Recently I received a very cordial email from Bruce Sheiman, author of An Atheist Defends Religion. He read my review of his book and replied to an email I sent, offering ways to contact him so we might have a better opportunity to speak.
I was very excited to hear from Mr. Sheiman and look forward to establishing some form of dialog, perhaps even a friendly correspondence. It just so happened that I was reading an essay he posted at atheist nexus when his email arrived — I’m becoming even more of a fan of his writing.
Judging from his work, he gives every indication that he is a fair and genuinely nice guy.
That really doesn’t surprise me all that much. Some of my most valued online friends with whom I correspond frequently are professed atheists or agnostics.
It seems that once we get past the initial reaction and exchange some of the typical banter between believer and non-believer [meaning some sarcasm remark] we get along just fine. I’m guilty as often as they of making a glib retort.
Atheists can be nice people, just like anyone else. They can be churlish, too — just like everybody else. Just like me.
A fair number of atheists do good deeds and donate to charity.
I didn’t always know atheists could be decent and nice. My friend Jason first opened my eyes with a simple gesture of unsolicited kindness.
He showed me that I could be friends with those atheists willing to put up with me. I’ve come to believe the only real difference between me and an atheist is personal experience.
My Christian friends need not be concerned I might “defect” to atheism. Been there, done that, can’t see doing it again, now that I’ve literally seen the light.
Actually, how does one evangelize their faith to a non-believer without ever speaking to them?
The best way I know how to convince someone who doesn’t believe in a loving God that I might be on to something is not using words, but actions.
It’s easier to listen and pay attention to the words of a friend than a stranger. If I strive to emulate the behavior of the Christ more than I act like a jerk, I will succeed.
If Christians all seem hostile and thin-skinned about their faith, who’d want to be friends? Those who behave like Fred Phelps cause me to appreciate the love of my dogs even more.
After developing a friendship with Jason, I’ve become friends with Joe, David, Nigel, Sassan, Willa, Ryan, and others with whom I respectfully disagree about the existence of God.
These friends know how to ask some great, thought provoking questions that challenge me to think. All it takes is asking me a question I don’t know how to answer to spawn new research, which means I’ll learn something in the process.
Anyone who help keep me cogitating rather than vegetating in front of the idiot box is truly a friend of mine.
These atheists whom I call friends are smart, witty people. They also seem to be very nice. I really value their friendship.
Of course, I haven’t been as successful cultivating friendships with the antitheists who like tossing insults like moron, idiot, etc. toward people like me.
I tend to ignore that subset of atheists.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call any of my atheist friends “good.”
But in fairness, I wouldn’t call any of my Christian friends good, either. No offense.
Luke 18:19 reads, [The Aramaic Bible in Plain English translation]
Yeshua said to him, “Why do you call me good? There is no one good except the one God.”
In case that isn’t persuasive enough, Romans 3:10 says,
As it is written: “There is not a just person, not even one,”
Obviously, that includes me. I keep trying to tell people not to call me a good man. I don’t deserve it.
I don’t really consider myself inherently good or bad.
I have free will to choose between right and wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t always choose good over evil.
As I alluded earlier, I would have said it was quite the coincidence that Mr. Sheiman happened to write me when he did, except that I don’t really think I believe in coincidences.
His essay at atheist nexus that I happened to be reading at the time explored the question of whether or not we can be good without God.
What I like most about Mr. Sheiman is he takes a fair approach to the problem, without the appearance of an overt agenda to invalidate religion at every opportunity. He wrote,
I show that it is always possible for individuals to be moral without religion (“good without God”); yet I also reveal the failings of a purely secular morality and how religion makes for a more moral and benevolent society than would otherwise be the case without religion.
Mr. Sheiman described my personal philosophy about God perfectly when he added,
The believer sees a god who holds humans to the highest moral standards; and he feels a loving obligation to do what is right for God and for other human beings. Religious people do not strive to be good because they want to avoid punishment and earn bonus points in the heavenly sweepstakes; they strive to behave consistent with God’s love and grace in much the same way we naturally strive to be good for anyone we love.
Atheists are not inherently evil. By definition, an atheist is simply a person who does not believe in a supernatural God or gods.
Antitheists are another matter entirely. They are hostile to any and all religious beliefs held by others.
Sheiman leads the reader to conclude that people are not good or bad by nature.
We all have the capability and capacity to perform good deeds. Sheiman argues that statistics show religious believers are more likely than atheists to take positive action.
But that just means it’s more likely, not mutually exclusive.
Mr. Sheiman asks an excellent question:
If we all intrinsically know what’s right and good, why don’t we all behave that way?
He asserted that humans are hard-wired to know the difference between good and bad. Because a certain amount of morality inspired by religion has been codified into law, Sheiman implies that religion could become passe.
Eventually. In his opinion, of course.
He also wrote,
Atheism by itself does not motivate people to do bad things, but it is lacking one hugely important moral dimension…. of all the cultural templates we have, religion is the most robust and explicit about moral behavior.
If I understand Mr. Sheiman correctly, he’s saying that society has benefited from religion, but eventually we should be able to discard it.
Respectfully, I believe he’s overlooking the possibility that real experiences have galvanized faith into a certain segment of the population, to the point where nothing could eradicate it.
As long as some people can fervently pray to their God and believe they have a real experience, there will be people with religious faith. As long as people continue to temporarily experience life after death or at least believe they have, there will be people of faith.
Scientists might convince an impartial observer that a near death experience was a hallucination produced by a dying brain, but it is doubtful they’ll have any luck convincing the one who had the experience.
In fact, ony Sunday night at 10:00 pm Eastern, the Biography Channel airs an episode of the program I Survived: Beyond and Back, where people who experienced an NDE tell their story.
You can watch an episode on your computer by following the link below.
Then decide for yourself.