequently, I find it challenging to perceive this as aligning with typical human values, especially those of various religions, or akin to individuals like myself without religious beliefs. Even in the hypothetical scenario where a god, as defined by philosophers, exists, this principle paradoxically devalues human beings. The disproportionate emphasis on this commandment as the greatest, while relegating "loving your neighbor as yourself" to a secondary status, speaks volumes about the prioritization within the purported Christian values.


This hierarchical arrangement firmly places the fulfillment of God's demand for love above the well-being of our species. This prioritization stands in direct conflict with the principles of humanism, which underscore the intrinsic value of humanity, compassion, and empathy. Hence, this contradiction refutes the notion that atheists derive their values from Christianity and underscores the divergent and conflicting nature of these ideologies.


There's a multitude of implications stemming from this primary commandment, interwoven with other seemingly subordinate values scattered throughout the New Testament. Among these implications lies another proclamation attributed to Christ: the notion that to follow him, one must harbor feelings of hate toward their parents and children. Additionally, followers are instructed to relinquish all earthly desires and possessions. While I tacitly acknowledge the scholarly consensus interpreting Jesus's words as not demanding literal hatred toward family members, the intended message is to place one's love and obligation to God above all else, including familial ties.


In some scriptural instances, emphasis is placed on prioritizing duties to the church and country over those towards one's parents and children. This hierarchy of values underscores the subordination of familial bonds and earthly commitments to the overarching duty and love for God, posing complex moral and ethical dilemmas.


This, I believe, marks the most profound deviation from my personal values. My obligations to my children stand as a cornerstone, and unlike a god, I harbor unconditional love for them. I state this unequivocally, devoid of any irony. The mere thought of subjecting my children to eternal conscious torture (ECT) for any reason, particularly the feeble ones stipulated by Christianity such as disobedience or insufficient affection towards me (or rather, a deity), is something I could never fathom. I must acknowledge that not all Christian theological doctrines align with the concept of eternal conscious torture. Some interpretations of hell posit it as a synonym for annihilation or the cessation of existence.


Even the annihilation theory, in the context of theological discussions, contravenes conventional ethical norms. In a godless scenario, death equates to annihilation, and the overwhelming majority of humanity finds the mere idea of their children's death or the passing of a parent immensely distressing. The fundamental contrast lies in the finality of annihilation. While it might be less severe compared to eternal conscious torture, it still registers as immoral and fails to align with the values I uphold. The notion of annihilation resembles a scenario where the President, in a hypothetical analogy, arbitrarily eliminates US citizens solely because they didn't vote for them. This comparison underscores the ethical discord and highlights the stark incongruity between such theological concepts and commonly held moral principles.


There exists a common theological exercise that rationalizes death and the concept of hell as within God's purview as the author and sustainer of life. However, I won't delve deeply into this reasoning, as it reflects a mentality that has tragically justified the abuse and even death of countless children. This old and worn-out mantra of "I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it" has led to the belief that inflicting harm upon children is permissible simply because they are "your" children. This line of thinking leads to disastrous implications, as it relegates us to the status of mere playthings, utterly unimportant to that deity.


This perspective contradicts the notion that God loves us so deeply that he gave his only begotten son for our redemption. However, this concept is flawed in its stipulation that regardless of what Jesus may have done for us, we are still doomed if we do not accept or believe in him. Even worse, this dooms every individual who follows a different faith. This exclusivist doctrine disregards the ethical stance of various cultures and beliefs, dismissing the moral and compassionate actions of people solely based on their differing faith traditions.


This kind of value system is inherently exclusionary. While soteriologists may debate the criteria for salvation, the overarching consensus tends to condemn those without faith or those following different faiths to a fate of judgment or damnation, whether it be eternal conscious torture (ECT) or annihilation. Contrasting this with humanism, a philosophy centered on human flourishing and well-being, it becomes apparent that atheists do not, in fact, appropriate anything from Christian theology. At least, this holds true for those atheists who have devoted time to deeply exploring the depths of their beliefs. This distinction emphasizes a fundamental disconnect between the values espoused by Christianity and the inclusive, human-centric principles of humanism.


The commandment to "love your neighbor" is also limited in its scope, as it appears contradicted by longstanding theologies crafted within churches over centuries. Certain doctrines designate children who disobey their parents, individuals with tattoos, homosexuals, or those who are transgender as damned. More distressingly, this has led many Christians to believe that the latter two groups not only deserve damnation but also scorn, ridicule, and even death in this life. This isn’t an interpretation confined to the fringes; it finds support within the Bible.


 The Old Testament labels homosexuals as abominations and prescribes death for them. These condemnatory attitudes are further reinforced by the words of Jesus himself, who affirms two distinct things regarding the Old Testament. Jesus emphasizes that he hasn't arrived to dismantle the law or the prophets of the Old Testament, but rather to uphold the law and fulfill the prophecies. He also asserts that not even the smallest part of the law will change until the heavens and the earth pass away. This endorsement and reinforcement from Jesus himself compound the troubling and exclusionary stances ingrained in the theological foundations, leading to discriminatory and hurtful treatment of specific groups in society.


It's an odd assertion that atheists and humanists have pilfered their values from Christianity when the two primary tenets of the faith and their ramifications stand in such stark contradiction to humanistic values. These Christian values are also contradictory to the principles upheld in other religions such as Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and various Native American belief systems. The crux of the matter isn't about the existence of the Christian God but rather whether its values are so deeply intertwined with the human experience that they serve as a fundamental source from which all other value systems borrow. Demonstrably, the answer appears to be a resounding no.


The myriad contradictions between the normative values that most people hold and these two foundational values of Christendom stand as evidence against the claim that all values stem from Christianity. The profound disparities between these values undermine the notion that Christianity serves as the exclusive or primary source from which all other value systems derive. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the core values of Christianity may hold less weight within the realms of philosophy and ethics than some Christians are willing to acknowledge. Moreover, in everyday life, these values often starkly contradict the values held by the majority of people. The discrepancies between the professed Christian values and the actual principles that guide the lives and moral compass of most individuals are becoming more conspicuous.


The central point that emerges from all of this is pivotal: the prioritization of God above all else doesn't align with the genuine values most people hold, particularly when it pertains to their own children. I'd like to conclude with a personal challenge. I urge you to deeply contemplate whether you could actually do to your child what Abraham was prepared to do to Isaac—to demonstrate that you love God more than your own children. It's one thing to verbally declare your devotion when there's nothing at stake. But would any loving parent truly be willing or capable of such a sacrifice? I sincerely hope not!


Indeed, the weight of this question is profound due to its profound implications. If one asserts that they would sacrifice their children to demonstrate their love for God, adhering to the principle that God should come first, it raises serious concerns about the values and priorities of that person. Such an individual, who places the divine above the well-being and care of their children, isn't someone suitable to be around children.


On the other hand, if you are a genuinely loving parent and find the very idea abhorrent, you've unveiled a fundamental deviation in values from those attributed to this god. For many caring parents, the instinctual response would be to put the safety and well-being of their children above all else. This demonstrates a clear disparity between personal values and the expectation set forth by certain religious ideals. I would wholeheartedly echo your sentiment—I couldn't fathom harming my own children in the name of any deity, nor could I place the concept of God above the love and care I have for my child, even if I were to believe in the existence of such a god.


The examination of Christian values in juxtaposition with humanistic principles unveils a stark contrast that challenges the notion that atheists or humanists have pilfered their values from Christianity. The foundational Christian values, epitomized by the commands to love God above all else and to love one's neighbor, stand in direct contradiction to widely embraced humanistic ethics and the core values of various other religious beliefs.


The assertion that these values serve as the bedrock of all moral principles collapses under scrutiny when we confront the dissonance between these Christian values and everyday human values, especially when it comes to the unconditional love and prioritization of our children. The very idea that one would contemplate sacrificing their child to demonstrate love for a deity starkly opposes the innate, protective, and nurturing instincts most loving parents hold.


Ultimately, the divergence between the values espoused by Christianity and the intrinsic values held by most individuals serves as a compelling testament that these Christian values are not the wellspring from which all other values flow. The fundamental tenets that advocate the prioritization of God above all else falter when tested against the innate love and protection a parent feels toward their children. This dissonance between professed religious values and genuine human values resoundingly refutes the claim that these Christian values are the cornerstone from which all other ethical principles originate.

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