One Atheist to Another: “Let’s Play Dumb”

Dr. J. BudziszewskiSo often, we play dumb with God and our own conscience, refusing to believe what we can know to be true. Dr. J. Budziszewski shares his story.

I have already said that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things He’s given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind. I don’t make the observation to boast; human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways. The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong. When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn’t do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid. Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all…. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself–well, if you are like I was, maybe you can–what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense. St. Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is “written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.” The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them. Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one’s will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in his control?

How then did God bring me back? I came, over time, to feel a greater and greater horror about myself. Not exactly a feeling of guilt, not exactly a feeling of shame, just horror: an overpowering sense that my condition was terribly wrong. Finally it occurred to me to wonder why, if there were no difference between the wonderful and the horrible, I should feel horror. In letting that thought through, my mental censors blundered. You see, in order to take the sense of horror seriously–and by now I couldn’t help doing so–I had to admit that there was a difference between the wonderful and the horrible after all. For once my philosophical training did me some good, because I knew that if there existed a horrible, there had to exist a wonderful of which the horrible was the absence. So my walls of self-deception collapsed all at once.

At this point I became aware again of the Savior whom I had deserted in my twenties. Astonishingly, though I had abandoned Him, he had never abandoned me. I now believe He was just in time. There is a point of no return, and I was almost there… .

The next few years after my conversion were like being in a dark attic where I had been for a long time, but in which shutter after shutter was being thrown back so that great shafts of light began to stream in and illuminate the dusty corners. I recovered whole memories, whole feelings, whole ways of understanding that I had blocked out… .

… My own contribution to the theory of natural law is a little different than those of some other writers. One might say that I specialize in understanding the ways that we pretend we don’t know what we really do–the ways we suppress our knowledge, the ways we hold it down, the ways we deceive ourselves and others. I do not try to “prove” the natural law as though one could prove that by which all else is proven; I do try to show that in order to get anywhere at all, the philosophies of denial must always at some point assume the very first principles they deny.

It is a matter of awe to me that God has permitted me to make any contribution at all. His promise is that if only the rebel turns to Jesus Christ in repentant faith, giving up claims of self-ownership and allowing this Christ the run of the house, He will redeem everything there is in it. Just so, it was through my rescue from self-deception that I learned about self-deception. He has redeemed even my nihilist past and put it to use.

Many of my students tell me they struggle with the same dark influences that I once did. I hope that by telling the story of my own escape I may encourage them to seek the light.

The atheist is many times a wonderfully talented intellectual. I enjoy seeing the mind of an atheist at work. But, Dr. Budziszewski’s point is well-taken. Humans have the basics to understand right from wrong. But we don’t want it to be true. We play dumb to what we know to be obvious. We pretend to search for truth, to convince others that we are honest in the inquiry, but our hearts have already made up it’s mind, and even if the truth was in front of our nose, we would pretend not to see it. “Let’s play dumb.”



Filed under Atheism, Christianity, Conversion, God, Reconversion, Religion

11 responses to “One Atheist to Another: “Let’s Play Dumb”

  1. scaryreasoner

    Ugh. You have such a paucity of imagination that you cannot imagine any way that the notion of right and wrong might arise in humans and animals without a deity?

    Is your god good because he says so and defines what it is to be good? Then goodness is arbitrary and meaningless. Otherwise, goodness is outside of god, and independent of god.

    Theists are so terrible at this game we call thinking.

  2. I have some questions and a comment:
    1. Are you good? Do you know right from wrong?
    2. How do you know that God is not good?
    3. Can you prove to me that God does not exist? If so, how do you answer the questions of origins, composition of man, apparent presence of evil, and where this is all headed?

    Just for the record, some of the brightest minds I’ve ever encountered have been theists. Furthermore, some of the brightest minds I’ve ever encountered have been atheists.

    The difference is that atheists form a worldview and fit the data into it; the theists takes the data and shapes a worldview out of it.

  3. The Tofu

    1. Depends on who you ask, and what their definition of “good” is.

    2. Because he doesn’t exist. Also, even if he did, he’d be responsible for every moment of pain and every death that has ever occurred.

    3. Can you prove to me that the flying spaghetti monster does not exist?

    I’d be interested in what “data” you are talking about.

  4. Atheism is a worldview. If you don’t believe in God, then you have to come up with many alternative explanations for how things came into being. You also have to explain human conscience, human desire, and apparent presence of design in nature, including the DNA of a cell.

    Of course, atheist have built a wall. Rather than allow inquiry to go into “God-possible” directions, they have ruled God out altogether. Is this really true science?

    The “God-delusion” is really “God-delusional” because atheists have walled themselves in – we’ll make the data fit our worldview.

  5. The Tofu

    You didn’t answer my questions.

    Why do you think that belief in god is the default worldview? You’re assuming his existence because you need to fit everything into your holy book no matter what the evidence shows.

    An atheist is free to change their views based on the evidence, or even to say “I don’t know.” Just because we haven’t discovered the reason for something YET, doesn’t necessitate god. Look up “god of the gaps” sometime.

    The Bible never changes, and neither can your answers. Faith is not compatible with logic, science or evidence.

    I haven’t ruled out god. Neither have I ruled out ghosts, fairies or bigfoot. I simply do not believe in them, and will continue to not believe until actual, verifiable evidence exists for them.

    You continue to make assumptions about the “atheist worldview,” but it’s pretty clear you don’t understand it.

  6. I’m not assuming anything. I simply believe based on the evidence that we do have.

    Faith and science are not incompatible. Francis Bacon said “A little bit of science takes a man far from God; alot of science brings him back.”

    If I don’t understand the atheistic worldview, it’s because atheists themselves cannot provide intellectually satisfying answers to the deeper questions of life that any worldview should be able to answer. How do things come to be? (evolutionary descriptions are a joke) Where did I come from? Why am I here? What went wrong in the world? Where is this all headed? Is there a larger story? What can be done to fix it? What is my role? Is there life after death? Atheists pretend they don’t care about these things; but experience proves otherwise (especially when it comes time to say good-bye to people we love)

    Atheism is ill-equipped to answer these kinds of questions. Why? Atheists don’t know how to answer them. I think I do understand your worldview. There are aspects of it that I appreciate hearing about…your questions and comments of others certaintly help with this. But, atheism is inadequate, tried and found wanting, without existential repugnance…it’s not a livable worldview.

  7. The Tofu

    You still didn’t answer my questions. When you can disprove the flying spaghetti monster, I’ll disprove your god.

    How do things come to be? (evolutionary descriptions are a joke)
    I don’t know, and neither do you (where did god come from?). Evolution merely explains genetic diversity, it has nothing to do with the origins of anything.

    Where did I come from?
    I’m pretty sure it was my mom.

    Why am I here?
    My parents had a child.

    What went wrong in the world?
    Define wrong?

    Where is this all headed?
    I don’t know. I’m interested to find out though.

    Is there a larger story?
    Maybe? Not sure what you mean by this.

    What can be done to fix it?
    Fix what?

    What is my role?
    My role in what? In life? Seems to be whatever I choose.

    Is there life after death?
    I don’t know.

    Just because I can’t answer these questions (yet), doesn’t mean that god exists. It’s totally unrelated. Just because you think you have the answers doesn’t mean you are correct.

    Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

  8. I love your answers (and humor too!) I’m pretty sure I came from my mama too. And if I didn’t, I’m not sure I would want to find out!

    Really though, Tofu, there is so much more to live for than what you indicate in your answers to these questions.

    See, we are God created. Eons ago, God spoke and a cosmos was shaped, though we’re not told exactly how it happened, only that it did happen. Earth and the region of earth was chaotic, without form and void. (Perhaps Satan was in charge of this formless mass at one time – the chaos hints at this possibility) A creative word spoke, and shaped this mass into a livable planet. God created man and made him a steward of it and co-creators of human life. God took the Satanic influenced chaos, shaped it into something beautiful, placed man in charge of it. Of course, from Genesis 3, we learn that Satan tempted mankind, and even though we were in charge of this planet, in a sense, we gave it back to the “chaos” when we chose to do life our own way (that’s what I mean by something wrong and needing fixed). From Genesis 3 onward, life became a Jerry Springer show. Our world has been messed up ever since. But, don’t despair. Because clear back in Gen. 3:15, a prophecy is given that One would come, that would reverse the Fall, fulfill the plan of God, and do so by offering his life in our behalf.

    Now, because of Christs life, death, and resurrection, those who believe become a part of His restoration plan – moving a world toward the purposes for which it was originally created. But God doesn’t force our participation. We are free to reject His love, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden. He will honor our choice.

    Eventually, we will die. God will give us over to whatever we have lived and longed for. Heaven for those who want it; hell for those who want total separation from God. Then, one day, the great day, when Christ will return to earth in bodily form and establish a new order of things. All creation, previously sabotaged, will be set free. All unrighteousness will be purged. All human-beings will get their day in court and judgment will fall on all the unrighteousness done by man and Satan through the centuries; but a judgment only for those who have failed to prepare.

    There’s so much more I’d love to tell you. Some of this sounds far-fetched I’m sure. But a case can be made for this larger story – and it’s large enough for you and I to live in for a lifetime.

    These are just broad strokes. There’s so many details that I have to leave out. You just have no idea how exciting life is when this kind of story plays out every day of my life.

    Tofu… there is a larger story… revealed by God…presented in His book… and it breathes hope, life, and a bright tomorrow.

    this is not myth. It’s not fairy tale. It’s a worldview that hangs together with remarkable coherence.

  9. The Tofu

    “This is not myth. It’s not fairy tale. It’s a worldview that hangs together with remarkable coherence.”

    So what’s your evidence for this? How do you know all this stuff?

    The Bible is a flawed book written by men thousands of years ago. It is filled with contradictions and offers no more proof for its claims than any other holy book.

    As I pointed out in the atheist blog post, belief in an all loving, all powerful, all knowing god is inconsistent with what we actually observe in reality.

  10. The Bible. When it is studied, carefully interpreted, a picture begins to emerge. Even though written by several authors, it too is remarkably coherent in it’s over message.

    Read this post…

    The meta-narrative is exhilarating. The plot, setting, character is unsurpassed. “The dogma is the drama,” to quote Dorothy Sayers. When we understand the key beliefs proposed by the Bible, the story roars to life. Good vrs. Evil, life vrs. death, Christ vrs. Satan, angels vrs. demons. All in a context of an incredible love story.

    Honestly (and I don’t mean this egotistically), many professed followers of Christ have so twisted this story and convoluted it, that I’m not surprised that atheism is a growing movement. WE have misrepresented this story.

    I’m not a kook. It’s all right in the Bible.

  11. J. J. Ramsey

    “I had to admit that there was a difference between the wonderful and the horrible after all.”

    Why should being an atheist mean that there is no difference between the wonderful and the horrible? Joy and fun and pain and suffering are all real. Saying that they are “just” products of neurochemistry or whatnot doesn’t make them any less real. Selfishness and selflessness are real, and how these play out in our interactions with one another is also real. Where these are real, wonder and horror are also real, regardless of the existence of a deity.

    “many professed followers of Christ have so twisted this story and convoluted it, that I’m not surprised that atheism is a growing movement.”

    That reminds me of an old blog post that I wrote:

    I suspect that at least some people became atheists mainly because they became so disgusted with religious extremism that they gave up on religion altogether. However, there are also plenty of people who became atheists simply because their faith doesn’t do a very good job of accounting for reality. One needn’t think of God as a bastard to see that the Bible looks suspiciously like a mix of a little fact and a heap of legend, or to notice that there are genuine contradictions. One need not be a “God-hater” to notice the way that purported miracles (biblical or otherwise) always seem to happen in some far away time or place, or that reports of miracles tend to be friend-of-a-friend stories. Indeed, pointing to religious violence is a piss-poor way of justifying atheism, since it doesn’t deal with whether the underlying religious claims are true or not.

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