There was an article in the Grand Rapids Press recently about atheism. (Also available at Ex-Christian.net.) Kelly Clark, a professor of Calvin College (a Christian College) was interviewed about it, and the article says, “Clark believes many turn to atheism to shirk moral accountability”.
Now, I’ve talked about morality and atheism in the past. The claim about turning to unbelief to “shirk moral accountability” is just some shallow claim made by theists to “explain” non-belief. (I can almost imagine a bunch of kids on the playground, and one of them says he doesn’t believe in Santa Clause, prompting a fevered response that he only says that because he’s a bad kid who isn’t getting any presents.) Theists always have their excuses about why other people don’t believe the same thing they do. These excuses allow them to avoid confronting the reasons for unbelief. I’m reminded of Scientologist’s belief that (without exception) all critics of Scientology are involved in some deep, dark criminal activity which will be discovered if Scientology progresses. This belief allows them to ignore actual criticisms of Scientology and to dismiss them as lies created by evil people. Here’s the actual quote from L. Ron Hubbard:
”Every time we have investigated the background of a critic of Scientology, we have found crimes for which that person or group could be imprisoned under existing law. We do not find critics of Scientology who do not have criminal pasts. Over and over we prove this. Politician A stands up on his hind legs in a Parliament and brays for a condemnation of Scientology. When we look him over we find crimes – embezzled funds, moral lapses, a thirst for young boys – sordid stuff.”
There are plenty of “explanations” that believers use to dismiss or frame their views of unbelievers. These explanations act to block any real critical thinking. They include ideas like: unbelief is about people wanting to do immoral things, unbelievers are mad at God, unbelievers think that God cannot forgive them for their pasts, unbelievers had bad experiences with Christians church leaders, unbelievers just haven’t had the opportunity to hear “the gospel”, atheism is “trendy”, and so on. Those ideas are which are generally constructed by Christian leaders (preachers, authors, etc) and passed between believers. It seems as though theists often have a number of categories that they can put unbelievers into – and all of those categories can be dealt with in some convenient manner which does not threaten their theology. “Atheism is about the desire to act immorally” means the unbeliever needs to embrace righteousness and God. When that unbeliever ends up in hell, it’s their own moral depravity that got them there. “Unbelievers are mad at God” means people need to let go of their hate and understand that God did not inflict suffering on them. Provided that the theist can put believers into a convenient category, their theism is safe from hard questions. I think much of this is not due directly to theists trying to avoid hard questions, but because they are surrounded by like-minded believers (so their particular belief seems unassailable), and many of these ideas spread from person to person in a Darwinian way (the ideas that sound best spread quickly through the community).
While thinking about these convenient categories, I was reminded of an interview I heard a number of months back. Hemant Mehta (“Friendly Atheist”, www.friendlyatheist.com) did some talks at a church. I remember Hemant explaining that he was an atheist, and that he was raised as a Jainist. He came to believe that Jainism was false, and the church seemed to like that. Now, Jainism has moral teachings (like Christianity does), but no one seemed to think: “Hemant rejected Jainism in order to shirk moral accountability”. Instead, the Christians seemed perfectly willing to believe that Hemant simply came to recognize Jainism as a false religion. That idea is actually complimentary to Christians because they believe that Jainism is a false religion, too. (I think this gave Hemant a special “bonus” in the eyes of Christians – he was an atheist, but he wasn’t an atheist who had rejected the Christian religion. That made him more likeable than Western atheists.) From a logical perspective, it makes no sense why Christians should accept “Hemant rejected Jainism because he simply found their teachings to be unsupported”, but that type explanation is never allowed for ex-Christian atheists. Instead, we get “it’s about shirking moral responsibility”. I’m guessing that Jainists probably invoke the “shirking moral responsibility” explanation to explain Hemant’s apostasy, however.