Christian Worldview Series #3: Atheism

I became a pronounced atheist in my early teens. I was about 13 or 14 when I refined the view, all the while experiencing a leniency to attend church at the time. In the days leading up to my conversion and even after, I remember starting with YouTube. At the time, Lacy Green (who is now more popular on topics of politics and gender), The Amazing Atheist and William Lane Craig videos dominated my association with God and arguments.

As time went on, I became enthralled with the world of books. I have been tossed by the waves of philosophy and theology, often not knowing “where” to fall on “what” big subject. Atheism is certainly one of those subjects that has challenged me greatly and continues to do so.

Atheism, to be sure, is a resilient and driving cultural force in the world. Even though it is said that atheism does not permeate a organization of beliefs to which one could subscribe to if one is to be an “atheist,” I will come to show how this view is problematic. Certainly being an atheist “looks” a certain way, but it is true that such a subscription is not entailed by some credal acceptance.

In this post I hope to overview a few areas relating to atheism that I think are important as an introduction to Christians. Historically and philosophically, atheism is diverse and far-reaching. Immersing oneself into atheism through this way – historical and philosophical reflection – gives one, hopefully, an arsenal for understanding and dialogue which ultimately serve evangelical (gospel) purposes.

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Philosophy of Cinema: Movies Amidst Thought

When asking the big questions of existence I often sought books for answers. The vast array of perspectives, analogies, thought-experiments and literature generally was always ripe for insight: William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1879) with its look on humanity and evil, Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange (1962) on redemption, and more philosophically significant examples such as Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) with its challenging of Nietzschean philosophy amidst themes of love and sex.

While literature has significant ramifications for our search in meaning, our search in understanding this world or even, if possible, our search for God, we can travel to various other areas of life which examine and interest themselves in these same kinds of questions. One area we can also look to for insight is cinema.

What better place to look for explorations in meaning, in being and in existence than the movies? Questions like “Who am I?” are being explored in some of my favorite movies; Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998; also directed Dead Poets Society) and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Questions like “Is faith a living and driving force in the world or is it dead?” in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957); “How does God and justice fit into the order of moral facts?” in Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Punisher (2004) and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994).

Movies are not philosophical in their own right. The questions tend to arise, not sometimes so naturally, amidst an audiences reception of just what is being seen on the screen. “Movie-goers” who are not so experienced in the art of cinema as such may not be aware of the nuances and “quirks” (if I can say that) that develops dialogue, character, plot, and how all these unify with eachother throughout the film.

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The Christian Worldview Series #2: God

As the premiere topic of this new series I decided to introduce metaphysics. I chose this topic as a starting point because I drew on the imperative for Christians to know just exactly what it means for God to exist, for God to have attributes and for God to relate to the world.

We are not atheists or naturalists since we deny that there is no relation between God and the world. We also don’t believe in finite gods, insofar as God has a body, evil and God are incompatible, God has a cause, or His nature is somehow limited. We are also not pantheists since we affirm a separation between God and the world.

This distinction between perspectives on God is important because such critical evaluation waters down or dilutes oftentimes pagan influences or just downright nonsense from a more coherent understanding. Essentially, thinking about God matters because God matters. If I could develop a vast theological system with all the intricacies of philosophical and metaphysical detail, I would hope to at least summarize that system with the simple phrase “God matters.” No idea in the history of human thought has had such existential significance and impact than “the reality of God” – and in our history especially, the person of Jesus Christ.

The idea of God is wound up in that discourse known as “theology.” The word quite literally means “a word about God,” or “a discourse about God” (Greek: word, “logos”; God, “theos”). Today this has been academically understood more precisely as the “study of God.” Any proceeding that we have from here forward about God are mostly theological considerations, albeit with philosophical language simply to assist in understanding.

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Christian Worldview Series #1: The World

The first treatment in this series I thought couldn’t be more fitting than to address the world itself. From a Christian perspective, there is a theological way in which to approach the world. 1 John 2 gives us one such theological approach: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world” (vv. 15-16).

I’m more curious about what a Christian worldview would look like if this theological background were taken into hindsight for questions about the world. In other words, I am more concerned with the questions: “What is there? What is real? What is ultimately real?” amidst Christian theism. These sorts of questions pertain to a kind of sub-discipline in philosophy known as metaphysics. This is to be distinguished from ontology (the study of being as being), which will be discussed in other writings.

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Introducing the “Christian Worldview” Series

This is the first installment out of an indefinite series of articles, arguments and opinions which express some subject from a ‘Christian worldview’ perspective. Two important things to mention here. First, the articles are uniquely Christian in that they recognize the reality of Jesus Christ and do so with a recognition of (i) the Incarnation and (ii) the Trinitarian nature of God. Second, they are nonetheless from the vantage point of a perspective, in that I am speaking from what I think Biblical tradition best and faithfully teaches amidst the great “fathers” and instructors throughout the historical faith (like Augustine, Athansius, Aquinas, and so on).

Given that I intend to keep the subject range of this series to be very broad, I want to press the fact that I will often be speaking from a position. On some subjects then, speculation may be seen. I at least hope to acknowledge this early and submit that what I usually approach in terms of subject matter is within the confines of reasons and evidence, or at least within the appropriate response to what is asserted and what can be questioned or challenged.

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The List of Books That Influenced Me Intellectually

I converted to Christianity in February of 2011. It was a strange time in my life; this is the best summary I’ve been able to articulate after a religious journey of 6 years now. In fact, as time goes in, things only get stranger. I remember reading a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky which began with this sentence: “I am a ridiculous man.” This resonated deeply with how I would try to come and understand myself.

This was much after my initial conversion that I started making harsh, real discoveries about who I am. In the initial days and weeks of this conversion, a curiosity arose. I did not believe God existed; more importantly was my belief that the creation story was mythic and probably mistaken. I was comfortable with this denial. I suppose those who believed in God bugged me because they were really deluded, but I didn’t have any substantive reason to differentiate between what God “looked like” if he did exist or what it would mean if he didnt.

Me and my brother readily recall an instance together (jokingly now) about my approaching him with a white sheet of paper that contained two columns: God and Santa Claus. I gave Kevin the paper and said, “If you could please go through each of the differences between God and Santa Claus, I’d like to see why one exists and the other does not.” I forget how that story ended, but you can at least see that the engagement of doubt was there.

Enter my sophomore year of high school. In the second half of the semester, I was brought to life with a lecture introducing the Protestant Reformation and the theology of John Calvin. The months that would follow from this lecture would result in a very strange religious pursuit. The following list of books doesn’t include exhaustively what I read throughout that time (as I dont remember), but my initial library started with a small stack of theology, science and philosophy books. It eventually grew to a collection of over 1,000.

Most of these books I more or less came across by accident. In my search for truth in Christianity I was looking for a certain treatment on the whole subject: Something that presented the bare facts, fills in the details, and then I assess a position or situation that way by looking at arguments.

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The Picture of Theism

There are a lot of questions that we can ask about the world. What are the most relevant and important of these questions? Let’s suppose we looked at philosophical questions about existence. Just what exactly is philosophy that we’re asking existential questions about ourselves and religion?

It’s interesting that most conversations about religion revolve around the obscure subject of philosophy. Why resort to philosophy to handle religious questions? Most religious people today, as it seems, wouldn’t readily associate their worldview with a philosophical analysis. If that were the case, it seems obtaining religious belief would become exhaustive and bland. In other words, in the form of a question: should one have an (to say the least) elaborated view of philosophy before engaging on a religious excursion or journey?

The question must strangely be answered with a “yes” and “no.” First, why it is not. One does not need to have en elaborated view of philosophy in the sense that philosophy and its array of deductive and probable arguments could persuasively or “conducively” attract one to religious belief. This might very well be the case for some, but is invariably not the case for all if not most religious converts or seekers generally.

Secondly, why it is yes. Philosophy is one of man’s greatest inventions. We have a vast record of historical conversation taking place on how man knows things about the world, about Himself, and about God (if He exists). This conversation has created serious and important insights into the basic “principle” foundations of other disciplines, such as science, medicine, theology, and so on. If one were to take the time to sit and examine just what exactly has been going on in the history of philosophy, you’ll find a narrative being told.

These insights are important for theology for a number of reasons. Consider the example of the University of Paris in 1255: the “schoolmen” (scholastics) or the particular faculty of this university introduced a new syllabus which imposed a study of all the known works by Aristotle on its students. Aristotle, unprecedented as any philosopher at the time, would penetrate the Christian intellectual tradition very seriously in their endeavor to extend beyond the fall of Rome – to the philosophers of Greek antiquity.

Eventually is what emerged a distinction between nature and grace, or nature and super-nature, or faith and reason, reason and revelation, philosophy and theology. The perfection of this distinction came from the system of Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275). The rough framework of a harmony between philosophy and theology existed long before Aquinas however, and I’ve written about this in multiple places. [1] [2]

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