The Emptiness of the Word “God” after the Holocaust

Can one reasonably believe in God–or even define the word God–after the Holocaust?

The Holocaust certainly seems to have undermined the notion that God is all good and powerful, and loves all people–for He did not lift a finger to save the Jews.

So even the very definitions of God, good, and love must necessarily be fuzzied-up after the Holocaust–if one is still to believe in God at all.

Notice, for example, that the ad hoc explanation, “God loves all people, but works in mysterious and complicated ways,” when deployed by the theist, doesn’t clarify God, but brings God’s definition into a softer and more elusive focus. It makes God more confusing, complicated, and distant from human language and human sensibilities. God becomes less akin to a gate and more akin to an aporia (an impass); something Kafkaesque.

And if the believer has a problem with the (unverifiable) ad hoc explanations on offer, it’s her problem, not God’s. The burden of proof shifts away from the God thesis and onto the wavering believer: “Do you think, o sulfurous worm, that you can stand in judgment of God’s wisdom surrounding the Holocaust? You are to answer to God, God doesn’t have to answer to you!”

In this way, “God loves all people,” especially after the Holocaust, takes on a certain meaninglessness in the real world, not just because there’s no way to reality test it, but because it doesn’t make a difference (save psychologically, within the soft-focused believer) to any conceivable situation. The Holocaust can happen, but “God loves all people.” Rape can be left out of The Ten Commandments, but “God loves all people.” There’s always some strained and lurking ad hoc explanation for why such things can hold together.

Prayer is another example. “God answers prayer.” “God hears your prayers.” These claims dissolve on the least scrutiny. Look too closely at such statements, and the plain sense of them starts to slam into contradictions with other things said about God–or what you know or would reasonably predict based on them. (One would think, for instance, that God would have heard and answered the prayers of Holocaust victims before fretting about a contemporary person’s prayer to stop a runny nose).

The believer’s focus thus has to fog, ultimately, into mystery, complication, and cognitive dissonance. For religion to function, God has to act like “a black cat in a black room that isn’t there,” and the believer has to exercise faith in the mirage-like, ad hoc, explanations on offer for why the cat never behaves in a predictable way or gets caught. Thus the virtue of the believer is to go on believing in God even after things like the Holocaust. It is a virtue of faith not to be swayed by your external circumstances. Indeed, that’s what faith is. That’s what religious metaphysics is. You go on believing where others have looked at outward circumstances and abandoned belief.

This is why the theist’s emphasis on utterly walling metaphysics and theology off from empiricism and reality testing functions as just another iteration on this black cat in a black room game. Metaphysics and theology unhinged from empiricism and reality testing become the revelatory scene from Mad Men, in which Don Draper realizes that, if the Feds say you can’t make real-world health claims in ads about tobacco anymore, and you’ve got a half dozen competitors in the same regulatory boat, then “This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We can say anything we want!” (See the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GALMX2BO5ps .)

This is the theist’s charmed situation when walled-off from history, reality testing, and empiricism by metaphysics and theology: he can say anything he wants. He can build a system and ad campaign for God (a word always ill-defined, functioning like a brand), and in the competition for followers and converts, whoever can come up with the most pleasing, elaborate, coherent, and ad hoc patchwork of explanations for why God remains hidden and silent in the cosmos wins.

What is won is not the truth, but converts. Sales.

But when the onion layers of fuzzy definition, system-building divorced from reality testing, rationalization, and justification are peeled away, what remains at the core is nothing.

Metaphysics and theology are the pretty packaging of nothing. The way theists grapple with the Holocaust–or simply ignore it (!)–exposes this.

 

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, edward feser, God, God, philosophy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to The Emptiness of the Word “God” after the Holocaust

  1. Mary says:

    This is very well written and I have struggled for years with how religious people can believe what they do. Many are educated, intelligent and use critical thinking in other aspects of their lives. I think it is because people want and need to fit into a group…almost gang mentality where they are safe among like minded individuals. And I also think it’s pure laziness, where it is simply too much effort to research, investigate and critical think about this myth of a God who loves all people, as a brief study of history proves otherwise and a God who answers all prayers, as any study of hospitals, wars, major weather events and infant mortality to name a few, proves otherwise. This need to feel righteous and “chosen” overrides any reasonable quest for reality and logic.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mary,

      You rightly note that many religious people are educated, intelligent and use critical thinking. Why do you just assume that they become mind-numbed zombies on the subject of religion. Maybe they have good reasons to believe as they do.
      I wonder if you have put in the effort to “research, investigate and critically think” about God?

      The “problem of evil” is not a new subject. St Augustine wrote about it circa 400AD. That’s a good place to start.

      But consider this in the meantime. If there is no God, then there really is no universal standard of good and evil.

      You may have the opinion that the Holocaust was evil, but why is your opinion any different than the Nazis who considered they were doing something good for humankind.
      You like bananas in your breakfast cereal, Joe likes to strangle hitchhikers….its all the same…. a mere subjective matter of taste.

      That’s why I think the “problem of evil” is fatal to atheism.

      • Mary says:

        I disagree that the problem of evil is fatal to atheism. I think it’s ultimately fatal to religion, at least the “personal kind of God” religion. My parents, brothers, my husband and most of my friends and myself are all atheists and we all know right from wrong. Many of the so called religious people running for president right now are the biggest hypocrites and lack common decency and empathy for others that are different than themselves and they say it is their “beliefs” that make them feel as they do. Where is the “good” in that? But to a point, the old golden rule says it all and no one has to be religious to follow that. I know many people that are spiritual, but don’t necessarily believe in God and these are some of the kindest most accepting of others people I’ve known. We all know good from evil, we just chose to act otherwise and it has nothing to do with some mindset that you acquire by being religious.

      • Anonymous says:

        Mary,

        You missed my point.

        You claim that you, your relatives and friends, all atheists, know right from wrong. But as an atheist you’ve surrendered the intellectual claim that there can be a universal “right” or “wrong”.
        You’re correct that atheists can be kind and lead a moral life, but an atheist can be consistent with his philosophy and be a mass murderer also. Morality means doing what you should do, but without God, who decides what you should do? It’s no accident that millions died under Stalin’s and Mao’s atheist states. As an atheist, you have no basis to condemn them.

        So, if you want to be an intellectually consistent atheist, you would have to admit that morality is merely a matter of taste. Perhaps you dislike murdering people, but perhaps others like murdering. Why would you think you’re on the “right” side of something that is merely a subjective preference.

      • makagutu says:

        I don’t see your justification for why the problem of evil is fatal to atheism. You say a good place to start would be Augustine. I propose we start with Epicurus.
        Why do you think if there was a god there would be a universal standard for good? Or do you mean to say then that good is whatever the gods command?

      • makagutu says:

        In your second response to Mary you arrive at very wrong conclusions and make statements without any basis in fact.
        First you claim

        But as an atheist you’ve surrendered the intellectual claim that there can be a universal “right” or “wrong”.

        How is this so? The only thing she has done is to reject the idea of gods and their relationship with morality if any. If there is a universal wrong or good, which you are yet to give an example of, we can see whether she rejects it or not.

        Next you say

        You’re correct that atheists can be kind and lead a moral life, but an atheist can be consistent with his philosophy and be a mass murderer also.

        that an atheist is a mass murderer doesn’t make atheism false. You would have to show the association between their murdering and their atheism

        You again claim

        t’s no accident that millions died under Stalin’s and Mao’s atheist states. As an atheist, you have no basis to condemn them.

        while accepting they were atheists, they were not killing in its name. They were dictators. Totalitarians. It is that ideology they killed for. They were not advancing atheism and your argument is thus false. Yes, she and any atheist can condemn them.

        And whereas it is possible to admit we could be wrong, morality is subjective.

      • Anonymous says:

        Makagutu,

        If you are suggesting that atheists believe there is an objective, universal standard of good and evil, then please tell me what that standard is and why it should be a standard.

        Nietzsche was unblinking in following the logical conclusion if there is no God:
        http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/pillars_nietzsche.htm

        I merely pointed to Augustine to help Mary see how educated, intelligent and critically thinking people could believe in God. If you’ve only read Epicurius and not Augustine, then you probably wouldn’t understand either.

        “that an atheist is a mass murderer doesn’t make atheism false.”

        Please reread what I wrote. I didn’t make the claim that and atheist mass murderer made atheism false. I did make the claim that since atheists cannot claim something is “Good” or “Evil” the philosophy can allow murder as not being “Evil”. Now people who claim to be religious can be mass murderers also and that doesn’t mean that religion is false either. However, it does mean that that religious person is doing something not allowed by his professed philosophy….he is doing something “Evil” and his philosophy condemns it.

        “while accepting they were atheists, they were not killing in its name. They were dictators. Totalitarians. It is that ideology they killed for. They were not advancing atheism and your argument is thus false. Yes, she and any atheist can condemn them. ”

        Once again, my argument is that “Good” or “Evil” for an intellectually consistent atheist is nonsense. According to Nietzsche it is only who has the power to enforce his will that determines what will or will not be done. Stalin and Mao had the power, so accordingly, the set the rules and this is perfectly in line with their philosophy. Now as an atheist, you can say you condemn it, but that is rather like me condemning you for liking liver and onions (I hate them!)….merely a matter of preference.

        ” morality is subjective.”

        I’m pleased to see that finally you agree with me.

      • makagutu says:

        You have again said things I didn’t say.

        You may have to show me where I suggested or even implied

        If you are suggesting that atheists believe there is an objective, universal standard of good and evil, then please tell me what that standard is and why it should be a standard.

        that is a claim you are making, not me. And maybe you may have to start by giving examples of these objective standards.

        You are not being truthful when you say

        did make the claim that since atheists cannot claim something is “Good” or “Evil” the philosophy can allow murder as not being “Evil”. Now people who claim to be religious can be mass murderers also and that doesn’t mean that religion is false either

        since the bible or the Koran have verses calling for murder of non believers alongside those condemning murder. We would excuse the atheist for being ignorant. The believer on the other hand will be following the dictates of his/ her religion.

        I think here is

        Once again, my argument is that “Good” or “Evil” for an intellectually consistent atheist is nonsense.

        where you miss the point. Good and bad make no sense if taken out of human experience. In human experience and relationships, they matter. Treated as you seem to, as things with an objective existence out of human experience, then they are useless.

        I have never said at any time that morality is not subjective.

    • Anonymous says:

      Makaguta,

      You said:

      “You have again said things I didn’t say.

      You may have to show me where I suggested or even implied

      If you are suggesting that atheists believe there is an objective, universal standard of good and evil, then please tell me what that standard is and why it should be a standard.”

      Please notice that I used “if” in my response, so I didn’t accuse you of anything. I’m glad you cleared it up, because I was unsure of your position when you challenged this statement of mine:

      “But as an atheist you’ve surrendered the intellectual claim that there can be a universal “right” or “wrong”.”

      Can I now assume you agree with the statement?

      It also seems that you do not challenge that an atheism can allow murder as morally acceptable behavior and be intellectually consistent. Is that correct?

      Perhaps you’re correct that some religions allow murder also, but the Jewish and Christian faiths do not. Murder is forbidden in the ten commandments. So let me narrow my claims down to these 2.

      I’ll let you explain how I’m missing the point about how “Good” and “Evil” can be relative, subjective and pretty much a matter of taste for each individual, yet still “matter”. Does you mean it matters, but only to me? Or do you mean that my preferences as an atheist should matter to others?

      My original point was that “The Problem of Evil” is a problem for Atheism more so than for Theists. Atheists, like Santi, actually do recognize that the Holocaust was truly “Evil”. So much so, that he opines that one should not believe in God because it was so horrendous.

      But he does knows in his heart that it was truly “Evil” even though his philosophical atheism (if he was a true believer) allows it. So for an atheist to use “Evil” as an argument against theists it intellectually dishonest. It won’t do to go on beating someone with a stick that you claim doesn’t exist.

      • makagutu says:

        It’s Makagutu not makaguta🙂

        I am not sure what this

        But as an atheist you’ve surrendered the intellectual claim that there can be a universal “right” or “wrong”.

        means. You care to elaborate?
        You might have to show where I don’t challenge

        It also seems that you do not challenge that an atheism can allow murder as morally acceptable behavior and be intellectually consistent. Is that correct?

        Atheism is lack of belief in deities. It makes no moral claims. Your question doesn’t make sense.
        I agree murder is forbidden in the ten commandments but we have their god commanding murder of everyone of the Canaanites or proposing smashing of babies against rocks. You will find those in the good book, just read it.
        It matters because we are all human beings. And it is subjective because it depends on a knowing subject to make the distinction.
        Problem of evil is not a problem for atheism. The atheist believes the universe is indifferent to our feelings. I think maybe you don’t know what the problem of evil is.

      • Anonymous says:

        Oops, sorry Makagutu.

        Perhaps we agree with each other without realizing it.

        You say:
        “I have never said at any time that morality is not subjective.”

        Since there are 2 negatives in this statement can I interpret the meaning as:
        “I have said that morality is subjective.” ?

        If so, then we are in agreement.

        My assertion is that since atheism holds the universe is meaningless, everything in the universe is meaningless and so humans also are meaningless. To assign credit or blame to meaningless things is irrational. So it follows that whatever actions humans perform, they cannot be either good or evil. Any assignment of good or bad to actions of meaningless things is purely a matter of taste then or subjective….you like green, I prefer red.

        So atheists cannot condemn any behavior as being morally unacceptable and are hypocrites when they do so (and they do so constantly). Tell me then, do you think the Holocaust was absolutely “evil”?

        Followers of the 10 commandments are forbidden to murder. If they were to murder someone they would be in violation of their belief system. Murder is the unjust killing of an innocent person. Killing combatants in a war and execution of criminals has never been considered murder. However, all of these distinctions are part of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition which atheists reject. So again, an atheist cannot judge any of this as being morally acceptable or not.

  2. Eneraldo Carneiro says:

    If “god loves you”, but also “has mysterious ways”, ergo Holocaust, it means those who speak God this God that really don’t know what they are talking about, do they?

  3. makagutu says:

    Great post. I think it is a mystery that people can still believe after an event like the Holocaust. Maybe for most it is so distant it could as well have not happened. Nothing has happened close to them that would make them ask why has god been deaf to their cries

  4. Anonymous says:

    The horrific blight on humanity from the Holocaust goes without saying. Hardly anyone will disagree that it is an example of “evil.” So, how do we, explain it, but, maybe more importantly, where do we put the blame on it happening? Some people don’t care about it, some people deny it happened, some people say it was God’s punishment, atheists deny a God had anything to do with it, a theist struggles with God’s lack of intervention, a deist would say it is a result of God’s gift of man’s free agency and God is not to blame.
    Here is how I have kept my sanity in living in this life. First off, if there is no God or life after death then this life is meaningless and there is no good or evil. On the Holocaust I’m leaning more towards the deist camp. I believe God set-up creation with physical laws that applies to everyone. He then gave everyone free agency to exist within these laws. This is how God loves everyone. What I have also done is to expand my perception beyond this limited time we live upon this earth. I believe there is an eternal purpose for this earth life to the point that no matter how terrible the Holocaust was, it just doesn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things. This does not mean I have a lack of compassion for the suffering of others. Indeed, I would do what God would not do (or cannot do)…..I would stop the child from running into the street and being hit by a car.
    Last thought (mine)…. I believe there is no tragedy, no accident, and no human atrocity that God cannot make right in the hereafter. Vincent

  5. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You write to Mary the following: “[A]s an atheist you’ve surrendered the intellectual claim that there can be a universal ‘right’ or ‘wrong,'” but I think Makagutu nicely retorted with Epicurus: does God affirm the good for warranted reasons–or out of whimsy? What say you?

    And doesn’t the Holocaust disqualify appeal to God for a reasoned affirmation of the good? In other words, if God can still be “good” after the Holocaust, good must be taking on a meaning in reference to God that is beyond human comprehension. Good becomes ill-defined because “God” and “God-as-good” are necessarily ill-defined and mysterious. Miracle, mystery, and authority should not be used as place-markers for reasoned arguments.

    Also, the atheist has a plausible retort for what’s good, even absent metaphysics: our evolved empathy. We’re more like bonobos, not sharks. In other words, though we can’t ground the good in universal law or authority, we can nevertheless ground it in the history and experience of the vast majority of evolved human beings, most of whom, save for psychopaths, are endowed with three traits in common: imagination, empathy, and mortality. (Psychopaths have only two of these.) By imaginative sympathy–recognizing that we are all in the same mortal boat and can live better, and with less suffering, when we are in solidarity, cooperating and trading with one another–we can get pretty far morally. This is true even though we may not have an explicit metaphysical/theoretical speculation that we agree on, grounding our ethics.

    And we don’t need to treat God as a totalitarian and invisible cop or Santa Claus, either, knowing when we’re naughty or nice–to do nice and cooperative things.

    One should also recall that, in ancient times, people imagined an invisible cop on the beat because the law was less systematic and intrusive. Today, we have real and reliable penal consequences we can lay on people who egregiously or habitually abuse the cooperative order (steal, freeload on the system, etc.). There are plenty of flesh-and-blood cops on the beat. We don’t need the “plus” of a ghost cop. And real cops are supported by an elaborate legal system. One needn’t imagine trouble in an afterlife to do conventionally good things here and now.

    So that’s my trinity for generally good moral outcomes: imagination, empathy, and mortality–backed by secular law for those who can’t get to moral outcomes on their own. It strikes me as a better trinity than miracle, mystery, and authority–supported by a ghost cop.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think some people really don’t want to find out why educated, intelligent and critically thinking people believe in God. I also think some people are actually curious. That’s why I addressed my response to Mary.

    So Mary,

    Here is something specific and short that you can take a look at that will give some of the answers to your question:
    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/evil.htm

    Santi,

    Thank you for confirming my assertion that atheists have no basis for morality other than a personal preference to be a bonobo rather than a shark. Or do you claim that being a shark is “Evil” and immoral?

    But why do you feel that being a bonobo is “good”? Is it because you were made that way? Perhaps by a “ghost-cop”?

  7. Mary says:

    I thought of an analogy today that may be over simplified, but may explain my point. Imagine two of the most delicious, rich, moist chocolate cakes ( two universes and more specifically two Earths). One is baked with love from Momma ( God) for everyone to partake in for all time. The another one is completely identical in every way and is also for everyone to partake in for all time, but this second one appeared by the laws of physics and natural causes.

    These cakes and what can be enjoyed endlessly are completely identical. But one is perceived with meaning and purpose because it was made with love by Momma (God).

    To me that explains why “anonymous” and many people regardless of their particular religious beliefs, prefer the one made by Momma. Each cake, however, has some evil pieces and yes, precisely because of free will. Some pieces will be spoiled, may give children cancer, may kill you or tens of thousands and millions of others over the ages, will experience meaningless horrific lives. It will depend on which slice was there when you took it and the choices surrounding your selection. In each cake, the people will decide over millennia the best choices and how to eat their pieces to further cooperation for the advancement and protection of their cultures and civilizations. The golden rule will be obvious, but not always followed. And this will be in either cake whether Momma set up universal good and evil or not. The end result will be identical, because the people will decide or strive for what works best for them as a whole. Good and evil will be there regardless.

    If God indeed designed good and evil, he might want to rethink it and perhaps look in his own mirror and see if he could have done a better, kinder job.

    But the real allure is the promise of an after life with the cake made by Momma, if Momma really made it. To me, the dread of non existence, the hope for a better life (hard to do with all five senses missing) and the desire to “see” loved ones again is the driving force behind all religion.

  8. Pingback: the problem of evil | Random thoughts

  9. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You write to me: “Thank you for confirming my assertion that atheists have no basis for morality other than a personal preference to be a bonobo rather than a shark. Or do you claim that being a shark is ‘Evil’ and immoral?”

    Sharks are not immoral. I’m okay with not having a metaphysical ground for affirming cooperation (bonobo behavior) over competition (shark behavior). I’m prepared to embrace the contingent nature of our experience in time and space.

    So I’d ask you to think about time and context–and the gambit (evolutionary strategy) each organism puts forward in each moment–in relation to right and wrong.

    Time and environmental context complexify any attempt to locate in a timeless eternity “what one should do.”

    Think of cooking. You have a kitchen in time and space, and perhaps you have a cookbook written fifty years ago in a cupboard. So here you are in contemporary time and space, with people in different moods for different foods. This complexifies any attempt to decide on the best recipe to follow in an old cookbook–or whether you should just wing-it.

    The cookbook can’t tell you what to do in the next moment. As with nature, its “is” doesn’t tell you your next “ought.” Likewise, metaphysics and popes can’t tell you, once and for all, if gay marriage is a good or bad thing for our present moment in history.

    Perhaps you know Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, where a man presumes that he’s helping people, but historical contingencies keep upending his good deeds. You never know how the outcome of your behavior (selfish or unselfish) is going to play out in time and space. All you have is the gambit.

    Think of Jesus’s gambit. He thought he would start a religion emphasizing nonviolence and non-possession of worldly goods. These seemed like right actions for him to conduct at the time. But who knew that Christianity, sparked by a wandering Jew preaching nonviolence and non-possession, would iterate into a religion that became vociferously antisemitic and laden with gold for the better part of two millennia, demonizing Jews as Christ killers, and thereby setting the stage for the Holocaust?

    Jesus might have thought twice about what constituted “right action” for him if he knew how his actual actions would play out in time and space.

    Every human action runs away from us in time, in terms of our control of consequences–a butterfly effect. Time deeply problematizes metaphysical and authoritarian claims and generalizations surrounding what’s (supposedly) “good.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Santi,

      Let’s stop using bonobos and sharks then if there is no moral difference between them. After all, it seems you’re stacking the deck by calling one set of beings a name that most people are terrified of. Let’s call one a cuddly kitten and the other a cuddly puppy. In fact, let’s call them all cuddly kittens since there is no difference between them.

      MW definition of a gambit:
      “a planned series of moves at the beginning of a game of chess”

      But of course, evolution is a mindless random process that cannot by definition plan a series of moves. It is nonsense to talk of an “evolutionary strategy” or “gambit” since this is a contradiction in terms. Evolution does nothing for your argument.

      I guess since you have evolved above morality like Nietzsche you consider it OK to make up stories in order to reach your goals. I guess the ends justify the means for the ubermensch.

  10. Mary says:

    Anonymous…why do you believe that a God has set a universal standard of good and evil, if he has given us free will? Would not that standard then be left to cultures and civilizations here and other sentient beings, if they exist elsewhere in the Universe? What difference does it really make in the long run who sets it up? It will always be determined, through much blood shedding, social conciousness and personal growth of a civilization, what is in the best interest of the whole. It’s certainly not an easy task with many ups and downs. God would certainly set up the good and evil standard to benefit his people in the long run, as would the people themselves decide in the long run. It would ultimately be the same. The whole point of free will is for us to finally “get it” in regards to good and evil and to have arrived at that enlightenment ourselves. We may never get there, but the idea of it and the striving for it would be the same as what God would set up.

    I have also struggled with does life have meaning being an atheist? For me, I’ve had a very happy meaningful life and I see much meaning in life all around for all of us, individually, if we can recognize it and appreciate it for what it is. But a universal meaning…I doubt it, but does it really matter? Why do you need a universal meaning to live a full, content and grateful life? And why is the afterlife so important to you? To what purpose would that be, bearing in mind that it would go on for billions and trillions of years and then into infinity of time itself. Personally after a few thousand years, I’d be all right already enough!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi Mary,

    I believe in objective good. What is good for something is for it change from what it is, to it’s natural end according to it’s nature. So for an acorn, it is good for it to have water and sunshine so it can change into an oak tree.

    Humans as you note have free will, so they can choose to do things that are not good. If you are familiar with addiction, you know that addicts are being destructive to themselves and others, but they cling onto the addiction regardless. It is better for them if they pursue wisdom rather than that destructive momentary pleasure.

    This is what is known as natural law. If we are normal, we know what is right if not always perfectly. This is every bit as much a part of our nature as having 2 legs and 2 arms. We are built that way even though we can choose to fight it or give into the temptations of the moment. When we do something to prevent good (or do not do good when we should), then that is what we call evil. It’s sort of like a hole in the donut. You only notice it because there is no donut in that location.

    So the question for this natural law is the same for all the laws of the universe. Where did these laws ultimately come from? Why are these laws here and what is their purpose?

    You have pondered if life has any meaning. But if you are truly an atheist, then the answer has to be “of course not.” Your existence is a mere unnoticable glitch in the vast chasm of nothingness. All the love you’ve given and experienced, all nothingness. All of that is precisely the same value as if you had been Hitler yourself.

    I don’t think that my love is or will be wasted. Nor can I accept that love is equivalent to murdering people. I am not built that way.

    I also don’t think you’ve heard of the Beatific Vision if you think that the afterlife will just be reruns of the present life. You should find out about it….the sequel is better than the original😉

    Thanks for your thoughtful questions.

  12. koppieop says:

    ….All the love you’ve given and experienced, all nothingness. All of that is precisely the same value as if you had been Hitler yourself….
    Is this, by ANY standard, a good comparison? If so, it doesn’t seem very polite – to say the least.

    • Anonymous says:

      koppieop,

      I’m sorry if it sounds impolite but I am merely presenting the logical conclusion that Nietzsche reached if atheism is true. It may be unpleasant, but that is what you are committed to if you truly believe in atheism.

      As Dostoevsky wrote:

      “Without God everything is permissible.”

  13. koppieop says:

    Allright Anonymous, you may not have meant to be impolite. But I was annoyed by the comparison of Hitler with [almost :-)] any person. He could not have been mentioned by Nietzsche, could he?.
    You do not seem to know, but you can LEARN that atheism is not a belief. It is a lack of belief (in a supernatural being). That is precisely what most, if not all, atheists brought up in a religious environment, have LEARNED
    Excuse the capitals, I don’t know how to underline text here.-

  14. Anonymous says:

    Koppieop,

    If you had read the original blog post and all of the comments I think you can see why Hitler and Nazi’s are part of the discussion. The author wants to use Hitler as an argument for atheism and against theism. My argument is that the existence of “Evil” is really a problem for atheism rather than theism.

    In case you missed this from above, this link is a summary of how intellectually honest atheists have to admit where their logic ends:

    “Nietzsche was unblinking in following the logical conclusion if there is no God:
    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/pillars_nietzsche.htm

    I know that some atheists say that atheism is not a belief, but instead is a lack of belief. But usually the people I talk to who lack belief have called themselves agnostics. Folks who believed there is not God called themselves atheists (they are certain in this belief).

    This is from Merriam Webster:
    a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
    b : the doctrine that there is no deity

    I understand why atheists do not want to admit a belief, because then they would be required to defend the belief. And this particular belief is very, very difficult to defend.

    I hope you don’t think that I am accusing you personally or Mary or of anyone in this blog of being like Hitler. I don’t think most people have examined their belief system critically and instead breath in the prevailing zeitgeist. I admire you for taking an interest and responding.

    (Don’t worry about the caps. I wish I knew how to underline and italicize too.)

  15. koppieop says:

    Anonymous, thanks for your clarification that mentioning Hitler was not meant personally, but he should be left out of the religious thread of this discussion. Hitler, (as well as Mao, Stalin and any other mass murderers) did so in the name of an ideology, not because they didn’t care about God [which does not make them conscious atheists..

    …I understand why atheists do not want to admit a belief, because then they would be required to defend the belief. And this particular belief is very, very difficult to defend…
    Any belief is diffcult to defend, precisely because it is a belief. One believes something or or one doesn’t, there’s no middle way. There is no need for defending a lack of belief.

    .. I don’t think most people have examined their belief system critically ..
    Simply refusing to go to church doesn’t make a person an atheist (or agnostic); they will not even be interested in an exchange of ideas on this subject. Religious people will not understand why I have stopped believing, whereas I do understand why they believe. With the indispensable help of critical thinking only.

    • Anonymous says:

      Koppieop,

      I’m afraid that we’ll have to agree to disagree about leaving names of famous people and events out of this discussion as the author has made that rather central to his argument.

      I think that perhaps you also missed my post of February 29, 2016 at 1:01 pm wrt to Mao and Stalin. My point was that regardless of their belief system, an intellectually honest atheist cannot condemn their acts as being absolutely evil.

      Also, could you clarify what you mean by them not being “conscious atheists”, I don’t understand the phrase.

      Wouldn’t you agree that the name of the ideology they murdered people in the name of was Communism and central to communism is atheism?

      This from Wikipedia:
      Marxism–Leninism holds that religion is the opium of the people, in the sense of promoting passive acceptance of suffering on Earth in the hope of eternal reward. Therefore, Marxism–Leninism advocates the abolition of religion and the acceptance of atheism.[4]

      So I’m not sure you can convince me that atheism and the belief that “Without God everything is permissible” had no influence on them or their followers.

      When you say this:
      “There is no need for defending a lack of belief.”

      Do you mean that as an atheist, you do not have to defend atheism? If so, I challenge that idea. Atheists do have a belief…..they believe there is no God. This is clear from the dictionary definition. I don’t think a critically thinking person would accept that a theist just lacks belief in atheism any more than they would accept that an atheist just lacks belief in theism. Both sides have beliefs and propositions they hold as being the truth.

      “Religious people will not understand why I have stopped believing, whereas I do understand why they believe. With the indispensable help of critical thinking only.”

      Maybe you do know how the particular religious people you are familiar with think and you do understand why they believe what they do. If you told me what you used to believe, chances are pretty good that I wouldn’t believe most or all of it either. So I probably would understand why you stopped believing if you told me. But I don’t think you understand why I believe what I do.

  16. makagutu says:

    Anon, I hope you will be able to see this response.

    You say the atheist holds life to be meaningless, but you don’t qualify that statement which makes it a misrepresentation. Most if not all the atheists I know insist their lives and those of others have some meaning to them. But to the universe, they argue one life is as good as another. Basically nature doesn’t care, that it is if it can care, about whether it is Mary or Makagutu.

    How would you say an atheist cannot condemn an action? Aren’t they knowing subjects? What is your understanding of human nature? You claim to have read Nietzsche but I am not sure you understood him. He was vehemently opposed to the pessimism of Schopenhauer who he considered a great philosopher. Humans had to create new meaning in a life without gods.

    You must be implying the killing of the Canaanite children was not murder. You really are a strange fellow. I guess you haven’t read the good book.

    In Brothers Karamazov, which you quote above, Ivan doesn’t say that and Dostoevsky did not write it. But I would say on the contrary that with god everything is permissible. You want to kill your child, you heard god speak to you in a voice, you want to kill an apostate, you are doing it in the name of god.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hi Makagutu,

    Thanks for the reply.

    In the post you are replying to, I asked if we were in agreement when I understood you as saying that morality is subjective and if we were in agreement. I can’t figure out from your reply if you agreed or not. Could you please answer so I can understand your position?

    I also made an assertion in order to establish a baseline that we could use to further discussion. You say that I misrepresented the atheist position, so I’m interested in exploring that.

    Here it is again and I’ll number the phrases so you can tell me exactly where you disagree:

    1) My assertion is that since atheism holds the universe is meaningless, 2) everything in the universe is meaningless 3) and so humans also are meaningless. 4) To assign credit or blame to meaningless things is irrational. 5) So it follows that whatever actions humans perform, they cannot be either good or evil. 6) Any assignment of good or bad to actions of meaningless things is purely a matter of taste then or subjective….you like green, I prefer red.

    Atheists may dislike the conclusions, but if you follow the logic, the conclusions are inescapable. The author of the article agrees with this. Why don’t you?

    You can refer to my post of March 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm to Mary to get a basic understanding of my view of human nature. What is your view?

    “You must be implying the killing of the Canaanite children was not murder. You really are a strange fellow. I guess you haven’t read the good book”

    Do you believe all killing is murder and there is no such thing as lawful killing? If so, then, since I do believe that killing can be lawful under certain circumstances we disagree. Do you think all people that agree with me are strange? Do you find in the Bible where it states that this incident was unlawful? Please provide the passage.

    Regarding Dostoevsky, do you speak Russian? Is this not the phrase from the original language?:

    Без бога всё позволено

    If so, then you should lodge a complaint with Google translate, not me.

    Finally, I will ask again. Do you think the Holocaust was absolutely “evil”?

    • North Charlton says:

      “If you are suggesting that atheists believe there is an objective, universal standard of good and evil, then please tell me what that standard is and why it should be a standard.”

      It is amazing how often you formulate that question one way or another, only to have an accusatory diversion thrown back at you. They seem to imagine that “objective” merely means some attitude factually existing in their own heads, or demonstrable as a community choice which they and some others have really made, or some feeling they enjoy or which gives them subjective feelings of satisfaction.

      It is almost as if the notion of an in principle indubitable inter-subjective reality, which in the case of “moral principles” carries or implies a universal intellectual recognition mandate on the part of a rational human being properly presented with it, is a notion which so frightens them that they dare not even explicitly deny it.

      Reminds me of the nature of arguments over what constitutes a human law, and whether a “law” that does not demand recognition, compliance, or obedience to its pronouncements, can actually be said to be anything of a law at all.

      They argue they have feelings of some kind, and presumably that these tend to produce results that they or their circle of interest personally find pleasing. What do they say to someone who says, : “So what if you do? I, or we, don’t.”

      It seems that they cannot find any grounds to say that someone who mocks or ignores their squeals of pain, is blameworthy in some wider obligatory-to-recognize context.

      • Anonymous says:

        Santi,

        In the post you are replying to, my complaint was that you were ascribing to evolution purposeful goals. If there is no God, then there is no purpose and therefore evolution can have no purpose. Isn’t this exactly what atheists hold and isn’t it the definition of evolution that it has no purpose? Yet in this latest response, you merely repeat that evolution has gambits.

        You’ve already admitted that you make up your own morality like the ubermensch, but in addition to that, you are now making up your own private words.

        I’m afraid I don’t have access to your own personal dictionary, so it makes it really hard to interact with you.

        So please answer this :
        How can you as an atheist, condemn the Holocaust as unmitigated evil?

  18. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You wrote: “I guess the ends justify the means for the ubermensch.”

    This is pure projection on your part, for this is exactly the argument I’m deploying at your deity. You are saying that God must ground goodness, but if God is a deity that is all powerful and good–and can, and does, interfere with history–then history must be going according to his will, in which case the Holocaust and 2004 Christmas tsunami that killed 200,000 people in a single day must be in keeping with God’s “goodness” and “ends.” God can let those things happen, still be good, and have a good end for history.

    Goodness, therefore, becomes Orwellian. It cannot mean anything in human terms, and so can’t help us ground our own actions. History has already foreclosed God as the ground for good action–and if you say this is not so, then tell me how God can be good and let the Holocaust happen.

    So bonobos, sharks, and evolutionary strategy in relation to morality can’t go away. God made them. If God exists, God used evolution (a process of variation that is weeded by mass death and violence) to create the biosphere and human population we see around us today. Each evolutionary strategy or variation in each moment is the gambit that organisms put forward on the chessboard we call the future. Each moment is a new state of play. How do you prescribe in advance what your move should be–especially if the advice is grounded in what was going on in some previous moment (a different state of play)?

    So what you’re not absorbing is that TIME renders two things ironic (and perhaps even impossible): (1) A is A; and (2) moral action can be prescribed in advance of history by either metaphysics or God (things outside of time).

    In other words: (1) any A you identify NOW cannot be self-same with itself in the next moment; and thus (2) any moral advice (“don’t masturbate; don’t let gays marry; don’t gossip; don’t lie”) you give in one moment, in the abstract, has in itself the potential of generating evil in the next moment. Good (A is A) can be turned on its head in the next moment by time (the environmental and historical context in which the abstract essence or principle shifts). In every living thing or principle in time, there is the potential for it to lapse into its opposite. And the longer time runs, the greater this potential becomes.

    Thus the abstract idea of God outside of time, and good, and creating a good creation (“Behold, it was good”), as time proceeds, reveals God to break bad, and shows his creation to break bad (in evolutionary violence, the Holocaust, the 2004 Christmas tsunami, etc.).

    So abstractions and “essences” brought into contact with time (history) bear in themselves the potential for unintented and unanticipated consequences.

    Thus it is that time has an ironic function. Time makes possible one’s moral choices, but also makes it impossible to guarantee them as good.

    There is no escape from time and history–except in personal death. Good action, however you define it in the abstract, cannot escape the possibility of generating a great evil in practice. And yet we must choose–because we are beings in time.

    Your wish to ground morality in metaphysics and God is your wish to escape time; to deny the ironic situation we are in as evolved and mortal animals that are still evolving.

  19. koppieop says:

    Allright Anonymous, what’s in a name. Whoever we refer to, did not order those executions BECAUSE OF their atheism. Almost sure to say that not even were they conscious of being atheists.

    Atheism central to communism?” – According to Wkipedia:…..Christian communism can be seen as a radical form of Christian socialism…..

    I find it semantically incorrect.to state that atheists ‘believe there is no God’. You believe in “something”.or you don’t..How can you possibly believe in “no something”?

    In my opinion, believers have faith in someone or something because they need that security. That is why I understand why you believe; you are, so to say, wired that way. As a kid in a Christian environment, I had to believe in God, no option. At the age of 16, 17, I did not feel any urge to be protected by a supernatural being. The group of neurons in my brain called reason, took over,and showed me that, due to its many obvious contradictions, that being must have made up by man. Very very easy to reject the idea. Evidently I was not wired to keep believing.

    Up to now, it was a pleasure to discuss this subject, but I’m afraid (or should I say I’m sure?) we will not come to a satisfactory conclusion, and i’m okay with that.
    Have a nice day – and, why not?, a nice life!.-
    . .. . ,

  20. North Charlton says:

    “Atheism central to communism?”

    Yes.

    “… atheism is humanism mediated with itself through the supersession of religion, whilst communism is humanism mediated with itself through the supersession of private property. Only through the supersession of this mediation – which is itself, however, a necessary premise – does positively self-deriving humanism, positive humanism, come into being.” Karl Marx

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hi Koppieop,

    Thank you for your interaction. It’s nice to be able to have civilized disagreements.

    I don’t expect a response to the following.

    This is the definition of belief from Wikipedia:
    “Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty”

    You see, we believe in propositions. So you believe in proposition “A”. I believe in proposition “B”. In this case “A” = “God does not exist” and “B”=”God exists”.

    “In my opinion, believers have faith in someone or something because they need that security. That is why I understand why you believe; you are, so to say, wired that way.”

    Aha! I was right that you don’t understand why I believe.
    My first thoughts leading me to the conclusion was the lack of chaos in the universe. It seemed like it was designed. It was later that I found this was one of the Quinque viae of classical theism.
    Later, I found the First Way was most persuasive after some study.

    I’ll bet you a nickel that you haven’t heard the real argument, so if you’re interested, take a look:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

    Koppieop, I don’t know about you, but I feel I’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion to the dialog. My goal was to have a nice discussion with you and I wasn’t disappointed. I wish you a nice life also, and (don’t take this the wrong way) God bless.

  22. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    With regard to the Holocaust, I cannot give you a speculative metaphysical system (theistic or otherwise) that grounds the wrongness of it. And God’s “goodness” doesn’t have any meaning after the Holocaust, so justification has to pass back to me, in my existential situation, as a contingent and evolved animal.

    So the Holocaust is wrong for me because, as a social animal and not a shark, I have mirror neurons, an empathic imagination, and recognize the Jews as part of my tribe (my circle of empathy). I am in solidarity with those who find themselves in the same fucked existential situation that I am in (an evolved animal, prone to mortality and suffering, on a rocky planet lost in deep space, with God not talking).

    Being akin to Charlton Heston in The Planet of the Apes, a sensitive person flung onto a planet and context hard to decode, that’s the best I can reasonably do for now. To pretend to know more about ultimate truth than I do is self-deception.

    This isn’t an irrational position or justification–it’s an honest one. Human beings have a problem: they want to see farther into the deepest truth of matters than they can, and so they make things up. A dishonest position is thus to express high confidence (100% or near !00%) in a metaphysical system that is actually speculative and absent evidence or the possibility of falsification, and ignore–completely ignore–our actual contingent situation in time.

    So what you have bracketed to the side, but which ought to be central to any discussion of morality (if it is to be placed on a rational footing), is this: morality evolves. We have desires for moral behavior because it serves our survival. If you ignore the historical situatedness of morality, and attempt to ground it in a speculative system outside of time, you’re actually missing the nearby cause that we can all actually see: we’re evolved social animals, we’re still evolving, and nobody is at the wheel.

    • Anonymous says:

      Santi,

      My point has been that you have raised “The Problem of Evil” objection against the existence of God. But you have to admit as an atheist, that the very Evil you bring as evidence against the existence of God does not exist. An impartial and sane judge in the case against God would have to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.

      I think the other’s posters here see the dilemma.

      If they insist that the Holocaust was unmitigated Evil, then they cannot rationally hold that there is not a universal moral law. By admitting there is actually a “Problem of Evil” they refute their own belief system.

      The other way to go and be rational would be to say that the Holocaust was not necessarily evil, but then they cannot use it as a complaint against God, because you know, it wasn’t evil.

      But some will choose to insist the evidence they deny exists still counts as evidence. I disagree that this is thinking critically or rationally.

      • North Charlton says:

        “other’s posters here see the dilemma.” [for those holding Tafarella’s view]

        That is true.

        “If they insist [those holding Tafarella’s view] that the Holocaust was unmitigated Evil, then they cannot rationally hold that there is not a universal moral law. By admitting there is actually a “Problem of Evil” they refute their own belief system.

        The other way to go and be rational would be to say that the Holocaust was not necessarily evil, but then they cannot use it as a complaint against God, because you know, it wasn’t evil.”

        That is a particularly good description of the self-refuting intellectual incoherence of Tafarella’s position, because it explicates the consequences for a rational actor should he, having denied an objective standard of value, then try to use it as an indictment of a supposedly negligent God. No objective standards, no genuine indictment … just a whine.

        The interpretive framework he attempts to erect collapses because of incompetent logical joinery. We see the same problem repeated in this remarkably illogical passage:

        ” … the Holocaust is wrong for me because, as a social animal and not a shark, I have mirror neurons, an empathic imagination, and recognize the Jews as part of my tribe (my circle of empathy). I am in solidarity with those who find themselves in the same fucked existential situation that I am in (an evolved animal, prone to mortality and suffering, on a rocky planet lost in deep space, with God not talking).”

        1. First let’s ignore the debatable contention of “God not talking”; since how God is presumed by believers to talk, through inspired scriptures perhaps, and what he has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” for example, could certainly sustain a case to the contrary; albeit a case that Tafarella would no doubt experience as emotionally unsatisfying.

        2. But the more egregious aspect is this: Either he concedes no ought implications anyone else need feel an obligation to take moral direction from follow from his reference to his own “mirror neurons”; or, alternatively, he is attempting to invoke a species character generalization which (at least at a glance, ostensibly) implies a universal performance duty based on that species configuration; in which case, Tafarella is breaking down the walls of the fact-value dichotomy which he has previously taken pains to build up.

        (There is also an issue here arising from his use of the term “recognize the Jews as part of my tribe”, but let’s sidestep it for the moment and merely assume he means “arbitrarily assign on the basis of a subjective impulse” when he says “recognize”; and that he does not mean to discover or re-cognize an objective universal term.)

        So, from the point of view of an observing rational actor with his own self-interests and aims, Tafarella is either purporting to stake moral claims based on objective species attributes common to all members of the moral species, on let’s say a generalization from his particular complement of “mirror neurons”; or, he is just doing what amounts to a describing of the color of his own hair or the state of his own neuroses.

        Speaking of which, with this Tafarella’s earlier noted tendency to insinuate that conclusions from premisses which he has previously stated are incapable of logically entailing them, is exhibited once again.

        With this phrase, ” I am in solidarity with those who find themselves in the same fucked existential situation …”, we observe that two-fold structural error being exhibited once again.

        First comes the highly dubious but supposed matter of fact. In this instance it’s the emotional impact of a supposedly “fucked existential situation”, which is untenably dragged out as a universal predicate.

        Next, in a Potemkin Village-like operation, a logical move which he has repeatedly denied exists in reality (i.e., the deriving of an objective and universal species ought from a species fact) is quite shamelessly mimicked. “No. I don’t say that these houses are real or that they will keep the rain off you …” he seems to say ” … but if you don’t look closely, isn’t the illusion pleasing?”

        This is simply not intellectual honesty; and a man who purports to be doing anything other than engaging in an ad hoc justification of his own wants and urges before a more justifiably indifferent world, should not be engaging in it.

        Finally, all issues of dubious predicates and illegal (per his own game rules) moves subsequently launched off them aside, there is the matter of “interests” which seem to play no conditioning role in the moral economy of Tafarella Land. Except that is, when it is implied that it is in the interest of a novel form to express itself; and the concomitant obligation of other forms already located in the environment to accommodate this supposed interest.

        In Tarafalla Land, “empathy” “identification”, “imagination” and sympathy seem to be due by and large only to the entropy causing and subversion inducing agents … if the term “agency” can even be used here.

        And in line with this last observation, it is also quite unclear as to just what constitutes, or where the agent is, in Tafarella’s world, located. In a sense, he demands that deposits be made to an account registered in the name of a largely illusory entity.

        “This is in aid of what universal interest?”, one wonders.

  23. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    As for the use of the term “gambit” for blind evolutionary variation, obviously it’s a metaphor. Mother Nature, in each moment, diffuses fresh balls (organisms) onto the roulette wheel of existence, which the contingent future then selects from. If you happen to have been cast in the 4 slot, when the wheel stops, you’re either a winner or a loser. Then it spins again, with fresh bets (fresh bait) put forward. It’s the yin-yang of the cosmos: gambles are laid down for selection in an uncertain future; a trace of those survive as the preserved memory from the past (for play again). It can be a DNA code, a cultural code, or a writer’s novel. And these are subject to change for survival (think “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”). Nature doesn’t miss a bet. That too is a metaphor.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Santi,

    Sorry, I tried really hard to see how randomness is a metaphor for strategic purpose, but it hurts my head. What is in common between chaos and purpose?

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