Monday, 17 January 2022

Are Atheists Bad People?

I know, a judgmental question but one that needs to be asked in the light of the challenges facing individual souls today. In our secular, materialistic age we have no proper idea of good and bad anymore and we need to reestablish certain important truths, important from the standpoint of spiritual salvation, that is.

So, are atheists, those who deny the spiritual, bad people? From a certain point of view one would have to say, yes. It is not that atheists cannot be moral or even compassionate people. God is in them whether they acknowledge him or not and so they will have a moral sense by virtue of their humanity. But their morals will, when pushed, tend to become expedient or utilitarian or may be zealously maintained but from pride rather than love of their source which is the only thing that really makes morality integral to the personality. And what is the source of modern atheistic morality anyway? Setting aside the fact that it usually derives from religion in some way, its source is generally considered to be reason. But this means it is intellectually based so is always at one or several removes from the actual person. A genuine morality, one that doesn't change and is not dependent on time or tide, has to be spiritual, based on something that exists eternally and independently of human beings. 

So atheists can be moral but it is not morals that make a good or bad person. Obviously, a person with bad morals is a bad person but a good person has to have more than good morals. What determines whether you are a good person or not is if your heart inclines to the source of true good. And the source of true good must be God. There can be none other if good is to be a living reality and not a mere abstraction. This means that if you reject God it is because you do not respond to the reality of the true good and if you do not do that you cannot be considered a good person, however virtuous your outer behaviour. The heart knows. A sinner who believes in God is a better person than a virtuous atheist. Of course, the sinner must genuinely repent his sin which he will do if he really does believe in God but even so he may fall many times. No matter. God forgives those who sincerely turn to him whatever their transgressions. He cannot forgive or save those who do not turn to him because the one thing God cannot do is transgress free will, not without destroying his creation.

But is a non-believer in God really a bad person simply by virtue of rejecting God? Spiritually speaking, because God is the ground of the real good which derives from and is located in him then yes, he is. The atheist has rejected the real good and you can only do that if you do not love the real good and it is love of the good that makes a person good. Nothing else. If there is that in you that will love the good, you will see the good. If you don't see the good then you lack that love. The well-meaning but spiritually rejecting atheist may want to make the material world as comfortable as possible for man in his material state. Some religious people even follow this path though they may give it a religious or spiritual overlay, and they are the ones of whom Jesus said "I never knew you." They are followers of worldly ways before spiritual. But what the real spiritual person seeks or wants is to go beyond the material state altogether which he recognises as a false state of being, and transform the inner man to spiritual glory, a new being. This is the true rebirth rather than simple conversion. It is the recognition that man must not change but transform.

This is the only path for a human being to follow if he would discover the meaning of his humanity. To deny it, as the atheist does through his atheism, is the definition of bad because it rejects the true good.

Are atheists bad? If it is bad to deny the source of life and love and truth and thereby effectively deny these things as real themselves, then yes, they are bad. If it is bad to deny the human being growth into a higher state then yes, they are bad. If it is bad to reject one's Creator then yes, they are bad. If it is bad not to honour your Father and Mother, well, I won't go on.

But all this is sincere, you might say. Belief in God is not a moral matter. It's an intellectual one. It is an honest opinion, based on the facts as a particular person sees them. No, to claim that is to ignore the fact that God is within each one of his creatures as he is within his entire creation. To refuse to see this is an act of a rebellious will and so it is a moral matter. Listen to St Paul in Romans 1.

"For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

These are words which may be too strong for us moderns because they are spiritually condemnatory, judgmental not inclusive, but they are no less true for all that.

I admit to being provocative with this talk of good and bad in order to make a point but these are times of choice and decision. Black and white are being more clearly delineated and the gap between them is widening. There is a winnowing taking place, a separation of wheat and husk and that is happening both in humanity as a whole and within each person. Moreover, the nature of this world is such that everything that does not actively turn to the good becomes bad. That process is accelerating.

All this having been said, we have to remember that all souls are on a journey and all are at different stages of that journey. In saying atheists are bad I am not referring to each and every individual who happens at this stage of his life not to have arrived at a belief in God but only to those in whom the condition of God denial has settled down and become fixed. It may well be that atheism is a temporary state for many in the modern world as people grow out of affiliation to an organised religion and seek a more personal understanding that fits with humanity's development in fields of knowledge other than the religious. That is normal at the present time but atheism is not a place to stop, and it is to those who stop there, rather than those passing through on their spiritual journey, that I refer.

So, are atheists bad people? That depends on how you define good. If you mean personally kind and decent then one would have to say no, not necessarily. There will be good and bad atheists as there are good and bad in almost any grouping of human beings. But if you define the bad as a rejection of the true good and the true good as spiritual (and the good to be true has to be spiritual because the spiritual is the only thing that can give meaning and fundamental reality to life) then yes, they are bad. At the very least, they are spiritual failures. However, the good news is that they can turn to the spiritual good at any time and when they do, who knows?, some of them may be better servants of God than those who were religious all along.

7 comments:

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

A very thought-provoking piece, especially for a former atheist like myself!

My feeling has always been that I did not reject the Good as such, nor even the idea that the Good is something transcendental, but only the idea that the Good was an immortal personal being who created the world and so on. I suppose I actually "believed in God" all along by some people's definitions of that slippery word. But perhaps I am just making excuses for myself. The fact remains that I did a lot of very bad things when I was an atheist, things I would sooner die than do now, and whatever I may have told myself I believed at the time, such behavior can only stem from a very deep rejection of the Good.

William Wildblood said...

I would say your case comes under the proviso I made about souls being on different stages of their spiritual journeys and that sometimes atheism or a sort of disbelief is a temporary stage on an ongoing voyage. It's only when the train pulls into the station and the passenger disembarks still an atheist that the problem arises. I do think that eventually people must come to see that goodness must reside in a person rather than an abstraction.

Sometimes people reject God because of their idea of the Good because the sense of God has been sullied for them by their experience of religion. That also is a stage that we may go through on the way to a deeper understanding.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - From my perspective, of having been atheist most of my life; the badness was in what I wanted rather than what I did (in many ways, most people would probably regard me as more good - certainly more likeable and friendly - when I was an atheist than after).

But in retrospect what I wanted was the problem, and I was often trying to overcome my 'natural' and spontaneous ('pagan') goodness so as to be able to be more expedient, experience more pleasure, cease to feel guilty or inhibited about things that I didn't want to do or think - stuff like that.

I was/am naturally rather puritanical, and this got in the way of fun - so from early adulthood I was pushing against this; trying to persuade myself that life would me more enjoyable if I was more relaxed about things that felt wrong.

Also, in a cosmic sense, I tended to assume that there was a purpose to life, that something survived death, that truth was real and important - but my metaphysical assumptions told me that there was no purpose to life and I should forget about everything except This Life - and that being truthful was an obstacle to this.

The fact that I just couldn't convince myself that truth was unreal was maybe the factor that broke my atheism - as I observed the whole of science becoming untruthful and corrupting all around me.

I think that is the worst thing about atheism - it tends to encourage people to get worse, and not to be worried about this.

William Wildblood said...

As I say, I was being slightly provocative here but this was really to get people thinking about what is good and bad in a deeper way, a truer way I would say, that is more faithful to the reality behind those words. I have been in the same position as both of you at earlier stages of my life. It happens to most of us now and maybe it should so that we come to a more profound sense of engagement with God later on as a result. We're all prodigal sons but the prodigal son did eventually come back to his father. Some don't.

Todd said...

Thank you for this William!
I have no great insights to offer in response, only thanks.
I knew that God existed when I was quite young.
Then the modern scientistic attitude hit me. I can honestly say that the fact that some Christians claimed dinosaurs didn't exist caused me to waver! Funny, but true. Then I became prideful and intellectual and dry. The I had problems and suffered, and somehow rediscovered the reality of God. Having a child certainly helped.
But the main thing was that whatever I went through opened, rather than closed, my heart to God. It's an ongoing process. I've barely just begun.
Thank you, and Bruce and the rest of the little circle here.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Todd. I think of a lot of us have a natural feeling for the reality of God when young which we lose as we grow older and the world closes in around us. That's normal but we need to think about God afresh and come back to him and then the process of opening up continues, as you well put it.

Tolken Cimmerian said...

My earliest memory is of being taken at night, walking among the orange lights of the side streets, and up the stairs to a second floor apartment within which my Godparents awaited for the meeting. I must have been at the age of three, because I also have memories of my mother who went away at this age from a lack of responsibility on my father's part. As life went on and I saw more of humans, I retreated inside myself, not wishing to understand what was occurring. There is a key component of personality, the authentic, and authoritative, that is inseparable from spirituality.