Posted by: dswerling | April 4, 2008

“All Is Vanity” Aint it the Truth!

Yesterday I went on a discussion Forum on Amazon after looking about some books on the website. There was (as is everywhere it seems) another hot debate going on between the Atheists and the Christians, bringing up nasty remarks and past grievances. As is my custom, I stayed out of the fight, trying to fairly observe both sides of the argument, reaching the final conclusion that the argument seems, at its heart, completely meaningless.

One Christian had posted a three-page long post that was an essay along with some of the most popular Philisophical proofs for God’s existence, along with scientific evidence, all cited and made to look pretty and nice. Later on, some Atheist responded (with some arrogant I thought, though I am, of course, biased) that all the evidence the previous poster had supplied was baloney and that “he could easily go online, and within a few hours have a satisfactory rebuttal for all of them.” I reflected on this for a little while, and realized it’s true both ways. If that Atheist had given a long list of evidence against God’s existence in response to the long list of evidence for God’s existence, the original poster could have found more evidence against the Atheist’s evidence against the evidence for God’s existence. Evidence is useless, I realized. The existence of God is, first and foremost, not a scientific question, no matter what Dawkins believes; it is chiefly a question for philosophers. Also, both sides end up being unreliable because they cancel each other out. Alvin Plantinga, CS Lewis, and Immanuel Kant along with a million other theological Philosophers are obviously brilliant men, but so are Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and all the other modern Atheists. Though I disagree wtih them, I cannot deny that they are intelligent, and I would expect any Atheist to feel the same way about some of our Christian Apologists (although they do blow it sometimes, I will admit.) For this reason, making a “logical choice” whether or not to believe in God is simply impossible. The debate is unending, as are mathematical patterns or scientific discoveries. At heart, belief in God is really something we feel, the same way we feel love or any other intangible emotion. It’s not something that we can always observe, and it’s not something we can just look into a book of formulas for and scream “there it is!” It’s more subtle, more complicated, than that.

 This, of course, brings up another ethical dilemma. If Atheists do not believe in God, though they may say they don’t because they “know” God doesn’t exist (failing to realize everything we know is taken on faith in the first place,) the real reason they don’t believe is because they simply feel that God does not exist. This could be for many reasons, of which scientific evidence may certainly contribute too. For example, if you are an evolutionary biologist like Richard Dawkins, why would you bother believing in God when He’s not really a big issue? It’s much easier just to not bother thinking about it isn’t it? Also, if a person experiences and extremely terrible event (family death, severe illness or injury etc.) this could destroy their faith in ultimate good. The ethical dilemma here is that it’s not truly fair for God to punish us for something we don’t feel. The same way that I should not be held accountable if a woman loves me and I simply do not love her back, a human should not be accountable for believing in God if he simply feels that God does not exist, because the question of God is a question of pure rationalism. How then, could we be thrown into hell for having no faith?

I think however, that this dilemma can be explained by reading the Gospel, then thinking about the time that Christ lived in compared to the time we live in now. Many evangelical Christians will declare that great humanitarian leaders like Gandhi or the Dalai Lama are burning in hell because they “did not accept JESUS CHRIST as their LORD AND SAVIOR.” I find this particular brand of my religion repulsive, but I understand where the belief comes from. There are many times in the Gospel when Jesus implies that He is the ONLY true way to heaven, and the only person who can save us. How could this possibly be just, considering the ethical dilemma I have just pointed out?

I think that God is pragmatic, and I think that Jesus (along with other great religious figures, I don’t mean to count them out either) “got the ball rolling” in terms of human morality. If you consider this, you’ll realize that at the time Jesus lived and where He preached, belief in him was really the only ethical belief that existed. The pagan gods of the Romans demanded blood and sacrifice, but certainly did not command any code of behavior. The Pharisees and leaders of Judaism had become so corrupt, so obsessed with their own power, that they cared very little for what was right, and more for what kept them in control (the supreme danger of any political system, religious or otherwise.) Jesus’ message is certainly not at all about maintaining power, it’s about service and love. So when Jesus talked about being the only way into heaven, he was right, because nothing else at that time or in that area was going to convince people to behave ethically. Two thousand years later, in the western world, we have reached what I believe to be a truly marvelous time in human history. The morals and values first taught to us by Jesus and other religious figures are becoming “common sense” values, values that we do not even have to think about or wonder about. No one questions whether adultery, or stealing, or lying, or killing is right or wrong anymore, and we now see the phenomenon of Secular Humanism, which affirms the value of all humans, as an increasingly attractive alternative to religion. I have no problem with this. I only wish sometimes that Atheists and Secular Humanists would be willing to admit that even if they believe religion is not necessary now, it was at one point. I think however, that Jesus Christ’s “mission” (if it could be called that) in coming to earth has been accomplished; He has not only reconciled us to God, He has taught us true morality and we have finally started to catch on. For this reason, I think that the ethical dilemma of salvation has been solved. We have now reached a point in our human development where morality and religion grow apart. I do find this part of the solution bittersweet of course. It is sad to see modern Fundamentalists and their judgemental blundering that makes all Christians look like outdated, outmoded buffoons. It is sad to see Atheists talk about how our morality has “evolved” rather than admitting that maybe we did learn something, maybe we have made things better, if only a little bit. I do however, believe in a pragmatic God, a God who will follow what Jesus called the spirit of the law, less than the pure letter.

Following this revelation, this morning I was sitting in class when another student sat down next to me. He had been having trouble in our class and I decided to help him. Later on, I reflected on how maybe this is what we should be focusing on today. Rather than spending more endless hours reading more endless books about why not or why God exists, I might prefer to just go out and work at a soup kitchen, or help build a home, or work in a homeless shelter. Rather than dwelling on the difference between what I know and what I feel, I might just have a little more faith and decide to improve myself in spite of it all. Rather than complain about the multitude of injustices I see around me every day, I might try to fix a few of them, in order to make this world a better place. I think that’s the one way we get into heaven, by making things better, and I do believe that whether you’re Richard Dawkins or Alvin Plantinga, Daniel Dennett or the Pope, it’s what you do that will really count in the end.

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