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The Atheist Perspective

Owen contemplates atheistic beliefs in light of arguments presented by the New Church about the ultimate fate of those who carry such beliefs. He posits that belief and its consequences are at the center of our life on earth and that to suggest otherwise is to ignore or obfuscate the truth as he sees it. -Editor

You might wonder what atheists have to do with the New Church. Also, you might not wonder that. I don’t know that I really even believed in atheists until one of my old school friends and then brother became one.

If you’re like I was back in the old days, you might just write atheists off as misled and/or confused and/or wronged in some way by the church and so turned against it. I think, honestly, that all that atheists are, are people who have chosen to not believe in God. Of course there are psychological reasons behind their choice, but there are psychological reasons behind every choice every person makes.

The truth is some people just choose to not believe the same things we believe and it’s very possible those choices will lead them down a terrible road.

I have run into some people who are eternally hopeful, it seems, that the atheists I encounter each day are just going through a phase they will grow out of. I am not as hopeful. I have heard atheist arguments, and they are convincing.

I guess the only point I really want to make here is that these consequences we’ve been taught about as children, these struggles between good and evil, they are real, and they are happening all around you. We will not all go to a happy place in the sky. Of that I am sure. I am not one to say that any specific atheist is condemned or not condemned. All I can say is that I see no reason to think that all these lost sheep will find their way back.

Do you know why you’ve chosen to believe what you believe? Do you know why you are different than those who don’t believe?

It is not a game here. It is not a test of intellect. The decision is forced upon us whether we choose to recognize it or not. Do you believe in God? Tell me this. If in his heart my brother fully denies God, is he going to hell?

The answer is yes. Don’t lie to me. Don’t lie to us.

Believe what you believe, or don’t believe. Don’t lie to me.

Owen Schnarr

Hmm... If there is one thing I wish to accomplish in my short time on earth, it is that I serve God without compromise. Some of my other interests include reading the Writings and fixing computers. I have a diploma or something in computer networking from CHI Institute. I am opposed to societal conformity on principle. I think I'm opposed to long term goals as well.

Reader Comments (13)

Thanks for the article. Fun thoughts.

Of course, lying about it would only be "bad" if we valued something about honesty, or anything for that matter.

November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPearse

Why would you say that? Do you not value honesty?

If an atheist were not to value honesty, does that mean you shouldn't be honest with them?

Seems silly.

November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

Love of Self and Love of the World do not take a man to Hell, nor do they condemn a man to Hell. Love of Self and Love of the World are Hell. It doesn't matter so much what a person says with his speech, nor does it matter whether a person proclaims himself to be a Muslim, a Jew or an Atheist. In the end it only really matters what is in the heart and mind, when Love of Self is removed... heaven is found within all God's children - even if they call themselves God's orphan. I look at an atheist with God's eyes, but this doesn't mean I ask myself why they are not worshiping me... it means I see them as someone created for me to love in return. What else but to Love Wisely and by Wisely I mean with more and more Love of increasing quality.

November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJared Alden

I really appreciate this article. Yoe make the case much more forcefully than I would make it, but probably that is why I appreciate your article.

In Jared's reply, I appreciate the reminder that there is not place or value in indulging any kind of superiority or scorn. The only directive is to love wisely. But, this said, part of loving wisely IS speaking the truth. Speaking one's sight of the truth is all the more difficult when it involves personal and family relationships. This is the grit of Owen's article which calls me out, and asks me if I am willing to stand up for what I see to be true (in all situations, not just in relation to theistic-atheistic debates).

On this issue in particular, I have worked, from a study of Swedenborg to find and demonstrate as much leeway as possible for the atheistic perspective. But push the teachings as I try, my reading still leaves me with the distinct sense that denial/rejection of God is a denial and rejection of heaven and the possibilities for personal, spiritual growth (ie. salvation).

Owen mentions that he is unqualified to judge the individual atheist. True.

And Jared emphasizes the teachings in the Writings which point us to the fact that the heart, the life and motivations for actions are more important than external professions of belief. This is a wonderful part of the Swedenborgian perspective which relegates to belief/faith to the second position behind charity or life which is appropriately the leader or primary. However, they are a pair. Faith alone is foolish thing, but dropping faith entirely denies the spiritual reality exposed in the Writings and Bible.

This issue wrestles with me most days. My own struggles with doubt and materialistic thinking and also the people I value and respect who seem to be sincerely finding their way to atheism both make these very real and significant questions for me.

So thank you Owen for speaking to this issue and doing it forcefully enough that it evokes reactions from me and my scared self.


November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian


This issue of judgment and imputation must be swirling in the spiritual world somewhere close by. In the last couple years, my brother Heath has challenged my "good people" and "bad people" speaking. He challenged my assumption that some people go to hell. I prayed and meditated on the Word and realized that the Lord doesn't say that there will always be people who want to go to hell. I saw that the whole point of His creating us is that we can all go to heaven, that is, to receive a portion of the Lord's everlasting love within us, and I decided from that day on to look at every individual and group of people that way. This was a transformation for me. Rather than wondering whether my president, Michael Jackson, or a man I met on a dark alley was good or evil, I received new power in looking to the potential good and innocence in every neighbor, no matter how they occurred to me.

As it happens, another friend of mine recently became concerned at reading my previous NCP articles, that I believe in "Universal Salvation." And I just came to submit some position-clarifying revisions to my articles when I came upon your article, Owen. I really appreciate your straightforwardness. In reading your article I felt strengthened and clear. If we don't tell the truth, how can we say we are loving? And Jared, reading your words brings warmth filling my chest and spilling with light onto my forehead and over the back of my head, thrilling my cerebellum. In short, your perspective stirrs love. Brian, you make my smile, you honest and open moderator, you.

Lord, thank You for true and loving perspectives and the friends who receive them! Lord, for those who are self-proclaimed atheists, may they be brought to their knees and confess You with their lips from inner acknowledgment. For the devils in hell, may they be confounded before their fantasy goes forth into harm and they have to suffer the torment of sinking down. In addition, may there be no more death from this moment on, so that the devils in hell may fantasize about their power increasing over generations of whole and blessed humanity, so that their diminutive ranks may be put to greater and greater evil use to eternity! Amen.

Ps. With my new enlightenment, I take the liberty of returning to "good people bad people" speak without warning. I see that it is the replacing of my will that the Lord is dealing with, and He showed me how thinking in a certain way was married to my old will. Now that He has replaced that section, I have the freedom and power to turn the two-edged sword of His Word this way and that to defend it.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIsaac

This conversation brings to mind something that I have struggled with quite a lot about expressing truth. On the one hand, I know that truth always expresses love, so why would I not express it, no matter the seeming cost? and on the other hand, as Isaac said, I know that the Lord asks me to look and see the good in everyone, and not just as a technicality, but as the true way of seeing them. So I feel left in a position where I have to ignore the flaws and pretend the good is all that there is. My understanding tells me that this is not the way to do it, that true love can only be expressed through truth. So I think to myself, I will speak that truth that may hurt, and know and acknowledge in my heart that that truth is expressing the Lord's love for that person. And even more than that, I ask, "can I not only in my heart acknowledge this, but convey to the other person this as well, so that even as I speak the truth that seems so hurtful, they know and acknowledge that I am speaking it from love?” That last phrase seems so awesome to me and so expressive of the Lord’s love, and yet I think it’s a need I feel to make sure I do that that keeps me from speaking the truth. I feel so nervous that I will fall short that I end up saying nothing, and than person does not even have the possibility of hearing the truth that could help them.

Anyway, I think my point is that the truth should be spoken in humility. I know that things I say will hurt people unintentionally, but if I am aware of this hurt, I can do what I can to alleviate it. If I am speaking truth from love, over time that love will come through. Even if the person never agrees with me or sees the truth that I saw, they may at least be able to feel the Lord's love expressed in the truth that I was trying to convey to them.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

Owen and other friends,

Owen brings up a very real concern among our atheist brothers and sisters; however, one of the most insightful teachings of Swedenborg implies that "gentiles" or "heathens" have very sincere hearts and have no trouble accepting the Truth of God after they die. I guess this is along the same lines as people who never are introduced to God, but live their lives with as much compassion and love as can be experienced without the Lord. I think this is a very beautiful thought, but Swedenborg also writes in TCR that God is willing to accept anyone who doesn't reject him. What does this mean for people like Owen's brother and other atheists that "openly deny God in their hearts"?

The truth is, I don't know what the truth is. It may seem silly, or even child-like, but it is hard for me to grasp the concept of true atheists. It is hard to believe that even the most atheist of atheists doesn't have a minute sense of God somewhere in his or her heart. I think sometimes the minds of seemingly intellectual men debunk the so called fallacies of God simply because it doesn't seem logical. Also, I think part of the problem is that atheists often believe that all the good in their lives come from themselves, and they cannot fathom that all good, true good comes from God alone. I believe somewhere is many proclaimed atheists there is a hungering or an emptiness for God's love, even if they don't realize what constitutes the dark void within them.

This probably doesn't even sound intelligent. I really do have trouble believing that there are people who refuse to acknowledge the reality of God. I know God, or I feel I know God in both my heart and my mind. It is a powerful feeling/embrace that I have known since I was a little girl. So, perhaps it is my personal experiences with the Lord that prevent me from fully comprehending the views of atheists, but I do realize that there are people out there who openly deny God....I just don't know what I can do about it.

Trying to argue with atheist logic, and sound atheist logic is difficult at best because you can't describe God's love if those people choose not to know it.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterImogen

thanks for the thoughts Imogen. I just wanted to pick up on one thing mentioned. I think it is useful to ask if real atheists exist... or rather, if many of the people who call themselves atheist are completely atheistic at heart.

Since it is clearly taught that many people who profess religious belief actually deny God at heart, I think it may be equally true that many people who profess atheism are in fact, humble enough to acknowledge God at heart.


November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I think I probably seem like a doom speaker, but in recent years I've never felt any inclination to believe that for some reason most people are good at heart.

If you are willing to fully embrace the works of Swedenborg as they are, I would say it seems more likely that most people are not good at heart these days.

Swedenborg will say things like, 'Back in the most ancient days most people went to heaven.' Implying that most people don't go to heaven these days.

Or when he talks about this quote from the Bible in Heaven and Hell 534:

"Enter ye in through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many be they that enter in thereby; for straitened is the way and narrow the gate that leadeth to life, and few be they who find it (Matt. 7:13, 14).

The way that leads to life is straitened not because it is difficult but because there are few who find it, as is said here. "

He says there are few who find it.

Can we justify being so eternally optimistic about all these people who surround us?

DOOM. Just kidding.

Just something to think about.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

A passage that comes to mind in response to Owen's comment immediately above, just to throw it into the thought mix, is the one that says something like, "it is easier to live a life that leads to heaven than people think." But I don't know where it says that--the end of some memorable occurrence.

But, just browsing for the passage I just quoted, I came across this passage, Heaven and Hell 527, which says,

"I can testify from much experience that it is impossible to implant the life of heaven in those who in the world have lived a life opposite to the life of heaven."

Which reminds me that it has a lot less to do with what a person thinks and a whole lot more to do with how a person lives. It is a life of charity toward the neighbor that makes a person harmonious with heaven; and I think the clearer and truer a person's idea of the Lord is the nearer that person's spirit is to the center of heaven. So even if a person thinks or even deeply believes God doesn't exist, that's just fluff if they are living a life of love, mercy, and service to the neighbor, the kind of fluff that can be dealt with in the spiritual world after a person passes on. Even the word "deny" is most often used as an intellectual term. I think a person can mentally deny God and still live a life that is "heavenward." But I guess, if by "openly denying God in their hearts" it is meant that these atheists live a life that totally embraces self love and the love to dominate and control others, then yes, that's a hell-bound life.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

Frist, I agree with you Brian about people who do or do not profess God. I was just thinking the same thought when I was reading Owen's latest comment. When I was a teenager, my friends and I frequently church hopped at a wide array of different denomination and churches without a particular denomination. I grew up with the Writings, but I had a hungering to see what other people believed. I discovered that many people in any given denomination certainly professed much more than they held themselves accountable. I think the same probably can be said for many of us in the New Church. Religion doesn't make the person accepting of God in both charity and faith, nor does it guarentee any of us a place in Heaven.

Brian, I certainly agree that whether a person is or isn't an atheist is only a mere contributing factor towards eternity, especially since actions speak louder than words.

Owen, I don't believe most people are good at heart. I believe most people are self-centered, materialistic, and very into causing unnessary drama (and then writing/saying things like God Bless, etc). Actually, when I look at most people around me and I can hear their words, it is easy to see the anger and evil in their hearts. God knows our hearts, so I can easily comprehend Swedenborg's words about not everyone finding the path to Heaven.

Also, Swedenborg writes in AC 7342 that "This explains why fundamental ideas of truth taught by faith have no effect whatever on a person unless the Lord instills desires belonging to spiritual love, that is, love towards the neighbour. And in the measure that he receives those desires he receives also the truths of faith. The desires belonging to this love are what constitute the new will. From all this it may now be seen that a person never takes any truth to heart if his will is resistant to it. So it is that those in hell, having an affection or desires for evil within them, cannot receive the truths of faith, consequently cannot undergo correction. So it is too that the evil falsify the truths of faith, so far as they can"

People in Hell want to be there, and actually, it seems Swedenborg implies that they don't really know anything else. The truth has become blinding by selfish loves anf falsities that they only see the way they chose to live in the Natural World.

And I think most of us are way to optimistic of Eternity in Heaven. --we assume all bases are covered even though they aren't. I think it helps people like themselves more or acknolwedge the evil parts of themselves with a bit of false light.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterImogen

@Chelsea: The interesting thing about the section of Heaven and Hell talking about how it is easier to live a heaven bound life than most people think(starts at HH 528) is that the number I quoted(HH 534) is at the end of that very section.

I guess Swedenborg's point is that, yes, it is easier to live a life that leads to heaven than most people think, but still, people very often choose otherwise.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

Perhaps even because they think it would be too hard.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOwen
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