Why Christians Should Defend the Choice to be an Atheist

Since we’re in North Dakota, we might not have heard of this, but in Arizona, some Republicans want to pass legislation stating that one cannot graduate from high school if one is an atheist.  Don’t believe me?  Check here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/01/25/arizona-republicans-propose-bill-that-would-not-allow-atheists-to-graduate-high-school/

Now that you believe me, I am going to give some reasons (aside from the really obvious–it’s going to be challenged as unconstitutional if passed and would needlessly cost AZ money) why Christians should oppose this.

1) Graduating high school is not similar to joining the military, etc.(and in the military swearing ins, those last words are optional–you can choose not to say them upon commissioning).   Indeed, if one looks at the plight of inner city schools, it may be fair to ask whether graduating high school means much at all, but that’s a different topic for a different blog.

2) Forcing atheists to lie about this just to get their diploma will not make them respect Christians (or any conservative religious people) more, but less.

3) Forcing them to lie (or not graduate) will not convert them.

4) Because they’d have to lie to get their diploma, one could readily raise the question of “ethics.”  That’d be a nice move for Christians, no? Let’s make people lie!  Guess we could start debating rule deontology or something.

5) IF we wish to retain the freedom to speak about our faith, from our faith convictions, and argue for a place for religion in the public sphere, we do that cause an injustice by supporting things such as this.  That’s the sad reality here.  The Christians supporting this bill and advocating for it are actually harming what should be the larger concern of Christians in American society–articulating a Christian secularism.  I don’t at all think “Christian secularism” is an oxymoron but I do admit it is a difficult thing to articulate and will take time and thought and effort for us to do so.  Yet, I also believe this is the direction we must go, not trying fruitlessly to legislate (needlessly) atheists (or even agnostics).

For those of us who are Orthodox Christians, we should be especially sensitive and aware of these issues, as we have had to scrap for religious recognition at times in American history.  I realize atheists opposed the religious freedom amendment North Dakota (see my posts on Amendment 3 for that) but I wouldn’t want to see us return that favor by trying to outlaw them.  May we never follow this Arizona example.

Is God Outside the Material World?

This is the question taken on by Fr. John Behr, dean and Patristics professor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  The discussion of this question lasts for this next week.  If you’re interested in this question, go here:

http://bigquestionsonline.com/content/god-wholly-separate-material-universe

This should apply to anyone interested in “how” God works in the world, “if” God works in the world, “if” there is a God, “whether” science can find God, etc.

Humanity as Made in the Image of God in St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius (sometimes Athanasios) was a fourth century bishop of Alexandria and the removal of his relics was listed as noting on the Orthodox calendar yesterday.  Recently, I had referenced him in the talk I recently gave at the Science and Religion Lunch Seminar at NDSU.  Specifically, I utilized him when discussing what it means to be made in the image of God.

When seeking to understand Christian teaching on this, St. Athanasios provides us with some key points (which are found in many, many writings we have from the other fathers of the church as well).  First, God is beyond being.  God is beyond our creation.  This also means to understand him, we are reliant upon revelation and tradition.  Second, God is good, which is to say he wanted an ordered creation.  This was in contrast to Gnostics (see the Church History Series 1) who believed, generally, that the material world was made (or at least shaped) by an evil being.  Third, humanity was to connect to God through the mind and instinctively tries to do so, often finding false gods or worshipping false gods.

This last point is sometimes difficult for us to process in light of something called the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).  CSR advocates often argue for the evolutionary development of our “god-faculty” and claim that for that reason, we believe in God (or any gods or goddesses or fairies or any such things).   As Christians, we should not object to the research surrounding a “god-faculty.”  All have minds intended to commune with God and all seek God instinctively, even if that instinct is directed in different ways or is denied later in life.  As Orthodox, especially, we should acknowledge that such a faculty exists.  That is, after all, something we’ve been saying for some time now.