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3/26/2007                                                                                       View Comments

We are rarely proud when we are alone

By DagoodS

(Title by Voltaire)

Claiming that a person does not believe in God because of their Pride is a rotten argument. Do not be surprised if it fails to even nudge the skeptic.

It is often said, in the debate of why a person believes or not, that the non-believer failed to be humble, or thought too much of themselves, or was arrogant, and thus dismissed the concept of God. Since it is not true, the statement fails to compel.

If you are guilty of using this claim in a debate, you can save your breath and your fingers.

You see, in order to be persuasive, we must talk in concepts and ideas that the other person can relate to, not simply push out some platitude and assume that it is effective. I may find it extremely persuasive that a Chevrolet Corvette can go from 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds. That may be the impetus by which I am persuaded to purchase the vehicle. Can you imagine my using this selling feature to a mother with three children? While she may be thrilled to hear how fast she can escape reality, upon looking at the two-seater, and the luggage space only large enough for a briefcase, she would be less than impressed with my sales technique. She wants space, not speed.

The people that are the most persuasive are the ones that first determine what motivates their target. If money, the salesman puts it in terms of economics. If power, in terms of might. If love, in terms of romance.

As pride had nothing to do with my transformation of beliefs, a person telling me that “It is because you were too proud” is amazingly ineffective. Place the shoe on the other foot. If I told you that the only reason you believe in a God, is because you have been brainwashed, does this impel you to question why you believe? Of course not! You are very aware you were not brainwashed, so my stating such does not motivate you, and it actually harms my argument, since you know my initial premise is incorrect.

“You have been brainwashed to believe in a God. If you would only stop being brainwashed, you would see that there is no God.”

Not very convincing, is it? Then why use the same, unconvincing tactic on others?

Have you ever thought about how many people you are throwing into this label of “pride”? Billions and Billions. There are only a few million (if that) persons that believe in your particular God. I am not talking about Jesus to the Christian, or Allah to the Muslim or YHWH to the Jew, I am talking about your specific God, with all of its nuances, flavors, and idiosyncrasies. If you are a protestant, that particular “God” did not appear before the 16th Century. A Calvinist, not until Calvin. If you reject some Holy book and writings, but accept others, how many other persons have you met that fully aligned with every word and phrase that you do?
Very few believe exactly as you do regarding infants, baptism, salvation, marriage, election, etc. But even then, that will always leave Billions of persons both before, now and later, that do not believe in your particular God. Are every single one of them too proud to buy into your particular god?

As we go through life, our views of our God can change. Is it true that every time this view changed, and we no longer believed our former God, the change came about from pride? If a Christian converted a Jew, would that change of belief be from Pride? What about a Jew that converts a Christian? Is that Pride? How can we be so arrogant to state that when a person modifies their belief to our belief, it is proper, but when they modify their belief to something that is not, it is pride?

When I was growing up, God didn’t like Movie Theaters. They were places of sin, iniquity, evil and bad popcorn. My parents didn’t go to Movies, my siblings did not go to Movies, my friends did not, my church mates did not, my school mates did not. I knew no one that was upright, moral, or pure that would ever even THINK of going to a movie.

My brother and I snuck into Cannonball Run and thought we had gotten away with murder! Then came the Video Cassette Recorder……

Between 1980 and 1984, our community saw a transformation. All of a sudden, God liked Movies! Was this change in belief in what God liked/dis-liked have anything to do with pride? Did it have to do with intellectual change? Nope, it was a cultural change. When movies became so readily available, to prohibit them appeared ridiculous.

Now that we know Billions of people are suffering from similar bouts of pride in their refusal to believe a particular god, the next step, beyond stating it, is to proof it out.

At first blush, “you have pride, therefore do not believe in my god” appears to be poisoning the well. You know, when you taint the water so bad, no one dares drink it to be made a fool. If I protest and say, “It is not pride” the first response is, “Sad. Too proud to see his pride.” If I fail to protest, it confirms the statement.

At second blush, the statement, “you have pride and therefore do not believe in my god” is preaching to the choir. The only ones buying it are the ones that agree with that particular God.

On occasion, I heard preachers talk about how good it is people sacrifice their Sunday to attend their church that morning. Think about it. The ONLY persons hearing that are….People attending church! “You guys are great for doing what you are doing. Those guys (who aren’t here and can’t hear me) are bad for not being here.” Makes the audience so happy (dare I say “proud”?) to pat themselves on the back for being so holy. And no harm, because the unholy ones didn’t even hear it.

The only people that agree we non-believers are too proud to believe in your God, are the select few that believe with you. No body else. You are selling to an audience that has already bought the product. Is that the intention of this statement?

Simply stating it is not enough. You must proof out the assertion; prove that people are deliberately refusing to acquiesce to your God because of pride.

Yes, I know. You have the proof; because God told you. Are you forgetting those Billions of other people? Billions of other gods told Billions of other people that YOU have too much pride to buy into their individual belief. I am being told by conflicting God-beliefs that I have too much pride to believe in their God. No matter how we turn, you and I are doomed. There is some God-belief out there that we are both being too proud to believe.

Yes, I know. But your God-belief is the correct one. After which I immediately hear Billions of voices shouting, “No, MY belief is the correct one.” We have to do better than merely assertion. We have to do better than merely, “God says so.”

A question that always pops in my head is, “Proud of what? My thinking? My humanity?” We hear the phrase, “Atheists think they know more than God,” or “You worship your mind,” or “You have faith in your brain,” none of which is accurate.

Am I proud of my thinking? I am well-aware that in some areas I think better than some people, and worse than others. In other areas, I think worse them some and better than others. Even a super-genius can be wrong, and a 2-year-old can be right.

Thinking is on a scale. Some of us are numbers people, some are visual, some artistic, and some can write poetry to beat the band. For every reason I have to be proud of my ability to think, I have just as many, if not more, to be humble. I can process out arguments. I cannot paint much better than stick figures. I can problem-resolve quite well. I cannot do two things at once.

Most atheists that I converse with are humanitarians. I do not run across “I think better than you, so I AM better than you” any more than I do with theists. Or any other –ists. We all seem to be pretty equal on the playing field in this regard.

Are there proud atheists? Sure. Are there proud theists? Just as much. I see neither group having a corner on the market on pride OR thinking. We all have some pride and some humility.

Do I think I know more than God? This is laughable. Simply because I am an atheist, doesn’t mean I have no clue about the concept of God. I understand very well, that part of being a God, and certainly part of being a creator, would necessitate that God would have to be smarter than I am. He would know more. To even remotely think that I could be smarter than an entity that has the ability to make a star is ludicrous.

The problem is not thinking I am smarter, it is the lack of ability to compare. Sure, IF there is a God, it would be smarter. Just like IF there were leprechauns, they would have more gold than I do. I am not “proud” that I have more gold than leprechauns. I simply have no basis by which to compare. If someone could present one, it wouldn’t take much to beat me in the gold-comparison.

Do I require God, in some way, to show me that He is smarter? Again, no. Since I, a less intelligent creature, can see the numerous conflicting gods, all of which claim that not believing in them is due to pride, certainly the more intelligent creature can see that as well. As I cannot, with my limited thinking ability, determine which God is correct, than even God can see that He must do something if he wants to correct the situation.

I know. He already has. Hear those Billions of voices behind you, disagreeing with your particular dispensation of God? Since I am not smarter than God, I cannot tell which voice could possibly be correct, since they all conflict with each other.

Am I proud of my humanity? I see a miscommunication here. Often theists (and I was certainly taught this way) believe there is a scale of some sort. That the most important entity in the universe is God. The second most important are humans, because they can have a relationship with God. The Third are animals, the fourth the earth, the fifth the rest of the universe we cannot explore. While this scale is not laid out so explicitly, it certainly is effectively demonstrated. Even within each level, there can be varying degrees. Sadly, some theism teaches Man is more important than Woman. Saved are more important than unsaved. Sinner of 100 sins is more important than Sinner of 1000 sins.

I wonder if the theist that claims I am using Pride to usurp God is using this scale. You see, if there WAS such a scale, by eliminating God, guess who becomes number one? Most metaphysical naturalists (as near as I can tell) and certainly one atheist (that I can confirm) do not see the world this way.

There is no scale. A human just happens to be the current state of this evolved being. I’ll let you in on a secret. If you hear the claim “The human is the greatest evolved creature” it is most likely from a creationist. Not an evolutionist. In some areas we have evolved more advanced than other species. But I would prefer the eyes of a cat, frankly. And certainly the lifespan of tortoises.

Can humans process thought better than most creatures? It would appear so. Doesn’t make us “better.” We are not even adequate at swimming and stink at flying. We cannot predict weather, nor can communicate over long distances. We are just one of many creatures that live on earth. In another million years or so, the next evolved creatures will wonder how we made it at all.

Further, I realize how insignificant I am in the vast universe. My flavor of theism taught that God cared about the very hairs on my head, and whether I stubbed my toe. My flavor of atheism says the universe doesn’t give a damn if I live, die or explode. I can assure you which flavor is more humbling.

There is no pride in eliminating one’s “grand significance.”

So why is “pride” a reason to not believe in God? What is the person proud of? What act of humility is required that God will demonstrate himself to that person? Is asking once enough? A thousand times? Never at all?

Finally, on a personal note, I was happy as a Christian. I liked God, and I figured God would (hopefully) understand I was doing the best I could with the abilities I had. Sure, I screwed up, but that was inherent in the nature of humanity, and I did my best to screw up as little as possible.

I came across some intriguing questions about God, and figured I could do some research, learn some, quash those questions, and then go merrily on my way. Instead I became embroiled in the fight of my life, attempting to learn enough about God to make those questions abate. I thought, and studied, and read and prayed and agonized over the complexities presented. I did not have time to be proud, because I was too immersed in study.

When I realized that I was losing my belief in God, I became despondent and depressed. I tried everything any human could ever do to hold onto that belief. And yes, I “let go and let God.” Unfortunately, your god chose to not wipe those pounding questions from my brain. It is difficult for me to state the cost of the inevitable change of belief in my relationships and within my family.

Pride? With a wry smile, I shake my head at that argument. You would be better served arguing that I deliberately dis-believe in God because I like Ham sandwiches. It is more compelling with more depth of thought.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

dagood,

well done. lovely. thank you.

Micah Cowan said...

A great read, as always

Dave8 said...

Great post :-) Would like to add though, that not all communication is persuasive... the need to inform seems an honest approach, depending on the context of the communication. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Pride?,...Pride is one of the cornerstones of of Christianity.

*The other one is Fear!
freedy

Jamie said...

Ah, the movie theatre prohibition...even when I was a young SDA I never quite got what was so bad about them...

Thanks for a wonderful post. Most of my friends and family do not know that I am an agnostic-leaning-towards-atheism yet. I'm afraid to bring it up because they seem so happy and satisfied in their faith. Who am I to mess with that? On the other hand, I won't try to squirm my way out of it when asked either...

And you are right...I'm not "proud" of it...it just is.

Gahdangsonbit said...

Excellent essay.

Ex-christians know well that many practicing christians "persevere in faith and obedience to the end" because of a kind of pride that keeps them practicing despite their doubts (which they entertain secretly and guiltily).

I am thinking of christians especially in church leadership who have invested their reputations with their public professions of faith. They "wouldn't take nothing for (their) journey now," as the old song says.

Why? It is intolerably hard to admit to being so terribly wrong. It's embarrassing. Leaving christianity (and, really, any religion, I suppose) means crossing the point of saying, "How could I have been so gullible?" Pride certainly keeps people from admitting to having been wrong.

How do I know? Been there; done that.

Moonpearl said...

Besides "pride" the other accusation is "your desire to live a life of sin". If they don't have an answer for your arguments they are taught to use those accusations.

J. C. Samuelson said...

DagoodS,

Outstanding post! :)

Telmi said...

DagoodS,

Excellent expose!

eel_shepherd said...

Here's a coincidence for you. Look what turned up in the [free] Word-A-Day vocabulary-builder newsletter that I subscribe to. The guy also chucks in some pithy saying every time, and this is today's one, which seems to address the current thread:
"The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.
-Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, biologist, author (1941-2002)

So much for pride's ability to coexist with science. Can the Xtians say the same?Their "Christian walk" is more like a swagger (Swaggart?) or a strut.

tigg13 said...

And what's wrong wit5h a little pride?

I read something a while ago about how the most common psychological problem in the US was low self esteem.

There shouldn't be anything wrong with giving yourself credit when you deserve it.

I personally think a lot of this 'pride' business has a great deal to do with christians who have trouble differentiating between themselves and their god.

I mean, how dare we presume to know more than someone who has been personally blessed by the almighty!

Great post, Dagoods.

You should be proud of yourself!

Joe said...

Wide ranging and impassioned post, but it neglects one of the most pervasive uses of humility in the church.

I have asked myself why the powers of the Roman Empire chose xianity as the state religion? The official church histories would have you believe it was through god's work in the heart of the emperor, but I suspect there's a more human story. Xianity contained a couple of very nice elements -- the philosophical anti-rejection drugs that would make for a transplant. First, was the brilliant "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." Ok. This may have been added in during the 3rd century for the very purpose of helping the religion court the state. And second, "y'all be humble now" = accept authority.

One of the things that rang in my ears and helped me see the xian house of cards for what it really is came in the utterance of a preacher from Sovereign Grace(R) Ministries. "Submit to the authority of godly men," I was told. And there it was, stripped naked. The legends and teachings of Abraham's god all come down to toeing the line.

jim earl said...

Excellent post again, Dagood.

BTW, who was it that came up with the bumper sticker: Power of Pride. I was taught that pride was one of the seven greatest sins, yet at the local baptist church, many cars are still sporting those stickers. Go figure.

TheCapetonian said...

Excellent post DagoodS. I've heard the pride accusation before and you did a thorough job at showing how ridiculous it is.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot. Felt like I was the one talking. thank you so much...

-matt