Please forgive this form letter. I intend to answer each person who participated in the survey personally. I have just finished reading them all and they are all, each one, thoughtful and interesting. I appreciate your time and honesty. I am a long way off from having anything to show for the survey, though. In fact what seemed like a quick paper looks to be somewhat lengthier a project. The depth of some of the survey answers tempt me to go beyond my original plan, which was to present some ideas I find compelling (and hope to share soon), and perhaps talk about atheism (and agnosticism) in general. Who knows how long this might take, but as part of the process I will respond to your survey personally with comments and perhaps questions. If you care to discuss some of the things you talked about I would be thankful.
Meanwhile, fair is fair. I now know a little bit about you and so far you know very little about me. I would like to enclose something I wrote two years ago. It is my response to a book called, "Think A Second Time." It was written by a very religious man named Dennis Prager. Prager makes a lot of sense on a lot of topics, and Iím a great fan of his. But when he wrote about God and religion I was appalled, and felt a need to address the things he said. He seemed to me to be such an intelligent man that I thought that maybe he would even hear me. Of course I never heard back from him.
But this letter is a good introduction to me and God.
I am, by the way, male, 43 years old, married with a six year old daughter. I live in Miami, Florida, though I am a native Californian with family and ties in that great state.
Letter To Dennis Prager (1996)
I AM AN ATHEIST
I am an atheist. That is societyís label for me and I accept it out of necessity, though I agree with my 67 year old mother, who is also an atheist. "I am not an atheist," she says, "Why do I need a label to identify that I donít believe in something? I donít believe a lot of things and I donít have to wear a label for all of those things. God has nothing to do with me and I donít need to be called anything on his account"
I agree in principal, but in this God-based society, yes, there has to be a name for someone who rejects the basic premise on which people feel their very lives and society are founded on.
So I am an atheist.
My proposition is that not only does God not exist, but the fact that people believe He does has no effect whatsoever on human behavior and Society. I donít share your horror at the image of a "secular" or "Post Christian" society because we are already living it. Things wouldnít be any different if there was no God. If you were to say "lawless" society you might paint a different picture, but not "Godless". I repeat: there is no God and it matters not at all to the basic human condition.
PROOF OF God
I talk with Christians all the time. They knock on my door and if I have the time I like to talk with them. I begin by stating that I am an atheist. They are surprised, since few people admit to this to them, but because I am a decent likable person they take me on as a challenge and a low level struggle ensues. I know there is no possible way I can convince them there is no God and I donít try. But they, on the other hand, are fully convinced that they can make me see what is so plain to them. "How do you know there is a God?" I ask them. I am curious.
The answer is usually that I must prove there isnít. Not in those words, but in the dialogue that follows:
"Do you see those beautiful flowers? And that beautiful Sky? And this beautiful daughter of yours?"
Yes, I do.
"Who is responsible for them? Who has made them the beautiful things they are? Do you think they came to be all by themselves?"
What do I say? I happen to know the scientific answers to those questions. I also have the philosophical arsenal to discuss who made them "beautiful" (I made them beautiful, if I believe that they are). But I understand the true question: Where, in all the beginning, before men were apes and apes were rodents and rodents were fish and fish were amoebas, before the chemicals that became life in our oceans were joined atomically, before suns and planets and hydrogen and helium were formed, before the Big Bangówhat?
Nobody alive has a clue to the answer to that question. I donít. I donít even have a theory. It is something so deeply mysterious as to baffle all of Modern Manís best scientists and thinkers. Theories exist, but none that make any sense. However, a theologian who accepts all of science (and there are many) also has a theory: he says that that moment before the Big Bang is the work of God.
So while the simple Christians at my door are talking about Adam and Eve and all the animals and fruits and trees being created in seven days, I know they are really talking about the very creation of our universe. The instant of Creation that science has come up against with such futility. God is that instant.
And the proof?
The burden of proof falls illogically on the disbeliever, not on the believer. Prove it is otherwise. Prove there is no God. Prove to me that God did not create this world and all that is on it. Prove that it is not the hand of God in the Big Bang. Prove it.
Ironically, the preponderance of proof, logic, and evidence supports me, not my Christian friends, which is why I do not believe there is a God. It is not out of stubbornness, or an unholy wish that there be no God. There just isnít any evidence that there is one. And Faith alone isnít enough to go on, because it shouldnít be enough to go on.
MY ATHEISTIC BEGINNINGS
I want to take a moment and go back to my beginnings. In the generation before my parents there is God. My mother grew up in a Christian home in Stockholm, went to Church, lived in a Christian community. My father came from a family of Brooklyn Jews (the mixed Jewish and Italian neighborhoods of Bensonhurst) who themselves were immigrants from the shtetls of Eastern Europe. My paternal grandparents probably believed there was a God but He was not a centerpiece of their home. They were hardworking people intent on building a good life in America and if God was present, he was not emphasized.
Both of my parents grew up atheists. My mother said God made no sense. My mother is one of those very sensitive people to whom the sorrows of Humanity are almost too much to bear. There simply could not be a God in a world like ours. My father, a writer and intellectual, was attracted to other ideas and Gods, investigated Eastern religions and spiritual metaphysics. If asked he would have said that the monotheistic God did not exist but that there might be something else, something in control, something, essentially, fulfilling the God role.
Perhaps not too ironically, I was a mixture of the two.
Until I was five or six, I believed that there was a God who created the world and who watched paternally over us. But at about that age it occurred to me almost in a flash that there cannot be a God. Maybe my six year old intellect wasnít up to more than a childís logic, but I could not see how God could tend to the lives of so many people with the care and personal attention that each person on Earth desires and commands. It wasnít possible and I didnít believe it.
So, like my mother, I became a person who could see no logic in the argument of God. Unlike my mother I did not live with a family that went to church or believed in God. I was not preached to about there being no God. God was not an issue. It was never talked about. If I asked my motherís opinion she gave it to me but she did not strive to keep me from believing. Of course she didnít have to. Kids need a lifetime of church and inculcation to truly believe there is a God and to fear him. Without it that just doesnít happen naturally.
By the time I was in my twenties I felt more like my father. That there probably was something more going on than that we all just lived and died. There was no proof for this either, but perhaps I felt the same instinct with which man created God in the first place. So for some ten years I was open to the possibilities that there might be a metaphysical or supernatural answer to life.
I was attracted to the idea that there was more going on than met the eye, and that furthermore, when you died the whole story would be revealed.
Now I didnít actually believe this; I was just open to (and actually welcomed) the possibility. I have always been faithful to the sciences and the work that science has done in slowly revealing the mysteries of life. I have always felt that if there was a God, or if there were supernatural beings or answers, that science should be able to detect them. Because they shouldnít be undetectable. If ghosts really existed there should be a way to detect them. If miracles could occur there must be no reason why the instruments and observations of scientists should not see them. I did not believe in anything that could exist outside the normal laws of the Universe. If a supernatural realm somehow existed it was as "material" as the rest of the universe.
So if during this time you had asked me if I believed in God I would have said no. The ridiculous Christian God was never a possibility. But might there may be something else? Yes or no? I would have had to say no, but I would have felt inside that I may be wrong, in fact that I probably was wrong.
WE ARE ALL ALONE
By 1986 my thinking had become more and more secular. God himself was never a question, but there was the possibility of other forces in the universe, other "beings" or "forces" that may be in control.
The key to it, in my thinking, was the human brain and mind. It was there that the intense feeling that there should be something else originated. It did not originate from any outside proof or phenomena. There was nothing in all the world outside of my own mind that supported or suggested either the existence of a God or other metaphysical phenomena.
So I became very interested in the brain and how it works. Science has made inroads into that mystery but the work is largely incomplete. So, too, were the answers.
In 1986 I was having lunch with my friend and his grandfather. The friend and I had known each other from childhood and the grandfather was a man I had known and respected most of my life. I was then 31. We had been talking about these things and I asked him outright if he believed in God. Though he seldom used Godís name, he had always struck me as a deeply spiritual man, with the wisdom and presence of a Rabbi, and I suppose I had taken it for granted that if he did not believe in God then he had some sort of spiritual belief.
I was surprised to hear him say that not only is there no God but that there is nothing besides. "But what about the mind?" I asked. "How do you explain consciousness and the things that seem beyond the powers of the physical?"
"Its all natural and biochemical," he answered. "Itís all electrical impulses, synapses and chemicals. Science hasnít explained it all but someday it will."
My thinking had been heading that way on its own, but this moment was a real thunderclap for me. It is all natural! It is not that I had trouble believing it, because that is what all the evidence and reasonable thought had been pointing to. It was the sudden actual realization that we really are on our own in this world. That, really and truly, we are alone.
And I then realized what my spiritual leanings had been all about.
They fulfilled the precise functions for me that a belief in God did for a theist: morality came not from humans but from "Beyond." Wrong was wrong, not because humans said it was wrong but because it actually was wrong. And all the suffering that we endured in this "material" life would not be in vain when we died. The good of us would be reunited and go on to the "next plane" (supernatural believers have a thousand different names for this but we can call it,"Heaven"). All the mysteries of the universe would be revealed and we would exist throughout eternity as part of some incredible grand plan. And the bad and evil would suffer punishment (usually by being returned to earth!)
I had thought that Christianity and God were crude inventions, silly witless nonsense with Popes and wafers and Crosses and funny costumes. I had thought that the spiritual answers to which I leaned were far more complex and sophisticated; pure energy and force was involved, not silly ceremonies (of course all of these metaphysical and spiritual believers have their own witless and silly ceremonial proceedings and I always thought they were stupid also).
Now I saw that I was no different from those that believed in God. That a higher order would take care of us and make it all right in the end. To give that up was to realize that we truly are alone.
RIGHT AND WRONG
It was discomforting. The ramifications were endless and sometimes ominous. Followed to the logical conclusion, right and wrong did not exist, except as self serving human invention. In fact, nothing I do is wrong unless I think it was wrong and even then it isnít because there is no such thing as right and wrong. And who am I to define right and wrong? These questions were difficult and depressing.
And where has it all led? So far, ten years later, to this: Right and Wrong and morality are what separate us from nature and animals. They are a human invention, like language and art and science. What is right? What is wrong? Mankind has spent much of its existence struggling with this question. We have used the tools of our intellect, of our emotions, of higher orders (God and Gods), of experience and fantasy, to develop a moral code whereby humans can live together in peace. It has come both out of necessity and out of lofty idealism. Right and wrong are passed down through the culture and reinforced or discarded by the inner workings of our mind and emotions and character.
Like the origin of the Big Bang, the inner workings of the mind and brain may remain a mystery. Why do people respect these moral codes in a very selective way? One may steal but not murder, another may lie, but not cheat. Yet another may commit the most heinous crimes and another is a saint. What actually stops me from doing anything I please? This is a question to ponder, the work of a lifetime of thought. Something stops me. What is it? Like the mystery of the Big Bang, this may also elude an answer, but whatever that answer is, it is not God.
There is right and wrong, yet at the same time there is no right and wrong. How can that be? The concept of Right and Wrong is a human invention and nothing more. It does not have an objective existence. But we humans who invented it have invested everything in it and perpetuate it for our own good. So right and wrong does exist, and it exists independent of you and I, but not of the Human Race.
I came to see Manís existence apart from Gods and God as being good for man and neither bad nor depressing. Man is free to control or work his own destiny, for good or bad. Nothing helps him, but nothing hinders him either. We have done everything ourselves, all the great work of Man and Civilization is our work alone. The hand of God is nowhere.
BELIEF IN GOD HAS NO EFFECT ON MANíS BEHAVIOR
I made the assertion that the belief in God has no effect on peopleís
behavior. The evidence for this is only too abundant. The jails and prisons and death row are full of God fearing people. They either see no contradiction between their belief and their behavior or they feel profound guilt. But it doesnít stop them. The most pious priest is capable of committing wrong if that is in his nature (it often isnítónot because he is too Holy, being a priest, but because such a person would not usually be attracted to the priesthood). A priest who commits adultery, or worse, molests children (and of course this happens) does this despite a belief in God and a strong commitment to Christian values. He canít help it. He canít help it, Dennis. God has nothing to do with it. God is a separate and outside conception, while the forces that make the priest harm little children originate from within and dominate. God has nothing to do with it. I speak about priests to make the point stronger, but you well know that unspeakable evils are committed by people who believe in God.
You have every right to fear a Godless world. It is here and we are living it. And it is horrible.
Now to your book. I want to comment on some of what you had to say about God and religion. I donít seek to change your mind, because I have found it impossible to shake the faith of even the most lackadaisical believer, let alone a man of your convictions. But being the thinking person you are, I believe you may find my point of view interesting and stimulating, and perhaps even worthwhile.
IS MAN BASICALLY GOOD?
You pose the question of whether or not man is basically good or evil. Good question. I think the answer is that some people are basically good and some others are evil. I have little doubt that I am basically good. I suspect that you are basically good. The list is of good people is too long to contain here. Now I feel that on the other hand there are many people who are basically bad. Who have no thought for anotherís feelings or even life. Who lie and cheat and rob and kill without a thought. And then there fall many people in between. It is a very complex subject because if you were a friend of Adolf Hitler you might have found him a very charming and humorous man. Ted Bundy was in every way a thoughtful and helpful person to those who knew him, and I donít believe he was pretending. This list of kind killers is frightening long, also.
What does it all mean? It means that people come in varying degrees of good and bad. You could not say that all people are evil nor that all people are good. If I were to generalize I am one who believe that taken en mass humanity has more goodness than evil. But this is no guarantee that the next stranger you meet is not a deadly murderer. Or the next door you knock on for food is not opened by a sadistic sociopath. Manís inhumanity to Man, the Holocaust, the Pogroms, Bosnia--- the list is endless--- is good cause to doubt that humanity is basically good. But they must be regarded as the worst that man can do and has done, because if in fact people are basically evil no one would be alive today.
Do "outside forces" cause "basically good" people to do bad things? No, I donít believe so. There are too many very good people living in slums and ghettos who wouldnít dream of hurting someone or committing a crime. There are also kids from good homes that do the most atrocious things. I donít think outside forces account for any of this. I think each person has a complex character that may or may not condone wrong doing.
COMMUNISM AND NAZISM
You speak of Communism and Nazism being examples of a Godless society. Itís a nice try but for two things. One, is that most people operating under those two systems believed in God, and the other is that these two dictatorships were only noteworthy because they contained the resources and modern technology to have an impact felt throughout the world. The quality of their evil is no different from many smaller dictatorships run by God fearing leaders.
I donít believe you will find in Marxís writing any mention of guns pointed at the heads of people living under communism. Just to make it clear, I am not a supporter of Marx or Communism--- I always agreed with you that the Soviet Union was a horror and in no way could be compared to the USA. But the USSR and all forms of Communism that followed it are just dictatorships, not true communism. It was Lenin who introduced the barbed wire and guns into the picture because he knew that Human Beings canít live under true communism. True communism is a society where everyone is truly equal and each works for the good of all. That is not a human possibility. There are those with great industry and ambition and there are those with none. There are those with cunning and greed and there are those who are gullible and weak. Lenin knew the only way to have this mix settle into a communistic way of life was at the point of a gun. Communism was just another dictatorship in which the leadership took everything from the people.
1) There is†God in Communism and Nazism. Both communism and Nazism renounced God because that is the best way to claim total control and power for yourself. Whether or not individual leaders personally renounced that belief is difficult to say. Certainly the great mass of people did not. I can assure you that most of your concentration camp storm troopers and high level Nazi leaders were men who believed in God. What would make them any different from the Christians who perpetrated the pogroms on Jews?
2) Nazism and Communism were no worse than many dictatorships that didnít renounce God. Letís start with the Spanish Inquisition and throw in the Crusades for good measure. These were atrocities acted outon behalf of God! (Toss in the Salem witch burnings, too). In this modern world we only have to look at what goes on in many African nations, many South and Central American nations, and many, if not all, Arab nations (I will leave out the nations where our Monotheistic God is not worshipped). Please tell some poor mother in El Salvador whose son disappeared in the middle of the night, and whose body was then found tortured and mutilated in some stinking death field that people had it worse under Nazism. There are too many evil regimes around the world who cherish and worship God for your arguments about Communism and Nazism to hold.
In comparing evil done by religious groups or governments to evil done by "Secular" (page 96) you say that between Hitler and Stalin more people have been killed than all throughout history. Possibly true, but much of what was done could not have been accomplished if not carried out by people who were themselves God fearing.
But even taking it at face value that these two movements have killed more than any other, it is still not making a critical point. The evil quality of other dictatorships and people throughout history are no less horrifying. The fact is that most of these other situations just donít affect that many people. A small religious government in Central America that tortures and kills its citizens is in no way on higher moral ground than Hitler or Stalin. The nature of both 20th Century technology and the wider populations of those two made the killings far more wholesale. Throughout history, states have just not been that big. So that a corrupt and evil movement or government just didnít affect as many people. But I assure you that the nature of their evil is just as bad. Genocide is nothing new. Iím not defending either Hitler or Stalin, but Iím continuing to make the point that God is irrelevant when it comes to good and evil.
Here is what you said: Only a religious person can be a hypocrite. A secular person cannot, because they stand by no codes outside and bigger then themselves. Dennis, a hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. Period. There are plenty of secular folk who are hypocrites. If I say you shouldnít eat a certain thing because it is not good for you and then one day you find me eating it, I am a hypocrite.
Now you apply it to the case of, letís say, an adulterer. If a religious man commits adultery he is a hypocrite because he presumedly is bound to the commandment prohibiting such behavior. Whereas if a secular person does he is bound by nothing but his own conscience. So the religious man is a hypocrite and the secular man isnít.
My very first response is what does it matter if you are able to call one a hypocrite and not the other. Does it make it better for one or worse for the other? Is the religious man going to suffer the shame of it while the secular man shrugs it off saying, Hey I never agreed to that?
The fact is that the secular man also has to answer to the society in which he lives. People do not look kindly on adultery or anything that is wrong as outlined by God. If my sisterís husband (letís say heís a secular person--- letís even say sheís married, which she isnít) commits adultery he is just as wrong as the religious man and he has to pay the consequences. By your definition there are probably many more religious hypocrites than secular ones, but they are all doing wrong and they will all be recognized as such.
WHAT RELIGION-FREE AMERICA MIGHT BE LIKE
Page 95: ". . . I saw what religion-free America might be like a few blocks from my home during the riots in Los Angeles. Those were not Christians who destroyed thousands of innocent peopleís businesses and who beat people to death for not being black."
And those were not Christians in the Crusades or in the Pogroms either.
Dennis, who do you think those people were? Iíll leave out the blacks who beat some whites to death for a moment and talk about the looters and arsonists who destroyed thousands of businesses. Most of them were Hispanic. Most of them were not only Christians but probably devout Catholics as most Hispanics in LA are. Stop them all in their tracks, every one of them and ask, "Are you a Christian? Do the Ten commandments mean anything to you?" Yes, yes, of course, you would hear.
As for the blacks who did the killings. I donít know them but certainly a percentage of them were Christians. And if you were to take all the rioters together regardless of color and identify them as "Christians" or seculars Iím afraid that what you saw outside of your window during those horrifying days (I was there, too) were Christians.
I want you to understand that what you are saying not only contradicts human behavior it is also unfair and insulting to those of us who are "secular" and live by the very highest morals. Believe me, Dennis there are too many of us to be discounted. When you speak like this you are saying "All them black folk are lazy" and "all them Jews are greedy". All them atheists are not bad evil people. Here, again, the belief in God has nothing to do with moral or immoral behavior.
OUR UNIVERSAL MORAL CODE
Page 199. "To make moral judgments you have to posit a universal code." We have a universal code. People of religion and secular people alike recognize that code. It is all the same stuff. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Thou shalt not murder, steal, lie, etc. These are values that humans have developed over the years. God did not hand them down. Man developed them out of long experimentation and experience.
Page 205: "I have never understood how a good secular individual can avoid debilitating despair." My dictionary simply defines "despair" as to "lose all hope." That does not describe what I, a good secular person (and thank you for the distinction) feels when I contemplate the horrendous evil in this world. I feel a deep sorrow, a pain, a horror that is sometimes so difficult to bear that I must put out of my mind such things as the Holocaust or the little girl in the next town who has been missing for two weeks. To endlessly contemplate these things is just too much a burden. But I do not ever despair. I do not lose all hope. All hope of what? Staying alive? Enjoying life? I just know that all of these evil things are part of being alive on this earth. The devil didnít put them here, we humans did. And on the other hand, we humans also experience the most exquisite joys and beauty. Both things exist here on planet Earth. If there were only evil I might despair but it is not. No, I do not ever despair.
On the other hand if I contemplate what it might be like to share your belief I cannot imagine ever being depressed about anything, even something like the Holocaust. If I truly believed that when we died everything would be sorted out, the good to their heavenly rewards, the evil to their hellish damnation. My God1 , Dennis, I would have no cares in the world. You think that all of those millions of Jews who were mercilessly slaughtered like animals, tortured, gassed, burned, starved, beaten--- you think that when they died they went to Heaven, where they were welcomed into a warm happy Eternity, reunited with all of their family, perhaps sharing amusing stories of the gas chambers or anecdotes of their ride in the box cars. And that the Nazi perpetrators on their deaths went straight down to hell to endure for all eternity far worse tortures than their victims, who now ironically enjoy Heavenly paradise?
How sweet life would be if I believed that the little girl who was kidnapped and brutally raped and killed went straight into the arms of her Heavenly Father, to await being reunited with her family. And that her killer got his just reward on his own Day of Judgment. Who cares about the death penalty in that case! Who cares about anything in this life? What should I care if my own precious daughter is kidnapped and killed. Sheís fine now. And just as soon as I can get this mundane horrible life over with and die weíll be together again.
Dennis, thatís a nice thing to believe if you really do, but it just ainít so. I hate to tell you this, but those six million Jews died for nothing, all of that ash blowing unto the sky was for naught. And those Nazi beasts who perpetrated this horror--- the ones who survived the war--- will live out their days and die with no retribution at all, save whatever, if any, their own conscience visits on them.
Disgust, sadness, weariness--- at times, yes. But despair? No, never.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
When you asked your son if he would loot and he said he wouldnít, you were very pleased with his reason, "Because itís against the Ten Commandments." You would have been unhappy if he had given the reply, "Because itís wrong."
In fact the true reason is†because itís wrong. If there is a God and if he had handed down these commandments, it was for only one reason--- because these things were wrong. They are not arbitrary rules. God knows them to be wrong and is so warning us. To have answered, "Because it is wrong," is fully acceptable. Now the question would have to be asked, "Why†is it wrong?"
Why did God decide these things were wrong and if he hadnít would they be acceptable? Does it take a God to realize that murder is wrong? Or is it only wrong if He says it is?
Letís take a quick look at these commandments. I am leaving out the first four, as they are God laying down rules about how He would prefer to be worshiped (almost half†the commandments!).
Honor Thy Mother and Father
Yes, by all means. To honor your mother and father is to respect and honor yourself and all of mankind. Did God perhaps have himself in mind with this one? I believe this commandment really serves no purpose. Good parents will be honored. Bad ones wonít be. But wait--- good ones also wonít be and bad ones will be on occasion. God is getting into very deep waters here, dealing with complex psychology. The relationships between parents and children can be very complicated and often resists such simplistic commands as to simply honor thy mother and father.
Thou shalt not murder
Did we need God for this one? "Because it is wrong" will do quite nicely here. This is not even open to interpretation. Long before God came with his commandments people grieved over the murders of their loved ones. Somehow they even then had an instinct that it was wrong.
Thou shalt not steal
Under any circumstances? In general, yes, Thou shalt not steal. Do we need God for this one, as well? If this is mine, I donít want you to take it. It is wrong. Would it be OK if God hadnít decided it was wrong? If there were only Nine Commandments? Would we have perhaps developed a society where no one owns anything? Where you might work hard for something and then someone can come along and just take it and thatís fine?
Thou shalt not commit adultery
This commandment is the only one that is actually necessary, because it goes against a basic human drive. We donít have basic drives to murder and steal (most of us anyway) but we do have a basic sex drive that is so strong that millions of otherwise good God fearing people are powerless before it. Is it wrong? We have agreed that it is. Can we help ourselves? In overwhelming numbers, no.
Thou shalt not bear false witness
You shouldnít lie. White lies and "good" lies ("You played that violin beautifully!") are acceptable, but for a better world, please--- Thou Shalt Not Lie. Again, did we need God for this one?
Thou shalt not covet (or desire) thou Fellowmanís house (etc)
This one I donít actually get. Itís wrong to desire something that someone else has? Isnít this one of the basic drives of Western Culture? Keeping up with the Joneses? Working a little harder so you can have that thing yourself. Since actually taking either your fellowmanís house or wife is already covered in Thou shalt not steal and Thou shalt not commit adultery, what is the meaning of this commandment?
Iím not sure what Godís part in these commandments actually is. They are things that are "wrong." Are they wrong because God says they are wrong? Is murder only wrong because God says it is? Speaking as a secular person, those commandments are Manís creation, codifying laws of Right and Wrong long in existence.
When your son answered the way he did it only meant that he had grown up in Dennis Pragerís house. Your son knew the correct answer. Does he on the other hand, not know the difference between right and wrong? If your nine year old son were to pick up a revolver and point it at a stranger, would the only thing stopping him from pulling the trigger be the Ten Commandments? Would he have no inner foundation that it is WRONG?
Humans being have developed a strong sense of right and wrong over the centuries. Like the Ten Commandments it is no guarantee that there will be no wrongs, but through the process of instilling these values through the generations, Man has brought some, not as much as he would like, but some order to an otherwise bestial condition.
Page 236, on defending the existence of Heaven: "It defies logic to hold that the nonphysical God would create a world whose only reality is physical." Dennis, isnít it a little late in the game to bring logic into the picture? Logic is on the side of secularism. God exists only by Faith alone, not by logic, certainly not by proof of any sort. Is there any logic at all to a God who created this lovely world only to inflict endless horror and evil on it? In fact, this one question is what keeps religious people the most busy, because there is no reasonable answer to it and it is the one that cries out to be answered by all, religious and non-religious.
Having said that, I will agree with you. If there was a God, why not heaven as well?
IS THERE A GOD AFTER THE HOLOCAUST?
Can you believe in God after the Holocaust? The answer to that is embedded in your reply. You asked at what number of murders do you question the existence of God? You asked why it must go all the way up to six million before you start to question God? The answer to that is that at the very first murder you question the existence of God. If that very first murder had been your son you would certainly have your faith shaken. The Holocaust was just so monstrous that humanity as a whole had to ask the question, not just the individuals struck by the tragedy.
A God that would allow even one madman to kidnap and kill one innocent child is not a good God, not a God worthy of worship. Letís not even mention the Holocaust.
A WORLD WITHOUT EVIL
Page 142: "If God should have stopped the Nazis from murdering Jews, should He not also stop the murders on American Streets? And what about rape and child abuse? Would we really prefer to live in a world where all evil was impossible?"
No, Dennis, Iíll take this world any day. Of course we would prefer to live in a world where all evil was impossible! And that is the kind of world we would live in if there was a God. Iím sorry, but that is the very bottom line: if there was a God there would be no Evil. A God as powerful as the one worshipped by the three monotheistic religions would not have created this grand mess of a world. This world is such a sorry failure if it is a creation. If there is a God and this is his handiwork then he is not deserving of worship. He needs to go back to school and finish his apprenticeship.
Yes, Dennis, of course we would love to live in a world with no evil. Wouldnít you love to be able to walk anywhere you wanted, day and night, and fear no evil at all. And know that if you met some solitary figure in a dark alley he may offer you a crust of bread rather than hit you with a pipe? Wouldnít it be just amazing to know that every person on the planet had the same love and concern for your child as you do, and that he or she could walk to school at any age without danger? Wouldnít it be a great world if the concern for our fellow man was more powerful than greed? I could go on and on, but it is only depressing. This is the world we are stuck with and this is the one we must strive our best to survive in.
As to your remark about automatons, that is a pretty broad leap. I donít know why you feel that humans without evil impulses are automatons. If everyone on this planet was even as good as I am this would be a great place. Iím not perfect--- you would still have some degree of "wrong." Perhaps some people would cheat on their taxes and another might stand you up on a date, but you would have no murder, rape and child abuse. And you certainly would have no Holocaust.
The point is that I am not an automaton and neither are all the millions of good people in this world who would never think of murdering and raping. Removing the much smaller segment of our society that does would not make us all machines. Come on, Dennis, this is one of the most ridiculous defenses of Godís existence I have yet encountered. It almost says: there is†a God because the world is such a horrible place.
(This question of God protecting everyone can lead down some very interesting avenues. Suppose God provided a world without evil. Would it also be a world without tragedy? Would a small child still be able to wander into a backyard with a swimming pool and drown? Would planes still crash? Could Christopher Reeves still break his neck? Cancer, AIDS, and other disease? All of these things are terrible when they happen. Is it probable that if there were a God and He was concerned that we not suffer He would have created a limited set of Humans who would never die, but live for all time?)
IN THE BEGINNING
Allow me now to consider God in the Beginning.
He is--- where?
In a place?
Is it a place like the Garden of Eden, a huge universe sized paradise?
Or is it a void?
Did God exist only as a powerful force, not material in any way, but a timeless entity transcending time and place?
What urge struck Him to create the universe?
What thought tickled Him to create Human Beings?
Was He lonely?
Did He need something to care for?
Out of what motive did He cause the earth to appear?
Alone in His timeless void, did He have visions of sunsets and music and elephants and flowers and fish, all the beauties of the planet Earth?
How came these visions to Him from this senseless void?
What made Him reach out a finger and touch life into the Universe?
He has created Man and all the animals and birds that roam the earth.
What does He want?
Did he create Man merely to obey Him and worship Him?
All else is unimportant to Him?
Did a God who could create DNA, hearts, lung and brain fail to create decency and goodness?
Did Godís power end when Man breathed his first breath?
Did He retreat in horror and sadness back to His void, defeated by this failure?
Or. . . is this what He wanted?
Perhaps he succeeded.
Perhaps this Creation is precisely what he wanted.
Is there a God who likes what He sees when He gazes down from the Heavens?
Or is the Earth and all of its Human miseries irrelevant to Him?
Is a manís life only the blink of an eye, and then there is Heaven, where real life begins?
An eternity of comfort and joy in the bosom of God?
And if Iím wrong? If, after I die, I find myself facing the immense figure of God, realizing that only now comes the choice between an eternity of Heaven and Hell? All I can do is quote my motherís words when religious friends ask what she will do when she has to face God:
"I will have a lot more to say to him than he has to say to me!"