My friend Mike has written an interesting post (which can be found here and here) entitled “How much religion do we have to study?” He’s referring to how much do people have to know about religion in order to properly reject it. The discussions on both sites drifts a bit into the merits of Guinness and the applicability of The Emperor’s New Clothes and a response known as The Courtier’s Reply, but the discussion as it relates to the core question is interesting. I’ve 2 or 3 other comments in the discussions, but wanted to highlight what I commented tonight. Granted, it’s late and I’m tired, but it seems to make sense at the moment:
One of the issues that come up time and again in this argument of the truth of Christianity (a sub-set of the existence of God question), which I’ve picked up on in the current discussion, is the errant fundamentalist concept that Christianity is all about going to Heaven when you die. Christianity is more than “getting saved,” it’s participating in God’s will being done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” One of the points in the Old Testament (as well as the Gospels) is that the Jews dropped the ball, so to speak. Christians who have embraced dualism to the point that they’re not concerned about life on Earth have indeed missed the point. That being said, Christianity is also more than simply a social gospel. Christianity is in a very real sense a revolution; 1st Century Rome understood that, as did the Jews. Constantine subverted it, as did the Holy Roman Empire.
Now, often in the argument against belief in the Christian God, many people start arguing about threadcounts and whether it’s cotton or poly (referring to the Courtier’s Reply, if you missed it). That’s a red herring. God has made himself known; either you see him or you don’t. If you see him, then you can start arguing about threadcounts. If you don’t see God, then don’t worry about it. You can give it some social psychological name if you want, but it doesn’t change this fact.
One of the reasons Dawkins failed so miserably in his book is that he let himself get sidetracked; he never really dealt merely with the issue of God’s existence. If you start arguing threadcounts, people are going to argue back, and you can’t blame them for that.
I have to say that I think Mike’s been pretty straight in this post, in spite of raising the Courtier thing and talking about beer (you never discussed whether beer actually exists or not). You looked for God in a few places, and haven’t seen Him. Fair enough. I’ve looked in some of those places, too – but, I see God when I look out my window or read about quantum mechanics. I don’t need religion to show me God.
In some ways, seeing God is like those drawings where some people see a young girl, others see an old hag. Or, the one where you see either the 2 faces or the lamp. Does that mean that God isn’t real? not at all… my personal hunch is that God wanted to be fairly obvious, but still let people choose what they see. Faith – belief – comes down to choice, to that Kierkegaardian leap.
If God does exist, then we’d be foolish to not find out who he is and what he wants; those who take the attitude “eat, drink for tomorrow we die” will have a very rude awakening. I guess I’m taking the position here that we are given the freedom to choose; however, I’m not going to get into that discussion now. For those who do, I’ll point them to the Oracle scenes in The Matrix. My point is that essentially, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. So much modern evangelism centers around red herrings of theology; now, if someone is genuinely interested in these questions, that’s one thing. However, much of the time the side issues are given far too much prominence.
I’ve often thought about Jesus’ evangelism methods. His message is revolutionary: The Kingdom of God is here, believe it or not. He sends more people away than he attracts as followers. He tells people “you don’t believe in me, and you won’t, no matter what I do.” What kind of evangelism is that? He even sends away people who think they believe!
Do we have an obligation to try to convince atheists that God exists? My opinion is that if they can’t look out their window and see God, then anything I can do isn’t going to help. That doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to proclaim truth, as Jesus did: God exists, Jesus is Lord, and the Kingdom is taking hold, take it or leave it. Then, you’ve got to give people the freedom to reject it; after all, that’s what God did.