Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Hutchinson News of Hutchinson, Kansas. According to Wikipedia, Hutchinson has been home to salt mines since 1887, thus its nickname of “Salt City.” The letter is titled Atheism is un-American. Good title, huh? The newspaper has a comments feature.
Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. But this one is worthy of full-name treatment. He’s Jim Schinstock, described as “a retired philosophy instructor.” We Googled around and learned that he was a philosophy instructor at Hutchinson Community College. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!
Recent events, especially the Paris and Mali bombings, have caused some people to return to the thoughts of some classical atheists, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre. Neither “proved” God’s non-existence, which is logically impossible, but both said they saw no evidence for His existence. My philosophy classes struggled with this question, too.
Fair enough. Then he says:
Although there are better reasons to believe in God’s existence, we Americans often like to use “bottom line” thinking. Using that logic leads me to conclude that atheism is un-American.
What causes Jim to reach that conclusion? Let’s read on:
Atheism is un-American because it is impractical, and if there is an adjective that best describes most Americans’ philosophical point of view, it would be “pragmatic” or “practical.” Simply put, it “works” to believe in someone or something else beyond and outside our personal existence.
It works? That requires some explaining. Jim continues:
As a human community we have learned certain things from our collective experience.
Jim then gives us a long and detailed list of the things we’ve learned. We’ll shorten his list and leave out the details — except for the first item, because we want to give you a good idea of Jim’s thinking:
• We are helpless in the face of natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and tornadoes. Manmade devastations like terrorist attacks and wars often leave us feeling weak and helpless. But religion assures us that we are not helpless because divine assistance is always available. God created the world and He is in charge. And if He doesn’t alter these events, He is always available to give us strength to face whatever calamities that may befall us.
The rest of Jim’s list is like that. Here are some of his additional items, greatly abbreviated:
• The universe is unjust. Nature shows no distinctions between good and evil people, between the just and the unjust. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust. Disasters strike us all implacably and equally. But religion assures us that this picture is false by assuring us that there is a cosmic system that is absolutely just.
• The universe is blind and uncaring. We humans may think that we are important, but there is nothing in nature that supports our specialness. … Religion paints another picture.
• The universe is capricious and unpredictable, just a collection of disconnected, random occurrences, showing no particular pattern, rhyme or reason. But our human brains have evolved to crave order, and if none appears evident, we try to impose our own order.
• We are mortal. We are born, live our few brief years, then die. In between, we get sick, grow old and bury loved ones. Is that all there is? Not so, religion assures us.
• There are no grounds for hope. The universe is running down, civilizations fall and disintegrate, and the whole of human history is purposeless. Religion gives a resounding “No!” to this bleak and dismal prognosis.
That’s how religion “works.” Then, at the end, Jim summarizes:
In other words, to me religion shows us a world where there is no death, where someone is in charge of things, where there is a plan for the world and human history, where each of us is valuable and significant, where justice prevails (now or later). We inhabit a universe and world where we are loved and supported, empathized with and understood; a world where we can dream and know that our dreams are not in vain.
So there you are, dear reader. That’s what they teach in philosophy class in a Kansas community college. Now you know why atheism is un-American.
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