I have this book in my hands:
Reading this book now was great timing. After I’d written this post I had a lot of second thoughts. Something about it really bothered me. I didn’t really feel I’d tackled Zacharias’ arguments well. There was something missing. One of the main points that Zacharias weaves throughout the entire chapter is that life is meaningless without a god to explain it and to give it purpose (and in his view it must also follow that it is the Christian God.) He presents this as though it is fact and I was a bit lost as to how to answer him even though I had found purpose in my post-christian life.
Well this book has brought some clarity for me. The author, Dan Barker, is also the author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. He is a former minister and Christian songwriter who renounced all religion and now is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Godless book really helped me when I was searching for answers.
The Good Atheist is mostly a book of quotes and short biographies of atheists who have had no problem finding purpose in many different areas of society. But the first part where he talks about the concept of purpose was a great read. I wish I’d read it when I was struggling with this topic. He made some really good points that I hadn’t thought of before.
The book is partly in response to The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. When Barker finally got around to reading Warren’s book he was appalled by the notion that in order to have purpose in our life we need to lead a life of servitude (to god). I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms before. I know Christians pride themselves on being slaves of Christ – but have we really thought about what that means and what it says about our purpose?
So I’ll just go through and share the parts from the first part of the book that I underlined. As I said before, the second half is filled with wonderful quotes from a wide variety of atheists, past and present. I’d encourage you to buy the book especially if you’re struggling with this issue.
“I don’t believe in God, but even if he did exist, and even if he did save my life, I’d find it hard to imagine that he would be the kind of creature who would demand that I submit to his will.” (p. 27)
“If there were such a God, demanding servants kneel before him, glorifying his name, why should we respect him? Even if we were oppressed people who wanted to avoid the wrath of a ruler who had the power to punish and kill, we might pretend to go along by kissing the feet of our oppressor, but why should anyone think such a master deserves to be admired?
Suppose I decided to breed children as slaves. What would you think of me? Yes, there would be purpose involved, but it would be my own selfish purpose of needing to be doted and waited upon. Those children would exist for my satisfaction, with no free purpose of their own. That would make me an egotistical monster.” (p. 27)
“The forced or mandated subjugation of ‘inferior people’ by a ‘superior person’ is evidence that the ruler is actually insecure, scared of any possible challenge to his authority, jealous of any praise not directed at his person, craving all the attention, fearful of freedom, nervous about rebellion – otherwise, why coerce or demand submission? If there truly were an all-powerful and unchallengeable god, why would he need or want to be worshipped? What is he afraid of? In any master/slave or dictator/servant arrangement, I wonder who is more fearful – the sovereign or the subjects?” (p. 28)
“Asking, ‘If there is no God, what is the purpose of life?’ is like asking, ‘If there is no master, whose slave will I be?’ ” (p. 29)
“Who made the rule that existence is meaningless if it is free?” (p. 29)
“Purpose is striving for a goal, intentionally aiming at a target. Purpose is life.” (p. 30)
“Hoping for a heaven without struggle is longing for a life without purpose. There is no purpose in glory. Glorifying God is not a problem to solve. Why does he need to be glorified? If he does, his life lacks something, and that would be an embarrassing admission for a perfect being to make. Striving to fulfill that need in his empty life might give him purpose, but not us. To glorify is to fatten up someone’s ego. Why do that? Are you afraid you will be killed, hurt or denied a blessing if you don’t help the ‘Lord and Master’ feel great? If so, you are being manipulated to meet someone else’s need.” (p. 33)
“It wasn’t until I got out of the master/slave business that I learned what true purpose is. It comes from solving real problems, not phoney ones such as ‘how can I be saved?’ ” (p. 35)
“The demand for a purpose of life is a cry of discontent. To reach outside your life for meaning is to abandon the value of what is inside your life. It is to diminish and deny the value of life itself. It is to be embarrassed at who you really are. Transcendence is the ultimate put-down of humanity.” (p. 36)