The Raving Theist

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What Madalyn Did

July 31, 2006 | 37 Comments

Last week I solicited guesses as to how atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair responded when born-again Christian Charles Colson approached her after a debate to say that he and millions of Christians were praying for her. The answer was choice (a): “I don’t pray, but if I did, I’d pray that you will lose. You will lose, Mr. Colson. You will fail.”

Colson followed up on the anecdote with this analysis:

Why the furious response? If Mrs. O’Hair believed there was no God, why fight so hard against people like me? If she thought I was pursuing superstition, why not leave me alone, or even laugh at me? That’s what I would do.

I concluded that the only reason Mrs. O’Hair could not leave people to their faith was that she really knew the truth. As I said earlier, I suspect Mrs. O’Hair must have once embraced the truth before turning utterly against it. Perhaps, then, succumbing to sin, she became evil within herself and had to try to destroy the belief system she knew was true.

Perhaps there are some whose atheism consists in “rebelling against God” in the manner that Colson describes. But if one “knows” God exists, one is definitionally a theist, not an atheist. My impression is that O’Hair sincerely believed that atheism was true, and attacked the theistic belief system because she thought it was false and potentially harmful.

Is there a term for people who “know” God exists but yet try to destroy Him? At least part of that “knowing” would include knowing that He is all-powerful and that struggle against Him would be ultimately futile. At first, it seems hard to believe that anyone would willingly take on such impossible odds.

In fact, the secular counterpart to such people is quite common. We call them criminals. They believe in the existence of the police, the courts, the laws, and the prisons; they know right from wrong, and that nearly all of society is against them; and they know that in the end they cannot win. Yet they choose to live as outlaws, succumbing to the evil within themselves and trying to destroy a social and moral order they know to be very real and very true.

Comments

37 Responses to “What Madalyn Did”

  1. noah nywno
    July 31st, 2006 @ 11:12 am

    The only terms I can think of are “anti-theist” or maybe “anti-deist.”

  2. Tenspace
    July 31st, 2006 @ 11:40 am

    RA, you’re setting up a strawman. O’Hair wasn’t rebelling against God, as Colson mentions. She’s not rebelling against Colson’s beliefs, either.

    She is rebelling against the proclivity of Colson and others like him to wear their religion as a protective cloak while trying to shove their personal agendas down the public’s throat.

  3. Severalspeciesof
    July 31st, 2006 @ 12:14 pm

    RA said:

    “In fact, the secular counterpart to such people is quite common. We call them criminals. They believe in the existence of the police, the courts, the laws, and the prisons; they know right from wrong, and that nearly all of society is against them; and they know that in the end they cannot win.”

    What’s this? There’s a secular counterpart to the notion of an all-powerful God? I didn’t realize that the police, the courts, the laws… were all-powerful. Strawman I say,… whether or not deliberate, I can’t say…hmmm.

  4. Drusilla
    July 31st, 2006 @ 12:23 pm

    The common (and ancient) parlance to describe those who fight against God is demonic. (Like Lucifer et al..)

  5. choobus
    July 31st, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

    Many drug users feel that the law is unfair and so they break it because precisely because they don’t believe it represents a social and moral order (and they like getting high). And what about those forced into crime by extreme poverty? They know it is wrong but feel they have no choice. Is this evidence of succumbing to an evil within? What is evil anyway? Only a christ puncher would define crime in this way. The fact is, criminals think they can get away with shit and it is unlikely that they ever really consider the societal implications of their actions. If you are mentally impaired enough to believe that god really exists, and that god really takes some interest in the affairs of humanity then you would need balls of kryptonite to defy this being. That, or a brain of jello.

  6. Viole
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

    Would I be in danger of repeating myself if I pointed out that RA is pathetic?

    In fact, the secular counterpart to such people is quite common. We call them criminals. They believe in the existence of the police, the courts, the laws, and the prisons; they know right from wrong, and that nearly all of society is against them; and they know that in the end they cannot win. Yet they choose to live as outlaws, succumbing to the evil within themselves and trying to destroy a social and moral order they know to be very real and very true.

    I particularly enjoyed this paragraph. Criminals, by definition, are people who break the law. There is no particular reason implied, unless one is a right-wing jackass like yourself, in which case you probably figure they were ‘born that way’ and ‘shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce’.

    Indeed, there are people who are out to destroy the social order. Depending on their goals and methods, we might call them revolutionaries, freedom fighters, terrorists, and a whole range of other things. Anyone who opposed them would likely call them criminal, but would probably consider traitor to be more appropriate.

    No, criminals are usually just people, trying to get by in an apathetic universe.

  7. Intergalactic Hussy
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

    I like the term non-theist.

    To base your entire life’s theory and belief structure on anything that doesn’t even have a 1% chance of basis in reality, seems a little off. Many people have many types of beliefs. Which, no matter how you look at it, inevitably they are taking a huge leap of faith. Generally speaking, these people are reasonable, logical, rational human beings in every other aspect of their lives. This doesn’t add up! This is vexing on its own, yet what annoys me further is when I’m labeled “CRAZY” or “immoral” or “soulless” for even questioning their beliefs.

    If atheists/non-theists/humanists/scientific-method-users ever seem to “fight so hard”; we are not trying to change anyone’s beliefs. (That’s just impossible in severe cases of brainwash.) It is just mind-boggling that to me that one can be irrational, illogical, and unreasonable in even one aspect of his/her life and it is considered the norm. How could someone possibly except science sometimes but deny it when it doesn’t fit into his/her narrow set of rules?

  8. Forrest Cavalier
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

    “evil within themselves”?

    Is RA a Jansenist or Calvinist now too?

    From the traditional Catholic understanding of Free will, everyone makes all choices with a positive intention. We always choose something for the benefits we expect. Always. There is no other way to make a choice. That is what “Free Will” means.

    On the other hand, declaring everyone’s every intention positive, and all choices equally affirmable, is not a workable system of theology, morality, or society. People try it, and
    maybe it works for a while, but the eventual end is always that it implodes due to the weight of ever increasing selfishness. It is easy to find examples in history, literature, and modern day organizations.

    So, instead of the nonsense of extreme moral relativism, it is possible to compare individual intention against a perfect intention of sustained dignity and well-being that Adam and Even possessed in the Garden of Eden story before the fall. (Accept Genesis literally or figuratively, I am using the story to describe the utopian state of being, which is indeed unattainable at present. So no fundy debates on this please.)

    Christians see “sin” (originally in greek as “non-witnessing”) opposite of “witnessing”, as an action contrary to the known, (and therefore knowable) positive intentions of God, not merely against the positive intentions of self. (Action against your own positive intentions is as non-sensical as a square circle.)

    This means that “committing sin” is quite different than saying “evil has a permanent dwelling place within us and we must constantly resist it or we will succumb.” (Aside: Original sin is a fallen and vulnerable state, not an evil state. Babies are not born with evil that needs to be stamped out, despite what some wacko parenting counselors, who call themselves christian, teach.)

    In this light, we can discuss how the INTENTIONS of Colson, O’ Hair, atheists, outlaws, religious fanatics (and even smokers and overeaters) differ from the perfect intentions. Further we discuss how the behaviors resulting are actually contrary to a more important intention (like long term health and survival) that the individual holds themself.

    And then, with that meeting of the minds, with new understanding of fault and intention in place, we can proceed.

    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    The real work is in agreeing on perfect intention. Yes, ultimately we cannot determine it perfectly. Yes, sometimes it seems contradictory to our sense of possibility and justice. But that is not a reason to never strive for it.

    In fact, we must. It’s part of the built in dignity of being human.

    Thorngod is going to mumble about evolved altruism. Yada Yada. So what? My point here is that we have to have something towards which to strive, that we can approach with the faculty of reason, not just instinct. You can’t say that “self” and “altruism” evolved and then stop there.

    It is irrelevant if ithese traits evolved from nothing or got placed there by God. Our response has to be the same. That “self” still has to believe it makes choices, and that “self” is going to be searching for better and better ways to understand consequences and make better and better choices.

    Restless hearts indeed.

  9. "Q" the Enchanter
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

    “Outlaw”? You mean like, say, Gandhi? (Or, arguably, Jesus?) Now I *know* you’re having us on.

    Anyway, I would take the antitheistic position you describe. That is, did I believe the God of the Bible existed, I would rebel against him to the extent I could muster the courage to do it. Admittedly, though, it would take an awful lot of courage, and I’m not sure at the end of the day (or at The End of Days) I’d be up to it.

  10. "Q" the Enchanter
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

    “Outlaw”? You mean like, say, Gandhi? (Or, arguably, Jesus?) Now I *know* you’re having us on.

    Anyway, I would take the antitheistic position you describe. That is, did I believe the God of the Bible existed, I would rebel against him to the extent I could muster the courage to do it. Admittedly, though, it would take an awful lot of courage, and I’m not sure at the end of the day (or at The End of Days) I’d be up to it.

  11. "Q" the Enchanter
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

    “Outlaw”? You mean like, say, Gandhi? (Or, arguably, Jesus?) Now I *know* you’re having us on.

    Anyway, I would take the antitheistic position you describe. That is, did I believe the God of the Bible existed, I would rebel against him to the extent I could muster the courage to do it. Admittedly, though, it would take an awful lot of courage, and I’m not sure at the end of the day (or at The End of Days) I’d be up to it.

  12. j mct
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

    There is a screamingling obvious solution to this ‘puzzle’ that I think you are missing.

    It is a pretty much universal opinion of Christian theologians that the average Christian is not mentally equipped to understand theology in toto. Thomas Aquinas is explicit about this whan he says philosophy is a path to God that most people cannot follow, or that the average Christian doesn’t understatnd Christianity at the intellectual level, and that’s OK.

    In the case of atheism, any contact with any actual atheists will yield the tought that it isn’t any different with atheists. If O’Hair’s atheism were as intelligently held as say Aquinas’ theism, she would shrugged or said ‘knock yourself out’ or made some other gesture of indifference given that indifference is the correct reaction of someone with an intelligently held atheism in such a situation. If say Colson were an medievial inquisitor just saying what he wanted to hear would be an intelligent response, given that ‘I AM NOT’ does NOT care about NON acknowlegements of his NON believers in his NON existence, a NON idiot would say whatever got him out of trouble and went on with his life.

    Once one figures in the fact that the average atheist doesn’t get atheism, which is the fact of the matter, one will stop trying to make sense of such people, since they don’t make sense anyway.

  13. Thorngod
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:51 pm

    Drusilla, “demonic” is an adjective. The noun would be “demon.” So I guess you’re calling me a demon. That’s okay, Drusilla.

    We are all criminals. Even Drusilla has committed a crime or two.

    Most Christians seem unable to fully believe that anyone can be a genuine atheist. Which is sad, because, with that emotional block, there is no possibility of their minds being opened to reality.

  14. benjamin
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:51 pm

    I agree Q! Were it demonstrated to me that the God of the Bible existed, I would not be inclined to worship the sadistic, egotistical, hypocrite.

  15. reconciled
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:52 pm

    I know I am little strange, so tell me if I am wrong, but I am almost positve that RA is saying this—

    ATHEIST = CRIMINAL

  16. reconciled
    July 31st, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

    because we all know that atheist really do know there is a god.

  17. Gathercole
    July 31st, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

    You know, I think RA has become the blogger equivalent of a troll, confusing attention with respect. Or maybe he just cares only about attention, like that kid we all knew who would eat worms to get people to look at him.

  18. Not_A_Theist
    July 31st, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

    At this point, I’m just wondering when I’m going to click on my RA bookmark and find that the name of the site has finally been changed, to better sync with RA’s new theistic paradigm.

  19. HomoCyclist
    July 31st, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

    I think this commentary is so arrogant and pedantic.
    It lacks 100% of sincerity.
    Who is anybody to call Atheists criminals?
    I think it is ‘criminal’ for anybody to call an Atheist criminal just because of our non-belief.

    RA said:
    “…succumbing to the evil…” For goodness gracious, what evil there is ?
    Leave the violins alone!

  20. reconciled
    July 31st, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

    Not that you care one tiny little bit, RA, but in this stuff you are spewing forth at this time I think less of you now then I did when I was a believer and first read the things you wrote in the past.

    Atleast before you were honest, you said what you believed. Now what are you? Some rambling box that will not even answer questions. Do you just like to see people in an aggrevated state giving you lots of attention.

    I think this whole thing about a promise is a complete lie. I don’t think you care about anything but yourself. I think you just want attention for whatever your needs are today.

    I think you are just like me. Our whole lives are one big lie. I bet you, like me, don’t even know who you really are. I don’t think you even know what you believe, which is not bad until you lie about it and use it to attack EVERYONE on both sides of the issue.

    You can not make ammends for a wrong with another wrong. Why can you not just be honest? Are you enjoying this game? Do you like to hurt people?

    I know you will not bother answering me or anyone else here, so thanks for nothing.

  21. Thorngod
    July 31st, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

    Pay no attention, RA. Keep on fulminating.

  22. The Power of Greyskull
    July 31st, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

    “Why the furious response? If Mrs. O’Hair believed there was no God, why fight so hard against people like me? If she thought I was pursuing superstition, why not leave me alone, or even laugh at me? That’s what I would do. ”

    Maybe because she realised that people who pursue superstition are very influential politically and socially. If only it was a simple case of letting a child believe in Santa Claus. Unfortunately lives are not lost in the name of Santa and dodgy foreign policy is not pursued, strongly influenced by the ‘Santa Lobby.’ If you are passionate about the truth, people who deliberately obscure facts under the guise of an ancient myth are, quite frankly, annoying pieces of shit and have no interest in the progression of mankind. What does Charles Colson expect exactly? Whenever there is a heated debate between 2 parties, it is only heated because secretly both sides know the other positions are true. All Colson is doing is trying to take the moral high-ground and weaken the positon of his opponent. If theists are so secure about their religion, why do they have to debate it at all?

  23. Choobus
    July 31st, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

    RA, your promise must have been a powerful one. Not a weak “I promise I won’t come in your mouth” type but a sincere “I will never do it again your honour”. What exactly did you promise? Diod you promise to do all you can to become a godidiot? Did you swear blind to up your hypocrisy quotient 1000%? Did you tell a priest you would never again pay for rent boys on the sabbath? PErhaps if you explain the nature of your position more of us would see the error of our ways, and would seek to emulate you instead of ridicule you.

    And remermber RA. If you promise not to come in our mouths, but then you come all over our faces, the spirit of the promise is still destroyed.
    Why do you come all over the faces of those who once admired you?

  24. ako
    July 31st, 2006 @ 4:12 pm

    There’s a disconnect in this post between what is actually being said, and the impression left. The post talks about how Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s angry response left Mr. Colson thinking that she secretly knew the truth of his beliefs, but refused to acknowledge it. This is a view that has been expressed before.

    TRA rejects it, stating that he thinks Mrs. O’Hair was honestly an atheist, and was angry at the harm she percieved in promoting religion. Then he speculates about the possibility of having a class of people who believe in God and reject him, and draws what strikes me as a rather inaccurate analogy about criminals.

    And yet the perception from many of the comments is that he’s embracing Mr. Colson’s view, and furthermore, calling atheists criminals! Why the disconnect? Is it his use of language? The juxtaposition of Mr. Colson’s quote and the speculation about criminals does leave an odd impression. Is it general defensiveness as a result of his new direction? I’ve noticed a number of theists seem intent on embracing his new views because they feel he might join their fold. Are some atheists rejecting him on the same grounds?

    I’m not trying to scold anyone. I’m just rather puzzled.

  25. reconciled
    July 31st, 2006 @ 4:14 pm

    The fact is AKO, RA hasn’t got the honesty to answer questions, so who cares what we think he means. He sure doesn’t care what we think so why do you?

  26. RamRod
    July 31st, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

    I was told to check out this site because ity was full of atheists who like to argue about theology. I was tricvked, it seems it’s full of cry babies who like to insult their host because they don’t like him refusing to be an asshole!

    Get a life you sad fucks.

  27. benjamin
    July 31st, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    Ako, you’re not alone. I noticed the same thing. Thanks for putting it in words.

  28. Los Pepes
    July 31st, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

    j mct –

    So by saying that the average atheist doesn’t understand atheism, and then stating that such people don’t make sense anyway, you’re saying that you do understand these things? You not only “get” atheism, you “get” it so much that you are able to make the blanket distinction that most atheists do not, in fact, “get it” themselves? You’re really projecting your own subjective views into this and passing the whole thing off as an objective ovservation.

    By stating that the average practitioner is unable to understand what they are practicing, you are only reinforcing the parasitical control-structure that is religion. The only thing that a more intelligent christian has going for them is the same thing that a more intelligent muslim has going for them– mental contructs that are more elaborate, and better formed rationalizations.

    I put forth that atheists typically have a far greater understanding of their position then do the typical christian. Atheists, in this country at least, are not raised atheists, and in fact are often raised to be members of the christian cult. And that’s all it is by the way, a cult. It’s just that it’s the biggest cult around, and as such gains the luxury of presenting itself as “religion.”

  29. R and All
    July 31st, 2006 @ 7:38 pm

    viole said: “No, criminals are usually just people, trying to get by in an apathetic universe.”

    Some criminals are just people, namely speeders, dope smokers, and those stealing a crust of bread to feed their starving families. Others, however, namely rapists, burglars, thieves, corrupt politicians, etc, are assholes who don’t care about society or rules or anything except themselves.

  30. RamRod
    July 31st, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

    R and all, I totally agree dude. rapists are assholes. but other criminals have to take their punishment is they get caught. If that punishment is male rape in jail then you had better think twice abnout how bad you really want that playstation

  31. Some Guy
    July 31st, 2006 @ 9:46 pm

    Sounds like a false cause.

  32. Viole
    July 31st, 2006 @ 10:05 pm

    R and A,

    I agree with you about the republican politicians and corporate executives. They certainly share the rank of scum of the earth with rapists and serial murderers. Burglars and thieves don’t entirely deserve your condemnation, and I will stand by my description.

  33. Thenormalyears
    July 31st, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

    thats really not so bad. at least you didnt attack atheism this time

  34. Godthorn
    August 1st, 2006 @ 10:12 pm

    The set of burglars and thieves that does deserve condemnation are the politicians, corporation lawyers and executives. -Thorngod.

  35. zorathruster
    August 2nd, 2006 @ 8:16 am

    Obviously he doesn’t even understand the question. First off it was the intent of Ms Ohair to remove the undo influence of religion from her life, not the imposition of non-religion on others. “Why don’t you just leave me alone” claimed by Colson was infact the very point that Ms Ohair was attempting to disseminate. The problem is that imposing religion on others is acceptable by the religious and they try, as Colson did to flip the impingement to the other side – insisting that relief from religion is an imposition from non-theists.

    Keep your God off me!

  36. Oliver
    August 4th, 2006 @ 7:05 am

    I suppose one kind of person who ‘knows’ there is a god but opposes him would be a Satanist (although I know there are various definitions of what that is these days). Hence someone who either gives their allegiance to some other power instead (that he also believes exists), for some benefit he thinks he will get from it (maybe just in this world, or maybe after too, if he thinks Satan’s power can rival God’s), or maybe wishes to set himself up as a rival to God’s authority, as Satan is supposed to have done, or a rebel against it, even though it’s likely to be bad news for him in the end (assuming an all-powerful deity that punishes disobedience exists).

  37. Godthorn
    August 5th, 2006 @ 2:03 am

    One who “knows” that God is, and opposes him, is demented. And I refer there to mere humans. The assumption that Lucifer, an angel with divine knowledge, would rebel against God, is preposterous. -But all of religion is preposterous. Let us pray for the enlightenment of our brothers and sisters. -Prayers do work sometimes–don’t they?

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