A Question for Atheists

In 2012, a Gallup International poll found that 12% of global respondents identify as “convinced atheists.” In China, the figure is 47%, followed by Japan at 31% and France at 29%. In the United States, self-identified atheists have risen from 1% in 2005 to 5% in 2012. While this is still a very small figure, atheism predominates in certain metropolitan areas and career fields. A friend of mine living in Seattle recently expressed her frustration over the intolerance of the secular Left: “Up there, people think you’re an idiot if you believe in God.”

Make no mistake, even the historically religious United States is becoming increasingly atheistic. Since 2005, America has seen best-sellers on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others. Religion is routinely mocked on social media and television, while atheism is portrayed as mature, rational, and tolerant.

America’s religious divide is also generational. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the least religious demographic in America, and they are bucking past trends by becoming less religious as they age. Even writing from the Bible Belt, I have observed signs of a rising atheism amongst my high school students. A couple years ago, I was surprised when nine or ten students in a single class decided, unprovoked, to proclaim their atheism (I would never question students about their personal religious beliefs; we happened to be discussing the role of religion in early societies). Their line of reasoning went something like this: “Religion is great for people who find comfort in all that ‘God’ stuff, but as an educated person, I know better.”

Which leads to my question for atheists: where do you get your faith?

I understand people who believe in God, but have been turned off by organized religion. Periodic scandals, perceptions of moral hypocrisy, and revulsion over past misdeeds may be enough to discourage potential followers. On the other hand, a culture steeped in secularism or just general apathy might prevent someone from going to church, though they still believe in God and even pray on occasion. These are the unaffiliated believers, and their position (though not one I would endorse) makes a certain sense. It offers a starting point, at least, from which to move towards a deeper encounter with God.

I also understand people who feel that we humans simply cannot reach definitive conclusions regarding the divine, including some agnostics. Catholicism teaches that the exact nature of God is a mystery beyond humanity’s power to fully comprehend. The Trinity and the Incarnation cannot be rationalized without losing an essential part of their Truth. This makes some people uncomfortable, and they would rather not even attempt to understand something beyond the limits of human reason.

But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?

Imagine that I were to place a sealed up cardboard box in front of you and ask you what was inside it. You could shake, smell, and feel the box, but not open it.

If you were to hear clucking and the flutter of feathers, you would rationally suspect that the box contained a chicken. Even if no noises were to come from the box, you would be unable to rule out the possibility that it contained something very light or inanimate.

An atheist is someone who looks at the box and confidently proclaims: “There is nothing inside that box!”

Really? How do you know?

Merriam-Webster defines atheism as “a disbelief in the existence of divinity” or “the doctrine that there is no deity.” Both positions contradict logic and experience, but the latter is just absurd. How can one ever be 100% convinced that God does not exist?

Here’s another popular thought experiment. Imagine the world is made up of little cardboard boxes. You open the first to discover a red ball. You open the second and find another red ball. This goes on for hundreds and even thousands of boxes—all contain red balls. Just as you are about to open the millionth box, I ask you what it contains. “A red ball,” would be your likely answer. But what if the millionth box contains a white ball? You have no way of knowing until you open it.

Atheism is thus unscientific. It presupposes not only that mankind has never discovered support for the existence of a Creator, but that it will never discover evidence of a Higher Power at any point in the future. In fact, much of science already points to the existence of God. The most persuasive of these arguments is the sheer improbability of life in the universe. Scientists used to believe that the only necessary conditions for a planet to support life were size and distance from a star of sufficient warmth. But they have since discovered a multitude of other conditions, the absence of any one of which would render life on Earth impossible. It’s almost as if Earth was designed for life.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of the universe. The Big Bang theory supports the idea of a Creator by positing that all matter originated from a single point. In fact, if one little thing had gone differently at the moment of the Big Bang, none of the elements would have been able to form.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of life. They would rather believe that life originated from an improbably lucky accident or outer space (which, if so, how did it get there?) than entertain the possibility of a creator God.

Ironically, atheism is not without its crowned saint – Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution has long been atheism’s best argument or most cherished dogma, depending on your point of view. Never mind that atheists cannot explain how the universe or life originated; they claim to know that human life evolved from the most basic single-celled organism over millions of years by pure chance.

While persuasive on some level, this argument still has several holes. We can observe natural selection at work, or the process by which a species better adapts to its environment. But, to use the classic example, the fact that more black moths survived to reproduce that white moths in industrial Britain does not in any way refute the existence of God. What we have never observed is a species becoming another species. Currently the best theory as to the mechanism of evolution on a macro scale is random genetic mutation. But this explanation cannot account for the fact that most genetic mutations are harmful and/or can’t be passed on to offspring. The theory of Intelligent Design seems a persuasive alternative to me, but to many atheists this position is no better than Creationism; to be taken seriously, one must deny any role for God at the outset.

So what explains atheism’s appeal, especially among the young, urban, and educated?

My guess is that some people are just confused. They would like to believe in God, but falsely believe God has been disproved by science. Others are apathetic; they just don’t care. But for others, atheism fits nicely into their secular worldview. If there is no God, then I get to be my own god. If I was made not by a Creator, but by a series of lucky mutations, then there is nothing to keep me from remaking myself in the image of my choosing. I get to set my own rules, unconstrained by divine teaching or natural limits. Furthermore, I get the elitist’s satisfaction of believing myself superior to the ignorant masses, along with the occasional chuckle at their expense.

Atheists like to point to all the wars that have been fought over religion, but they ignore the far greater number that have been fought over just this sort of hubris, including the worst tragedies of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Soviets both rejected God, whether explicitly or implicitly, and decided to take human evolution into their own hands. They sought to remake not just society but mankind himself, with disastrous consequences. In the case of the Nazis, they even quoted Darwin in the process.

This is not to say that atheists are bad people—far from it. There can be and have been many good atheists or agnostics, just as there have been religious people who nevertheless committed heinous crimes. To worship is natural, and so is to doubt. But to categorically deny the existence of a Creator is unscientific, and atheism requires far greater faith than Christianity. My question once again for atheists is: where do you get your faith?

It’s Time to Get Angry about Obamacare

Pissed off about Obamacare?

You should be. If you are not yet steaming mad over the ironically-named “Affordable Care Act,” then you must fall into one of three categories: the tiny fraction that will actually benefit from the new law (temporarily, and at other’s expense), those Americans still largely ignorant of its ill effects, or the docile herd of obedient citizens (“sheep-le”) who have been so thoroughly well-indoctrinated by the paternalistic hand of the federal government that one more obtrusive mandate is met with but the mildest irritation before marching dutifully along to the slaughter.

This post is directed especially at my fellow young Americans, the so-called “Millenials” or “Gen X-ers.” Many of us comprised the adoring crowds of Obama enthusiasts who bought right into the vague sentiments of hope and change that carried the most liberal and inexperienced man ever into the Oval Office. We will suffer disproportionately under the burdensome weight of Obama’s policies, not the least of which is the over six trillion dollars in new debt that has been racked up. And we’ve got over three long years left to go.

We will be paying off that expense long after the men and women who authorized it and benefited from it and won elections because of it are dead. It will remain our problem. And when our children are forced to attend underfunded schools and our bridges and roads fall into disrepair and our military lacks the strength to properly defend us against our enemies, our tax dollars will go to pay down the interest of bills racked up by previous generations. Talk about a “head start!”

So not only will Obamacare add billions of new debt to our already out-of-control federal government balance sheet, it will also cause young people to pay more for a good we are statistically the least likely to use—healthcare.

In the contest of generations, healthcare used to be the one advantage young people had over the middle aged and elderly. Older people have had time to establish themselves in careers, to invest in their homes and savings, and to benefit from generous pension plans and Social Security. I’m sure I don’t have to remind my fellow twenty-somethings and even thirty-somethings that starting a life for oneself is hard. Getting that first mortgage is hard, especially if you’re still paying off student loans from college. Trying to pay for diapers and formula and daycare for young children is expensive. As a public school teacher, I have to do all these things on a salary that is 2/3 of what the same teacher in his fifties is making, as just about the only way to get a raise as a teacher is to climb the “years of experience” ladder.

But we have—or I should say, we had—one great advantage over our parents and grandparents: our relative health. Most young people I know rarely ever go to the doctor. One day we may have to deal with cancer or heart disease or type-II diabetes or arthritis, but for many of us, these maladies lie decades into the future. I don’t mean to paint with too broad a brush, as I realize that several of my peers have already battled cancer and other serious health issues. But statistically on a whole, young people use healthcare less and at a much lower expense.

In one study, the Department of Health and Human Services found that “half of the population spends little or nothing on health care, while 5 percent of the population spends almost half of the total amount.” In 2002, the top 5% accounted for 49 percent of overall health spending, or roughly $11,487 per person, while the bottom 50% accounted for only 3% of total spending at a cost of $664 per person. The same study finds that “the elderly (age 65 and older) make up around 13% of the U.S. population, but they consumed 36% of total… expenses.”

healthcare table 1

The entire premise of Obamacare is that the young and the healthy will be made to pay more so the old and the sick may pay less. This will be achieved in two ways.

First, health insurance companies are limited in how much they may discriminate on premiums between the sick and the healthy and the old and the young, although I’ve already demonstrated that the old and the sick account for most healthcare spending. Insurance companies must now accept patients with pre-existing conditions. How are they expected to cover the cost of the sick but by charging more for the healthy? Insurers are also prohibited from charging older people more than three times the rates of healthy young people. Again: the young pay more so the old may pay less.

At this point, it may even seem fair to say that “Yes, the young and healthy will pay more, but it’s only fair to spread the costs around.” Perhaps, unless you consider the enormous advantage that older Americans still possess in every other economic area—salary, property, retirement benefits, not coming of age in the Obama economy.

But the main way Obamacare hurts the young is by eliminating low-cost policies that don’t provide the sort of comprehensive coverage mandated by the new law. In the past, a twenty-five year old man might have preferred a cheaper policy with a high deductible that doesn’t include all the bells and whistles. Now the ten essential services all plans must cover include maternity and newborn care, mental health services and addiction treatment, and rehabilitation services and devices. And of course, birth control must be provided at no additional cost.

It all sounds good at first… who doesn’t want more coverage?! Until you ask yourself, what about the guy or gal who just wants health insurance in case of emergencies (the original purpose of insurance) and has no need for birth control, maternity care, or addiction treatment? What about people who are celibate, or are physically incapable of having children? What use do they have of maternity care? What about people who live sufficiently healthy lifestyles to not require addiction treatment or mental health counseling? More coverage comes at a higher cost.

Too bad. The government has made the decision of what healthcare coverage you need for you.

The liberal talking heads have countered that “Yes, young people will pay more, but they will also have better coverage!” As if it is up to them to decide. What if I want to eat Hamburger Helper at a cost of $5? Will the government now insist that I purchase $40 filet mignon? After all, it’s better food!

Deductibles in some plans are still $5,000 and $6,000, and bronze plans only cover 60% of costs even after reaching that threshold. With these new realities, it is entirely possible that a young person or family might decide that health insurance does not make economic sense for them any longer. Why pay as much as $1,000 in premiums per month for something that doesn’t even kick in until you’ve already coughed up $5,000? Where is that $5,000 deductible going to come from? May as well save up the money for when it is needed and pay the penalty for not having coverage.

Of course, there are the subsidies, government contributions to make premiums more affordable for low-income people. But even with the subsidies, most young people will still pay more. Also, people who have never had to rely on government largesse in the past will now find themselves dependent on Washington.

But couldn’t that be the very point of it all? Less self-sufficiency, more government dependence. Young people who grew up wanting a good-paying job or to maybe start a business will settle for staying on their parents’ plans until age 26, and after that go on the exchanges and get a first-hand lesson in how to rely on the government for your very well-being.

This brings me back to the three categories I mentioned earlier. Some people, namely the sick and low-income, will benefit initially from government subsidies. But these subsidies will not just appear out of thin air. Government can not give you anything it does not first take from someone else. What happens when that someone else is yourself? We are paying for these subsidies in the form of increased debt and burdensome taxes that have hampered job creation and limited economic growth. What one hand giveth the other taketh away.

Some may still be ignorant of the bad Obamacare news, but my guess is not for long. It’s hard not to notice when something suddenly ends up costing you double what you used to pay.

It is the third category that I worry about. How many young people will just suck it up and pay more, or pay the tax penalty, and go about their business? Just change the channel and try to think about something less maddening and more pleasant. Is this where we are now in this country that once took on the might of the British Empire over essentially a sales tax that seems modest by today’s standards? Perhaps we should change our national anthem from the “land of the free and home of the brave” to represent something more accurate… “the land of the taken care of and the home of the government dependent?” What use are freedom and bravery in these times? Both come with risks that are just too great. Better to just take a number and get in line, DMV style. Because that’s what our healthcare system is about to become.

I pray that we will rediscover the vigor and independence—the audacity, to use Obama’s one-time favorite word—of our founding generations. Maybe Obamacare is just the shot in the arm we need to realize how empty are the promises of big government liberalism and how necessary the call to action.

Ronald Reagan famously said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in the United States where men were free.”

I fear I that my children will have to hear these stories at an Obamacare nursing home from my parents and not myself. Unless the government decides—as they almost inevitably do—that the elderly and sick are in fact too costly to keep alive. Then we will have indeed come full circle, as both the young and the old will suffer under the increasing equality of socialist misery.