Archive for March, 2010

Jumping the Gap

Posted in Faith Experience on March 28, 2010 by RWZero

Believe as a Verb

I read some excerpts from an atheist commentator who was interviewed by a Christian journalist. He was answering her questions about the atheist advertisements that had recently come to Toronto’s transit system. She asked him about his choice not to believe in God, to which he responded, in effect:

“[We atheists] wouldn’t say that we have a choice in our beliefs. I’m sure that any honest Christian or Muslim would say that same.”

I do not say the same, and I am sure of my honesty.

I have concluded that I do have a choice. The option of disbelief is left open for me, and there exists no evidence which will force faith upon me. However, I have decided that I do have the option to believe (this statement, which requires a logical underpinning, is another story).

If reason absolutely dictated the correct conclusion about God’s existence, there would be no purpose in his concealing himself, and there would be no use for faith, which is bound up in the conception of God that most of us have. If God exists, belief in his existence cannot be an inevitable consequence of reason. As such, to condition one’s belief on irrefutable evidence is to purposefully choose unbelief.

It is not true that one may choose to believe anything, or that all choices are weighted equally. It is true, however, that not every reasonable conclusion is an inescapable one.

When people complain about the human condition, rant about the lack of evidence for the existence of God, and speak about not having a choice in their beliefs, I do not think they are being entirely honest. I do not think they mean “how can I possibly believe?” but “how can I possibly believe without feeling this way…?”

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Renewing a Basic Awe

Posted in Faith and Science, Faith Experience on March 21, 2010 by RWZero

The Missing Spark

I sat in the doctor’s office and stared at the anatomy diagrams on the wall. When I got to the human skeleton, that’s when it hit me—it’s the same feeling that hits me once every now and then—the renewing of a fundamental shock and awe, as if I had just been born all over again. It scares me to bits, and in a strange way, I relish it.

Scientific diagrams of human anatomy are meticulously labeled. Every muscle and bone has a name. There is no mystery as to what’s inside of us, but there is mystery as to what it’s doing there. I am stunned into silence by this return to first principles; the stunning realization that this was all here before us. It was here by itself, and we had no hand in it.

If I, as a nondescript sentient being, saw a skeleton hanging on the wall, I would ask: “where did that come from?” If somebody told me: “Well, it was just there when I got here,” it would positively scare the crap out of me.

My exposure to coloured academic textbooks has numbed this sense of awe. When I see an illustration in a book, there is a subtle suggestion that the creator of the book is also the creator of the thing being illustrated. All these diagrams of skeletons with their labels cannot wipe away the truth—that we are putting labels on something that was just there. We are outsiders, staring up at an array of bones and nerves that we’ve discovered only as recently as we woke up on this earth. The sun and the moon were there before a single human being had a single scientific thought. They do not have names. All our labeling and deconstruction of the unknown has not given us any more ownership of it than we had in the first place.

There is only one quality in a naturalist that I genuinely despise, and that is the lack of a basic awe. The quality that causes a person to preface scientific explanations with “just,” as in, “it is just a rainbow.” The nonchalant attitude towards our being here, that we find ourselves living and breathing, that the sun rises each morning, and that things are the way they are. The insensitivity to the fact that when you try to figure out what it’s all made out of, it keeps getting stranger until eventually you hit a snag.

In a first-year geology class, a calm and collected professor gave a brief, simple account of the origins of the universe. When he was finished, there was a pervading silence in the lecture hall. “Talk about other theories,” someone eventually said. “Yeah, religion,” someone else called out. Why is this? Is it because scientific explanations aren’t any good, or is it because people know, intuitively, that the explanation can’t be brief and simple? That the natural response to the correct explanation cannot be calmness and collectedness?

All these splayed-out tree roots, deep blue nights and star clusters were once unblemished by analysis, and all our scientific endeavours are not inventions, but mere rearrangements and observations of something great and unfathomable. A tree is not an instance of the essence of “tree” as defined in an academic textbook; the human definition of the essence of tree succeeded the real trees.

Just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean that it’s “perfectly logical,” doesn’t mean that it’s safe, and doesn’t mean that that you own it.

The Condition of Mood

Posted in Faith Experience on March 14, 2010 by RWZero

Whereby One May not Feel like Writing a Tag Line

I may find myself in a certain mood. Then, I may reflect that some of my judgements are influenced by this mood. I am not entirely at peace with this, knowing that decisions I felt were sound may have had their origins in something entirely subjective. Eventually, I realized the truth—that I am always in a mood; that some things fade in and out of reasonability in perfect time with the waves of my experience.

Making a decision that lasts beyond the duration of a mood requires the whole of a person. It requires the aggregate sum of all past experience, all available reason, and the anticipation of possible or future experience. These are the things that have the capacity to last.

I cannot go from day to day dismissing what merely seems ridiculous, and accepting what merely seems sound. In those matters where reason—acting upon the axioms shared by even the most dissimilar of reasonable people—cannot carry me through, I should make decisions that last. I should feel no compunction about this.

Sin

Posted in Faith Experience, The Narrow Path on March 7, 2010 by RWZero

The Difference it Makes

It can be difficult to swallow the idea of sin from an intellectual standpoint. People do what they do for a reason. At the time that they do it, they think it’s a good thing to do. If they feel guilt concerning their actions, then their doing it was ultimately the result of an overriding impulse, and was this really anything more than a few neurotransmitters outscoring a few others? Does anyone really deserve punishment for this?

I am not sure that I can even provide an answer to the above objections, but there is a dilemma—and I think it’s a more resonant one—that is solved by being a Christian. It is a small, happy thought amongst a storm of serious and gloomy things.

Without God, there simply are no moral absolutes. All rational atheists are in agreement with me on this point, and when I am contested on it, I will pass on any objections to them (they’re the ones who believe that this conclusion applies to reality, after all). With no higher authority to arbitrate our opinions, there is nobody who can objectively comment on my behaviour. Yet many of us—agnostics and atheists included—have the disturbing sense that some things are wrong, and some things are right. If we acknowledge that we commit evil deeds, however, we are condemning ourselves. Those outside the church may fear to set foot inside it, knowing that if they are convicted, they must live with incessant guilt. Perfection is impossible, and it is easier to live in denial of moral absolutes than to carry the burden of sin.

Being a Christian, however, is one of the only ways that these two problems will go away. It allows us to acknowledge the existence of moral absolutes and the commission of wrongs, as our intuition urges, and it allows us to be forgiven of these wrongs, so that we do not bear the guilt that comes with acknowledging them.

This Path You’re Barrelling Down

Posted in The Narrow Path on March 3, 2010 by RWZero

What God is Trying to Tell You

It’s shocking to think that, perhaps after all this time, the lesson you were supposed to learn was not at all spiritual, but something entirely practical.