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    July 30th, 2012 @ 11:13 am by Kevin

    A few days ago I asked Christians to respond to the following comment re: my inaugural Huffington Post piece.

    Nice article however it is starting from a premise that has not one tiny bit of demonstrable evidence to prove its validity. Namely that there is a god and that anyone has any idea what this god wants. I am always amazed by the fact that if I ask a dozen different Christians what Christianity is I will get a dozen different opinions. And opinion is all they have. And herein lays the problem. Reality is not only demonstrable; the demonstrations of it are repeatable. There are no differences of opinion on what Ohms Law is and how it describes electrical phenomena. No one argues about the validity of the theory of gravity and how it applies to our daily lives. Calculus has no “reformed movement.” The religious however are constantly arguing, dividing, and killing each other over non demonstrable ideas. Perhaps we should be looking for moral guidance some place other than the writings of Bronze Age goat herders whose interpretations are subject to the prejudices of the reader.

    Many people responded in the comments section on this blog and also on our Facebook page. I took particular interest in this comment, because it exemplifies a mind-set I hear so often from the atheist community: Scientific theories produce demonstrable, repeatable empirical results. Religions produce nothing but subjective opinions and, even worse, wars in defense of those opinions.

    Taken at face value, this seems to be a compelling argument. But once you delve a little deeper into the nature of scientific and religious knowledge–not to mention scientific and religious theories–you come to see that things are not quite as simple as they appear on the surface. To help elaborate on this, I solicited responses from a few friends and mentors who have done some fine thinking in this area. Our first response comes from Brad Jersak, a good friend of mine who also happens to be in Hellbound? Settle in. It’s a lengthy, meaty response, but I promise you it is well worth the read:

    I’m increasingly struck by the reflexive insecurity of believers (in theism, atheism or any -ism) for whom contrary opinions easily trigger party-pooping defensiveness and angry outbursts. Internet comment boxes exacerbate this dysfunction 100-fold. These times beg for an exercise in self-control from knee-jerk reactions against challengers of our belief. IF we are in sincere pursuit of truth, rather than reinforcing our self-made cages of egoism and certitude, we might see these disruptors of dogmatism as fellow sojourners whose very resistance can be a light for the path. I recommend the following disciplines for engaging constructively:

    1. Let us resist formulating a rebuttal while the other is still expressing a perspective. Let us slow down and listen carefully enough that we could restate the opposing point of view without creating a misrepresentative piñata to bash.

    2. Let us acknowledge and undergo the full weight of the antagonist’s argument, asking ourselves ‘How is this true?’ before tackling how it must be false, simply because we disagree.

    3. Let us humanize the other until they feel so heard that they insist on buying the next round. Such respect may strengthen their capacity to truly hear what and why we really believe. Think of this as earning permission to be heard.

    All this to ask, why must believers be notoriously bad listeners? What’s with our infamous need to tell? What if we allow the strength of the above commenter’s objection to sink in a bit first? Even enjoy it before feeling pressed for a rejoinder. So here we go:

    Isn’t he or she quite right in saying that belief in God is a premise? Granted, unbelief in God is also a premise, but if we can pause and say, “Quite right,” this apparent atheist may guide us out of the silly cul-de-sacs of rationalist-empiricist ‘proofs’ for belief in God or no-God. Physicists tell us that energy precedes matter… To call this energy Love or God or just energy is surely an interpretive faith-statement. God-perhaps or perhaps-not is not determined in a supreme court or discovered in a particle accelerator, but in the beautiful mystery of human consciousness—of the soul, whatever that is.

    The question of God—or no God—asks after a reality beyond the commenter’s definition of reality (as scientifically observable and repeatable)—totally beyond Enlightenment categories of epistemology. Of course, so does string-theory, which cannot be proven and for which many opposing theories exist, none of which I understand… Nevertheless, I believe. This begs the question, are there other, possibly higher, ways of knowing that supersede mere opinion or hard science? One suggestion: we don’t “know” God is reality or fantasy in the way we know Pythagoras’ theorem. Yet perhaps there is some firm reality to my belief that I love and am loved, even if the incomprehensibility of that experience strikes others as baseless opinion.

    To use another example, did those in the gay community really need the confirmation of brain science before they could claim to know they were gay? Until the gay brain was observable, was gender identity just a matter of opinion? This seems to me a good example of knowledge of reality that pre-existed and exceeded empirical objectivity. Perhaps we could even strike a parallel between those who are just gender-confused and those who are theistically or atheistically-confused. Maybe it is just a subjective phase that requires further exploration. In that case, the dogmatism of -isms is terribly unhelpful and believers on every side do well to encourage us in the sacredness of asking truth a million questions.

    Moving on, doesn’t the commenter also strike the bulls-eye in noting the multiplicity of opinions across Christian belief alone? And that something is off about that?

    In fact, if anything, this point was grossly understated. I understand we’re up to over 25,000 denominations now—not including church splits within those frameworks or independent churches that don’t associate with a network.

    Now, I see nothing inherently wrong with holding a unique position of belief. Hopefully, the commenter sees that disagreement about how reality works (whether in string theory or homosexuality) isn’t proof that reality doesn’t exist.

    The problem, though, is that on at least 25,000 occasions we apparently convinced ourselves that diversity of belief required the establishment of a whole new institution—a distancing from the other (fine); often exclusion of the other (why?); and sometimes violence against the other (no!). This is wrong in my opinion, although I can’t find solid non-theistic scientific evidence in a rather cruel universe for why I should believe it is wrong. I just kind of know it is.

    Part of me wants to say that alienation, exclusion and violence are a human condition and not exclusive to the Church. So why pick on theistic belief versus atheistic belief when it comes to body counts, etc.? But the thing is, I don’t recall anyone claiming, “We will know they are atheists by their love and unity.” Isn’t the commenter’s point blisteringly poignant? Christian diversity may not prove we are delusional. But our meanness? Our fear? Our hateful rants? Our real history of violence? Surely these discredit something. Maybe they don’t disprove the existence of God or warrant for belief in God, but we’d do well to hear the straightforward teaching of 1 John: you cannot claim to love a God you can’t see while hating in word or deed people you can see. Our own holy book calls such a claimant “a liar” who makes God out to be a liar. Conversely, John says, “Those who love know God, for God is love.” Interesting: no exclusive Christian claim here. And again, note the connection of love and knowing.

    Meister Eckhart prayed, “God, deliver me from ‘God’”—from my projected idolatrous images of God. In the mystical work, The Cloud of Unknowing, the author posits that God is behind a “cloud of unknowing.” Anything categorical and dogmatic we’d wish to say about God is probably wrong. But, she says, love alone pierces the cloud. Ineffable mystery and existential encounter meet in love. The name we give that is God.

    Finally, I loved this line: “Perhaps we should be looking for moral guidance some place other than the writings of Bronze Age goat herders whose interpretations are subject to the prejudices of the reader.” So clever! So good!

    For my part, I come at it this way: If there is a God-perhaps (cudos to John Caputo), a generative, organizing principle to the universe, then I believe—I premise, I theorize, I hypothesize—that God is love. I want to believe this; I prefer to believe this. And actually, I’m not embarrassed to want others to believe it too. In my opinion it might be morally better for everyone to practice belief in God/Love than either a no-God of determinism/chaos or a violent God of hatred. If there were an ultimate reality worthy of the label “God,” I would subjectively envision that to include the perfection of all we call “Good,” including truth, love, beauty and justice (a la Plato).

    Second, if that God were embodied and expressed in our world, I would look not to glittering diamond, a towering sequoia, a majestic whale or noble eagle. I would look to see the divine enfleshed in the example of a man or woman who incarnates those qualities and is willing to lay down self-centeredness and the will-to-power in order to live and die for Love. I would immerse myself in their life and teaching and do my damnedest to orient my own life around such an example.

    Moreover, according to Glaucon in Plato’s Republic (300 BC), if such a person did show up, the powers that be (individual ego, religious systems and political hegemons) would feel so threatened that they would incarcerate, strip, torture and crucify that person. Sounds familiar.

    I’ve discovered my own belief in such a God and such a person, who indeed provides moral guidance rather than a motivation for hatred. And more, this person proffered a God who incites self-giving love instead of terror. I wish more people—more Christians especially—would find their way to the Cross to see that love. And after the Cross… Well, that’s another faith statement.


leave a comment on this post (3 Comments)

  1. Kevin:

    I think you mean to say “… not quite as simple …” in the area where you first mention Brad Jersak.

  2. What a gracious, honest, beautifully loving response. Thanks!

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