Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Irony of Faith

I listened to a debate about god between a Christian and an Atheist recently. Most of them are pretty difficult to listen to and I won’t bore you with the details. One or the other side will usually use an argumentative or condescending tone. The logic will be convoluted and minds are rarely changed in the end. Why do they do it? Both sides will say that the main reason is to get people thinking and hopefully they will come around later. This one was unusual in that the atheist debater, Jeremy Beahan, was very relaxed. By the end of it, he was responding with, “well, I already addressed that point” and sounded like he was sitting there playing games on his iPhone waiting for his turn.

It wasn’t that the Christian was that bad at debating. His arguments were pretty standard and he used a spectrum of classical and liberal arguments to make his point. One of them was that atheist governments have been perpetrators of some of the worst crimes in human history. He used Pol Pot as an example, and Stalin’s Russia, various Marxist regimes and of course, Hitler. Hitler is debatable, but Jeremy didn’t need to discuss that. What he said was, “Does anybody find it outrageous that somebody who believes in a holy book where men, women and children are killed and genocides actually happen would then have the audacity to bring up the example of Stalin and genocidal regimes to try to claim we don’t have morality?”

I had to think about that one for a minute. I know the Bible is full of such things. I have spent the last few years finding them and trying to find explanations for them. But I can still hear this argument against atheism and not find it outrageous like Jeremy suggests I should. Part of that is due to how they are ignored for the most part. When questions come up about them among Christians, they are quickly dismissed as “Old Testament”. Sure, there are a few who say God has the right to smite, but even those people say this in a dismissive way, skipping over the details of just how God directs individuals to kill and who gets killed.

For Jeremy, I think he has spent enough time focusing on these passages and so much less time around Christians recently, that he sees the argument for what it is. If you read one of these passages and you didn’t know it was about the God of the Bible, you would think it was pure evil. If there wasn’t an immediate explanation, some claim of needing to understand the full context, you would never consider this was a benevolent creator that people put their faith in.

This is one of the ironies of faith. “Faith” claims that you need to first accept God is good, then understand the full story to understand any part of it. The killing, whether by Moses or by some holy army in Revelations is all justified if you understand the full story. Except, there is no advanced book of theology that provides that full story. There is only the standard story of The Fall, Exodus, The Kings, separation from God and finally reconciliation through the blood of Christ. It doesn’t matter how you approach it, unjustifiable bad things happen in the Bible. It is only people who will tell you that if you don’t understand it, you have to study some more. And have faith.

The irony appears in other forms. When arguing a contentious element of Christianity, like homosexuality, a topic that is splitting churches all over the world, those who say it is a sin will start out saying that the Bible is very clear on this. If you read the New International Version, it clearly says “…that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God” and lists homosexuals among the wrongdoers. This seems like an attempt to use a logical argument, backed up by a source.

If you read the King James Version, it clearly says “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind”. If you dig deeper and ask which translation is better, you find that the best Greek translators don’t know what was meant by those words. Taking an even more objective view point, you can’t be sure that Paul of Tarsus is the actual author of some of the epistles. If some of his words are forgeries, how can we be sure if they are from God or even inspired by God?

At this point, the person of faith will throw up their hands. If they hadn’t identified you as a non-believer yet, they will draw your faith into question. What started out as a logical argument will return to one of belief. Although some details of the argument may have been won, statements like, “well, generally, looking at the full story of the Bible, it is clear that….” and you can fill in that blank with just about any stance. It doesn’t matter.

The irony is that this is valued. To stand up against logic and base your view on faith is considered an act of strength. That you had to pray, meditate and read theologians to arrive at the faith decision is considered time well spent. This is claimed to be part of the search for truth. The irony is that it is an end of searching. It is the final answer to the difficult questions that we all must live with. Continuing to ask why we are here, where did we come from and how best to treat our neighbors is considered a weakness.

If this were limited to creationism vs evolution or questions about the miracle of Fatima, I wouldn’t bother with it. But it has spilled over into the culture in general. I hear intelligent people saying, “They don’t really know about X, they say they do, there is exception Y or new evidence that suggests Z.” The misunderstanding of “them” is that “they” actually don’t say that they do know for certain. Saying that science can’t prove something to 100% accuracy is a misunderstanding of science. That is not what “they” are trying to do. “They” are the ones who are open minded and on a search for truth. They say they have evidence, they say their theory has been tested, but they are always asking questions and checking each other’s data. We will know when scientists believe they have all the answers when they stop asking questions, when they stop doing science.

There was a study done a while back that showed that there are now more studies that refute previous studies than ever before. The science of diet for example, changes often. You are out to eat with friends and someone wants low cholesterol and someone else wants low carbohydrates, a debate about food ensues and everyone agrees that “they” don’t know, that last year’s claims about wine or chocolate disagree with this year’s. Some state this as a weakness of science. It is not. The claims disagree because more was learned, the questions continued to be asked and new answers were found. It is those with faith that continue to argue that something that was under reported 2,000 years ago actually happened.

Science is accused of looking for finality, but then mocked when a theory is changed or expanded. Religion says it is the search for truth, but supplies pat answers and inserts a miracle when something can't be explained. Faith, by definition is an end to searching. It is an easy answer, but it is valued as if it is a decision that was difficult to arrive at and must be defended. Logic is used to defend faith, but when it fails, falls back on faith.

To download or listen to the deabate, go here, then look for "Is Christianity Rational".

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