Self-Esteem and the Question of Origins

There is little doubt that in the Western world there is a growing malaise centred on low self-esteem. Our sense of self-worth and value seems to be at an all-time low. The indicators are as prevalent as they are ominous: youth suicide, drug abuse, self-abuse, anti-social behaviour, and so on.

Of course there are numerous reasons why a person may have a low sense of self-worth. All sorts of factors go into the problem of low self-esteem. But it seems that one factor must have a leading role in all of this. I refer to worldviews and the way they understand the human person: their origin, their nature and their destiny.

If a person holds to or is greatly influenced by a worldview which has a very low view of personhood and the human condition, then this must contribute to a flagging self-image. If we believe, for example, that people are only animals, with nothing unique or special about them, then that will contribute to a less than optimistic assessment of one’s self and one’s world.

For much of human history there was a sense that human beings were special, and concepts such as human dignity and a healthy self-worth flowed from this belief. But worldviews which downplay the uniqueness of humans will surely lead to lower self-esteem and self-worth.

Consider the philosophy of naturalism or materialism, which argues that matter is all there is. There is no supernatural, no spiritual, no non-material reality. Matter alone matters, this worldview asserts. Of course evolutionary worldviews which are undergirded by such a materialist philosophy are good examples of this.

Secular evolutionists who have embraced a naturalist worldview make their views clear as to the practical outworking of such beliefs. Consider some representative quotes:

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (Carl Sagan)

“The astonishing hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Francis Crick)

The universe “seems pointless” and we are “a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes [after the big bang]”. (Steven Weinberg)

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Richard Dawkins)

“Morality is no more … than an adaptation, and as such has the same status as such things as teeth and eyes and noses. . . . [M]orality is a creation of the genes.” (Michael Ruse)

Morality is just a survival mechanism. Ethics “is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate,” and “the way our biology enforces its ends is by making us think that there is an objective higher code to which we are all subject.” (E. O. Wilson)

Hey, who wouldn’t get depressed and succumb to despair if these sentiments are in fact true? What is the point of going on? Life is just a cosmic joke – an accident. Why give a rip about anything if such a scenario is all we are stuck with?

There are different ways to draw out the implications of all this, but one very good presentation of it is worth reproducing in full. It comes from Christian writer Randy Alcorn who very nicely contrasts the naturalist worldview with the Biblical worldview. The implications for how one thinks of oneself and others could not be more marked. I here offer his incisive illustration. I return to my commentary in the last paragraph.

Two Sources of Self-Esteem: Secular and Christian

Everywhere in the secular media I’ve been hearing and reading about the critical problem of poor self-esteem among our young people. A bad self-image is being cited as the cause of teen suicide, drug abuse, crime and violence. Educators and community leaders are trying to find ways to help children bolster their self-esteem.

Where does this plague of low self-esteem come from? Ironically, straight from the atheistic evolutionary view of man with which society has indoctrinated our young people. Where can they get a healthy and accurate self-esteem? From the very Judeo-Christian ethic society is rejecting, and trying so desperately to keep out of the classrooms and public life.

Let me summarise the secular and Christian foundations for self-esteem, then you tell me whether it’s any wonder why America’s children are feeling like they, their lives and values have so little meaning.

The Secular Basis for Self-Esteem:
You are the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm that washed up on an ocean beach ten billion years ago. You are the blind and arbitrary product of time, chance and natural forces. Your closest living relatives swing from trees and eat crackers at the zoo.

You are a mere grab-bag of atomic particles, a conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar system in an obscure galaxy in a remote and empty corner of a vast, cold, and meaningless universe. You are flying through lifeless space with no purpose, no direction, no control, and no destiny but final destruction.

You are a purely biological entity, different only in degree but not in kind from a microbe, virus or amoeba. You have no essence beyond your body, and at death you will cease to exist entirely. What little life you do have is confined to a fragile body aimlessly moving through a world plagued by war, famine and disease. The only question is whether the world will manage to blow itself up before your brief and pointless life ends on its own.

In short, you came from nothing, you are going nowhere, and you will end your brief cosmic journey beneath six feet of dirt, where all that is you will become food for bacteria and rot with worms.

And now, kids . . . doesn’t that make you feel good about yourselves?

The Christian Basis for Self-Esteem:
You are a special creation of a good and all powerful God. You are the climax of his creation, the magnum opus of the greatest artist in the universe. You are created in His image, with capacities to think, feel, and worship that set you above all other life forms. You differ from the animals not simply in degree, but in kind.

Not only is your kind unique, but you are unique among your kind. God has masterminded the exact combination of DNA and chromosomes that constitute your genetic code, making you as different from all others as every snowflake differs from the rest.

Yes, you are sinners, and in and of yourselves you do not deserve to go to heaven. But despite your rebellion, your Creator loved you so much and so intensely desires your companionship and affection that he gave the life of his only Son that you might spend eternity with him. If you are willing to accept the free gift of salvation, you can become a child of God, the King of the universe.

As a Christian, you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. He has given you special gifts and abilities to serve him in a particular and unique way.

Your heavenly Father is sovereign, and will allow nothing to cross your path that is not Father-filtered. He cares for you so much that He is totally available to you at all times, and listens to every word you say. He cares deeply about your hurts, and has a perfect plan for your life. He has given you the inspired Word of God as a road-map for living. He gives you the truth that sets you free, a life that is abundant and eternal, and a spiritual family that loves and needs you.

Your destiny is to live forever in a magnificent kingdom, to reign with Christ over the universe. You will forever enjoy the wonders of his presence and the marvels of his creations. You will spend eternity in intimate and joyful fellowship with your beloved Lord and your precious spiritual family.

Now, kids . . . how does that make you feel about yourselves? And how does it make you feel about your God?!

Exactly right. Alcorn has hit the nail on the head here. Ideas do have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. The naturalistic worldview is a bad tree yielding bad fruit. The Judeo-Christian worldview, by contrast, is a good tree yielding good fruit. I have no difficulty knowing which one I would rather adhere to.

www.surfinthespirit.com/healthy-living/self-esteem.html

[1445 words]

32 Replies to “Self-Esteem and the Question of Origins”

  1. Alcorn’s contrast is brilliant – just as an adjunct, I can’t remember where I read it now, but another good reminder of how precious and unique we are is implied in Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
    Clearly in God’s Kingdom the total physical, ecological & mineral wealth and wonder of the entire earth does not compare with the value of a just one single human life. When I consider that, I am totally awestruck. (I’m convinced we could substitute ‘universe’ for ‘world’ without any great problem too…)
    Mark Rabich

  2. And here’s another “oldie but goodie”!
    (sorry about the lack of formatting Bill…)

    Psalm 23
    The Lord is my Shepherd – That’s Relationship
    I shall not want – That’s Supply
    He makes me to lie down in green pastures – That’s Rest
    He leads me beside the still waters – That’s Refreshment
    He restores my soul – That’s Healing

    He leads me in paths of righteousness – That’s Guidance
    For His name’s sake – That’s Purpose
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – That’s Testing
    I will fear no evil – That’s Protection
    For Thou art with me – That’s Faithfulness

    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies – That’s Hope
    Thou anointest my head with oil – That’s Consecration
    My cup runneth over – That’s Abundance

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life – That’s Blessing
    I will dwell in the house of the Lord – That’s Security
    Forever – That’s Eternity!

    Face it, the Lord is crazy about you!

    I can’t imagine a cold empty Universe in the same terms, can you?

    John Angelico

  3. Thank you, Great article.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of atheism, believe in nothing, stand for nothing, and die with nothing. It must take extraordinary doubt to be an atheist, against over whelming evidence that can’t be refuted, the atheist stands up glaring boldly into the sun, and claims its non existence. They don’t even have the courage or integrity to admit to any doubts, not the faintest, slightest doubt. This is dishonesty on the grandest of scales.

    Bob Garbett

  4. Bill, thanks for the clear dissection on the subject.
    I feel particularly sad that those who hold on to the naturalistic/materialistic worldviews, though are deep thinkers and men of science, are not humble enough to admit that they could be wrong. It has been said that scientists are always wrong — they are just less wrong now than they were before. Was not Eistein wrong when he rejected quantum mechanics?
    SK Leong

  5. Thank you Bill for your article. I have just been to a Suicide Awareness Workshop and this point of self esteem arose in discussion. There are so many people out there who are Ordinary People with Extraordinary Problems and they just want the pain to stop. I wanted to implement Self Esteem Workshops with a colleague and introduce these into schools in W.A. This was not implemented many years ago as it was not seen as a necessity. Isn’t that sad that our Government at that time could not see the need to help our Youth. As Christians we must all fight the good fight and stand up for what we believe in and get beside people who are hurting. What a wonderful “God” we have.
    Rae Wallace, Devonport

  6. You raise valid points Bill and not least of all in relation to our uniqueness as God’s creation – a fact that mankind needs to be encouraged to believe in once more, and not least of all here in Australia. God is the only effective “lifter of my head” and I thank God that He sent His Son, Jesus, to teach me this truth.
    Kind regards, Sue Carlyon

  7. Hi Bill,

    If I was a Christian and actually believed I would live forever, I could imagine I would be pretty happy about it. But like many Australians I was raised as a Christian, but I lost interest when I reached adulthood and came to the conclusion that it was childish superstition and totally without foundation.

    I can’t remember being particularly happy about the Christian promise of everlasting life. Perhaps I never really believed it could be true. Dead people stayed dead.

    Now that I am no longer a believer, I certainly don’t have the pessimistic outlook on life that you like to pretend that atheists do. To me, every day is a new source of wonder and excitement, another chance to live life to the full, while to a Christian it would surely be another dreary day in this vale of tears waiting to die and get your “eternal reward”.

    You are a perfect example of this yourself. You have stated in these pages on a few occasions that you have a melancholy disposition, and you certainly seem to exhibit fear, despair and hatred of any ideas that conflict with your “biblical worldview”. You’re not alone in this. Almost all of the fanatics who dominate the religious right in this country seem to be unhappy, depressed and angry people. Hard to understand if they really think they have the Truth. Maybe it’s just jealousy because we atheists seem to be enjoying life too much, and an uncomfortable suspicion that maybe we are right 😉

    The happy clappers in the prosperity gospel churches do seem to be an exception, but I understand the turnover rate in those places is very high. Presumably they eventually realise that rock music, slick presentations, and continual demands for money are not the genuine spiritual experience they were seeking.

    So once again I have to take issue with your opinions Bill. You can make all the assertions you like, but ultimately it’s just your biased opinion of how you’d like things to be, with a blatant disregard for how things really are. I wouldn’t never want to swap my life for yours.

    Steve Angelino, WA

  8. Unless you have been set free from yourself by Jesus Christ, you are doomed to look within yourself for lifes answers. This is a dead end search, and leads back to Jesus Christ (the eternal Son of The Father in the Spirit) who IS THE WAY,THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. Not maybe if I can get my religion right!
    Lou d’Alpuget

  9. But Bill, within 21st century man we see inconsistencies: unable to see himself as a zero he elevates himself to an idealised level. Nature (with a capital N), the great mysterious and irrational Force, rolling on through the millennia carries us on the crest of its wave. In almost mystical terms he will talk about evolutionary and human progress – to that of becoming a god. Man becomes that than which no greater can be thought. He will achieve absolute freedom. His kingdom will come and his will…. will be done. The advantage of such a belief is that it gives us all the thrills and comfort of a religion and a feel good factor about human nature and yet if we are in reality mere nothings – of no significance – then any shabby behaviour of ours also becomes inconsequential, simply because atoms cannot be held accountable; if we have no real free will and are determined and programmed by our genes we cannot ultimately be held responsible for our actions. We will elevate or minimise ourselves according to how it suits us.

    Because of the resulting emptiness and meaninglessness of modern life we can develop a spirit of anxiety, fearfulness, and demoralisation – spiritual forces which can threaten to overwhelm us and cause paralysis, worthlessness, defeat and despair. We can feel that life owes us something; that it is our right to have this or that. In the meantime our passions and obsessions to demand what we want inevitably lead to strongholds, compulsions, involuntary thought processes, wilfulness, impatience, discontent, irritability, hastiness of spirit, anger that can boil up from nowhere, rage, bitterness, indifference to the plight and suffering of others, contempt, insensitivity, callousness, irresponsibility, arrogance, strife, suspicion, lying, envy, greed, lust, hate, malice, murder and war. We will take what we think is rightfully ours in order give us the feel good factor – no matter the cost to others. We only have to look at the rising prison population to see that something is seriously wrong with society.

    Finally the only real escape from such a meaningless existence is a leap into virtual reality, compensatory obsessions, comfort or stimulation that will blot out the pain of man’s existential isolation. It does not even have to be any strong stimulant such as drugs, alcohol, madness, violence or suicide – it can simply be the dulling experience of business, or sitting in front of a flickering screen, or staring into the dying embers of a fire, late into the night. These distractions and diversions are often pursued, not because they bring pleasure or happiness, but simply because they bring forgetfulness and oblivion.

    But nothing is new. Their conclusions only repeat those of the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, written 3000 years ago who, without the aid of modern thinking also came to the conclusion that life – without God – is absurd, pointless and meaningless.

    David Skinner, UK

  10. Thanks Steve

    Atheists it seems are not good are dealing with arguments or truth claims. Instead they rely on logical fallacies, chief of which is the use of ad hominem attacks. Simply calling people names seems about as much as most atheists can come up with. Of course it is always easier to attempt to smear someone’s character than to answer an argument.

    But let me nonetheless seek to reply. With all due respect, it seems you know little about the God you have chosen to despise and reject. Because of God’s great love for you and me, he is a God with a broken heart. Our sin and selfishness greatly grieves the heart of our heavenly father. And those who follow God share his heart for the world. So yes, it grieves me deeply when I see people arrogantly telling God to drop dead and presume to occupy his place at the centre of the universe. Jesus too wept over his lost and deliberately rebellious people.

    And any parent weeps when a son or daughter spurns their love and heads off on a path of delusion and self-destruction. The greater the love, the greater the pain when that love is rejected. So the infinite love of God brings infinite hurt and grief when we his creation pretend we do not need him, and shake our fist at him. Yet he goes on loving us anyway. “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

    I do not now anything about the Christianity you rejected. You may have had a lousy experience of church when you were young. I don’t know. But I can only urge you to reconsider Jesus and his claims. And I will continue to uphold you in prayer, and joyfully so.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Atheists it seems are not good are dealing with arguments or truth claims. Instead they rely on logical fallacies, chief of which is the use of ad hominem attacks. Simply calling people names seems about as much as most atheists can come up with. Of course it is always easier to attempt to smear someone’s character than to answer an argument.

    A bit rich coming from someone who merely dismisses atheists as “God-haters” in rhetoric laden articles based upon a collection of strawman arguments.

    With all due respect, it seems you know little about the God you have chosen to despise and reject.

    And I’m sure you know a great deal about the countless other gods out there that you have “chosen to despise and reject”. Let’s make this nice and sparkling clear Bill, I don’t “despise”
    your god, because I don’t believe said god exists. I don’t “reject” your god, because I cannot reject something that I see no evidence of. It would be like rejecting Thor or the Flying Spaghetti monster.

    Sammy Jankis, London UK.

  12. Steve: “To me, every day is a new source of wonder and excitement, another chance to live life to the full, while to a Christian it would surely be another dreary day in this vale of tears waiting to die and get your “eternal reward”

    Hi Steve, given the simplistic inaccuracy of the second half of that statement, it’s fair to say that you are engaging in self-deception in the first half. I submit you can only feel good by failing to take your own beliefs to their logical conclusion. As Alcorn expressed, the reality of facing the brutal truth of secularism is despair and hopelessness.

    You may indeed feel varying degrees of “wonder and excitement” but these are clearly inconsistent with your own belief system. I contend that you feel them not because of your atheism, but in spite of it. If you did have a bad church experience, or wondered at the behaviour of some who call themselves Christians, well, you’ll probably find that most Christians have too – myself included. Poor or inconsistent behaviour by Christians has nothing to do with the truth of Christianity. I’m truly grateful that I can point unashamedly to the centrepiece of my faith, Jesus. That is what I will stand for – because it is the only thing worth standing up for.

    In contrast, Steve, I’m convinced that you yourself are showing “blatant disregard for how things really are.” Your beliefs logically assert that even your happy demeanour has no value. Under atheism, living life “to the full” is a phrase without meaning since at the end your life is worthless. It matters about as much as the period at the end of this sentence. How can that be good? Any happiness you have will be transitory at best, and nowhere near as good as the peace and joy which comes through knowing God and His Son, Jesus.

    Mark Rabich

  13. Thanks Sammy

    Actually, both as a non-believer in my earlier years, and now as a believer, I have indeed tried to keep up on the different worldviews and religious truth claims as best I can. So yes I do know a small amount about competing religious worldviews. Do you?

    And of course it is not the lack of evidence that is keeping you from abandoning atheism. It is your closed mind and pre-commitment to philosophical materialism that prevents you from even admitting that there might be a bit more to truth and reality out there than what you have thus far experienced and/or explored. An atheist is at heart guilty of the most crass arrogance, insisting that he or she has total knowledge of all things, and can therefore claim with complete certainly that there is no God.

    It is a good thing that not all atheists are so bigoted and narrow-minded. When the leading atheist in the world Antony Flew left his atheism for theism several years ago, he said he had to do it for the sake of truth. He claimed he “had to go where the evidence leads”. He was open to the possibility of other evidence, of new knowledge, of genuine intellectual exploration. Some atheists unfortunately do not share these traits, and are instead blinded by their own pride and self-imposed deception.

    It is much like the colour-blind person insisting that there is no colour, and that anyone who claims there is colour must be deluded. Like Dawkins, such an atheist has already made up his mind, based on the very limited world he inhabits. Those who are not colour blind can only laugh at such foolishness, knowing that such a person might be pitied or scorned, but certainly not taken seriously.

    So tell me Sammy, did Flew come to his theism by intellectual choice and a careful examination of the evidence, or did he just get there because his genes and memes made him to do it?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Hi, Steve, can you elaborate on the ‘wonder and excitement’ you wrote about in the sentence “every day is a new source of wonder and excitement, another chance to live life to the full”?
    SK Leong

  15. Hi Steve,
    I am a Christian and I am not a happy clapper but I am in awe of God and many times have felt and experienced his presence, I know exactly what he means to me and it has taken a near life time to come to terms where I fit in the Christian mould so to speak, but this Atheism thing that you talk about sounds unbelievable, is it something you believe in or don’t believe in?
    Paul Hotchkin

  16. Sammy you are finite but there is within you, if you are honest, a part that is related to the infinite. As a great man said (Francis Schaeffer) you are not a sufficient integration point in yourself. That which is outside of you, that which is larger – infiniely – (to which as Bob Dylan in happier days used to say ‘You gotta serve somebody’) is your God. The only question is which supernatural force do you follow?
    David Skinner, UK

  17. Steve,

    As I am one with an inquiring mind, I have a few questions I’d like to pose to you:

    1. You say that you were raised a Christian but have moved to understanding that Christianity is a “childish superstition and totally without foundation.” I’m interested in the kinds of reasoning you used to arrive at that conclusion. What evidence caused you to change your mind?

    2. While every day is one of wonder and excitement for you, I’m wondering what kind of Christian you used to be to lead you to believe that Christians lead a dreary life as they wait for their eternal reward.

    3. If Bill has a melancholy disposition, why does that have to prevent him from testing any ideas that are contrary to his biblical world view? Isn’t that the nature of being a thinking person who wants to test various ideas against the reality of what exists?

    4. You seem to have a beef about the “fanatics” who “dominate the religious right.” Do you think that I ought to give up eating food because of so many obese people around me in Australia.

    5. You speak about “we atheists seem to be enjoying life too much.” That may be your experience and that of some atheistic friends. Such an ardent atheist as Antony Flew did not have enough faith to continue his atheistic joyous life. While he has not become a Christian, he states that he has moved from atheism to theism. Why?

    In an interview with Flew, he stated that “there were two factors in particular that were decisive [in his move from atheism to theism]. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.”

    You state that “once again I have to take issue with your opinions Bill. You can make all the assertions you like, but ultimately it’s just your biased opinion of how you’d like things to be, with a blatant disregard for how things really are.” In your post on this forum, I saw not one piece of evidence to support your atheistic views, but I encountered a number of assertions:

    • You say that you moved from being raised as a Christian and you “came to the conclusion that it was childish superstition and totally without foundation.” Sorry, Steve, but this is an assertion. You provided not one piece of evidence to support your view.

    • “Dead people stayed dead.” Another assertion!

    • “. . . while to a Christian it would surely be another dreary day in this vale of tears waiting to die and get your ‘eternal reward.'” Assertion again!

    • “Almost all of the fanatics who dominate the religious right in this country seem to be unhappy, depressed and angry people.” You produced not one piece of evidence to support this view. I agree with you that there are some “fanatics” in the Christian churches but that’s not the only place!

    • “You[Bill] can make all the assertions you like, but ultimately it’s just your biased opinion of how you’d like things to be, with a blatant disregard for how things really are.” This is your assertion Steve.

    Yet, you target Bill with his assertions! This sounds a tad like the pot calling the kettle black.

    Sincerely, Spencer Gear, Queensland

  18. Bill,

    I’m not convinced by your arguments for self-esteem, even Christian self-esteem. Why? There is quite a bit of evidence that points in another direction. Here are some examples!

    John Rosemond wrote a weekly column in the USA. On 4th December 2001 his article was titled, “Unearned praise leads to mediocrity.” He refers to research by Professor Roy Baumeister (and others) of Case Western Reserve university.

    Rosemond wrote, “Baumeister has found that people with high self esteem tend to have low self control. His excellent research lays the self esteem myth to waste. Criminals, he has discovered, do not suffer from low self esteem. They are not acting out their outrage at being oppressed, suppressed and abused. They are dangerous because they are narcissists. They believe that what they want, they deserve to have, and the ends justify the means.”

    Yet another study has blown another hole in the self-esteem culture. Published in the November 2001 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review, its conclusion is that:

    “While self esteem among America’s youth has been on the rise for the last 30 years, accomplishment and responsible decision-making has (sic) been on the decline. Why? Because the sort of self esteem many America’s kids are bloated on is not based on a realistic appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses; therefore, it does not lead to accomplishment. Rather, it is based on unconditional, uncritical acceptance of whatever they do and think; therefore, it leads to mediocrity.”

    “Baumeister found that spouse abusers, gang members, and violent criminals all have high self esteem.”

    John Redmond concluded his column with this penetrating observation, “Actually, it’s rather encouraging to know that humility and modesty are still virtues.”

    I do recall another assessment: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT).

    Sincerely, Spencer Gear, Queensland

  19. Hey Steve , hold it there pardner! Christians having no joy?! Where have been? I dare you to go to a church in town where you can see people walking purposefully and expectantly to the Sunday service. I dare you to go in, and after hearing them worshipping God, thanking Jesus Christ for all he has done in their lives (I dare you to read Ephesians chapters 1 and 2), and praising Father God for all his infinite qualities and that, in spite of being the one in whom we live and move and have our being, he knows each one of us, down the tiniest hairs on our head.

    Why don’t you go and listen to some Johan Sebastian Bach – Christian music that will be played for all eternity?

    But better still, Steve, why don’t you go to where Christians are suffering for their faith (Christians being laid on the ground in North Korea and being steam rollered to death) or at least read of Christians who though at the time are enduring suffering that you (hopefully Dear God) will never experience from your comfort zone, are filled with joy. Why not read Paul’s letter (Philippians) which was written from a Roman prison, whilst chained between two soldier, that is bursting with joy and hope?

    Be honest Steve, you choose not to acknowledge God, who is closer to you than even the end of your nose, simply because it would inconvenience you, or so you mistakenly think, from doing whatever you want. I may be so bold to say, Steve, that you are not your own, you are in fact the property of someone else whose existence he is most happy indeed that you do not acknowledge. How do you explain the evil that exists in both you and me, apart from another spirit that has set itself up against the knowledge of God?

    I am reminded of the dishonesty and self-serving motives that drove Bertrand Russell, who once confessed that he only peddled his philosophy because it suited him, ie., it enabled him to exploit others.

    Edward Skidelsky, writing in the New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/200010090052 said “One person to be frustrated by the shallowness of Russell’s ethical writings was his daughter Kate: ‘They all offered the same solutions: reason, progress, unselfishness, a wide historical perspective, expansiveness, generosity, enlightened self-interest. I had heard it all my life, and it filled me with despair’.”

    Kate eventually found an answer in Christianity: “The doctrine of original sin gave to me, when I finally understood it, the same sense of intoxicating liberation my father had received from sexual emancipation. (which was): ‘It was normal for me to be bad, and I need not feel ashamed.”’She came to understand what Russell never could: it is only by acknowledging our sins that we can hope to gain freedom from them.”

    David Skinner, UK

  20. Thanks Spencer

    But hopefully we are on the same page here. You perhaps misunderstand my intentions in this piece. I was only seeking to argue here that ideas have consequences, and worldviews matter. My main point was that a materialist worldview must lead to some worrying outcomes. Being able to optimistically cope with life and have a hope for the future seems much more likely and logical from a biblical worldview than a secular one.

    As to the merits of such things as self-esteem, I of course have covered these matters elsewhere. And like you, I have shared my reservations about the cult of the self and the modern obsession with self-image, self-esteem and the like. See for example this article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/03/25/when-self-esteem-fails-our-kids/

    And there is a place for proper, Biblical self-respect. After all, we are commanded to love our neighbour as we love ourself. So we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. But I take your point.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Thanks David

    Non-believers may misunderstand the real nature of joy, which is not ephemeral and temporary but based on being in right relationship with our maker. And the real test of this, as you suggest, comes from the millions of testimonies from around the world and through the ages, of Christians who have endured suffering, persecution, loss, privation and death, yet retained the deep, settled peace of God and joy of the Lord. That speaks volumes of the reality of a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  22. Spencer, may I be humble enought to suggest that it is not our esteem of our selves (self-esteem), but God’s esteem of us (His estimate of us), not our own that matters. Read Ephesians 1. This a bit like the talents where the one one who was being “humble”, saying I don’t have anything worthwile, went and buried them in the ground.
    To those who have been given much, God expects much. The trick of the atheist is to say, just because I am nothing, no one, not even God, can hold me responsible for what I do. The fact is, God has created us as the pinnacle of creation. That puts a tremendous responsibility on us all, a high calling.
    David Skinner, UK

  23. Steve Angelino, I believe you likely bagged your upbringing variety of Christian faith for a lot of the same reasons I have bagged that sort of Christian faith. That said I believe a lot of baby is left after the dirty bathwater is tossed. And I believe while you have partially read Bill M. correct in his analytical nature, you have mistakenly read his reasoning as fear and hatred. I have no doubt that you have encountered Christians who have appealed to fear and hatred for faith. Many in the tradition of your upbringing heard far more on stations of the cross and fear and penalty and judgment and crucifiction than on ressurection, hope, mercy, forgiveness, and new life in the Spirit. And no, I am not speaking of that extreme you mentioned of the ‘happy clappers’ and their version of faith that does not take the human experience and angst or genuine wonder, thoughtfully. Glad you are on these posts. If you ever get proximity to Bill M and can do lunch, I think you’d find him quite delightful. He may well find you thus as well. From a believer who is not from apostolic successions or from the happy clapper crew. LOL.
    Joe Whitchurch

  24. So tell me Sammy, did Flew come to his theism by intellectual choice and a careful examination of the evidence, or did he just get there because his genes and memes made him to do it?

    Flew examined the evidence and made an unfounded conclusion. That’s it.

    Sammy Jankis, London UK

  25. David,

    I understand your emphasis: “it is not our esteem of our selves (self-esteem), but God’s esteem of us (His estimate of us), not our own that matters. Read Ephesians 1,” but I’m not convinced of the “God-esteem” meaning to bolster our self-esteem. As a long-term marriage and family counsellor (30 years), I will not pursue self-esteem emphases because of their lack of empirical support and biblical teaching that is contrary to the elevation of self message.

    When I raise issues of self-esteem with believers, verses such as Mark 12: 28-31 are raised: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important? The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

    There are not three commands here — only two: First, love the Lord your God; second, love your neighbour. There is no command to love ourselves. Jesus presupposes love of self in this passage.

    Jesus’ estimate of our continuing love of ourselves is understood by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:28-29, when “he urges husbands to love their wives as you [are loving] your own body.” Paul then states, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (ESV).

    One of the marks of the last days will be: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves . . .” (2 Tim. 3:1). Instead, we are to ” Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 12:10).

    In Matthew 16:24-25, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.'”

    I do not believe it is possible to deny self and elevate my self-esteem at the same time.

    I consider that a better emphasis is in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

    I have expanded this further in my article, “Self-Esteem: A Christian Response,” at: http://gear.dyndns.org/~spencer/Counselling/selfesteemachristianresponse.html.

    I agree with Bill’s points that “ideas have consequences, and worldviews matter. My main point was that a materialist worldview must lead to some worrying outcomes.” I was leading a parenting group yesterday for parents of out-of-control teens and some asked, “We have learned so much from this course as it has helped us to begin to take authority as parents. What has caused us to get to this point of not knowing how to deal with outrageous behaviour?” We discussed influences of people such as Dr. Benjamin Spock and permissive parenting. Worldviews do have consequences. My counselling work would be so much easier if parents had not been led down the path of “you must allow the child to pursue freedom of choice and not damage his/her self-esteem through parental authority.”

    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay, Qld.

  26. Spencer,

    You asked a number of questions. I’ll tackle the first one to start with, because it’s fundamental to everything else. It’s a big question, and deserves much more space that I can reasonably take up here, so my answer will have to condense years of thought and study into a few paragraphs.

    You said:
    “1. You say that you were raised a Christian but have moved to understanding that Christianity is a “childish superstition and totally without foundation.” I’m interested in the kinds of reasoning you used to arrive at that conclusion. What evidence caused you to change your mind?”

    Christians and other religious believers assert that there is a god. Yet there is no hard evidence for the existence of God, nor any to support the proposition that supernatural events have occurred throughout history. Plenty of philosophical speculation and unsubstantiated stories mind you, but no hard evidence.

    There is nothing in the scriptures that required a supernatural being’s involvement in their writing. On the contrary, there many strange, contradictory, and downright puzzling stories, particularly in the Old Testament, that should make any reasonable person question why a supernatural God would have human foibles such as pride and anger. The answer is obvious – man created God in his own image, and the scriptures were written by peoples with very limited understanding of the world about them.

    The creation stories in Genesis are either meant to be mythical, or they are plain wrong. I state they are wrong because the last few centuries have unleashed a wealth of human knowledge, based on enormous amounts of incontrovertible evidence, that the origin of the universe and of life itself, has a perfectly naturalistic explanation.

    As a simple example, creationist Christians claim that God created the Sun and the planets intact. Science has a different explanation, supported by enormous amounts of physical evidence, and we can see and observe star and planetary information occurring elsewhere in the universe in a process that is increasingly well understood and which occurs over vast periods of time. There is nothing unique or special about our Sun or our planet.

    I know that naturalistic origins don’t sit well with Bill and many of his correspondents, but it is the truth, and those who refute it are either ignorant of the mass of evidence available, or are in denial because it shakes their faith to its very foundations. Now I’m well aware that most mainstream Christian denominations have come to accept the scientific evidence and now regard Genesis as myth, but that position seems equally unsatisfactory to me because it leaves a God with very little to actually do.

    So, Spencer, you asked what evidence I had that Christianity is childish superstition. The question is the wrong way round. What evidence is there for the existence of God, or for the proposition that humans survive death? I say there is none, but people believe because they want to believe. If some people need religion in their life, I don’t have a problem with that, except when religion is used to vilify and discriminate against others, or to justify inhumane actions, and there has been plenty of that in human history.

    Steve Angelino, WA

  27. Hey Spencer, thank you for your site. This bit of news below might interest you:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/3017608.stm

    On the face of it this seems a good idea and indeed adult motorists were being humiliated by being lectured on camera and then broadcast nationally. But there are other more ominous initiatives taking place with children’s courts being set up:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=489093&in_page_id=1770

    The triumph of those attempting to destroy God’s authority and the move to anarchy seems to get closer everyday. This will see a massive retreat on the part of all positions of authority and responsibility, parents, police, teachers, and the elderly aware now going to be led by children.
    David Skinner, UK

  28. Thanks Sammy

    As I mentioned, with your own website you can insult others and pour forth vitriol all you like, attacking the person instead of debating the issues. I am quite happy to allow genuine seekers to interact here, but not those pushing an agenda, with their minds already made up. Your can pursue your ego trip on your site to your heart’s content. I am not interested in scoring cheap points or even in winning arguments, seeking to show people how clever I might be. I am interested in truth. And an interest in truth requires that we follow the argument where it may lead, as Plato urged. Unfortunately most atheists are not interested in letting evidence get in the way of their preconceived ideologies.

    Thus I only print your last line here, since it shows so nicely the typical shallow, glib and arrogant responses of atheist fundamentalists.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  29. Thanks Steve

    We first really need to clear up a major red herring of yours: what do you in fact mean by “hard evidence”? Tell us what exactly you mean by this. The truth is, there is very little of anything in life that is fully established by “hard evidence” Do you believe in such things as truth, love, justice, morality, and fairness Steve? If so, you will have a lousy time coming up with “hard evidence” for them. You don’t even have fool-proof evidence that the computer you are typing on will work tomorrow. You seem to be demanding absolute certainty when in perhaps 99 per cent of the time in life we only expect reasonable probability. Your notions of proof and evidence are simply misleading here.

    And you make this wild assertion: “I know that naturalistic origins don’t sit well with Bill and many of his correspondents, but it is the truth, and those who refute it are either ignorant of the mass of evidence available, or are in denial because it shakes their faith to its very foundations. “

    Can I respectfully suggest that your arrogance is showing here big time? Are you really telling us that the likes of Antony Flew, who has brilliantly and decisively repudiated naturalism is simply ignorant? With all due respect Steve, Flew has probably penned more books on philosophy than you have even read. Yet all you can glibly do is say such people are lacking in evidence. It was exactly the hard evidence that led Flew to renounce his militant atheism and naturalism. Making such reckless and senseless attacks shows what thin ground atheism is on, and it also demonstrates the incredibly narrow and bigoted worldview atheism in fact is.

    You really should not give us any more lectures on evidence until you actually start examining the available evidence in the same spirit of openness and intellectual honesty that atheists like Flew have engaged in.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  30. Steve Angelino, this is a bit confusing for me as there is another ‘Angel-..’ last name on this thread ‘..ico’ I think, who posted a little homily on Psalm 23…pretty cool one too.

    OK Steven (great first name too…you really DO have Christian roots, don’t you..); Are you aware that a lot of what is dubbed “creationism” is not young earth, does in fact believe planets came out of the big bang theory etc. Many in the mainstream media who seem brain dead to the distinction between embryonic stem cells and other sources of stem cells sometimes call ‘adult’ but actually just non-embryonic stem cells, seem also apparently unable or unwilling to distinguish between 7 24-hour day creationism and the Intelligent Design (ID) people like astrophysicist Hugh Ross or Fritz Schaefer, etc.

    Like some in evolution who buy into a punctuated equilibrium these ID people (read them, you’ll like them) do hold to the special creation of man and the Fall in human history..so C. Hitchens isn’t happy with them, but the Christian scholarship on origins, design, miracle, doesn’t have to be as bleak and either/or all-or-nothing as your post above suggests. Read Hugh Ross (Creation Cosmos) for a start. He loves astronomy. I think this is the work that really touched Francis Collins of DNA fame and along with C.S. Lewis and working with those in hospitals who suffer…drew him to the Christian world view and back to commitment to the living Christ.

    Joe Whitchurch, USA

  31. Steve,

    Thank you for your response. I appreciate the time you took to state your position. I can’t respond in details on this blog and Bill might decide that this is too long
    anyway.

    1. You claim that “there is no hard evidence for the existence of God, nor any to support the proposition that supernatural events have occurred throughout history.”
    Antony Flew examined the evidence and he concluded, after being a confirmed atheist, that: “there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe.” And “the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.”

    Is this kind of evidence not adequate for you? It was for the former atheist, Flew. Or, are you trying to put God in a test tube and unless we can use the empirical method on His existence, the evidence is not valid for you?

    What kinds of evidence would you accept for establishing the actions of Nero, Julius Caesar or Jesus Christ in history?

    2. You stated: “There is nothing in the scriptures that required a supernatural being’s involvement in their writing.” This is your assertion. You don’t seem to know much about the content of Scriptures for you to make that kind of statement.

    What do the Scriptures, primary source evidence, reveal of the nature of God’s omnipotence? God is called Almighty (the Greek, pantokrator) in 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8, which means that God possesses all power and authority. This all-powerful and supernatural God states that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16 ESV) and “no prophecy [of Scripture] was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:21). This is the same God of the miracles of Christ’s virgin conception and birth, and Christ’s resurrection.

    3. Of the “many strange, contradictory” OT stories, you give not one example. Again, your assertion and you blame Bill for making assertions. I noticed that you did not respond to the examples I gave of your methodology (making assertions) in my previous response to you.

    4. “Why a supernatural God would have human foibles such as pride and anger.” Again, no examples were given. Thanks for affirming God’s supernatural being, but you cannot get out of your presuppositional naturalism. A supernatural God has supernatural wrath that is a country mile from anything that looks like human anger. There is not space to develop this more fully, but when you experience the wrath of God “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” by suppressing God’s truth (Rom. 1:18), you’ll know that God’s wrath has no comparison with the anger of human beings.

    5. You don’t like some of the OT stories and claim “man created God in his own image.” Could it be more truthful to observe that you are creating god in your own naturalistic image? Your pride that makes the Bible “written by peoples with very limited understanding of the world about them,” is a statement about your own limited understanding of the nature of God.

    6. You state that “creation stories in Genesis are either meant to be mythical, or they are plain wrong.” This is your assertion, based on your naturalistic premises, as you do with, “There is nothing unique or special about our Sun or our planet.”

    I expected that your naturalism make this kind of statement, but Antony Flew was very honest with the evidence that there is “an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe” and behind the complexity of life itself.

    While you want to make the Genesis creation stories mythical, Antony Flew does not. Here’s an excerpt from the Harbermas and Flew interview:

    HABERMAS: Then, would you comment on your “openness” to the notion of theistic revelation?

    FLEW: Yes. I am open to it, but not enthusiastic about potential revelation from God. On the positive side, for example, I am very much impressed with physicist Gerald Schroeder’s comments on Genesis 1. That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation. http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/flew-interview.pdf

    7. You ask: “What evidence is there for the existence of God, or for the proposition that humans survive death? I say there is none, but people believe because they want to believe.” Dr. William Lane Craig, who is no dummy and is not a person with “very limited understanding of the world about them,” has written at length on the existence of God: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/existence.html

    That humans survive death is based on the statements of the supernatural God in Scripture and confirmed by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]” (1 Cor. 15:19-20). There is life after death with Christ for believers (to the thief on the cross, dying beside him, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” – Luke 23:43) or “eternal punishment” for unbelievers (Matt. 25:46).

    You stated “that Christianity is childish superstition. The question is the wrong way round” and those who are convinced of the existence of God (for which “there is none” – your assertion) and life after death should be defending their view. Your presuppositions are speaking here and yours is a weak way to squirm out of assertions without defending them.

    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay, Qld.

  32. Steve I was brought to Lord by probably the most celebrated of Australia’s nuclear physicists; though he lives in the Blue Mountains, or used to, he is no hill billy. Finally, we come back to the question Steve. If you were presented with hard, irrefutable, 100% “in your face”, “under your nose” evidence for God’s existence, would you bow the knee?

    Silence

    David Skinner, UK

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