An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
More Atheist Evangelism, but no fertile soil for them here
I tossed this article up on facebook and noted that I actually agreed with the evangelistic message the atheists were presenting. For your review, the two quotes are:
Susan B. Anthony: "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."
an Albert Einstein quote: "If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed."
First to Ms. Anthony: clearly she's not spent much time in the context of Orthodoxy. If I heard from God only those things that fulfill my own desires, you can bet I'd be living a completely different life. Well...somewhat different - if you know what I mean. The reality is, of course, that what I know about God doesn't validate much of anything with regard to MY desires, quite the contrary. It's not even MY knowledge of God, it is the community's knowledge of God and THAT knowledge is a constant challenge to my desires. CONSTANT.
I do, naturally, know the context that Ms. Anthony (and the fundamentalist atheist evangelists) are working in here. They speak to those sorts of Christians who spend far too much timing worry about God's microscopically (impossibly) specific will and far too little time with the blatantly obvious general will: that we should be purified, illumined, and deified (as the Fathers termed it). Spend a healthy amount of time in the effort of the latter and you'll have precious little time to confuse your own will with God's in regard to the former.
Now, Herr Einstein. The big question, of course, is: WHY should one ever be "good." (operating under the assumption that we generally all agree on what "good" means to begin with.) If you've read anything of the Atheist Arch-Bishop and Evangelist Richard Dawkins, then you know that "good" deeds (shall we agree: any act we could perceive to be largely unselfish) "evolved" because they were ultimately advantageous to the organism and allowed them to propagate their own genes moreso than others. In a complex human society, one can indeed imagine that giving off a perception of "goodness" would earn one more mating opportunities and more quality mates. So if indeed this is the reasoning for being good and we assume that we actually do maintain some unique degree of freewill in the matter, then what motivation for being "good" does an atheist find save for avoiding social punishment and earning social rewards? Thus the irony of the atheist evangelism message in this case is that they must actually offer a defense for being good as much as any theist must, and I'd personally argue that they have a much harder time offering an explanation that squeezes themselves out of Herr Einstein's condemnation than I do.
A Christian motivated ONLY by fear or expectation of reward, is completely missing the point of the Christian message. Such motivation will only ever lead to one acting good, but our goal as Christians isn't to just act, but to become! This is also in part why the Eastern Orthodox message of salvation is seemingly so foreign to the Protestant vision: our goal is NOT to be "declared righteous" or to be deemed "legally forgiven" or to have in essence a contractual agreement with God like a "get out of jail free" card. Our goal is literal HEALING and TRANSFORMATION. It is not legal innocence and purity, it is ontological innocence and purity. Like children who seek not to just act like their father out of fear of be being beaten or in expectation of being rewarded, but like children seeking to become like unto their father in the context of love and relationship. There's a huge difference.
I will offer one addendum though: the development of virtues takes practice and to practice the virtues means you have to act the part no matter what you may feel. This may seem like a form of deception and putting up a false facade, but don't go there. It is will power and it is like cultivating the soil with a plow: hard and painful work. But you keep at it and in time fruit will be born quite naturally. But we do not do these things out of fear. And we do not do these things out of expectation of reward. We do them for Love. Any good parent knows the difference and can see it a mile away in the actions of their kids.
So, in any event, perhaps the atheist evangelists will inspire some conversation, but I do truly believe that the question they THOUGHT was custom made for theists, is equally their own.
I often find it telling when people quote remarks such as these. The use of such in this fashion violates the charity principle in reasoned disputation inasmuch as it ignores whether theists might in some sense agree with the remarks. To the first, I would merely point out that "those people who know so well what God wants them to do" may well be guilty of the sin of presumption. Does He not warn us that "My thoughts are not your thoughts"?
As to the second quote, I find myself in complete agreement. The fact is, we are a sorry lot. I do not think a theist, at least a Christian theist, would deny that. For this reason, the beginning of wisdom is in fear. Fear helps us to be a less sorry lot. It is also part of the appropriate to the sublime. But perfect love drives out fear (i.e.--the simple fear of punishment, rather than the fear appropriate to the sublime). To yet retain the potential for love shows that, though we are a sorry lot who need the fear of punishment, we still retain the image of something greater within us.
Reminds me of a comment from (I think) John Chrysostom, that there are three types of Christians: Those who obey God for fear of punishment; those who obey in hope of rewards; and those obey out of love. The first is a slave, the second a hireling (employee) and the third is a son. Yet in a great household, all three are to be found, and the slave, the hired servant and the son are all members of the household.
We all end up in each of those modes from time to time.
And in the Greek tradition, at Communion, the priest announces: "With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near!" So all three kinds of Christian are welcome at His table.
Comforting to me, who would like to be a lover of God but sometimes I can barely be moved to act to avoid hell.