The World of Make-Believe

The World of Make-BelieveMy wife recently received a request to submit our family experiences regarding the tooth-fairy. Because we don’t do the tooth-fairy thing around here, she asked if I’d like to write a guest post explaining our position on the matter. So here goes nothing…

Allow me to begin by making it clear that we are not hostile to childhood make-believe characters, nor do we avoid enjoying these characters as the make-believe beings that they are. Our children enjoy watching all the usual Santa and Rudolph cartoons during Christmas, and they get to participate in Easter-egg hunts on Resurrection Sunday and so forth. In fact, one of their favorite recent films is “The Rise of the Guardians”, which is based on many of the childhood characters about which I’m now addressing. Moreover, we do not frown on parents who pretend with their children that these characters are real. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…rise-of-the-guardians1

My basic thoughts on the matter are this (and it’s something you’ve likely already heard from others, so it probably won’t sound new). Parents teach children that Santa is real, the Easter Bunny is real, the Tooth-Fairy is real, and God is real. Well, once a kid gets old enough to realize he’s been hoodwinked all along about the make-believe characters, he’s perfectly justified in questioning whether he was deceived about the existence of God, the one character that he hasn’t seen a picture of in any cartoon, much less in real life. I’m not suggesting that children will necessarily draw such an inference, especially since most adult theists were taught to believe in such characters when they were children. However, spend any time listening to atheists, and you’ll find they always compare God to the Tooth-fairy or some such character. They’ll also argue that no one really believes in God, but that we only believe in Him because we were taught to do so just like we were taught to believe in Santa. The point is, I don’t ever want my children to feel like we attempted to deceive them in any way, and so I’d just prefer to tell them the truth, and allow them to enjoy these characters as what they are, i.e., make-believe characters who are to be enjoyed in the context of pretend playing.

Now, I’ve been asked by some, “Don’t you want your children to enjoy Christmas?”, or some such nonsense, as if Christmas can only be enjoyed if one is duped into believing in Santa. For the record, our children have a blast at Christmas, and they don’t require a false belief to do so. They can also enjoy the whole Santa thing in the same way they enjoy Mickey Mouse. Contrary to what critics may think, children are quite capable of enjoying themselves knowing full well that a character is only make-believe.

So that’s basically how our family handle’s make-believe characters. Losing a tooth around here evokes a “Wow, another tooth missing! Cool!”, and that’s about it. No cash reward or collecting of teeth. If our kid needs some pocket change, they can ask for it. Sure, maybe it’s not as fun as submitting old body parts in exchange for hard cash, but our kids have lots of fun doing other things, so it’s all good. Your kid may not grow up damaged by believing in the Tooth-fairy, but my kid won’t grow up damaged for not believing.

In the end, my main desire for my children is that they grow up to believe in, love, and defend the Truth.

FG

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28 thoughts on “The World of Make-Believe

  1. I like your approach. Our kids are, of course, familiar with all the fictional holiday characters, but they also understand (1) they’re fictional and (2) it’s unkind to mess up someone else’s game of make-believe. We have, however, made sure they understand the real story of St. Nicholas, and our eldest explained how we celebrate Christmas to our parish priest thusly (when she was about 3 1/2): “Saint Nicholas is one of Jesus’s best friends, so for his birthday, he throws a party, and every gets presents.” Peace be with you – Kelly

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  2. I don’t think it’s a problem not to pretend Santa and the others are real, even though our family has a lot of fun with it. However, I always kind of question the validity of this justification which I hear often.
    Yes, sometimes atheists will compare God to one of these mythical characters but have you ever met anyone for whom this really created a crisis of faith? I never have.
    I am not writing as a critism. I would like to hear others thoughts.

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    • I’ve never heard an anyone articulate a crisis of faith for such a reason, however, human psychology isn’t that simple.

      Take for example my love of books. I like to surround myself with books in my home studio. I used to spend lots of time at Borders and B&N. One day it struck me why I had a passion for books. Much of my childhood time was spent hanging out at the library. It’s where I spent a considerable part of my summer. I still recall it fondly, and I think that I probably surround myself with books today because of that association.

      My point is simply this: People don’t always know why they think the way they do. They don’t always consciously recognize their own reasons for feeling one way or the other. So while someone may not consciously make the connection as to why they are doubting their faith, there may in fact be a connection.

      I’m not suggesting that make-believe characters are the main culprit for abandoning theism. I’m only suggesting that it may be one of many reasons which may influence people’s decision, even if they are not aware of it.

      FG

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  3. I’m from a family of Easter bunny, Santa, and tooth fairy believers. Probably because of my parents’ security in their faith and walk, I never had an issue. But my parents are absolutely genuine, they are who they are, and I think that played more into my concept of God than their creation of fantasy characters. Close adults being who and what they say they are. Anyhow, blessings to you and your family!

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  4. Have your kids had encounters about the matter with their peers who do believe in those characters (and perhaps have parents that encourage them to believe)? If so, how have you instructed your children to respond to that?

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    • What a great question! Yes; my kids have come across others who believe. Our children have been taught to simply not say anything, but smile politely. However, when asked (because they do get asked) they admit the truth about not believing.

      There is a funny story I ought to tell about my little “Mouse”. We were out walking an old town neighborhood during the Christmas season. This kind gentleman, dressed up like Santa, asked her what she would like for Christmas and what he could bring to her. She looked at him kind of funny and then politely stated, “Excuse me, but Santa’s not real, so you can’t bring me anything.” The gentleman looked at ME kind of funny and I admit, I had no idea what to say. I think he offered her a candy cane anyway and we wished each other a Merry Christmas.

      Not believing ourselves, doesn’t mean we need to go around “bursting the bubbles” of other kids though. They will find out in their own time what is the truth and what was simply meant for fun.

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  5. Wow! I had never made that connection of God vs. make-believe characters. We are in the same boat as to not “doing”/ “celebrating” make-believe characters and some holidays because we felt it distracted from God but until now I had never had that click of believing in make-believe characters could also cause issues later on when it came to faith. Great post-thank you!

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  6. i enjoyed your post even though we do the tooth fairy. I appreciated you sharing your personal view without smashing others. I believe the work of the Holy Spirit and personal God encounters that my children have will make it abundantly clear about His presence and purpose in their lives and will be a stark contrast to the tooth fairy who we have never said is real but enjoys placing coins under pillows with a wink and a kiss.

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  7. Hmm…in thinking on this, I have a very different approach. We had a nice long talk about Santa this year. My kids know with conviction that Santa is very real. I do too. I’m not talking the jolly fat man in thecred suit. Santa is the person who gives without needing to receive credit for it. I wrote a whole thing on my blog for last Christmas about my dad giving my mom a gift he still denies getting her to this day. He insists it was Santa. The tooth fairy has become a code name for a rite of passage. It’s a neat little gift t. recognize that you’re growing up, like birthday presents. The Easter bunny, not so sure on that one. Personally I think the idea of an egg hunt is fun, but the bunny idea is silly. My kids seem determined to believe, even with the evidence against it. Then again, they also believe in fairies and ghosts. I think a lot of it is more fun than anything else.

    From someone who doesn’t really believe in God, or maybe isn’t sure of her beliefs, I don’t think the make-believe characters from childhood had anything to do with it. When prayers seem to go unanswered on a constant basis, it can be hard to believe. Personal life experiences have helped me come to my beliefs. It just seems reasonable that God would not just sit by and let some of the things happen in this world, or God simply doesn’t care. I can’t imagine fictional characters from childhood being the result.

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    • Although it’s a bit off-topic, I’m going to address a couple of your comments about prayer and God.

      The “God doesn’t answer prayers” or “God doesn’t care about the bad things that happen in the world” criticisms are common among skeptics, but such comments stem from a failure to understand Biblical theology specifically, and/or philosophy in general.

      With respect to prayer, it’s entirely untrue that God doesn’t answer our prayers. God answers all of our prayers. The error people make is in believing that the answer “No” or “Wait” or “It depends…” is equivalent to a non-answer. However, those responses constitute an answer just as much as “Yes”.

      It seems that what the critic really means by “God doesn’t answer prayers” is that He doesn’t give her what she wants. However, God is not a genie in a bottle, and He’s under no obligation to grant everyone’s desires as if he owes them three wishes.

      Now the skeptic may ask, “Yes, but why doesn’t God grant our good requests, like healing a sick loved one from a terminal disease?” While that may appear good from our perspective, God, if He chose not to intervene, has perfectly valid reasons for not intervening, nor is it necessary that we know those reasons in order for them to be valid or represent a greater good. I’ve given this example before, but it bears repeating:

      Imagine a small child who is taken to the hospital. The doctor may perform some treatment on the child which may cause temporary suffering, but which is ultimately for a greater good. And though the child may expect his parent to save him from this pain, the child is surprised to find the parent holding him down while the doctor performs this procedure. From the child’s perspective, the parent is not only failing to help him, but is actually part of the problem. The child can’t imagine why his parent would do this to him, even though the parent has perfectly valid reasons.

      Now, my question is this: If the distance in understanding between the parent and child is sufficient for the child to fail to grasp the intent of the parent (and perhaps he may even think the parent is evil), what makes a human think she can understand the intentions of God? Which is greater, the distance between a human parent and his child, or the distance between a transcendent Creator and his finite creature? The answer should be glaringly obvious. The point is, our ignorance as to why God allows suffering is hardly a valid reason for failing to believe in Him, nor is it a rational justification for believing that He doesn’t care.

      Finally, if God does not exist, there would be no reason to view anything in the world as “evil” or problematic in any way. All that would exist is matter in motion, and the suffering of people would be no more significant than the wind blowing. The very fact that one distinguishes between good and bad logically presupposes a standard by which to render such judgements. But if God does not exist, by what objective standard can anything be said to be evil? Ultimately, if God did not exist, “good” and “evil” would reduce to nothing more than emotive expressions which mean “I like” or “I don’t like”. Such expression would have no moral content nor express values judgements in any way. The point is, denying God’s existence while acknowledging evil or suffering in the world is an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

      I apologize for my long-windedness, but your concerns were important and worth addressing. Thank you for your comments.

      FG

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      • One thing that concerns me about this is the lack of differentiation between “evil” and “suffering”. In my opinion suffering is a reality of life. All animals can understand suffering. A wounded animal clearly feels pain just as you or I would. I don’t think the existence or understanding of suffering is in any way proof that God exists. It is simply an extension of suffering. The problems of suffering in this world can be explained by psychology, not just by relating it to God.

        At the same time I shudder to think God would tell me no or to wait in circumstances that haunt my past. Why does God sit by and watch as children are harmed in such scarring ways that they grow up to be serial killers, cultists, and terrorists? There’s a huge difference between that and an unpleasant medical procedure. After the procedure the child might begin to understand if they feel healthier in the long run. How many people come out of abusive situations and think, “Thank God for those years of abuse! I’m so much better of a person as a result!” It’s more akin to the idea of beating a child “for their own good”. It just doesn’t make sense. Sure, God isn’t there to fix everything, but my family has been through enough that I’ve often thought God must hate me. What had I ever done to deserve the torment I’ve lived through? I’m trying my hardest, yet nothing I do seems enough. I see no incentive to live in a way God would approve of as clearly God hasn’t been listening. I’ve been struggling with this issue for years, and it seems every time I turn to prayer, things never change or only seem to get worse. I might be able to believe God had my best interests in mind if I wasn’t living in a perpetual state of hardship.

        I guess what I’m saying is people keep saying God loves me, but I’m tired of hearing I’m loved, but seeing proof that my family is destined to remain in the gutter no matter how hard I try.

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      • Yes, suffering exists. Nor was I suggesting that suffering is proof for theism. I was trying to make the point that, while we may not subjectively enjoy feeling pain, one cannot render any objective value judgement against our suffering apart from God, who is the only being capable of providing us with an objective standard (whether moral or teleological) by which to measure good and evil. So, yes, suffering exists, but without God to determine how the world ought to be, why is suffering any more significant than the sky being blue? Again, all the skeptic is really saying is that he doesn’t like pain, but without theism, he can’t really say there’s anything objectively wrong with suffering.

        I don’t mean this to sound uncaring or insensitive, because I am truly sorry for whatever you may be experiencing. However, you’ve really missed my point regarding the analogy I gave. I wasn’t comparing your situation to a medical procedure. Rather, I was comparing the cognitive distance between a parent and his child to that of a transcendent God and His finite creature, which, by comparison to the former, is infinitely greater. In other words, just because you cannot fathom a reason for God allowing your present conditions, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t have justifiable reasons. The fact is, there’s no way we can calculate all the effects of our actions. Though you may not see any good coming from something, it doesn’t mean no good occurs. Furthermore, just as one cannot render a judgement of “evil” apart from God, one also cannot render a judgement of “good” apart from Him. In other words, how can one say that no good has come from a situation unless one first has an objective standard by which to recognize goodness? In a world without God, saying that no good has or can come from a situation is simply to say that one doesn’t subjectively like the results. But disliking something is not equivalent to its being bad.

        You wrote, “I see no incentive to live in a way God would approve of as clearly God hasn’t been listening”.
        I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but things will never change for you if you adopt that course. Before I was a Christian (and at a time when I was sort of down in life), a friend gave me this advice, which I never forgot. He told me that God is not impressed with my pleadings or my tears, nor will any amount of complaining move Him. What God wants is obedience. He wants to see a heart which is broken of self-rule and which is prepared to submit wholly to Him. It wasn’t until I decided to give in to God that my life changed. And my lot didn’t improve over night. It took some time. Nor did it mean that I didn’t have to live with some of the consequences of my past choices. Still, God redeemed my life and blessed me abundantly. That doesn’t mean I don’t continue to face challenges. Sure, there are things that could be better, and there are situations in life I really don’t like. But I don’t view the bad things as a curse from God. In fact, I can see how some past suffering (most of my own making) led me down a path to where I was eventually blessed. That doesn’t mean the bad things were not bad, but it does mean that I wouldn’t change the past if it meant giving up the good which eventually resulted.

        Finally, I hope you don’t take my arguments to mean that I am making light of your personal situation. Nothing is so bad as when we’re in the midst of suffering, and I can sympathize with you if you’re going through hard times. However, blaming God (or rejecting Him) isn’t the solution to your problems. In fact, until you have a drastic change of heart towards God, things will probably not get better. That may not be the answer you want, but it’s the answer you need.

        Best,

        FG

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      • I think this is a very interesting discussion, so no worries of making light of what I’m going through. I’m more talking about what I’ve gone through in the past, or others I have known. On a broader scale, there are theocratic events that have happened worldwide in the past few years. There are so many examples where God has seemed to turn a blind eye.

        The basis of myself as an example comes from the days I was Christian and pretty selfless. It seemed no matter how much I put my trust in God and strived to always do the right thing, no matter the sacrifices it required, I kept seeing my own situation become more challenging by the day. No matter how hard I strived to be a good Christian, no matter how hard I tried to live by the example and the lessons put forth in the Bible, no matter how much I prayed to understand the lesson I was supposed to learn from my situation, nothing changed.

        I’ve always been told that God helps those that help themselves. In other words, if you want God to help you find a job to support your family, you actually have to look for the job. You can’t just expect free handouts. Whenever life got challenging, I did just that, looked for what I needed to make my situation better, and when I didn’t know, I prayed for guidance. No matter how hard I tried, I still struggled. I found no understanding. That was how I lived for most of my life, and it just wore on me.

        This leaves me with one basic question, why suddenly have faith and hope for the best now? Why trust that God will guide me, or help me on my path? Why turn back to something that seemed to have failed me? In any other situation it would be thought of as crazy, so why not with God and religion?

        And, in truth, this isn’t so much about me. It was mentioned that if things like the tooth fairy and Santa are fictional, then how will children not grow up to think God is fictional too? In my experience, the people I know who turn away from God and choose atheism or some religion not based in the existence of God do so because they feel God has failed them, or that God couldn’t possibly exist for any number of reasons. Perhaps they feel that no God as the Bible describes it would allow for the torture and abuse of innocents. Others feel that God is not logical and scientific. Some simply feel that God is just a way to explain away things we do not understand. Most simply feel that God gives life some other purpose because it’s more uplifting to think we’ll go on to heaven if we live well than to think no matter how well or poorly we live, we’ll just end up rotting in a hole in the ground. It eases the sadness of the loss of a loved one to feel they passed on to a better place.

        Many of the atheists I know live very happy, fulfilling lives. They do good deeds because it betters the society they live in and makes a better community for their children. They are capable of all the positive things good Christians do, just without the element of religion.

        I guess what I’m saying is there are a lot of reasons people turn away from God. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of equally positive influences on the world around them. They just have different incentive. I don’t think the belief in fictional characters has any influence on that choice. I honestly think there are experiences and challenges in our lives that have far more weight in that choice.

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      • I’m not sure what is meant by a “theocratic event”. However, by “turning a blind eye”, I’m assuming you mean that, with respect to the events to which you referred, God allows them to occur without intervening. Yes, God often allows things for reasons unknown to us. However, it’s not clear how or why that’s relevant. Unless one can demonstrate that God has some obligatory duty to prevent some event or, alternatively, demonstrate that He does not have some greater good in mind, what exactly do such events prove?

        In all honesty, I think you’re approaching theism incorrectly. It seems you’re predicating both the question of God’s existence and a relationship with Him entirely on whether He improves your lot in life.

        First, the question of theism has nothing whatsoever to do with personal situations. Were that the case, all rich people would allegedly be theists since they seem to be materially blessed. The irony is, many rich people don’t bother with God precisely because they feel they have no need for Him. After all, they have everything they need. Why bother with God? My point is, the question of God’s existence should be addressed independent of our own lot in life.

        Second, our moral duties are similarly independent from our personal situations. Imagine getting pulled over for speeding and telling the police officer that you’re not going to obey the law because the police failed to respond to your 911 call a week earlier. Will the authorities accept such an excuse? Probably not, and the reason is that our duties are independent of anyone else’s behavior toward us. Moral duty is not a contract in which we only have to keep our end of the bargain if God does something for us. It is not a quid pro quo arrangement. We have a duty to behave morally because that’s how we were created to function. We expect a blender to blend, because that’s what it was created to do. I expect my lawnmower to cut grass, because that’s what it was created to do.

        Back to the OP:
        You noted that fictional characters have less to do with the unbeliever’s choice to embrace atheism than other reasons, and I would tend to agree with you. It’s just the case that I choose not to give my children any such reason to question God’s existence.

        I’m also familiar with the other reasons you cited for the atheist’s unbelief, but such reasons don’t appear any more valid than that of being duped into believing in Santa. The real question is whether the excuses given are valid and true. For example, A subjective perception of being let down by God does not logically address the question of God’s existence, so it’s hardly a basis for embracing atheism. Is it the case that God is neither logical nor scientific? Well, no one has yet to demonstrate the former by either argument or evidence, and “scientific” is not a criteria for existence, so neither provide a valid basis for atheism.

        Finally, I’m not doubting that an atheist can live a life that is subjectively fulfilling to himself. People can always create personal goals to fulfill their personal predilections. However, whether such enterprises are objectively good or positive is entirely dependent upon theism. If God does not exist, there is no such thing as “good” or “positive”. There are only things which we like or dislike. In a world without God, one cannot give any rational ground for any value judgement at all. If atheism were true, we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die and become food for worms. In a world without God, there are no objective moral obligations. Anything goes. We may as well be hedonists, anarchists, nihilists, or even nazi socialists for that matter. There is a reason marxist regimes have all been atheistic. Without God to grant inalienable rights, such regimes can (and do) oppress its citizens. It’s the logical end of atheism.

        FG

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      • I’m not sure I can agree that God is the only reason for a moral compass. After all, God is not required to find happiness. Something good is something that creates happiness or a sense of peace. Something is bad if it disrupts the peace of the community. This could easily explain away and justify a number of things that are obviously detrimental to the human race. However, part of ensuring my happiness is not interfering with the happiness of others. In other words, live and let live. I’ll use a page out of the Wiccan Rede here, “An it harm ye none, do what ye will.” If everyone lived by that, the world would be a much better place. That isn’t a concept that requires God to follow. When you look at it, if everyone lived to be happy while striving not to interfere with the happiness if those around them, perhaps the need for defining something as “good” or “evil” would be unnecessary.

        Positive and negative outcomes are a way of viewing things scientifically. A positive outcome for a medication is it works. A negative reaction is something that causes an unwanted result. It’s highly scientific. At the same time, the existence of God is not highly scientific. It’s not something science can prove in any way. It is possible to be a scientifically minded person and believe in the existence of God, but there are also enough who eshew the idea as irrational and highly unlikely. It is a completely valid argument. You state that God is neither logical nor scientific being an invalid basis for atheism, but why? In science we don’t believe in a theory until it is proven. In that case, the existence of God cannot be proven, therefore atheism is not just scientifically valid, but also correct. Of course, scientoxic concepts have been proven wrong over the years, but until it’s proven otherwise, science says God doesn’t exist. The belief in God can therefore be seen as illogical because it can not be a theory that is proven with any validity. I’m not saying you’re wrong here. I’m simply saying atheism is a valid choice if looked at logically with a scientific eye.

        I think even without God we can make a decent value judgment on whether an action is positive or negative. Based in the concept that everyone should be allowed to pursue their happiness as long as they don’t interfere with anyone else’s chance at happiness, then some figures in history stand out. Everyone who has ever fought for freedom and equality in a nonviolent way is a good mark of this. I know a good number of people who seek to heal the mental and emotional wounds in those around them, many with no belief in the existence of a higher power, several also being a part of a non-standard faith. They know how it felt when someone else helped them heal. Now it brings them joy to help others do the same. God is not involved in that equation.

        In the case of living in a moral way, it’s not a question of whether to be moral because God tells me too, or just completely ignore it all to run around doing whatever immoral things I please because God can’t stop me. It’s more whether God is part of the equation in my choice to live a moral life. I haven’t stopped making good choices. I simply do it because I want to see my community improved. Having a better community benefits me because crime rates are lower, the area is safer, and people are generally more enjoyable to be around when the community is built of happy people. It’s a choice to make my own life better through improving the lives of those around me. At the same time, since I abandoned my belief in God, nothing has really changed. My quality of life is no better or worse without God. I never thought asking for help or guidance was too much. However, I never saw anything that could not be directly attributed to my own hard work. In the example of the cop, if I choose to obey the laws because the cops failed to respond to my call, I still get a ticket, or arrested, depending on what I do. The negative effects of my action can be clearly seen and demonstrated. With God, I haven’t seen a negative effect since making a different choice. Many atheists don’t. It’s very different than the example of the cop, unless you count after death, in which case it’s really too late to change your ways. That’s like spending ten years speeding, and all of the sudden you get ten years of tickets for every time you broke the speed limit all at once, when perhaps you thought it wasn’t enforced or was more of a guideline than a rule. If I did that with my kids I can promise you they would have a hard time learning what I expected of them. What you’re suggesting is blind faith, or actively looking for proof that God is working in a person’s life.

        As for improving someone’s lot in life, I certainly don’t mean being rich. Take an abused child, for example. The child is beat every day by a drunk parent. That child prays to God to save them from this torment, to give them the strength to fight back, for anything that will get them through. After years of abuse God seems to do nothing. They are told that God made them suffer for a reason, but that can all too easily sound like it’s some kind of punishment to a child. All they wanted was an escape from the fear and the pain, but it seemed like their plea fell on deaf ears. They weren’t asking to be rich, to live in style, or anything like that. They just wanted the abuse to end. Sure, they may go on to help others in the same situation, do some good in the world, but they may also go on to be criminals or drug dealers, or take some neutral stance of doing nothing to help or hurt society in any way. Instead of apparently condoning the abuse, God could have offered guidance that would get the child safely out of the situation. Chances are their situation wouldn’t become perfect, but their situation would be improved. Wealth doesn’t have to be money. It can simply be the beauty you are surrounded with in life.

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      • In order to avoid confusion, we should define what is meant by ethics/morals before we go further. Ethics, by nature, are imperatives expressed propositionally (i.e., “Do this. Don’t do that.”, etc.). Such commands logically presuppose two relatum, i.e., one to issue the command, and another to obey. Furthermore, any obligatory duty to obey presupposes that the person issuing the command possesses legitimate authority. Therefore, when we speak of ethics, we are referring to laws which we are obligated to obey. Such laws determine how we ought to live. With that clarification…

        You mentioned a lot about God not being needed to find happiness, however, that’s quite irrelevant to the issue of morality. Morality is not about what makes one happy. Morality refers to how we ought to behave, regardless of whether or not one is happy about it. Furthermore, slogans (e.g., doing whatever makes you happy as long as you don’t interfere with the happiness of others) impose no obligatory duty on anyone. What if anarchy or nihilism make me happy? Why should I care if my happiness imposes on the happiness or well-being of others? You see, atheistic slogans are incapable of explaining objective moral notions. They don’t address the nature of ethical imperatives, which is the “oughtness” of our behavior.

        You also offered a utilitarian view of ethics, however, such a view is also incapable of imposing obligatory duty on anyone. Why, after all, should the sadist or hedonist care about the good of society? Why should they care about insuring the survival of the species? Why not simply live for self? Again, the atheist can provide no objective ground which imposes any “oughtness” on human behavior.

        With respect to my use of “positive” in a prior comment, I was referring to a value judgment (i.e., “positive” as in “good”), not an instrumental understanding. Such equivocal uses of the term are irrelevant to the issue of ethics, nor do they provide any objective ground for moral duty. If the anarchist doesn’t care about someone’s instrumental goals, such a view of ethics cannot impose moral duty. In other words, there’s nothing empirical science can tell us about meta-ethics.

        As for theism not being scientific, that has to be seriously qualified. If you mean one cannot empirically observe God, then you’re quite correct. If you’re suggesting one cannot observe design in the world and infer a designer, then you’re incorrect. After all, plenty of claims which are considered “scientific” are merely inferences based on other considerations. The bottom line is that empirical science is not an epistemological criteria for either truth or existence. In fact, empirical science cannot even justify its own methods.

        You wrote:
        “You state that God is neither logical nor scientific being an invalid basis for atheism, but why? In science we don’t believe in a theory until it is proven.”

        On the contrary, I never wrote that God is neither scientific nor logical. What I stated is that no one has demonstrated God to be illogical, nor is being “scientific” a criteria for existence. Furthermore, scientists believe plenty of unproven theories. In fact, many theories are never proven, which is why it is a principle of science to hold to theories tentatively. If they were proven, they would no longer be theoretical, nor would they be tentative.

        You wrote:
        “The belief in God can therefore be seen as illogical because it can not be a theory that is proven with any validity.”

        First, scientific methodology has nothing whatsoever to do with logical validity. Something is only illogical if it violates some rule of logic. No atheist has been capable of demonstrating that theism has violated any rule of logic. Second, you seem to be operating under some kind empiricist epistemology. However, such theories of knowledge have repeatedly been shown to be self-refuting. One cannot demonstrate the veracity of empiricism via empirical means, so it’s necessarily false, precisely because it fails to satisfy its own conditions for truth.

        You noted that some without God can make “decent value judgements”. The issue is not whether the atheist can recognize that it is wrong to, say, rape a child and then murder him (I’m certain the atheist is perfectly capable of recognizing the moral impropriety of such behavior). The point is that the atheist cannot rationally ground his moral notion. Why, after all, is such behavior wrong?

        I’m also not suggesting that everything the atheist takes to be good or evil is, in fact, good or evil. Atheists, like many other people, often tend to justify immorality. For example, the slogan about pursuing happiness is often just an excuse to engage in those private immoral acts which appear to have no immediate effect on others. But how does the atheist objectively ground this criteria of his?

        You stated that you’ve seen no change to your lot in life since becoming an atheist. Logically speaking, that has zero relevance to the ontological question of theism. After all, if personal experiences were relevant, what do you do with the many people throughout the world and history that have had a change in their life after coming to God? We can’t all be right. The logical conclusion cannot be both “A” and “non-A”.

        Finally, the example you offered of the abused child is really just another way of raising the problem of evil. But what makes beating a child with a crowbar “abusive”, while kissing her on the cheek is not “abusive”? Why is a moral notion attached to the former and not the latter? How does the atheist ground his moral judgement about the matter? The fact is, if there is no God, there is no objective duty to refrain from beating a child with a crowbar, nor is such behavior any different, morally speaking, than kissing her on the cheek. However, if such evil really exists, then it logically presupposes an objective law which has been violated. And as it’s been repeatedly pointed out, there cannot be an objective law without an objective lawgiver. Hence, if the atheist recognizes child abuse to be truly evil, then he is logically presupposing God’s existence while simultaneously denying it. The question then becomes, how can the atheist acknowledge evil and still be rational, given that evil stands as a defeater to his atheism?

        FG

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      • The big thing I see here is the issue of morality. Why is it wrong to beat a child with a crowbar? Taking morality and guilt out of the equation, by beating another person with a crowbar, child or otherwise, I am effectively saying it’s okay to beat me with a crowbar. Now, the rules would change if for some strange reason the person actually enjoyed being beaten by a crowbar, but that’s it’s own deal.

        How is kissing a child on the cheek different? If the child doesn’t want to be kissed on the cheek, in a lot of ways it’s not. True, it doesn’t cause anywhere near the same harm, but it is still a violation of the child’s personal boundaries and wishes.

        The way you speak of atheism doesn’t match up with any of the true atheists I know. I’m not talking the people that just stopped going to church, nor the people who really just don’t care enough. There is a big difference between someone who purposefully chooses atheism to someone who kind of just defaults to it out of convenience. Most atheists I know could be seen as very moral. They simply lack the same guidance as a religious person has. They are governed by an awareness of the world around them and their effect on it. It’s very different from the image you present.

        Funny enough, you keep talking about anarchists as a negative example. At the same time, I view myself as an anarchist. I have quite a few friends who are more serious about it than I am, but there are shades to anarchy. Anarchists don’t really tend to believe in utter chaos. In my experience they tend to believe that each person should be able to govern and be responsible for their own actions. I see myself as more that kind of person. I don’t want big government telling me how to live my life. I would be happy with a small local government built by the local community. It’s just a different view.

        Moral judgment is also something that can be self-governed. If you are aware of your surroundings and the people in it, you can treat everyone threat they want to be treated. On a simple level, a woman I know kisses all her friends on the cheek when greeting them. She knows it makes me uncomfortable, so she doesn’t do it. There are topics I don’t talk about with certain friends because it makes them uncomfortable. I would walk up to someone and punch them in the face because, chances are, that’s not how they want to be treated. There will always be situations where a little harm now saves a greater upset later. Breaking off a bad relationship before it can get any worse may hurt, but how harmful is a bad relationship to begin with? Making the choice to respect others boundaries and wishes requires a lot of maturity, but it can be done. The only thing that changes is the reason. Is it because God says it’s right, or because I am honestly taking responsibility for my own actions. In order to have others respect my wishes and my pursuit of happiness, I have to respect theirs.

        And what of all the other religions out there? Not all of them believe in the existence of God or have many gods and goddesses. They have different beliefs and different rules. Who is to say which one is right, or if any of them are right?

        I guess what I’ve been getting at from the start is the appearance that atjeism must be wrong because you know God exists. Atheists say the same about anyone to believe in a higher power. Me? I guess you could call me agnostic because I have no reason to believe one way or another. I just don’t see it as being as clear and simple as all this.

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      • You suggested that by removing morality, it would be okay to beat another with a crowbar. Yes, that’s correct, though it’s sort of redundant, like saying, for example, “Without marriage, a man is a bachelor.” It’s pretty much an analytical statement to say that without objective moral prohibitions or prescriptions, anything goes, including beating others with a crowbar or violating their personal boundaries.

        Regarding your “very moral” atheist friends, I don’t think you’re really understanding the gist of my arguments (or perhaps the fault is mine for not being clear, for which I apologize). In order for anyone to be “very moral”, morality must exist. But in a world without God, from whence come objective moral imperatives? They don’t grow on trees. They don’t drop out of the clouds. So how are such objective imperatives intelligible within an atheist worldview?

        Regarding anarchy, I’m referring to a classic understanding of the term. What you described of yourself is not anarchy at all. It’s more akin to libertarianism. I’m all for limited government as well, but I’m certainly no anarchist.

        You suggested that you can govern your own actions and so forth, but that doesn’t address the nature of morality at all. The issue is one of obligatory duty. I can appreciate that you want to treat others as they would want to be treated, but the question is this: Do others have a duty to behave similarly? If so, why? If not, then there’s nothing wrong with taking a crowbar to their head. You see, I’m not at all discussing whether you’re able to make a “good” choice. I’m asking whether such a thing as a “good” choice exists to which one is morally obliged. Thus far, no atheist has provided any intelligible basis for obligatory duty. As I said, I can appreciate that some atheists want to treat others as they would like, but if they chose to utilize a crowbar instead, on what objective ground could any moral complaint be brought against them?

        Regarding other religions, you asked, “Who is to say which one is right, or if any of them are right?”
        Anyone can assess a worldview for logical consistency or correspondence to the facts. It’s really not too difficult to note, for example, that the world doesn’t rest on the back of turtles, so any worldview which holds to that can immediately be eliminated. In fact, upon analysis, most worldviews which are not monotheistic can be eliminated. It’s not, after all, as if every worldview exists in a state of evidential parity to one another. Clearly there is argument and evidence which favor some worldviews over others.

        Finally, the existence of universal moral intuitions require some rational explanation. Until someone can offer a better explanation, such universal human phenomena provides a rationally sufficient basis for inferring moral realism. Furthermore, if objective moral imperatives exist (and we see no reason to think they do not), then such objective laws logically presuppose an objective lawgiver. That pretty much renders atheism/agnosticism untenable.

        FG

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      • I don’t see how any non-monotheistic worldview can be eliminated. Some, sure, but not all. What about a view that believes the divine resides in each of us instead of being some other entity? What about the world soul view, that the divine is simply a function of the collective consciousness of everything in the universe? These worldviews suggest that God is other people. Can it be so easily disproved that God is not a function of our collective entities or energies and not an individual at all?

        As I said, my friend could be described as moral. However, morality in psychology is more of a guideline based on the natural preferences of humankind. There are no laws from God in psychology. Instead morality is viewed from the standpoint of what is overall acceptable to most human beings within a culture. Again, it comes down to treating others as they want to be treated.

        Why would an atheist not take a crowbar to someone else’s head? Would you like a crowbar taken to your head? I know I wouldn’t. I don’t know anyone who would. However taking a crowbar to someone else’s head is like unwritten consent to do the same to me. I am acknowledging that this is okay and acceptable behavior in my book, so I should be perfectly okay with it happening to me. Turnabout is fair play and all of that.

        An atheist can demonstrate how they want to be treated by treating others in a respectful way. Instead of doing it because some higher power commands us, the reason becomes mutual respect for the existence of others. After all, what reason do they have to treat me right if I won’t do the same for them? That is all I need to treat others in my community well. I want to be treated well, to be free to pursue a path in life that makes me happy and is respectful to those around me. As a result, I need to allow others the freedom to do the same. God is not a part of the equation. Respect and personal happiness are.

        Because of that, I don’t see how God is a necessary part of the equation. Instead I see so many wars and so much persecution happen in the name of God. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone being very pushy about converting me. I just don’t see how doing things in the name of God is better. It removes accountability from the self.

        I have also read the Bible quite recently. The Old Testament in particular is filled with anything but the good, loving God I’ve had described to me. I have an entire notebook filled with everything in the Bible I find to be reasons why I would not turn to the God in the Bible. There is favoritism, rules that seem ridiculous, and the very clear concept that women are lesser than men. This is not an entity I would feel comfortable guiding my moral existence. I know not everyone will see it as I do, but it’s just one more reason in my mind.

        To say any other world view than yours is incorrect is very closed minded. To tell me that I am simply wrong because of a lot of circular talk proving there must be a law maker is frustrating. There is no evidence to back it up. It’s just a lot of big words to dress up the belief that the existence of laws means there must be a law maker, and that law maker must be God. There is no other reasonable explanation. Then again, at one point, lightning must have been cast down from the heavens because no one understood why it happened. Perhaps some day there will be proof that God was simply an explanation for things we didn’t understand. We can’t say that for certain.

        Personally I choose to believe in no higher power. I believe in small, possibly non-existent government. I believe in doing the right thing because I have respect for those around me. It shouldn’t matter if God is or is not the reason, as long as I treat others as they should be treated.

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      • Each of those world views you mentioned either are internally incoherent, or they fail to make the world intelligible, and that’s why they fail. Pretty much every worldview can be reduced to the following: There is no God (atheism); there is one God (monotheism); there are many gods (polytheism); all is God (pantheism); God is in all (panentheism); all is one, but it is not God (monism).
        • Ethics, as was shown previously, eliminates atheism as a contender (unless one denies the existence of objective moral notions, and many atheists have bitten the bullet and gone that route in order to rationally maintain their unbelief).
        • Polytheism is incoherent, since the theistic omni attribute of omnipotence can, by definition, only be possessed by a single being; Moreover, polytheism, unlike monotheism, cannot escape Plato’s Euthyphero dilemma. Another contender eliminated by ethics.
        • The existence of ethics also pretty much eliminates pantheism. After all, if all is God, and God is good, then there could be no such thing as evil. But evil exist, so pantheism is out. (Some pantheists try to avoid this conclusion by simply denying evil.)
        • Panentheism fails because it inextricably connects God with the material world, in which case, such a god would have begun simultaneously with the universe. Such a being would be neither eternal nor omnipotent, because such a being would be dependent on a prior personal First Cause. That eliminates panentheism.
        • A non-theistic monism cannot account for the existence of a finite universe, so monism is out.
        • That pretty much leaves us with monotheism as the inference to the best explanation for the world and it’s phenomena.

        You offered psychology as an explanation for morality, suggesting that morality might be determined by what “most human beings” accept, or, again, suggesting that we treat others how we want to be treated (i.e., “mutual respect”). This again completely fails to address the question of duty. Why should the sadist or nihilist care about mutual respect? Why not simply do whatever one wants to do to others and, in fact, why not kill them before they can do the same to us? You see, the explanations you offered depend entirely on the hope that others will agree with your program. What’s important to note, however, is that they have absolutely no obligatory duty to do so. And that’s precisely what ethics is all about, i.e., obligatory duty; how we “ought” to behave, regardless of whether we agree with it or not.

        You rendered moral judgements against things done “in the name of God”, or things with which you subjectively disagree or find immoral in the Bible. But given an atheistic worldview, by what objective standard do you judge those things to be evil? You see, the atheist may tell us what he happens to dislike, like a child who says he doesn’t like spinach. But the atheist cannot provide any rational ground for why such things are wrong, any more than the child can say that spinach is evil. And this is the elephant in the room which atheists totally ignore. They continue to render ethical judgements, all the while denying the very ground of ethics.

        You wrote:
        “To say any other world view than yours is incorrect is very closed minded.”
        This is, quite frankly, an irrational statement. You’re accusing me of being closed minded for suggesting that others are wrong, all the while insinuating that I am wrong for doing so. Well, which is it going to be? Is it okay for me to point out the incorrect worldviews of others? Or am I wrong, in which case you are close minded for saying so?

        You suggested that it is circular to infer an objective lawgiver from objective ethics, but you didn’t explain how that is so. I certainly didn’t predicate belief on objective ethics on God. Rather, I inferred it from the universal phenomena of ethical intuition. I then noted that laws presuppose a lawgiver. So where’s the circularity?
        Moreover, your comparison to lightening is not remotely analogous to my argument. Lightening may presuppose a cause, but it doesn’t presuppose a deity as an immediate cause. Objective ethical imperatives, however, do logically presuppose an objective lawgiver from which they issue. It’s an inescapable conclusion which many atheistic philosophers have admitted, which is why, as I earlier noted, they just choose to bite the bullet and deny ethics altogether. Of course, even for the atheist who chooses to deny ethics, they’re still incapable of explaining the universal phenomena of ethical notions. What’s worse, their moral prince (i.e., one who embodies one’s moral theory) is a sociopath.

        Finally, I appreciate that you desire to choose to do the right thing and have respect for those around you. What remains unclear, however, is how you know that you are, in fact, choosing to do the “right” thing, instead of merely deceiving yourself and living in a way that fulfills your personal predilections. After all, without God, men have, since ancient days, tended to do whatever is “right” in their own eyes. Some things never change.

        FG

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      • Looking at psychology in specific, and using a sadist as an example because addressing one is easier than both suggestions, how do we know the sadist is not a product of environment? Can we eliminate all other causes and just say that the sadist is just naturally occuring? If a sadist was caused to take pleasure in the pain of others through some life circumstance, then why does it continue to exist? Why allow evil in the world?

        Or is it evil at all? Do broken, misguided people go against the grain because they are tempted or corrupt by some source of evil, or is it because they are damaged enough that they honestly don’t understand what they’re doing is wrong?

        My ex husband is a great example to me of someone who has done some pretty horrible things, yet I don’t think he’s evil, nor corrupted by evil. He’s a man that’s in some serious mental anguish. He is in a lot of pain, so he takes it out on other people. He’s on record as bullying me and attempting to bully CPS into getting his way. He does it because he needs to feel like he’s smarter than everyone else. He needs to feel like he has all the power. That is a damaged mind. He does it in reaction to his own pain, because he cannot be happy with who he is until he heals. I understand that. While I don’t have to put up with it, I see why he does it.

        Most of the lawful people in the world can be seen to have similar stories in my experience. Something happened and they are mentally wounded. That caused them to react in horrific ways. They aren’t bad people. There are no bad people. There are just people that do bad things because they are hurt, afraid, or simply never learned anything else.

        If you view the world that way, there truly is no such thing as evil. There are just a lot of people who are lashing out and want help to feel healthy and whole. They may take comfort in hurting others because they now have the power to get revenge for what was done to them, but revenge doesn’t work. Instead they need to learn to process the emotions and move on in a more pleasant existence, one where they can feel loved and accepted for who they are.

        God is not a necessary component for understanding the psychology of a damaged mind. After all, I don’t know a single person that had a mostly happy and healthy childhood to turn out to be sadistic or cruel in any way. Of course, I haven’t known too many people that are hurtful and cruel. I tend to avoid them. That probably only worsens their situation, but I can’t tolerate being around people who are mean or cruel.

        I just don’t see a way in which God is a necessary component. It seems to me very similar to watching animals. Animals that are mistreated are prone to lashing out, or they turn coward in fear. It’s simple instincts. I don’t like pain, so I will react to avoid pain, or I will adapt to survive it. That’s something that can be attributed to something other than God.

        You also make a few assumptions here. Your elimination of other worldviews assumes that God is good. Your view also assumes that God must have existed before the creation of the world. If there is the possibility that God is not inherently good, that opens the possibility for alternatives. If God was created along with the world, that is another consideration. It is possible that both concepts are true and you are correct, but if God is good, and God wants us to be good too, why allow evil to exist at all? What is to be gained?

        In the beginning of the Bible I was also struck by another consideration. Even God recognizes the existence of other gods. The other gods and the other people are mentioned very briefly in Genesis, I believe before the creation of Adam, but I could be wrong. If God recognizes the existence of these beings, then doesn’t that suggest there could be other gods out there. Perhaps this is one of many? In this case I question because it is in the Bible and I just want to understand the full complexity.

        Since we’re on the subject of understanding how other worldviews may fit in, I have never gotten a solid, believable answer on how Christianity deals with dinosaurs, or the evidence to support that man evolved from apes and God did not actually plant all things in existence on Earth as he intended them to be. This is also one of the many arguments I’ve seen with atheism, that there are so many things science has proven that conflict with the idea that God is our great architect and this is all to go along with some divine plan.

        I hope none of this is offending you. I find it a truly interesting discussion. I’ve always been interested in understanding why people believe as they do. While I can honestly say you haven’t provided any kind of convincing evidence where I’m concerned, I do find it fascinating.

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      • Regarding the sadist, I would tend to agree with you and suspect there are things in his environment which influence his decisions. For example, serial killer, Jeffrey Dalmer, when asked why he did what he did, noted that he was taught evolution, and that if God did not exist, he saw no reason why he couldn’t do as he pleased. The environmental influence of evolutionary education influenced him to live as he pleased. The grand irony is that he was perfectly logical in his approach. If God does not exist, Dalmer really did nothing wrong. However, environmental influences, though they may inform our decisions, have no causal power over us. Though they may provide us with reasons which we take into consideration when weighing possible decisions, the choices themselves are ultimately our own, for which we are held morally accountable. In other words, nothing outside of himself “caused” Dalmer to do what he did.

        You asked why people sin and offered two possible reasons, and my answer would be the former reason you offered.

        You then offered a few scenarios where people do bad things because of their circumstances. You then suggest that if we view it this way, there is “truly is no such thing as evil”. However, this analysis is incoherent. After all, if there were no such thing as evil, then what behaviors are you referring to when you say that these people behave in “horrific ways”? On the one hand, you issue a negative value judgement, suggesting that people behave in “horrific ways”, and then you contradict yourself by suggesting there is no such thing as evil. Well, which is it? Again, if there’s no evil, then how is their behavior horrific or, as you also suggested, “hurtful and cruel”? Finally, none of the psychological theories you’re offering address the main issue, which is that of obligatory moral duty. Is it the case that people “ought” to refrain from being horrific and cruel, or are such assessments equivalent to sharing an autobiographical preference, like telling us you prefer chocolate over vanilla? Again, it is the issue of objective duty that requires a rational ground, which atheism is incapable of providing.

        You then compared human behavior to animal behavior. Once again, this completely fails to address ethics. The crux of the issue has nothing to do with descriptive behavior. Rather, it has to do with prescriptive behavior. Are there objectively prescribed behaviors, or are all things permissible, including the aforementioned crowbar to the head?

        You suggested that I was making some assumption, like the fact that God existed before the creation of the world. However, this isn’t an assumption. A cause is logically prior to its effect, so a personal Creator could not have logically come in to being with His creation. And note that any cosmological argument places God as the first, uncaused mover. If there were any Creator prior to God, then that being would, Himself, be God.
        Regarding God’s goodness: Technically, “God is good” is sort of an analytical proposition, because it is not so much that God possesses an attribute of “good”. Rather, “good” is dependent on God’s nature, so that it is His nature which sets the standard for whatever is deemed “good”. For example, the meter stick held at the BIPM near Paris doesn’t just happen to have the property of being a meter long. It is actually the standard for what counts as a meter, and any other stick which is a meter is only a “meter” insofar as it reflects the length of the stick kept at the BIPM. In like manner, God doesn’t just happen to be good. Rather, anything which is good is only good insofar as it reflects His nature.

        You asked why it is that God allows evil. Well, here are the alternatives: God could have created robots with no fee will. Or, He could have created free creatures without arms, legs, eyes, or ability to speak, and then duct-taped us all to trees so that we couldn’t get ourselves into trouble. Or He could have chosen not to create us at all. Which do you find preferable to having free will and being able to exercise it?

        Regarding the Bible, can you offer a verse you believe supports polytheism? And be careful not to offer verses which refer to idols or the false gods of pagan nations. You need to offer a verse wherein God admits to other true deities. Just to save us time, I’ll offer verses:

        “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” – Isaiah 44:6b
        “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God: I know not any.” – Isaiah 44:8b

        Sounds pretty conclusive.

        To answer to some of your other questions:
        • Dinosaurs have nothing to do with the gospel message, that’s why the New Testament doesn’t address them. It’s irrelevant to the question of theism, nor are theists in a position where they need to deny the existence of dinosaurs.
        • There is no evidence nor proof for evolution. Darwinism is a philosophical preference by which some interpret data. However, it is not part of empirical science. Have you ever actually observed a vertical transition? Yeah, neither has any darwinist. While it’s true that there are horizontal transitions which can account for the many variety of different kinds (which is why you can see an incredible variety of, say, dogs) you will never see a dog evolve into a horse (and if you do, I promise I’ll join ranks with you).

        Finally, I’m glad you’re enjoying the dialogue. I enjoy these exchanges as well, though it’s seriously eating into my work day. Thankfully I can make my own hours.

        Take Care,

        FG

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  8. Amen! You described our view exactly. I don’t want to teach my son that anyone is the three o’s (omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent) except God and I feel Santa especially is shown to be those three in the legends. He can be all around the world in one day basically in more than one place at a time, he knows when they are good and bad…all knowing, and he doesn’t die and seems all powerful. Only God can do those things. It seems like idol worship if we make our kids believe Santa is those three. Now it doesn’t feel so bad when friends take Santa down a notch like with the whole elf on the shelf thing.

    But put him on the same level of God then he’s no different than Baal or the Greek gods. I knew a kid that deeply believed in Santa til 8th grade. It really shook his world when he found out Santa wasn’t real. That’s scary. We really like Rise of the Guardians too. It does make me sad that kids put so much devotion into these characters that can never save them. If only that same level of devotion was put into Jesus. I feel that way about super heroes too. Michael and I have had many talks about heroes and who the best hero is. We had this talk after Man of Steele came out…if we’re not careful those characters can be worshiped too.

    I agree with you. We definitely have tons of fun though Michael knows what’s real and what’s make believe. We have leprechaun hunts on St. Patty’s day. I think it’s more of a game because we know it’s pretend. He laughs when I say the leprechaun did this or that and he says “It’s you Mommy!” And I laugh…”yeah, it was me.”

    Well, great post! Keep on keeping on. You’re a wonderful mom! 🙂

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