A Response to the Claim That I Am Insane

This is from my personal blog, a short exploration of the claim that many who are hostile to religion make whenever discussing morality. If you try to assert that moral truth depends upon God, they try to claim that you are insane. In fact I think we saw that here on TAC with our last atheist troll.

8 Responses to A Response to the Claim That I Am Insane

  • G.K. Chesterton once said, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

    However, in your case, I’ll make an exception. *wink*

  • It is haunting that the central act that severed us from God was partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Certainly we can be good without God; but will we know God?

    From Fides et Ratio:
    “The blindness of pride deceived our first parents into thinking themselves sovereign and autonomous, and into thinking that they could ignore the knowledge which comes from God. All men and women were caught up in this primal disobedience, which so wounded reason that from then on its path to full truth would be strewn with obstacles. From that time onwards the human capacity to know the truth was impaired by an aversion to the One who is the source and origin of truth.”

    Nice post, Joe.

  • Well done, Joe.

    I’m in the habit of making the same point myself, albeit with a slightly different focus:

    An atheist may act in a profoundly moral way — more moral than many Christians — out of habit or good rearing or by going with the flow of his environment (if it happens to be one which encourages moral behavior). If this persists, the atheist may even have profound strength-of-character: A morality that won’t easily change even if his circumstances do.

    But a profoundly moral atheist is, in the end, a kind of hypocrite: His actions are in conflict with his philosophy. He may do rightly, but only by isolating his habits from his convictions…by putting up a firewall between the “I oughts” and the “I believes” in his mind, lest the implications of one collide with the other.

    In short, as long as he lacks integrity — in the sense of philosophical and moral “oneness” — he can, ironically, continue to act like a man of integrity! He may be “a kind of hypocrite,” but he is the best kind.

    I’m happy to say that one of my lifelong dear friends, who is an atheist, falls into this group of moral and decent atheists. I’m glad he is a good man: It means he is better than his philosophy.

    And I’m with C.S.Lewis when he says that he’d sooner play cards with a person who professes moral relativism but who was brought up to “do as he’d been done by,” than with a brilliant moral philosopher who’d been brought up amongst liars, cheaters, and con men. We can be, through no fault of our own, better than we know.

    I think that even the most militant atheist, being created in God’s image, is not immune to the lingering aftereffects of our now-departed Christian culture. The patterning of the human soul makes that soul susceptible to the influence of the Mind of its Maker, even when that influence is only received third-hand.

    Sure, the morality of atheists is in some ways a “free rider” benefit, absorbed from the tatters of our former Christian culture, even while the underpinnings are rejected.

    The atheist is, in that sense, a kind of moocher…but a very welcome one!

    And, to be sure, his morality, untethered as it is to his own core beliefs, is a free-floating sort of thing which he can’t formulate to himself, let alone transmit to the next generation, without revealing its incoherency.

    But it’s a welcome incoherency, compared to the alternative. No one is going to complain of hypocritically kind and decent atheists, when the alternative (atheists who live in logically-consistent amorality) would be so much worse!

    So by all means, let the atheists of the world borrow and adopt whatever of God’s law they’re willing to borrow! It’ll fill their own core convictions with contradictions of course, but better a moral atheist, than one who is faithful to his philosophy.

  • RC,

    I have long said the same thing. I would rather someone be irrationally good than rationally evil; I’d rather someone be a secular humanist than a sadist.

    But I do feel the need to call them out on it. They say that faith is “belief without evidence” or even “in spite of the evidence”, yet there isn’t a shred of evidence to substantiate a single moral claim they make.

    Have you ever heard the “you must be crazy” argument or you do word it in a way that avoids that sort of thing?

  • I haven’t had anyone claim I was insane, but I don’t know if that’s because of how I word it or for some other reason.

    I think some atheist morality does flow more easily from an atheistic worldview than others.

    In many cases what you and I would acknowledge as basic moral behavior is also socially convenient, or rewarding in an “I feel better about myself when I do this” kind of way. Such motives are permissible in an atheistic worldview, although social convenience leads to the question, “What if I’m a German in the 1930’s, and it’s socially convenient to be a Nazi?” …and the “I feel better about myself” approach, when combined with materialist reductionism, is self-defeating. For of course, the more you convince me that my inclination to value honesty and generosity is the same kind of thing as my inclination to prefer Cheddar cheese to Swiss, the more that inclination will be debunked, demoted, and diminished to something I follow only when it’s socially convenient. (Which leads us back to the Nazi thing again.)

    Anyway, the fact that, to whatever degree a society has healthy norms, social convenience will line up with morality, means that real morality, independent of social pressure, is detectable only when it is counter-cultural; when the society is pushing against it.

    So perhaps we should say that only atheists who are notably moral, counter-culturally moral, are out-of-sync with their philosophy. Those who are merely reasonably decent neighbors may be exercising morality, or they may merely be too cowardly or unmotivated to risk social disapproval by acting in accord with their creed.

    This means (from the point-of-view of the atheist who might indignantly call me mad for claiming that his morality isn’t consistent with his philosophy) that I’m making a somewhat more humble claim than he might have initially, indignantly, suspected.

    For I am admitting that logical consistency with his creed doesn’t necessitate outrageous evil. It just doesn’t permit, without hypocrisy, any heroic degree of good.

    And I am also admitting that, if such hypocrisy should occur, he isn’t a moral idiot for not immediately seeing it as such. We spend most of our time acting and reacting out of habit and inclination and according to our training and experiences. We cannot, in practice, reflect on whether every action is in accord with what we think true and right. A person can go years — an unreflective person can go a lifetime — without noticing a contradiction in his value system.

    Now, if someone draws the atheist’s attention to the incompatibility between his creed and real moral virtue…? Well, at that point he has a choice. He can either pursue the matter into the philosophical weeds with the intent of hashing through the matter and achieving clarity, or he can ignore the matter and whistle past the graveyard.

    In that moment of decision, God’s protagonists are aided by the fact that atheists have often built up a self-image, real or imagined, of being heroically honest; of having intellectual integrity. If there’s any truth in this, then an atheist, confronted with the contradiction, will feel obligated to try to solve the problem. Then, if he reads widely enough, and ponders deeply enough, he’ll realize the problem is insoluble. He will need to either abandon his notions of being morally superior to the Nazis, or abandon his atheistic creed. I suspect some men have come to Christ, having embarked on a quest for moral foundation.

    But, to return to my point: An atheist might not get “mad enough” to call me “crazy” if I make it clear that I don’t think his creed is incompatible with everyday decency — when one is living in a society which makes everyday decency reasonably convenient.

    I merely think his creed is incompatible with heroic morality…and even then, not glaringly obviously so. It requires looking seriously at one’s motives and assumptions in a way that people rarely do. If at any point the atheist was heroically moral, he can be forgiven for merely feeling pleased with himself and moving on to other topics, without having ever taken the time to wonder whether such a thing makes sense, given his creed.

    So the atheist, facing me, finds himself not facing someone who calls him a serial killer or a moral ignoramus. If I had said such things, he might understandably think it crazy or at least insulting! But since my criticism isn’t so harsh as all that, perhaps it prompts a less-harsh reply?

  • I don’t call them serial killers or moral ignoramuses either… I just ask them to prove that what they say is good, is good, and what they say is bad, is bad. When arguments such as “well its good for society” or “good for survival” are then reduced to “why is society/survival good”, then I am sometimes called mad.

    ” I suspect some men have come to Christ, having embarked on a quest for moral foundation.”

    Well of course. I am one of them. I’m not sure what else could have done it.

  • “When arguments such as “well its good for society” or “good for survival” are then reduced to “why is society/survival good”, then I am sometimes called mad.”

    It’s a fair question to ask: How do we know that existence is better than non-existence? A philosophy professor in South Africa recently wrote a book about the possible merits of never having been born. I don’t think the atheist has a good response to such a book, except to sputter “He’s mad.” But over here, we have this little thing about God as “being” — Exodus 3:14, for starters.

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