Atheism, Agnosticism and Cultural Low Self-esteem

I think … the skeptics are taking over atheism. …I am an agnostic,

because I believe that is the human condition, and I am a skeptic,

because I believe that is the most efficient way to live my life.

A recent comment at the Orthosphere

 Atheism and its twin brother agnosticism are usually descriptions of individuals. But they’re also cultural forces, shaping society and in turn being shaped by the society in which they live and move and have their being.

[For brevity, I shall refer to them both as “atheism,” for they’re essentially identical at the level of day-to day operations.]

What has atheism to do with low cultural self-esteem? Just this: Atheism, especially today’s variety, makes a virtue of not believing. But skepticism weakens a man and a nation, leading ultimately to ruin unless countered by a renewal of belief.

Think of it: What character trait is today nearly-universally held to be the greatest virtue? Which trait is most praised? The absence of which trait is loathed most deeply and punished most harshly?

Tolerance, of course.

It does go by other names: nonjudgmentalism, openness, diversity, anti-racism, etc. But whatever it’s called, the supreme virtue of the modern age is not to believe.

Not to believe that one’s people are good and therefore one should be loyal to them. Not to believe that there is one true religion not only for us but also foreigners. [Hey, if it’s true, it’s true.] Not to believe that there are proper ways to love and marry, not just for me but for all. Not to believe that some things are beautiful and others are ugly. Not to believe that proper standards of decency ought to be enforced. Etc.

[It’s true that the authorities always act as if they believe some things. It’s impossible for an individual to live, or for a nation to exist, without at least acting as if certain things are true. But nowadays you’re not allowed to state openly that certain things are true and that you are acting accordingly. If you do, you’re a “bigot.”]

And this is generally the ethos of today’s atheist. He usually says that, sure, there might be a God. But I see no good evidence. So I remain skeptical. I won’t say for sure that God doesn’t exist, but I just won’t believe it. Today’s atheism reinforces and is reinforced by the spirit of the times.

And, naturally, the atheist regards his worldview as the best. The one that everyone ought to embrace if we are to make a better world. Let’s all stop fighting over Flying Spaghetti Monsters who don’t really exist and get on with living the good life of skepticism, tolerance, and live-and-let-live.

Except that human life doesn’t actually work that way.

In order to achieve anything great, and to insure the continuation of his people in the midst of a hostile world, a man (and a nation) needs certainty about some things. And the most important thing to be certain about is that your life makes sense at a deep level. That you are not just thrown into existence for no reason and then snuffed out utterly a few decades later for no reason either.

A man also needs the confident belief that he and his people are basically good. Only then will he be willing to exert himself, and sometimes deny himself, in order to protect someone other than himself.

But atheism is based on a skepticism that dissolves this confidence. It does so in individuals and nations. Told to be tolerant, told that nonjudgmentalism is the greatest good, told that reality itself is equal and indeterminate, threatened with punishment if he acts as if his people and his religion are actually good, the modern man shrinks back into skepticism and solipsism.

Therefore Western nations lack the will to defend themselves against any but the most crude and obvious physical threats. We allow foreigners to colonize our lands. We allow our children to forget the ways of our ancestors. We allow disorder and rebellion because we don’t want to deny anyone their civil rights. And so on.

All this is the predictable result of widespread skepticism. If God doesn’t exist, I’m on my own. And even if God just probably doesn’t exist, what difference would it make even if he does? After all, so this line of thought goes, a real God would make his presence known, but no such God has made himself known to me. Either way, with no (real) God out there, I cannot look to him to set things right. All I can do is make my brief existence as pleasant as possible. No sense sticking my neck out.

Of course, there are some people who spontaneously act better than that. Some people naturally act courageously. But many don’t. With widespread, officially-endorsed (and enforced) skepticism, the spirit of a nation is weakened.

Naturally, as a Christian, I know that Christianity is the truest religion and the only way to avoid Hell. But even the false religions give man what he needs most deeply:  order. Especially the deep order that comes from believing in the reality of a world that transcends the merely physical.

Our ancestors believed in Christianity and, before that, other religions. And those few who did not were forced, as it were, generally to act as if they did. And this is one of the main reason our ancestors achieved greatness: Founding nations, building empires, defeating enemies, producing great works of art, establishing enduring schools of thought, and so on.

Could any of us moderns do these things? I doubt it, because we lack the basic confidence possessed by our ancestors. We of the West are not permitted by our leaders to defend ourselves against such obvious threats as false religion, mass immigration, and divorce, or to be proud of our ancestors, our traditional way of life, and our religion, because all these are “intolerant” and ”discriminatory.” It’s institutionally-mandated low national self-esteem. And it’s the natural result of the atheist’s basic way of thought.

[I’m not saying the atheist personally is to be blamed. It’s his way of thought, the way that existed before he was born, that is at fault.]

The man who fully buys into modernism, when he looks at the achievements of his ancestors, tend to focus on the injustices and the outrages: the massacres, the slavery, the “intolerance,” and so on. Probably that’s because as a skeptical weakling, the modernist’s primary concern in life is to avoid discomfort. Lacking any confidence in God and an afterlife, he hopes only for what he sees as the best possible outcome: avoid as much pain as possible in this life, and then mercifully pass out of existence.

I can’t claim to be that much better than the “degenerate modern” portrayed above. The poison of his skepticism influences us all. But at the very least, I know better than to endorse his suicidal skepticism.

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39 thoughts on “Atheism, Agnosticism and Cultural Low Self-esteem

  1. Closely linked to the imperative not to believe is the imperative not to exist. Three manifestations of the latter are: Industrialized abortion, elective infertility with its concomitant falling replacement-rate in the national populations, and the institutional revilement of Western custom, history, and institutions.

  2. Pingback: Atheism, Agnosticism and Cultural Low Self-esteem | Reaction Times

  3. Based on these arguments, I would expect atheists to be crippled by skepticism and lack of confidence and Christians to be more assured and imposing, except that all my observations of secularists and Christians show the exact opposite.

    Secularists’ demanding that Eastern Europeans and Africans profess the Western orthodoxy on sexual freedom and equality does not bespeak a lack of cultural confidence. Nor does their willingness to punish dissenters from this orthodoxy, their casual referral to those who don’t attend secular-model schools as “uneducated”, their genuine belief that history is on their side, their presumption to lecture Muslims on the meaning of their own religion and the rest of the world on “human rights”, and so forth.

    The skeptical conservative attitude, as seen in Montaigne and Hume, is indeed a pretty weak and lifeless thing, but Leftist atheism is confident to the point of closed-mindedness, aggressively expansionist, and very competent in counteracting threats. It’s just wishful thinking to imagine otherwise.

    • Bonald writes of how when “secularists [demand] that Eastern Europeans and Africans profess the Western orthodoxy on sexual freedom and equality [this] does not bespeak a lack of cultural confidence.” No, but it does bespeak a commitment to the imperative not to exist. For liberals, neither Ugandans nor Bulgarians have a right to exist as the ethnically peculiar people that they are; they must obliterate their peculiarities by embracing what Ken Wilber calls the “Green Meme.” The “differences” celebrated by the left are fraudulent; that is to say, they are purely cosmetic, like dabbing on burnt cork. The actual person underneath the masquerade, stemming from an actual people, must obliterate his actuality. The “Green-Meme” mentality is by no means exempt from its own program, as those whom it absorbs must obliterate their own actuality in order to enter into the kingdom. Leftist atheism is indeed aggressive, but so is the amoeboid Blob in the old Steve McQueen flick. Alan did not use my “amoebic” metaphor, but it fits his argument, as I understand it.

      Liberalism is dangerous (Eric Voegelin classified it as a species of Gnosticism and called it “metastatic”), but it is not very smart despite its talent of pouring forth torrents of words. Given that the liberal pseudo-order is ultimately suicidal, pure stubbornness might be a valid response to it.

      • Madness is often quite enterprising and self-confident, even though self-loathing, world-hating, and ultimately self-destructive. Viz., Nietzsche, Lucifer, Nero, Ahab, Hitler, de Sade, Robespierre, Napoleon. Mania is fantastically energetic, like a firestorm that destroys its own fuel. The thing about evil is that it generates a lot of short term activity, lots of intense, immediate reward that feeds back into the vicious cycle and intensifies it. But such activity, as fallen from the proper creaturely nisus toward the Good, is to that extent deranged, chaotic, and ineffectual, petering out eventually in empty slogans, whacked statutes, and sundry perversions of language such as Orwell foresaw. As the fever dies away, the patient is left vitiated, supine, prone to predation, slack, listless, depressed – demoralized, as Alan has put it.

        Until it burns itself out, the fire can of course do lots of damage, just as Bonald says.

    • Bonald, that’s an interesting challenge. My point was that skepticism (of which atheism is a part) weakens a man and a nation. Let me summarize your point as I understand it:

      The leaders of the West are atheists (de facto or de jure), and they are confident in the truth of their doctrine and the righteousness of their actions. Christians (at any rate, western Christians) mostly lack confidence. Therefore my point is mistaken, at least as a general rule.

      You’re right that many atheists are confident. And to the extent that they are, they’re not skeptics. They’re “selective skeptics.” They’re only “skeptical” of the things they think false, and they’re true believers in their leftist doctrines.

      They only employ skepticism as a weapon: as a smoke screen behind which to hide or as poison gas to cripple their enemy. They’re insincere skeptics.
      Therefore I think my basic point stands, at least regarding the secularists. They have confident faith in their (twisted) religion.

      But many people take the doctrine of skepticism seriously. Many people believe what the leaders of the nation say, and they act accordingly. They may sense intuitively that something’s wrong, but they lack an explicitly-worded doctrine that gives form and substance to their misgivings. So they go along with the program of suicidal tolerance. And this is even if they’re Christians who ought to know better.

      Another thing: The leftist leaders of the West may be non-skeptical and self-assured in a sense, but theirs is a confident suicide. You’ve written that it’s entirely possible that the leftist regime could last for a long time, and although I acknowledge this possibility, I think it highly unlikely. If reality is what it really is, then man cannot flout it forever. If our doctrine really is true, then theirs really is false, and falsehood eventually undercuts the one who attempts to stand on it.

      And therefore the confident, self-assured leftist leader is confidently, with self-assurance, putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. So while we may say that he has self-esteem in a manner of speaking, I think it’s not really right to give him this accolade.

      As for Christians lacking self-confidence, I would argue that it’s the result of being too much influenced by the suicidal doctrine that is all around us, combined with the understandable frustration of seeing that our leaders prevent proper thought from being put into practice.

      Yes, it’s disheartening to understand that our leaders are dragging our nation down to destruction and there’s essentially nothing we can do about it in the short run because all effective resistance has been blocked. Faced with this dreadful state of affairs, a man has basically three options:

      One, not be aware of the danger, and continue to party on the Titanic.

      Two, convince himself that the destruction is actually a Good Thing.

      Three, oppose the evil in whatever small way he can, thereby retaining his personal honor.

      I would say that a Christian in the third category does have the “self-esteem” that comes from his religion, even if his life is not one of the outward self-confidence that comes from his convictions being publicly honored and put into practice.

      The confidence of which I spoke in the essay is mostly the confidence of knowing that you are ultimately safe because you are in Christ, although I didn’t make that clear. I wasn’t referring to the confidence of outward success, which can always be thwarted by external factors. These days, it is impossible for Christians to have the sort of outward self-confidence possessed by secular leaders of America, because in public life, Christianity has effectively been declared to be false. But I don’t think that nullifies my main point.

    • There is a real desire for self-annihilation amongst secularists and an equally real denial amongst Christians towards this desire for Final Liberation amongst secularists.

    • >The skeptical conservative attitude, as seen in Montaigne and Hume, is indeed a pretty weak and lifeless thing

      Well, that is because it is intellectual, and intellectualism is pretty much automatically so. You cannot really mix the via comtemplative with the via activa. You can make history or write, you can’t do both. The actors who shape history must be necessarily blind to have the kind of confidence and energy that only a narrow view can give. And those who have the broad view cannot act decisively – they are paralized with doubt and “one one hand, on the other hand”.

      I mean you are an intellectual yourself but sometimes you come accross a self-hating one :-) Don’t you wish you could be reborn as a 100 IQ blacksmith and small-town mayor with strong faith, full of life and energy, an energized conviction that his faith, family, profession, community and nation are just fine, and not much worrying about higher things?

      I am something sort of a skeptical conservative and pretty much given up on affecting history. Skeptical conservatism is having interesting discussions with a drink in hand and making commentaries about exactly what interesting ways the world destroys itself. It isn’t really supposed to actually _do_ something.

      BTW Michael Oakeshott > Montaigne, but that is just my 2 cents. Oakie was I think the truly “textbook” skep-con. Oakie didn’t even believe in debating – just conversations.

  4. “A man also needs the confident belief that he and his people are basically good.”

    Is it Christian to believe that one is basically good?

    “one’s people are good and therefore one should be loyal to them.”
    There should be no “therefore”. I must be loyal to my people simply because they are mine, that God has placed me amidst them. Goodness does not enter here. Recall, my country, right or wrong.

    • The basic goodness of a man himself and his people, the goodness to which I refer in the essay, has nothing to do with the sinfulness of man. It’s a more basic concept. It’s the basic notion that a man and his people have a fundamental value that ought to be recognized and that ought to animate a man’s actions. It is the fundamental antidote to the leftist poison that teaches the wickedness of whites, men, Christians, and so on.

      Any my sentence “one’s people are good and therefore one should be loyal to them” refers to the same thing. The “goodness” of which I speak is not something that is a result of an investigation of the facts of the matter. It is not a provisional judgment that can be reversed if additional facts warrant. It is the basic goodness of which I refer above.

      Of course, a man ought to be prepared to acknowledge if he or his people have sinned. But this sin does not nullify the basic value to which I speak.

      • You say that the basic goodness of man and his people is more basic than the Original Sin. But where have you got this concept and this principle of the basic goodness?

        The Catholic Church dogmatically emphasizes inalienable dignity of persons. But says nothing about “his people”, which is a political concept.

      • From the Catechism:

        1905 In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person …

        1910 Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is found. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.

        Man is essentially social. The good of man then involves social goods. The Church is the archetype of the People.

  5. “the institutional revilement of Western custom, history, and institutions.”
    Precisely the same could have been written in the reign of Elizabeth I.

    • Or of her father, Henry VIII. The Crisis of the West began with the very inception of modernity centuries ago.

    • Not consciously. I was just using the phrase, not endorsing the content of the book, which I haven’t read.

  6. Great piece, Alan. The small good that a Christian can do is perhaps not to continue feeding the whole sick organism of liberal society, as good citizens have always done, but to sever the healthy parts so they can be preserved. Help our people develop greater resilience and self-reliance than the liberal dispensation favors. Perhaps Kristor can advise how people can untie their future prosperity from the bankers’ printing presses. Perhaps being in the world but not of the world will turn out to have a much more concrete meaning than we thought.

    • 1. Get out of debt.
      2. Own rural land and start moving there.
      3. Learn how to make or do something that lots of people need.
      4. Get on really well with your neighbours, and especially with your family.

      I have a lot more detail here.

      Funny thing: doing all these humble sensible things to separate ourselves from the insanity of this world and reconstitute little islands of the Shire will put us *more* in touch with reality: with the seasons, the Earth, the sky, other people, animals, death, beauty.

      • Beautiful, Kristor. Thanks very much. Best wishes for carrying out those intentions. Perhaps it was too obvious to add, Unplug from the Matrix. Sever your children from the media of degradation, and yourself as well. In fact when it comes to children, you have to be completely cynical, in the first instance, about anyone or anything that is going to have contact with them. Part of conforming to the world is believing that the world shares your desire to nurture your children. It doesn’t. It wants to possess them. Generations of parents have trusted that somehow their sound beliefs and values will permeate their children’s hearts and souls. But it doesn’t happen by osmosis any more, if it ever did. There is no ambient goodness in which to trust in the deception-saturated society. Satan is within and without. Constant prayer may be the best weapon against him, and the best weapon you can hand on to your children.

        Off-topic, I’m well into Michael O’Brien’s The Father’s Tale. I think you would like it. Most of it takes place in Russia, as the protagonist discovers the surviving faithful in remote Siberia. A good Catholic, he learns more about constant prayer from the Orthodox.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. I had never heard of O’Brien. As soon as I read your response I went over to Amazon and was happy to see how many books he has written, and how well they have been reviewed by Christians. I ordered Father Elijah. Synchronicity alert: two hours later I saw Father Elijah on the shelf of a good friend from Church, who endorsed it enthusiastically.

  7. This post convinces me beyond any doubt that Catholicism and Liberalism are basically the same evil. Catholicism is Orthodox Christianity gone bad, and Liberalism is Protestantism gone bad.

    Nothing is more important for morality than self-doubt, which is another word for skepticism. There is no conflict between skepticism and faith. A person cannot have any beliefs at all without some axioms of faith from which to derive those beliefs. Skepticism only means an obligation to continually examine one’s own beliefs in recognition that we are not perfect and not omniscient. Those axioms that we accept on faith should be honestly recognized as such and should be clearly limited to the core axioms of our worldview and not extended to the mundane.

    Moral systems take on faith axioms that are non-human, in recognition of the fact that humanity is fundamentally fallible. This faith may be in God, Christ, Shinto spirits, or historical consistency (the basis of inductive logic which is my religion). This recognition that the truth is found outside of ourselves leads to an honest search for truth and leads to tolerance of other beliefs. But when systems go bad and start having faith in humanity itself, both interest in honest truth and tolerance for others is lost.

    There is a long list of examples. Rabbinic Judaism is Judaism gone bad. Faith in God became faith in rabbis. Plato is Athenian culture gone bad. Faith in the gods was replaced by faith in human reason. Catholicism is Christianity gone bad. Faith in Christ was replaced with faith in the Church. Modern Protestantism is Protestantism gone bad. Faith in Christ and scripture is replaced with faith in one’s personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, a relationship that exists inside people rather than in the outside world. Liberalism is a combination of Modern Protestantism and Plato. It is faith in human emotions, like in Modern Protestantism, and faith in reason, like in Plato. All of these religions gone bad are all the same. They are close-minded and intolerant.

    • What is the Church, Franklin? Is it the same in your view as faith in the hierarchy? You may have noticed some skepticism as regards the hierarchy among the Catholics at this site.

      • Exactly, Josh. The Church is not, properly speaking, a bureaucracy or administration. It is a mystical body. Bodies need nervous systems, of course, which is rather what bureaucracies are to bodies politic. But the nervous system is, not the body, but rather an organ thereof.

      • Yes, the hierarchy. I don’t condemn all Catholics. But recent posts have made me see a fundamental flaw in Catholicism itself in that it fundamentally assumes faith in the hierarchy, even if some Catholics don’t agree. I strongly prefer skepticism over faith for all man-made institutions.

        I don’t see how one can separate the Church from the people in the Church. When the Church declares X, this X comes from the people in the Church. A good religion deserves respect as an institution, and traditions also deserve respect. But to put either of these on the level of God, meaning the level of absolute faith, is wrong. This is what the Pharisees did which Jesus complained about. The significance of realizing that man-made institutions don’t deserve absolute faith is that one has healthy skepticism and so one always seeks the truth. And one has the humility to realize that the religion that you believe in may actually not be right. Your responsibility is to support the religion that you believe in, but not to impose it on others who may come to different conclusions. This is not an expression of support for multiculturalism. Each culture has a right to purity, to not be corrupted by other cultures. But no culture has the right to impose its view on the world.

      • Franklin, why do you believe your scepticism is more default position than that of Christianity? And why do you see scepticism as more openminded than other views?
        To know that I don’t know (or at least not for certain) is also kind of knowledge and, therefore, it is not clear why it should be more fundamental. If it really is just one position among others it does not guarantee tolerance or openmindedness.

      • RT, I don’t believe that skepticism is the default position. That is the problem. The default position is arrogance and egotism. It takes a good religion to teach true skepticism.

        There is no conflict between Christianity and skepticism, and the good versions of Christianity promote skepticism. Since salvation is the focus of Christianity, good forms of Christianity can be recognized as those that do not guarantee salvation, while bad forms of Christianity do guarantee salvation. By not guaranteeing salvation, good Christianity causes doubt which causes skepticism. By guaranteeing salvation, bad Christianity eliminates doubt which eliminates skepticism. Good forms of Christianity include Eastern Orthodox and old Calvinism.

        I think it should be obvious why skepticism generally produces open-mindedness and tolerance.

      • By guaranteeing salvation, bad Christianity eliminates doubt which eliminates skepticism. Good forms of Christianity include Eastern Orthodox and old Calvinism.

        I don’t know of a version of Christianity that guarantees salvation; Catholicism certainly does not. That’s Pelagianism, a heresy. Saint Paul was not sure of his salvation. How could anyone else be sure?

        Nor do I know of a version of Christianity that eliminates doubt. How could a man who is sure he is fallen ever feel wholly confident in his own grasp of, and faith in, the Truth? That, too, would be a form of Pelagianism.

        Franklin, I think you’re in love with a hypothesis about the various communions that just doesn’t bear out.

        As for skepticism, there are at least two sorts: due care in reaching conclusions, on the one hand, and the sort that Alan discusses in the post, which is skepticism about the very possiblity of human knowledge about God. The former sort is characteristic of serious religion of all sorts. The latter is characteristic of, and sooner or later produces, irreligion.

      • Franklin, I thought skepticism as described here is your fundamental worldview. If you are not sure what the truth is or doubt there is any then it is clear why you believe in universal right of cultures to purity. But if someone believes in the truth of Christianity then in his own eyes he has right to “impose” it on others. Whose right is better? That’s why I am asking why is your position more universal than that of Christianity (for example)?
        Skepticism means to doubt everything you don’t have good reasons to believe. It does not automatically mean open-mindedness. It could even lead to the opposite.

      • Kristor, I am not sure about Catholicism’s view of salvation. From my limited knowledge, it seems mixed and confused. But I need to do more research. On the other hand, Modern Protestants pretty much all feel that salvation is guaranteed when they “let Christ into their hearts”. That’s what makes these people monsters, very much like liberals. Protestants started on this path with the Second and Third Great Awakenings in America, and I think this was the primary cause of liberalism in America.

        Of your 2 types skepticism, only the first is valid. You can’t define skepticism as only skepticism about X. I could flip this over and define skepticism as skepticism about the ability of human reason to find new moral truths without reference to history. In this case, it would be traditional Christians who are the skeptics and liberals who are the true believers. The nature of a fundamentalist is that he takes his axioms to be the only valid way of thinking and rejects all other thought patterns. Liberals are very much fundamentalists with their faith in deductive reasoning.

        RT, skepticism is one part of my worldview. I support all worldviews and all religions that recognize the right of people to live by their own traditions. And I oppose all worldviews and all religions that don’t recognize this right. This is my definition of traditionalism, a respect for all cultural traditions. On my side are Orthodox Christians, traditional Anabaptists, any Protestant unaffected by the Second Great Awakening, Orthodox Jews, Karaite Jews, European Pagans, and most Eastern religions. On the intolerant side are Liberals (which includes Modern Protestants and Liberal Jews), Muslims, and Catholics.

      • @Franklin
        I don’t see how one can separate the Church from the people in the Church. When the Church declares X, this X comes from the people in the Church.

        I don’t see how one can separate Mathematics from Sr Vivian (my second grade math teacher). When Sr Vivian declares (chants, really) that 2*3=6, this 2*3=6 comes from Sr Vivian.

  8. There is a gap in the argument, which leaps from “Catholicism” to “Modern Protestantism.” What about original, late-medieval Protestantism? And is there no gap between original, Apostolic Christianity and articulate Orthodoxy? Maybe it all went wrong in the transition from Jesus to the Apostles. Or from the Aten to Jehovah. Or from Amun-Ra to Aten. Push it back far enough and we arrive at the event symbolized by the Fall, which involves a sophistical appeal. The faith that Alan and Kristor cite is faith that Creation is good and that human beings have a place in Creation, even when they have lost their way; not that all existing men are good and should be, collectively, an object of worship.

  9. I think linking a religion with a culture weakens the case that it is a universal and absolute truth. Also, if I would believe in Hell, I think order in this life would be a less important consideration so this also weakens the case. If there is really such a thing as eternal torment, how could any other consideration could even be seen a borderline important for a second?

    I think one of the reasons I am not a believer is that precisely that I met too many Christians for whom Hell and salvation was one of the important aspects in life, and not THE ONLY THING.

    I mean, in a way, a _fanatic_ would be more convincing. A fanatic who would have the single goal of staying out of Hell and not give a hoot about anything else. And that would be correct in the sense that when people truly believe in Hell, they really should this kind of importance to it because obviously, how could anything be even nearly as important?

    How can I trust people who worry about Hell for five minutes but then worry about e.g. an economic collapse or their aunts cancer for ten minutes?

    I mean, to put it in a utilitarian way, if Hell is basically infinite pain forever… let’s not even put it this way as that is hard to imagine. Let’s say that Hell is 1M units of pain distributed over a long period. And let’s say the worst thing in wordly life is 100 units of pain. Even if I have only 1% chance of Hell the expected value of the function is 10,000 units of pain. This would mean if I had 50% chance of the worst kind of wordly disaster possible, the expected value of that is 50 unit, so Hell still beats it 200 times.

    Considering that, how can a honestly religious person not be a single-issue fanatic?

    This is why I find non-fanatical religion hard to believe in.

    (Buddhism and religions with reincarnation in general have an easy excuse for not being a fanatic you can replay the game unlimited times, no matter how many times you fail it :-) )

    But if you don’t believe in reincarnation, if you believe in one lifetime of a chance only, what is your excuse for not being a fanatic and spend time and effort on other things as well, not just Salvation?

    • No excuse. We’re sinners, God help us. It’s the same thing that prevents you from focusing 100% of your own energy on shedding your hellish entanglement in an otherwise everlasting coil of desire, suffering, and alienation from reality. The Buddhist who does not choose satori is like a damned Christian in Hell who rejects Christ’s offer of redemption and release.

    • What you call here a “fanatic” is what we Catholics would call a “saint.” As Kristor says, there’s really no excuse for any of us not to be saints.

  10. Mr. Roebuck,

    What do you mean by “truest” when you write that Christianity is the truest religion? The phrase “truest religion” has puzzled for years because in context, the word “true” is ambiguous. “True” can, after all, mean “genuine.” Are some religions truer than others in your sense of “true?”

  11. I asked about the word “truer” because Mr. Roebuck’s post reminded me of Msgr. Van Noort’s theology manual, where he defines the true religion as something like, “the one that teaches truths, no falsehood, and includes no practice contrary to human reason.”

    • That’s basically what I mean. Religions teach things, and some of the things are true. Christianity teaches the truth in its fullest form.

      • I’m sorry. I don’t mean to split hairs, Mr. Roebuck. Sadly, though, I don’t understand the phrase “fullest form.” Catholics believe that, however much we learn about a theological mystery, there will always be more to learn about it. People in Heaven will contemplate God forever, but they’ll never know all there is to know about Him. Only God can do that, since He’s infinite and everybody else is finite. It seems to me that how much you’ll know about God when you’re in Heaven will depend on how holy you’ll already be when you go to it.

        Since I specialized in logic while I was earning my Philosophy degree, I reason very analytically. That’s why I think of Christianity’s collection of divinely revealed truths as a huge and-propositions, a set of propositions “held” together with ANDs if you will. For an and-proposition to be true, each proposition in it needs to be true, too. Although all or most other parts of it may be true, any false one in the bunch would falsify that and-proposition.

        In my opinion, “Christianity” is an umbrella word we use to describe a group of religions, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Methodism, Greek Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Catholicism, and more. We know that Christians from different denominations disagree about many doctrines. Since we do disagree about them, some of us believe some theological falsehoods, and the group of all our beliefs, including the ones we disagree on, form another false and-proposition. If I believe one or more false Christian doctrines, there’s probably some divinely revealed truth that I don’t believe, even when I’m sure that I believe everything God revealed. We think we believe everything the Bible teaches. But if I misinterpret anything it teaches and believe my misinterpretation, there’s at least one divinely revealed truth that I only seem to believe.

        So for me, the question is what set of beliefs includes all and only the truths that God revealed? If I understand Msgr. Van Noort’s definition, he believes that his definition implies that Catholicism is the only true religion in that definition’s sense of the word “true.” If Christianity is a collection of divinely revealed truths, the falsehoods aren’t parts of it.

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