We humans are superstitious critters. When we hear that someone has died, we “have a moment of silence”. Are we doing it just to show respect to the one who’s passed on? But that person isn’t aware of what we’re doing. Is it to show respect to those still left behind? I don’t know how that helps them any more than a hug or a beer or a shag. I mean, we’re just evolved animals so why are some hurts deeper than others? Are we doing it to seem reverential and correct? That’s superstitious.
I read about two men who had sex in a church building during Mass. When they were found, they explained that they’d “felt like it”. The church had to be purified by ritual because this “desecrated” it.
Desecrated what? Why was it wrong for these men to have sex in church? “Because the place is holy to some people” is very considerate but it isn’t absolutely convincing. I believe that holiness, like “right” and “wrong”, are things that people have to tune into for themselves. And we all do, when it’s convenient to do so, and tune out when it’s not, and are scandalized when others are more consistent in their being “tuned out” of it.
I believe in something humans call “God” because I don’t think morality works like a dimmer switch. It’s omnipresent and omnipersistent. But it presupposes an absolute, final, binding arbiter of moral issues whose decisions are as binding on human behaviour as the laws of physics are on inanimate objects – except, being persons, we can flout what our consciences are telling us until they’re worn out.
This morality issue ties into the “meaning of life” because it’s not possible to make out meaning where everything is permitted. A game cannot be played unless it has some rules.
But if there is a meaning to life and the things that happen in it, then who is it that means that meaning? Who makes the rules? If it’s all of us, then whose meaning is supreme? If the final arbiter of ultimate meaning is a human being or a tribunal of human beings, then we can disband the courts. The majority can be wrong. They are just force by numbers so the criminal who scoffs at them isn’t “bad”; he’s just a free-thinking rogue. The courts’ view on law, right and wrong, is just opinion. It is self-importance, pomp, posturing and ceremony. Far from possessing any inherent or transcendent righteousness, it’s an attempt to control and exploit human behaviour. A similar accusation has been made about faith and religion, but whose accusation is more binding? Far from locking me down, faith has set me free to challenge every status quo that jeopardises human rights. If no one can legitimately arbitrate morals, then maybe only God can, supposing he exists and possesses all the attributes ascribed to him.
Without a God, “right” and “wrong” are relative, and nothing is actually “wrong” regardless of how much it hurts any organism. More disturbingly, every critic of the ancient text I read is in the same position as the courts. By what standard of morality do they judge the events they view through a peephole in time? Where did that standard come from? It feels correct and superior, but it’s made-up without an incontestable basis. “It doesn’t have to have any prior basis,” I’ve been told. But if that’s right and morality doesn’t need a basis other than people’s affinity to it, then why truth? Why not untruth? Why not call up “down” and left “right”? “You can do that anyway. It’s just words.” Yes, but isn’t it strange how firmly we trust these utterances? Isn’t it weird how we have faith in our worldview?
“How do you know you’re not dreaming right now?” I like to ask people.
“Because if I pinch myself, I feel pain.”
“Yes, but how do you know it’s not just dream-pain? You often ‘feel pain’ in your dreams, to wake up and discover you were working yourself up for nothing. How do you know that you won’t make the same discovery in a moment?”
Our experience of reality points beyond our own consciousness – which we can’t account for in any event, though we give it so much sheltering – and forces us each to adopt and trust a theory about how reality came to be what it is, and what it all means. Each of us buys into his own theory, and to us it’s bound to feel like the explanation by which others may be judged. It’s default. My theory, what I buy into, tells me that “God gives light unto every man that comes into the world.” I believe that conscience and consciousness are ultimately possible because something or someone set it up that way.
I am often offered the prospect of debate regarding metaphysics. But it’s often a dud because normally, the other person plays bait and switch, posturing instead of arguing. Very few people on few occasions deliver on the debate more than on the posturing and polemic. It’s an insult to both that person’s and my intelligence, not to mention a waste of time and energy. I can tolerate the waste of time and energy with a great deal many things but just as a conservationist cannot tolerate to see electricity, water or food being wasted, I cannot tolerate insincerity when it comes to discussing the one thing that, more than any other, calls for more sincerity in the persons involved. Searching for God or truth with an insincere heart insults more than just the people involved; it insults the whole cosmos. I’d sooner watch the stars’ beauty being sullied than stand for that.
To ridicule the idea of the supernatural is pseudo-intellectualism because unless one exhaustively knows what isn’t possible under every conceivable circumstance, all one can rely on is what one is used to as the final picture of what’s real. To think that what we’ve observed is the ultimate story flies in the face of the philosophy of science. Though the Eskimo who sees the sun for 6 months at a time cannot conceive of a life in which the sun rapidly appears, soars into the sky and disappears behind the horizon again and again at 24-hour intervals and may think it’s the most ridiculous thing he’s heard of, he’s wrong and he’s not being intelligent at all. Billions of other people experience what he’s ridiculed.
Richard Charles Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist, said,
‘The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.’
Look closely again at the last paragraph. To me, it makes more sense if you take the opposite view and reword the statement thusly:
‘Anyone who doesn’t believe in God can believe in anything. To repeal the necessity of an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that absurdities may happen.’
The Philosophy of Science
Another evolutionist, Jeffrey Jackson, highlighted a major flaw in the philosophy of naturalistic science thusly,
‘…to teach science without examining its assumptions is essentially to teach science as if it makes no untrue assumptions, that is, to teach that supernatural phenomena either do not exist or can always be safely ignored. In other words, teaching science in this way is essentially teaching not only the scientific method but also teaching a certain philosophical viewpoint.’
He also says,
‘The scientific method is not the only reasonable way to arrive at beliefs about our world, or even necessarily the most rational way. Science assumes that naturalistic explanations exist for all observations, not because this is the “right” assumption to make, but because it is the way science operates as a discipline. In fact, this assumption imposes some severe limitations on science, including: No law of science can ever be proved “beyond reasonable doubt” because it is always proved in the context of the naturalistic assumption, which is open to reasonable doubt.
‘Put another way, the existence of a scientific, naturalistic explanation for observations does not at all preclude the possibility that the observations were actually produced by supernatural phenomena. The scientific method can never arrive at the conclusion “there is no natural explanation” even if this is in fact the case for some observations. All beliefs about the origins of the laws that science purports to discover are equally non-scientific. This does not mean that these beliefs are not important, or that some beliefs might not be more rational than others. It does illustrate some of the limitations of science even as an aid to developing beliefs.’
He further points out that –
‘…very few non-scientists are ever taught to distinguish between scientific truth and unqualified truth.’
I can give and take irreverence and insult on just about any topic except the God topic. God-jokes do not just affect me or a group of people or a human tribunal; I believe that they trivialize something much more important, something holier, than human beings that appear, live a few decades and then perish. Simply by the faith I hold – by the faith that holds me – I am not allowed to be party to it much like the member of a jury is not allowed to read journalists’ opinions on a case he is sitting on. I’ve learned to exit the space faster than before with less explanation than before. It’s nothing personal. Muslims don’t eat pork. Jews don’t eat shrimp. Engaged partners don’t ogle other prospects. I’m learning when to and when not to indulge in God-jokes. My rule of thumb is this: I don’t laugh at God-jokes that I wouldn’t be happy to laugh at with God standing in front of me. Sounds silly, right? But I can’t, for all the thinking I’ve done, been able to think my way out of this position.
I am aware that I am taking an intellectual gamble using finite, fallible resources. I know that seeing rhyme, reason and meaning in the bible could be likened to seeing patterns in a Rorschach card. I don’t dispute that. But isn’t it better to be aware that one has bought into a worldview, perhaps absorbed it by osmosis without challenging it? I didn’t grow up in a Christian environment; an inexplicable urge to dig for truth has brought me here, and I can’t seem to dig further.
New Testament examples
The then Governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, has been described as a cynic, a brute, a man hardened by the position he held in the Empire. Early one morning, the Friday of the Jewish Passover festival, he was woken up to decide the fate of an insurrectionist. The man was was Jesus of Nazareth. The Temple priests had made a very expedient decision: to maintain a truce with their Roman colonialists as well as their seat of power in a brutally oppressed regime, they handed him over as one that had been disturbing the peace. Claudia – Pilate’s wife – told him to proceed carefully with this one because she’d been kept awake by disturbing dreams about him.
Sometime in ping-ponging Jesus to and from Pilate and Herod, Pilate and Jesus had a little chat. This hardly ever happened with people bound for execution. “I was born to tell the truth,” Jesus told Pilate. Pilate retorted, “What is truth?” and walked away. It was a rhetorical question on his part. And isn’t that normal? We all suspect that underneath the various opinions, theories and sound bites, there is a final reality, a unifying explanation. We pay lip service to being interested in it, but our pursuit of it is normally quite shallow. Pilate wasn’t a cynic; he was a coward. Nobody actually wants to know the truth about “the way things are” because it would mean that the benefits of holding on to every other theory about “the way things are” would have to be discarded. Pilate didn’t want his neat worldview shaken by something beyond it and beyond his control.
But Pilate isn’t as bad as the audience in Agrippa’s court. After Paul explained why he’d become a Christian – while in chains – Agrippa was moved to reply, “Paul, you’ve almost persuaded me to become a Christian!” He’d listened to Paul closely, and found his explanation arresting. Sitting next to him was his wife and sister, Bernice. Believing Paul’s explanation of why he’d become a Christian would necessarily mean questioning his relationship with her so he wouldn’t let it sink too far in.
Festus the General wasn’t bothered, though. “Paul, you are beside yourself; much learning does make you mad!” Being a pragmatist, Festus didn’t think it was important to bother oneself with trying to figure out what was beyond the here-and-now. Festus wasn’t an atheist, just an apatheist – someone who doesn’t care if there is a personal reality with a binding claim on oneself.
This doesn’t tell you why I’m a Christian, of course, but over the course of time you may discover that there are strange positions I’ll take on issues, and there will be conversations I will walk out on. There are groups of people I will disassociate myself from not because I don’t like them as individuals but because I believe in something bigger than I am, and it clashes with aspects of the synergy I find in those groups. My belief is at once a product and projection of my “imagination” and also bigger than my preferences, prejudices, loves and hates. It’s bigger than I am and it’s the reason I am who I am. This unedited body of thoughts is my explanation for why my faith moves me to act the way I will. Refer to it, if it’s important for you to know and in case you ever find yourself wondering.