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Believers vs. Atheists -- An Appeasement

Updated on March 26, 2016
An Optimum Depiction
An Optimum Depiction

Is there any sort of appeasement between those who believe in God and atheists? I think there is. It takes both sides of the endless argument to give a little to reach a middle ground.


Atheists tend to hold their ground based upon the concept that there is no direct (scientific) proof of an external, supernatural force or forces governing our conduct. Believers tend to hold their ground on a matter of faith that God is as real as any scientific evidence. Many believers hold to the Bible as proof that God is as apparent as anything we might be able to perceive through our limited senses as human beings, e.g., the ability to touch, smell, see, hear the tangibility of God.

I propose a middle ground that is not uniquely my own invention.

What if both positions are equally correct? What if God and his evil equivalent do in fact exist but have embedded themselves within our minds? Atheists tend to hold their ground based upon the concept that there is no direct (scientific) proof of an external, supernatural force or forces governing our conduct.


A Simplified Example of Evil
A Simplified Example of Evil

I can't think of a single atheist who wouldn't admit that good and evil exist within us. They merely have to look around to see that both forms -- evil and benevolence -- occur around us simultaneously. The argument seems to flounder on whether there is an external force exerting its powers upon us. Let's put that argument aside for the moment.

Allow me to take this from the side of the believer, first of all. Believers often refer to the Bible in a literal context. We could spend an eternity debating what parts of the Bible are literal and which are allegorical. This line of argument is going to lead nowhere. If you are a believer and feel that you have the spirit of God within you, any arguments to the contrary are just going to seem abrasive and ignorant.

But, just give this a thought. What if the battle between good and evil (which I assume the Bible is all about) was channeled into your individual brain? This thought doesn't require you to dismiss or discount the existence of external entities having opposite purposes. The suggestion is what if the battle was purposely localized within ourselves.

If the contest is between good and evil, might it not be supplanted into the human mind and see how it plays out? Every individual would still face the same dilemma and choose goodness over evil or evil over goodness. We do seem to have some measure of free will, so choosing one course over the other would require a significant amount of "soul searching."

We appear to be free to choose whether to follow a narrow path of being "Christian" (even if one doesn't subscribe to the prescribed doctrine) or just lead lives of complete mayhem and debauchery. I'm not saying that being a non-believer would lead the group into devil worship. Non-believers seem to be doing a pretty good job of self-regulating themselves.


The Painting
The Painting

For atheists, if you set aside the concept of an external supernatural power, you are still left with the conundrum of good and evil. You don't have to accept an external supernatural being (or beings) to admit that good and evil exist and are playing a great role in our civilization. I posit the same question: what if good and evil are derived from our very makeup? We have good elements as well as bad -- this cannot be denied.

You may see this as having a more fundamental, psychological basis, something that might be studied and understood to some extent, and that's fine. But can anyone definitively say that something numinous is not at play? Yes, this seems like something extra, something extraneous to our makeup, but just because this element doesn't show up on an MRI, can it be discounted entirely?

Wouldn't this discretization run contrary to science itself that leaves all doors open? If we can contemplate that we are mere holograms, how is this possibility so far afield? Yes, the supernatural isn't something that lends itself to scientific study (so far), but physicists can accept the existence of dark matter while understanding nothing about it. They understand that there is something out there that contributes to the greater influence of gravity in the universe but have no clue what it consists of and are flummoxed about how to even study it. Dark matter (for now) is beyond the grasp of scientists, but supernatural elements are relegated to mere superstition and human gullibility.


The Hand-Wrestle
The Hand-Wrestle

The common ground is that both camps believe that good and evil are real. They can be termed by other means, but this is really the common language.

The differences are really only slight if you look closely. Believers accept that there is a God watching over us with a master plan. Atheists reject the mere idea of there being any kind of supernatural being that plays any part in human affairs. Atheists see this as an artifact handed down from generations of myth. They often make slight of it -- referring to God as some superhuman daddy in the sky that has forsaken his own creations. Believers feel that even though human beings suffer tremendously, it's all part of God's master plan and that in the end, we will all be judged on our merits.

The Failure of Goodness
The Failure of Goodness

I suggest that whether you believe in God or not, good and evil is amongst us -- and it seems to be playing out in an unbridled way through our own mental capacity. Believers might entertain the idea that God inserted himself into our consciousness and unconsciousness, and we will either follow his commandments or forfeit them. Atheists can reject the concept of any kind of supernatural implantation in our brains and that the rule of law is strictly one of a moral choice embedded in our genetic structure. It doesn't matter because in the end it all amounts to the same thing. We can differ in how we perceive reality, but arguing about our perceptions is a complete dead end -- one that doesn't lead to any benefit.

Heaven on Earth
Heaven on Earth

Ideally, we should all come together, set aside our differences because we all have a common purpose, which is to survive, to flourish, to be happy, reduce suffering. These are greater goals than squabbling over whose perception of reality is paramount.

We'd All Prefer Beauty
We'd All Prefer Beauty

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    • profile image

      Wild Bill 18 months ago

      Yes, it is funny to now see these atheists crying about being persecuted on HP. They cannot see themselves for what they are; trolls. To them, it is always someone else's fault. I guess how they became angry atheists.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 18 months ago from Australia

      WBill

      That's why I call the moderators the "good atheists"! I feel they are still too tolerant of outrageous religious hate hubbers but they some times get it right.

    • profile image

      Wild Bill 18 months ago

      Oztinato,

      Don't worry about the hp atheists. They seem to be finally getting banned for their actions. I got Austinstar off of the Q&A and now link10103.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 18 months ago from Australia

      Rj

      if we get away from stereotyping religions as "right wing Christian fundamentalists" we will see that many religions see evil as a human problem and not a malevolent force. Even real Christianity acknowledges the human contribution to evil. The concept of temptation to do evil by an entity in this one religion is balanced by the individuals responsibility to succumb or not. It is still the individual not "the devil" who is responsible.

      In Hinduism and other religions it is often actual people who are adjectively described as demons.

    • rjbatty profile image
      Author

      rjbatty 18 months ago from Irvine

      It will take generations (or maybe never) to reach full accord between the two observations of reality. Both sides seem (or are) fully entrenched in their viewpoint and don't want to give an inch ... and this is why I prefaced my concept as a kind of pollyanna-sort of solution. An appeasement would require both sides to give a little (or maybe a lot).

      The common denominator is personal responsibility. Religious or not, each and every individual is responsible for his actions under his/her own code of ethics. One can commit horrendous atrocities and claim that God or the devil prompted him toward his/her actions. Or one can say, I heard voices in my head, and they told me to do "x." Or one can say, I don't know why I did such and such. I think I went temporarily insane. Or a person can say I was "ordered" to do such and such, and as a good soldier, I simply carried out the commands of my superior. In the end it hardly matters. Once an atrocity is committed the perpetrator can point in many directions -- and some part of this "may" be conditioned upon his religious vs. nonreligious view of reality. Whether a person commits evil out of a misinterpretation of spiritual inspiration, acting on instinctive impulses, following official orders, the evil gets carried out.

      There will always be die-hard cases, I suppose, who hold to a very narrow idea of how man is influenced by evil. Some within the anti-theist community find religion itself as perhaps the greatest evil plaguing the Earth.

      I spent many years as a technical writer, having to deconstruct very complex software systems into their basic elements. It's tough work but it can be done. As part of the job the tech writer has to stay awake for redundancies and needless overlaps of coding.

      I tend to believe that if you take any complex structure and reduce it to its fundamentals, it's possible to streamline a program or a process.

      This doesn't mean that deconstructing the nature of evil can lend itself to the same methodology. Some will regard evil as a psychological construct while others will see it as an insertion from a supernatural force. Yet, I still contend that the action of evil is played out by human beings. We don't see deities descending to Earth to perform their mischief -- as was once described in Greek/Roman mythology. No. If something bad happens, we can trace the action to a single individual or a set of individuals -- mere human beings.

      The common denominator is us. No matter how an individual excuses his/her actions, a heinous act is committed by the hands of a mere human being. That's the starting point. Sometimes in diagramming a complex system, you have to begin at the end and work backwards.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 19 months ago from Australia

      Titen

      if a clique of hp atheists stops endlessly grinding axes there would be 100% less conflicts. The record shows there is an unofficial category of "religious denigration" hubs disguised as "religious" or "atheist " when legalistically such topics don't belong. Seriously no other hp group is grinding these axes. You might get occasional negative comments about atheism but not endless fully blown hubs.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 19 months ago from back in the lab again

      Well rjbatty I finally got around to taking a look and there is a lot here that I agree with, especially your conclusion here:

      "Ideally, we should all come together, set aside our differences because we all have a common purpose, which is to survive, to flourish, to be happy, reduce suffering. These are greater goals than squabbling over whose perception of reality is paramount."

      I have no problem working with the religious to make the world a better place. Issues arise when believer's vision of what it means for human beings to survive flourish and be relatively suffering free differ from my own. There are ton of issues that religious worldviews affect making them fundamentally different. Take, for example, abortion, or the right to die, or gay rights.

      I also find that when it comes to good and evil most believers have a different view. Many see evil as existing out there with a capital E, as if evil was a real thing and not just a label we attach to extremely harmful human behaviors. For me evil is just a word used to describe a subset of particularly abhorrent behaviors, ones that cause a great deal of suffering with little or no discernible benefit to anyone.

      While most religious people and most atheists share some common ground and some common values there are millions of religious folks who believe fundamentally different things about the human condition and the way the world works and that makes it very difficult for viable solutions to the world's problems to be implemented.

      We can't always agree and work together on everything which is why discussions and debates about belief are so important so that maybe one day there will be enough common ground for our species to move forward without superstitious hang-ups holding us back.

    • rjbatty profile image
      Author

      rjbatty 20 months ago from Irvine

      Atheists don't have religious beliefs but could be more accommodating to believers, don't you think? The tactic of dissembling their God and principles of faith are not going to cut any mustard. If atheists simply said that yes, God exists, the devil exists, a lot of the vitriol would evaporate.

      But this would require a common framework. What I've suggested is that atheists (who should be able to easily recognize the existence of good and evil), may make an accommodation to believers by suggesting that God and the devil have invaded our minds, and the war between good and evil is conducted directly through us.

      This is a concept lifted directly from Jungian psychology and the idea of archetypes. Atheists don't have to be coy using this form of logic, as we really do not know whether God exists or not. We'll never be able to prove that one way or the other. Even anti-theists would have to admit that obtaining a balance with believers may have a positive effect.

      Rather than fight about whether God exists, whether his motives seem rational, why not just concede that we cannot definitively conclude anything about the interjection of supernatural forces? It doesn't take any skin off of anyone's nose. Driving the idea that good and evil is a war that takes place in our individual minds shifts the "ethics" more toward personal responsibility, doesn't it?

      Scientists may want to label good and evil influences of the human mind by other terms, but to appease believers, why not just refer to these impulses as the spirit of God or the devil? Why argue over mere semantics?

      The key is focusing good or evil actions upon the individual. He/she can interpret theses forces as being natural or supernatural -- it doesn't matter in a practical sense. The individual (in either case) is still responsible for what he/she may or may not do.

      If we can all agree that responsibility resides within us, the rest just becomes a philosophical kind of argument that really doesn't have much impact on society as a whole. That's a debate that can continue ad infinitum but shouldn't create (or continue) any adverse influence upon our culture.

      This small adjustment/allowance in our thinking could bridge a huge gap. Believers and non-believers want the same thing -- to live in peace and harmony.

      Yes, there will still be those who feel it is their moral obligation to save our souls by convincing us that we must worship God or suffer a huge penalty. We can deal with that. If someone asks us do we believe in God, we forfeit nothing by saying yes. On a fundamental level, this takes all of the steam out of those who want to worship God and sing his praises.

      The idea is not a panacea for eliminating all rifts between believers and atheists. But reaching a commonality would be a leap forward. To reach this common ground requires a flexibility on both sides. Atheists would have to tolerate the use of terms of God/Satan, and believers would have to acquiesce to the notion that God/Satan is an internal dilemma (without having to forfeit the notion that these forces also exist in some external form).

      Yes, sometimes there is no room in the minds of believers that their ideas might be wrong, but my solution (as it were) is to remove the entire debate. Rather than wrangle about the minutia of the Bible, let atheists just allow room (or the mere labeling) of good and evil as manifestations of God or the devil, but hold each individual responsible for how these forces influence his/her behavior.

      Atheists do not have to engage zealots regarding scripture. Simply saying, yes, I believe in God in my own way pushes the onus of truth back upon them. An atheist is thus lifted from the burden of having to justify anything. If asked whether you believe Jesus Christ is our lord and savior, an atheist can just repeat, I believe in God and not engage anyone who wants to convert you to their brand of belief. Don't be antagonized by a zealot who feels it his or her duty to bring you to their church. Just remain silent. The zealot will have to walk away -- perhaps feeling somewhat discouraged, but that's better than having an argument.

      As I said before, you won't lose any skin off your nose by merely stating that you believe in God. And you do believe in God by recognizing that this is how some people interpret their better instincts. It's just vocabulary.

      It's not much different than learning another language. Understanding the language of believers, accepting it as something deeply personal to them, and letting it go is half the battle. By not contending, there is no antagonism (maybe some frustration on both sides) but no antagonism.

      There are some, like the late Christopher Hitchens, who felt the necessity of butting heads against believers because he thought religion itself was a great evil. He was right that people once committed unspeakable acts in the name of religion. But we now have a separation between church and state. People within the church and some of its followers continue to conduct themselves outside the law, but they are not exclusive. People do unspeakable acts whether they are connected with a religion or not. But I see no reason to harp on religious individuals any more than those who have no religion or ethic values.

      Denouncing their god, their beliefs because some few individuals commit crimes is not sufficient justification for making a crusade against religion. Atheists (a true minority in our society) would be much better off by accepting God as a figure of speech and tolerating what amounts to nothing more than a language barrier.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 20 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I think atheists and believers both need to stop talking about the validity of the religious beliefs themselves and, instead, tackle the ethics of the actions people take based on those religious beliefs.

      One must respect that the beliefs are genuine and immovable and work inside that framework to communicate constructively with believers.

      There's sometimes no room in the minds of believers for the possibility that their beliefs might be wrong, but there usually is room for the possibility that their interpretation of words is wrong or the possibility that those words have been taken out of context. I think that is one area atheists and believers can currently have productive discussions.

      I've made a great deal of progress in discussing the connection between lgbt teen homelessness and religious beliefs by connecting with people inside that framework. While most believers will shut down the second you suggest discarding, neglecting, or abusing a teen because an imaginary being says it's OK is insane, most believers can come to see that those actions aren't in line with what a sane and loving God would want. You just have to leave the question of God's existence out of the conversation entirely.

      By the way, you've duplicated a paragraph in your post.

    • rjbatty profile image
      Author

      rjbatty 20 months ago from Irvine

      I'm open to your ideas re. "reworking and expansion." Just let me know.

      I knew from the onset of this piece that it was a kind of goody-two-shoes piece of philosophy but I felt it had to be said. There is so much really bad discourse between atheists and believers that I had to state what seems like the obvious. People don't change their opinions/attitudes easily -- in fact, the opposite would be more accurate. Religious intolerance is a hard fact, but simply rebutting them doesn't seem like an answer. What I'd like to see is some minor shift of thinking on entrenched fundamentalists who might accept that good/evil are derivatives of ourselves, our minds. I'd also like to see a bit more tolerance on the part of atheists who simply discount everything Christians have believed in for two thousand years as consisting of more than just poppycock. Unless both sides are able to bend, nothing will get any better.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 20 months ago from Australia

      I think this is a great theme that is open to a lot of reworking and expansion.

      Both the negative fundamentalists and the majority of atheists practice religious intolerance which stops them reaching the middle ground. Religious intolerance is like a disease of the mind and ethics.