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Austin Cline

Fear of God is at the Root of Atheism? Benedict Flubs Again

By September 18, 2006

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Pope Benedict XVI
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President of Poland
The more time that passes, the more disappointing Pope Benedict XVI becomes. Granted, I can't claim to have ever thought very much of him to begin with so it's not like I ever had very high hopes for his papacy. Still, that doesn't mean that he can't speak and behave so awfully that he will go even further downhill and become even worse.

Pope Benedict's latest major flub involves atheism. During a speech in Germany in which he attacked both Islam and secularism, he claimed that atheism today is due to "being afraid of God." Afraid of God? What's there to be afraid of? That's like saying I don't believe in Athena because I'm afraid of her, or that I don't believe in Xenu because I'm afraid of what he'll do to me. In other words, it's complete nonsense.

“Today, when we have learned to recognize the pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason, and the ways that God’s image can be destroyed by hatred and fanaticism, it is important to state clearly the God in whom we believe,” the pope said.

“Only this can free us from being afraid of God — which is ultimately at the root of modern atheism,” he said. “Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.”

Source: CGGL

Does Pope Benedict even know any atheists? If not, then he’s just making things up about other people in order to fit them neatly into his religious ideology. If he does, then on what basis did he decide that their main reason for not accept his myths is that they are afraid of his god? Did they actually say so, or did he engage in a bit of armchair psychologizing — and without a psychology degree?

Followers of various gods can be a very scary lot, that’s undeniable. So many kill each other in great numbers over trivial and irrelevant issues. Their beliefs can cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved. This does not mean, however, that any of their beliefs have any basis in reality or that their gods, spirits, fairies, and whatnot are anything to be afraid of.

 

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Comments
September 19, 2006 at 6:59 am
(1) David Kelly says:

Gives a whole new meaning to “god-fearing”

May 31, 2007 at 10:11 pm
(2) Charlotte_S says:

The fear that Benedict is talking about is the fear that there’s a grounding of moral law outside the subjective whims of the individual, that there are universal laws and rights to which everyone is bound, regardless of personal opinion. For the atheist, there’s nothing beyond the individual whim: obeying what is right means nothing other than obeying myself, since there’s no greater, universal source of conscience outside myself. The prospect of this external source of law certainly terrifies atheists because it challenges their petty notion than they themselves are the arbiters of right and wrong.

June 1, 2007 at 5:51 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

For the atheist, there’s nothing beyond the individual whim…

That’s a pretty serious accusation. If you said it about Jews or blacks, it would be immediately recognized as bigotry. Can you support what you say?

The fear that Benedict is talking about is the fear that there’s a grounding of moral law outside the subjective whims of the individual… The prospect of this external source of law certainly terrifies atheists because it challenges their petty notion than they themselves are the arbiters of right and wrong.

Can you support your claim that all atheists are terrified of this?

June 1, 2007 at 11:07 am
(4) Charlotte_S says:

I could as easily point out that if you were to say that “Jews or blacks” were “just making things up” or that their intellectual work was “armchair psychology” (as you said about the pope), this would immediately be recognized as bigotry, but throwing around such terms is insubstantial. It’s just your contrived ad hominem to which, sadly, blacks, Jews, and Catholics are accustomed.

Now, to the points at hand, when you ask me to defend the “serious accusation” that atheists point to nothing outside the individual as a a source of moral law, you’re implying that atheists instead do believe in a grounding for moral law outside the individual. (What would that be?) Then, when you ask me to “support my claim” about atheists’ not being eager to externalize the moral law, you imply that atheists accept the notion that the individual will is the arbiter of right and wrong.

Well, you can’t have it both ways. If my first “accusation” is wrong, then your second question is irrelevant. If your second question is spot-on, then my first accusation is correct. Which is it? Do atheists accept a universal source of morality outside the individual? (You seem to say I wrongly “accused” them of not so doing.) Or do atheists have nothing to fear in believing that they themselves are the arbiters of right and wrong? (In which case, my first “accusation” that they in fact must deem the individual as the source of the law is correct.)

Please, straighten out the consistency of your objections. I’d prefer not to look on you as an armchair philosopher.

June 1, 2007 at 9:01 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

I could as easily point out that if you were to say that “Jews or blacks” were “just making things up” or that their intellectual work was “armchair psychology” (as you said about the pope), this would immediately be recognized as bigotry

No, you couldn’t, because I made a statement about a single individual; you generalized about an entire class of people.

Now, to the points at hand, when you ask me to defend the “serious accusation” that atheists point to nothing outside the individual as a a source of moral law

I asked you to defend the accusation that, for atheists, there is “nothing beyond the individual whim.” Please do so, if you can, or retract it if you cannot.

Then, when you ask me to “support my claim” about atheists’ not being eager to externalize the moral law

No, I asked you to support your claim that atheist are “terrified” of some “external source of moral law.”

Please, straighten out the consistency of your objections.

My questions are consistent; you changed my words.

June 1, 2007 at 9:50 pm
(6) Charlotte_S says:

Comment by Austin Cline: I made a statement about a single individual; you generalized about an entire class of people.

Really? What “single individual” were you “making a statement about” here:

The followers of various gods can be a very scary lot, that’s undeniable. They kill each other in great numbers over trivial and irrelevant issues. Their beliefs cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved.

I’m ever so sorry for thinking you were generalizing. It’s obvious you were only talking about a “single individual,” albeit in the third-person plural. But even if we stretch the bounds of grammar (and credulity) and grant that you were talking about only the pope here (it’s obvious, however, that you weren’t, as my quotation of you shows), my point still stands that you wouldn’t be able to take the same glib pot-shots against a leader of the blacks or Jews without being accused of bigotry.

Now, to depart from this personal quibbling, which seems nonetheless part & parcel of your tactics, I only point out that you’ve made two opposing claims here: first, that I was wrong to “accuse” atheists of holding that there’s nothing beyond the individual caprice; second, that atheists shrink from the prospect of an external source of law because it challenges the notion that they themselves are arbiters of right and wrong as individuals. Now, I understand if you must cop-out and disclaim any consistent atheistic philosophy of the respective universality or subjectiveness of the moral law. This is perfect as far as I’m concerned. (It’s odd, however, that as an expert spokesman you’d not be willing to take a stand.) I only stand to point out the contradiction in your defensiveness over the point that atheists don’t grant some external law, at the same time as you show defensiveness toward the idea that atheists believe themselves to be the arbiters of right and wrong. You can’t take offense at both these claims simultaneously without falling into contradiction.

June 3, 2007 at 4:03 pm
(7) Austin Cline says:

Really? What “single individual” were you “making a statement about” here: The followers of various gods can be a very scary lot, that’s undeniable. They kill each other in great numbers over trivial and irrelevant issues. Their beliefs cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved.

In that statement, I wrote “can be” and am clearly only referring to some people — not an entirely class of people, as you were doing.

Now, I’m still waiting for you to support your claims about all atheists.

I only point out that you’ve made two opposing claims here: first, that I was wrong to “accuse” atheists of holding that there’s nothing beyond the individual caprice; second, that atheists shrink from the prospect of an external source of law because it challenges the notion that they themselves are arbiters of right and wrong as individuals.

Actually, your claim that I asked you to support was that atheists are terrified that there is an “external source of moral law.” Regardless, feel free to explain how and why there is any contradiction in asking you to support both claims you cite.

You can’t take offense at both these claims simultaneously without falling into contradiction.

I never said I was offended at anything you said. I will note, however, that you have expended quite a bit of writing in order to not support your claims. At this point, I think it may be fair to conclude that you cannot support them. This simply leaves the question of why you would assert things you cannot support.

June 5, 2007 at 2:24 pm
(8) Charlotte_S says:

I wrote “can be” and am clearly only referring to some people

You said “can be” only with respect to whether “followers of various gods” are “scary,” but not with respect to whether “they kill each other in great numbers” or “develop inflated egos.” While you make the latter into universal habits of religious people, apparently you don’t think these bad habits necessarily make all of them “scary.”

As for my claims, I think it’s well established that atheism denies an external source of the moral law, but Sartre’s statement that “man is nothing but what he makes of himself” and the whole idea of the “general will” in Rousseau are sufficient demonstrations that these atheists think the law arises from human caprice. We could also look to Hume and many others for variations on the same idea. (I don’t quite understand why you’d seek to deny that atheism involves this premise, but I suppose you have some as yet unspoken idea you want to get across.)

And let me point out again that if atheists don’t think the law is internal to the human being and of merely human devising, with no reality outside the human person, then any question of the atheists’ disposition toward their condensing the law to an internal notion is moot. So there’s no point in my defending anything on the second score unless the first can be established. If it can’t be, then my first premise was at fault, and that’s the end.

June 5, 2007 at 2:57 pm
(9) Austin Cline says:

You said “can be” only with respect to whether “followers of various gods” are “scary,” but not with respect to whether “they kill each other in great numbers” or “develop inflated egos.”

It’s all part of the same observation and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I don’t make any claims about “universal habits of religious people” — if I had, I’d have said something like how they “always kill each other.”

As for my claims, I think it’s well established that atheism denies an external source of the moral law

Apparently not, since atheists have argued for the existence of external, objective morals without the presence of any gods. If it’s so “well established,” though, it should be fairly easy for you to support your claim. It seems to me, though, that you’ve probably invested more time and effort to avoid supporting your claim than should have been necessary to actually support it if it were true. This makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that you not only can’t support your claim, but may even realize this.

Sartre’s statement that “man is nothing but what he makes of himself” and the whole idea of the “general will” in Rousseau are sufficient demonstrations that these atheists think the law arises from human caprice.

I would never claim that some atheists may have thought such a thing, but this wasn’t your claim and the existence of a few such atheists does not support what you did claim.

Just for the sake of clarity, let’s review that first original claim:

For the atheist, there’s nothing beyond the individual whim: obeying what is right means nothing other than obeying myself, since there’s no greater, universal source of conscience outside myself.

You talk about “the atheist,” indicating that you are discussing atheists as a whole, without individuation. So it’s up to you to demonstrate that what you say is true about all atheists, preferably as a necessary and unavoidable consequence of atheism itself.

And let me point out again that if atheists don’t think the law is internal to the human being and of merely human devising, with no reality outside the human person, then any question of the atheists’ disposition toward their condensing the law to an internal notion is moot.

No, it’s not. Regardless of what atheists do or do not believe, you’ve made a very specific claim about atheists being “terrified.” Regardless of what atheists do or do not believe, either you can or cannot support this claim. So I ask you again: can you support it? If so, please do so; if not, please have the decency to admit it.

So there’s no point in my defending anything on the second score unless the first can be established. If it can’t be, then my first premise was at fault, and that’s the end.

This just makes it even more incomprehensible that you won’t establish the truth of your first claim.

June 7, 2007 at 9:24 pm
(10) Charlotte_S says:

It’s all part of the same observation and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I don’t make any claims about “universal habits of religious people” — if I had, I’d have said something like how they “always kill each other.”

Okay, let’s test this claim of yours. Here’s a nice statement, very clear & not a generalization in any way: The blacks can be a very scary lot, that’s undeniable. They kill each other in great numbers over trivial and irrelevant issues. Their beliefs cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved.

And put “the Jews,” or any other group in place of the “followers of various gods,” and I suppose you would agree there’s nothing wrong with such statements. If so, then you’re either very bigoted or very naive.

Apparently not, since atheists have argued for the existence of external, objective morals

Any atheist who does this is tending dangerously toward theism, whether he knows it or not.

June 7, 2007 at 9:44 pm
(11) Austin Cline says:

Okay, let’s test this claim of yours.

And what did you find with your test? You made a false statement: blacks don’t do what you claim (any more than non-blacks). On the other hand, theists have done what I described: they have killed each other in large numbers over trivial matters like what god exists. The one thing you have forgotten is that bigoted statements are false. When you say something factually accurate, it’s not bigotry.

For example, if I say that “Americans can be a very scary lot because they place so much emphasis on material goods,” that isn’t bigoted because it’s true that many Americans place too much emphasis on material goods (thought it’s debatable whether that’s scary). On the other hand, if I say “Americans can be a very scary lot because they discriminate against Canadians,” that’s bigoted because it’s not true. The same is true if I describe theists as irrational, Jews as greedy, blacks as criminal, or atheists as immoral.

But, since you suggest that the original wording in the post is unclear, I’ll change it to make it more clear.

I see that you continue to refuse to support your claims. You’ve had ample opportunities to do so, if you could or wanted. Whether you can’t or won’t, the end result is the same: you offer nothing but false and unsupported statements. I must insist that you change if you wish to continue posting comments here. Standards in the forum are a bit looser, so if you wish to persist in making unsupported assertions, you can try there.

June 19, 2007 at 1:34 pm
(12) Mr. Mark says:

Charlotte,

I’m not sure which is more disturbing: that you have deliberately confused atheism with anarchism and hedonism, or that you apparently accept the moral dictates of an external authority without question.

One could argue that it is the religiously-obedient and dogmatic who are weak and fearful, relying on others to tell them right from wrong without ever having to give a thought to the matter themselves.

June 19, 2007 at 8:17 pm
(13) John Hanks says:

Morals are shaped and maintained by institutions – including the individual as an institution. Church morals are never more than a hypothesis.

June 19, 2007 at 9:24 pm
(14) Bob Howard says:

What bothers me about biblical morals is that are just the opinions of people who lived 2,000 years ago. The religious want us to live by the thoughts of ancient people instead of the thoughts of modern people. They justify it by claiming they are really God given. I realise this when I see their attacks on homosexuals with justification from the old testament completely ignoring modern behavioural research.

June 19, 2007 at 9:36 pm
(15) Kevin says:

Theists sooner or later always play the “moral” card in defense of their religion. It’s the claim that without a word from God man is incapable of formulating his own morality.

The problem with this is that man can indeed form his own moral standards and has already done so – some call it the bible, others the koran, etc… etc. These books are a work of man and all their “moral” precepts are the creation of ancient cultures. Simply asserting that they are the “word of god” does not prove anything. Since the Enlightnment mankind has consistently exposed these various books as the fallible writings of ancient pre-scientific Middle Eastern culture.
Therefore our “morality” does not come from a god at all but from our own historical religious beliefs.

June 20, 2007 at 12:46 am
(16) Percy F says:

Can theists really claim moral authority when their morality is supposedly derived from a god who insists on infanticide, genocide and the de-humanisation of women?

I, for one, think not.

June 20, 2007 at 12:21 pm
(17) Jack says:

This newsletter is getting lame. Austin should spent more time blogging about the positive aspects of atheism and less time on the negative aspects of theism or these petty squabblings over semantics. And the “support your claim” retort is getting tired. It’s starting to sound like a playground taunt.

June 20, 2007 at 12:40 pm
(18) Austin Cline says:

This newsletter is getting lame.

I’m sorry you feel that way – but this is a comment section of a blog post, not a newsletter.

Austin should spent more time blogging about the positive aspects of atheism

What are the “positive aspects of atheism”?

And the “support your claim” retort is getting tired.

People shouldn’t have to support their claims?

June 21, 2007 at 1:46 am
(19) Jack says:

These comments sections are linked in the “Top Picks” section of the newsletter, therefore, they are part of the newsletter, are they not?

You’re supposedly the atheism expert, you tell me about the positive aspects of atheism. There has to be more to atheism than just whining about how the big bad Christians are picking on the poor little atheists.

I don’t care if theists can support their claims or not. I’m not interested in theism. I join this newsletter because of my interest in atheism. It would be a pleasant change to see an article or two on an atheist blog that did not contain the word “Christian”.

June 21, 2007 at 2:07 am
(20) Zack says:

Jack’s comments are getting lame. He should spend more time commenting about the positive aspects of this site and less time on its negative aspects.

His liberal use of pejoratives such as “lame,” “tired,” “supposedly” and “whining” are starting to sound like playground taunts.

June 21, 2007 at 6:42 am
(21) Austin Cline says:

These comments sections are linked in the “Top Picks” section of the newsletter, therefore, they are part of the newsletter, are they not?

No, the newsletter simply points to them so that people who wouldn’t otherwise know about them have a chance to read them. Nothing is “part of” the newsletter except links to already-existing content that is part of the site.

You’re supposedly the atheism expert, you tell me about the positive aspects of atheism.

Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. What positive or negative aspects can there be to that?

There has to be more to atheism than just whining about how the big bad Christians are picking on the poor little atheists.

I write about quite a bit more than that.

I don’t care if theists can support their claims or not. I’m not interested in theism. I join this newsletter because of my interest in atheism.

I write about atheism and atheists all the time.

It would be a pleasant change to see an article or two on an atheist blog that did not contain the word “Christian”.

Have you considered writing such articles yourself? I’d be happy to consider them for publication here.

June 21, 2007 at 12:06 pm
(22) Jack says:

I knew you were going to respond that way, Austin. It’s your usual MO.

>>No, the newsletter simply points to them so that people who wouldn’t otherwise know about them have a chance to read them. Nothing is “part of” the newsletter except links to already-existing content that is part of the site.>Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. What positive or negative aspects can there be to that?>I write about quite a bit more than that. I write about atheism and atheists all the time.>Have you considered writing such articles yourself? I’d be happy to consider them for publication here.

June 21, 2007 at 12:13 pm
(23) Jack says:

There was a lot more to my last post, but something when wrong somewhere. Oh well.

If it’s working for you Austin, keep doing what your doing. If I don’t like it, I can keep on surfing.

June 21, 2007 at 12:39 pm
(24) Austin Cline says:

I knew you were going to respond that way, Austin. It’s your usual MO.

Which part, to ask questions or to offer someone a chance to make their perspective more widely known? Either way, thanks.

October 8, 2007 at 1:11 pm
(25) Ross says:

We cannot fear what does not exist.
People say i’m going to hell because i don’t believe in god. Those lesser beings are just trying to make me one of them.
I HATE THEM!

July 10, 2009 at 5:59 am
(26) jay says:

jack you’re a moron

February 23, 2011 at 5:07 am
(27) Az says:

I have no more fear of god (any) then I do of the boogie monster under my bed.

However, there isn’t a bunch of people that believe in the boogie monster that are out there saying those that don’t will be punished by the boogie monster, and tortured for eternity by this every loving boogie monster.

If there was a “boogie monster fan club”, they’d scare me senseless.

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