Atheist Consolation

When a horrible tragedy strikes, Christians are occasionally told of how they trivialize death and suffering by encouraging people who are going through these horrible experiences to place their faith in Christ. It confuses me when I hear that atheists are somehow morally offended at the thought that we can offer the hope of Christ in the lowest of times in someone’s life.

For example, imagine a close friend or relative is rapidly approaching death due to an aggressive cancer. As a committed atheist, what could you say to this person that would be consolatory while simultaneously being consistent with an atheistic worldview? Nothing, consolation and atheism are incompatible. In this example, the notion of consoling this individual infers value and meaning. If life was meaningless and purposeless, what is there to be consoled about? Life is associated with meaning because each person values his or her own life along with the numerous others that value their life, not to mention God. The atheist would have no recourse because the atheistic worldview holds to the idea that life is purposeless and meaningless. Everything in this universe is nothing more than a cosmic accident. Our galaxy is nothing more than a speck of dust located within our incomprehensibly enormous universe. In the grand scheme of things, in a world with no God, death is just as meaningless as birth.

Christianity approaches the situation very differently. Christians understand that every human life is valuable and created in the image of God. Comforting our dying friend with the message of Jesus Christ and letting them know that as long as Jesus is their Lord and Savior that there is a Heavenly Father waiting for them when their soul passes this world and into the next. I’d say that the Christian form of consolation is much more comforting than hearing about how purposeless and meaningless their life was.

This isn’t an argument for the existence of God but it is a defense of the claim that Christians are somehow insensitive when consoling the ill. The reality of the matter is that atheism isn’t consolation at all. In fact, it’s hugely depressing. That’s why you don’t see atheists who are fully committed to their worldview because otherwise they’d be very cynical individuals. The reason you observe atheists who are morally upright is because God has written his morality on their hearts regardless of whether it is acknowledged by them.

I have many atheist friends and there isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t console this dying individual with love and emotional support. However, it is abundantly clear that these morally virtuous qualities are not inherent to the worldview of atheism. While I adore my atheist friends, I am disappointed in the disingenuous trivializing of the Christian faith that goes on within many atheist groups. Once morality becomes involved, atheists somehow turn a blind eye to the concept of objective universal morality.

As it turns out, an atheist who consoles a dying loved one is really borrowing the moral virtues of Christianity without the prayer and hope. Consolation of a loved one who is struggling is hard regardless of your theological beliefs. Nevertheless, consolation is impossible without treating the individual with value and meaning. This is something that atheism cannot do on its own.

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7 responses to “Atheist Consolation

  1. When you say “an athiest who consoles a dying loved one is really borrowing the moral virtues of Christianity without the prayer and hope” the first question that popped into my mind was was did the humans prior to Christ not have any moral virtues has described in your sentence with providing comfort to a dying loved one?
    I personally struggle with the thought that humans before Christ were incapable of moral virtues and providing the same loving comfort we’d provide a dying loved one today.
    Appreciate your articles and constantly trying to better understand the different viewpoints and would appreciate any insight to moral virtues in this particular scenario prior to Christ.

    Thanks

    • I appreciate your reply.

      The point I am making is that an atheist has no grounding for any objective moral values or duties. I refer to atheists ‘borrowing the moral virtues of Christianity’ as a way to point out that atheists are living more in accordance with the Christian worldview than the atheistic worldview; likely because the atheistic worldview doesn’t allow for the ontological moral grounding that is needed to acknowledge that there is such a thing as objective good and evil.

      I’m not saying atheists need to be Christians to be moral. That is certainly not my argument. I’m saying that the atheist cannot remain loyal to their worldview while simultaneously justifying their reasons for being good, charitable, self-sacrificing, generous, etc… with cogent explanations provided by philosophic naturalism.

      Hopefully this helps. Thanks for the question!

      • I think your definition of “objective” is flawed. Having someone tell you to be a good person rather than being a good person for the sake of doing good to others seems suspect. “Good” and “evil” are inherently subjective and can be assessed differently by different people. This is referred to as a culture code, or thoughts and perceptions developed and shared within a culture.
        An atheist can certainly stay true to their worldview and offer consolation with fact rather than myth.
        You use words as if you are sincerely trying to make a point. But if I were you, I would do more research before putting a limited opinion out on the Internet for all to see.

      • From your response, it sounds like you’re saying that cultural codes can somehow make morality “objective”. Objective, in the way that I’m using it within this context, means “completely independent of human opinion”. Obviously, that definition has implications on your position of cultural moral standards. The cultural standards of Nazi Germany are much different than the ones we presently have in Western society. However, without an objective moral standard that transcends culture, we couldn’t measure which culture is objectively morally better than the other. At best, one can make subjective assertions about another culture’s moral culture but they wouldn’t be grounded in anything objective. It would merely be an assertion from subjective moral preference.

        I would suggest, respectfully of course, to be more hesitant before issuing declarations about one’s ignorance when you’ve clearly issued a statement of ignorance for all the internet to see.

      • You’re right. That is exactly what I am saying. It relates back to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. You cannot accurately assess something outside of yourself because all you see is the shadow. In the minds of the Nazi’s, what they were doing was right. We can’t judge if a culture is morally better than the other where our rules do not apply. Take for instance sex huts in some Asian countries where fathers build their daughters huts to invite boys into until they find a suitable husband. Our instinct as Westerners (and I’m sure Christians have this instinct especially) is to be repulsed by the promiscuity and the fathers aiding in that (in our monogamous heteronormative society it would be deemed as immoral). But really it reduces the incidence of rape, teaches the girls to choose wisely and gives the power back to women in choosing a mate. We cannot say that is either right or wrong, even if our code deems it so.
        I think it’s referred to as passing judgement. I’m not above passing judgement but as an anthropologist I have to remove myself from my personal opinion at times to look at things from an outside perspective.

        I can be a moral atheist according to my moral code and brain programming. As a human I am hardwired to be empathetic (barring birth defect or TBI) and I have an innate desire to be needed within my tribe of fellow humans. This allows for the development of what we call morals.

        I also apologize for the personal attack. That was clearly a poor choice of words and a logical fallacy to attack the speaker rather than the argument.

  2. Atheists realize our values come from our innate, evolved empathy. A Christian consolation would involve lying and using myths. Jesus blood never does anything, it’s a story in a book.

    • Mike,

      I thank you for your comment and I would like to take a few moments to evaluate the claim that you made in response to my article. You say that ‘atheists realize…values come from our innate, evolved empathy.’ In response, I’ll ask you to describe how the process evolution can ontologically account for a transcendent moral standard? Under an atheist worldview, how would any objective moral standards exist? If we are all ultimately products of a random accident, what sense is there in believing that we are anything more than mere molecules-in-motion? If that is the case, these molecules-in-motion are dictated by the laws that govern the universe, which would necessarily mean that the molecules are predetermined to do what the laws would have them do in response to their governing. Does this idea of materialism sound like it would result in ‘innate empathy’ or does it sound like determinism? Determinism would require us to believe that nothing we ever do, past, present, or future, can ever truly be contributed to our free choice. So Mike, can you specify how you reconcile your ‘innate empathy’ with the implications of materialism/naturalism? Personally, I’ve never heard any atheist convincingly hurdle this roadblock as it pertains to the question of moral ontology.

      Next, you attribute Christian consolation to lies and myths. How so? Are you making the claim that Jesus is a myth and/or lie? If so, please inform me of how you came to your conclusion.

      Thanks for taking the time to make a comment.

      God Bless,
      Alan

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