That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave … Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built. ~ Bertrand Russel, famous atheist philosopher, Mysticism and Logic (emphasis added)
Note that Russel is not arguing that all atheists actually do face the world with despair. He's not saying that all atheists are depressed or something. He's arguing that the logical conclusion of life terminating upon death is to face the world with despair. Of course few, if any, can actually do that, since it's not only psychology impossible to live consistently that way, it's also illogical to build a "firm foundation" upon nothing; "despair" is not a firm foundation, it is a lack of one.
On the other hand, Christians do not face death with despair. Consider Hebrews 11:1: "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." Here faith is evidence for the hope that we can quite rightly have, not despair. Of course, faith is that, and much much more, but that is an important part.
For a more thorough article on this topic, please see Dustin Shramek's article, "Atheism and Death: Why the atheist must face death with despair".
Ever heard someone say (or said yourself) "You just believe because …"
- … you grew up in the church
- … you need it as an emotional crutch
- … you live in North America; if you lived in Iran you'd probably be Muslim
And on and on. Two brief comments on why the reasons listed above are invalid:
1) These arguments commit what's known as the genetic fallacy. They focus on the origin of a belief instead of its validity. Even if someone is only Christian because they need emotional support, that proves nothing about whether Christianity is true. A statement or belief system is either true or false, regardless of why certain people believe them. The argument can go the other way too: "You're only an atheist because you grew up in an atheist household" (or fill in your favorite emotional reason). As Greg Koukl says in his article: "Examining the motives (or historical influences) of one’s view may tell you interesting things about psychology or about history, but it can never tell you anything about the legitimacy of a view itself."
2) These arguments oversimplify the reasons why anyone believes anything (not just why Christians believe in Jesus). The story of why I am Christian is available online, and my reasons are not like those listed above.
Sinfest, Dec 12 2001
Well, since I wrote about demons last week, I guess I'll talk briefly about angels today. The popular images of angels with wings and halos began sometime in the 4th century, whereas angels are (biblically speaking) essentially spiritual in nature, not physical. They have no particular physical characteristics, although they may take on human form to better communicate with us. Angels are also not 'good people who died', like Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life; instead, they are a seperate class of created, spiritual beings. Recently there seems to be a resurgence in interest in angels in the media and popular consciousness, although usually they are depicted in a caricatured way, like in the cartoon above. Like demons, I think (this part is my opinion) it's good to recognize angels exist, but foolish to dwell upon their existence or put too much emphasis on them.
Faith Isn't Quite Brain Surgery
Guy: How can you believe in God? You've never seen him.
Girl: Well, I believe you have a brain, though I've never seen it!
–F train via Overheard in New York, Feb 28, 2006
Oh snap! Sorry, thought it was funny so I had to post it. Seriously though, that's one of the worst arguments I've heard for not believing in God.