An Undifferentiated Life

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In my spare time over the past few months, I have been working on a project called, “Atheist Apologetics”. I happen to believe that Christians do not have a copyright to epistemological guideposts that clarify their position. Non-theists have not been as rigorous in codifying the rules explaining why they believe what they believe. Our arguments have been more scattered and less formal. We also have no pithy names like the Kalam-Cosmological Argument, or the Anthropic Principle to make them easy to remember and repeat.

I have been putting together a list of ten such apologetics, but without the pithy names. I have been stuck on #10 for a while. My challenge has been deciding on what the last one should be. Ten doesn’t begin to cover it. But I wanted to keep it manageable and essential. What are the ten most essential ideas? The first nine were easy. Figuring out how to end such a list is hard. I have rejected every idea I’ve come up with as it feels too much is being left unsaid.

As of 4:30 AM, Sunday, the 23 of August, 2015, It struck me that the tenth apologetic is really the first and only apologetic that matters. It has been the theme of my practicalism for these many years. It rings so true and obvious, even Christians have their own version of it. The apologetic goes something like this:

An undifferentiated life puts the lie to all supernatural claims.

The Universal Need for Evidence

Let’s start with this very basic principle: Everyone needs evidence. As humans, we don’t believe anything without some type of evidence to back it up. Pretending that evidence is unimportant is the worst and most unsustainable kind of lie anyone can tell.

No believer has faith without sight. None! If that were the case, they would have no apologetics. There would be no need. Their only defense would be that they believe it. That would be enough for them. But it is not enough for Christians to believe. They also want others to believe, or at the very least, believe that they are not crazy for believing. To do that, they have to offer some type of proof that what they believe is true. They have to offer some type of evidence.

Even the least evangelical Christian thinks they have good reason to believe. They have evidence enough for them. Most often, that evidence is some kind of personal experience. That experience could be anything from a sense of peace, forgiveness and acceptance by god after praying a sinner’s prayer, to being convinced that they have had an encounter with the supernatural. One way or the other, they have their evidence. Their faith is not without sight.

The more ambitious believer tries to provide evidence for their beliefs via science and philosophy. They believe there is empirical and logic evidence bolstering their belief. That is where apologetics lives. Internal evidence is not enough for them. They seek to provide the hard evidence of science and history. They believe that the empirical facts are on their side. Beyond apologetics, there is a type of evidence that all Christians support:

The Evidence of a Differentiated Life

There are a number of predictions that Christianity makes. Believers have ready-made excuses for when those predictions fail to pan out. But there is one prediction that remains an embarrassment to believers, as they cannot deny it. But they don’t have a good excuse for why it is not apparent. Christianity predicts that believers should have differentiated lives from unbelievers.

There are a number of bible passages I could quote to make the point. But this line from a popular song should suffice:

And you’ll know they are Christians by their love, by their love. Yes, you’ll know they are Christians by their love.

Christianity predicts that there will be some visible difference in the lives of Christians. Jesus predicts that his lordship would be known by the way Christians treated one another. Paul gave us a list of expectations of a life filled with the Spirit. He called them the Fruits of the Spirit, and differentiated them from the works of the flesh. As a refresher, here are the two lists:

The Fruits of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

The Works of the Flesh

  • Idolatry
  • Sorcery
  • Enmity
  • Strife
  • Jealousies
  • Wrath
  • Factions
  • Divisions
  • Parties
  • Envying
  • Drunkenness
  • Revellings

I don’t think these lists require any commentary. So I will confine it to one observation: The first list is just as common in the lives of atheists as the second list is in the lives of Christians. Neither has a firm claim on either list of attributes.

I can fill the rest of this post with the names of prominent Christians, many of which I know personally, who are predominantly second listers. I could fill another post with the names of first-list non-theists. The embarrassing fact from which Christians cannot hide is that in no way are their lives differentiated from those of non-believers. A random selection of Christians and a random selection of atheists will surface no evidence of a differentiated life. None!

A Miracle-Filled Life

A miracle is the ultimate differentiator. Any life characterized by the miraculous should be easily distinguished from the life dominated by the mundane. Even Christians who do not believe in certain kinds of flamboyant miracles, believe in the power of prayer, itself, one of the highest forms of miracle.

The life of a person who prays should look different from the life of a person who doesn’t. As a person who has been both, I can attest to having experienced no difference between the two states. I have been what most would call a praying man. I prayed multiple times a day for the majority of my life. Prayer was such an ingrained reflex, I continued to do it even after I no longer believed. It took quite a while before I could get it out of my system.

Once I did stop, the only change in my life was that I had an abundance of mental energy that I needed to fill with something else besides prayer. I have been a much more productive person since then. Yet I have experience no lack of the things for which I used to pray.

But I am a sample size of one. I can observe thousands, and read about millions. Neither observation nor careful research has surfaced any evidence that those who pray are healthier, smarter, more productive, wealthier, happier, safer, or anything else their prayers predict if answered.

The children of preachers, elders, and deacons are just as likely to be gay, drug addicts, parents out of wedlock, and suicidal as anyone else. The marriages of Christians are just as likely to end in divorce. This, despite the many prayers for the perfect mate, and god’s blessing on those marriages.

The Christian man and woman are just as likely to be unfaithful to their spouse as the unbeliever, despite prayers to be delivered from temptation. As many Christians die in plane crashes and car accidents as non-Christians. As many Christians die from injury and disease, as the records of Christian hospitals can attest. This, in spite of the fact that they have chapels and priests, and random prayer warriors wandering from room to room, praying for healing that never comes.

There is even less evidence in the lives of those Christians who believe in the more flamboyant miracles. It is simply impossible to square the need for wheelchair ramps and accessible bathrooms in churches that practice miraculous healings. At such a church, no faithful believer should ever die of cancer, or be blind, or anything else that makes a mockery of a faith that says such things are easily banished.

At the end of the day, an argument for the existence of such miracles should be characterized by the presence of such miracles. Otherwise, it is just an empty claim worthy neither of defense nor debate.

Conclusion: Living Like an Atheist

When I was a kid, I didn’t know any atheists. Sure, I knew people who didn’t go to church. But they were not unbelievers, just unfaithful. An atheist was a different animal entirely. My child-like concept of an atheist was indistinguishable from my concept of a Satanist. It was all very dark and occult. I couldn’t imagine how they lived their day-to-day lives. Now that I am an atheist, I know that even then, I was living the life of an atheist without knowing it. So, too, was everyone I knew.

As it turns out, the life of the believer is 99.9% the same as the life of an atheist. The only difference is in the assignment of agency. Take away the jargon, and one will be able to spot no differences in the lives of the Christian and the atheist. Christians talk like believers, but live like Atheist.

Christians pray for food that will nourish and strengthen them. Yet they pay for it with the same, cold, hard cash as everyone else, and suffer the same dyspepsia. They could have just paid for their food, and suffered the same bloat and ill-health without the superfluous prayer. Their dietary life is no different than mine. Whole Foods requires the same whole paycheck from them as it does for me. Their god doesn’t even give them a miraculous discount. From shopping to digestion, prayer changes nothing for the believer.

In addition to eating like atheists, they work like atheists. They have to graduate from high school, then college, just like anyone else. Then, despite their prayers, they have to clean up, put on business attire, and try to impress an interviewer, as they are the ones with the power to hire.

Once they get the job, they have to fight the morning commute, wait in line at the Starbucks, and clock in on time right behind the atheist who is doing the same. Once there, they have to perform their duties to the satisfaction of the supervisor. Only then do they get to go home tired, and make the same complaints about their job as the atheist next door.

Also, they live their financial lives like atheists. Regardless of rhetoric, they place exactly the same value on money as does the atheist. They try to acquire just as much, save just as much, spend just as much, buy just as nice of a house, car, boat, vacation, clothes as the hedonistic atheist. When it comes right down to it, Christians are not even more charitable with their money than atheists, giving and hoarding about the same amounts.

Christians live their health lives like atheists. They are no less obese, diabetic, handicapped, or cancerous as anyone else. They have the same struggles to stick to a healthy diet or exercise regimen. When they get sick, their many prayers do not hinder them from seeing a doctor just as often, and downing as many prescription meds as the unbeliever suffering from the same maladies.

I could go on in this way for a long time. But I believe the point is made. Talking like a Christian, but living like an atheist is indistinguishable from just living like an atheist. Qualitatively and quantitatively, the life of the Christian is completely undifferentiated from the life of the atheist.

There is zero value in beliefe that bears no practical fruit. Therefore, believers must be getting something from their belief. I have some thoughts on what that is. But that will have to be the subject of another post.

David Johnson

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