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Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Reply to an Atheist

Today I listened to a presentation by Christopher Hitchens, the renown atheist, given during an Authors@Google lecture followed by a question and answer session (found here). He reminds me of a David who would kill the Goliath of religion, but rather than directing a lethal blow by a carefully directed stone, he rather throws at Goliath a handful of sand. The sand included the tired old ineffective arguments such as how ridiculous it is to worship a grandfather in the sky, that religion is antithetical to freedom, that atrocities have been done under the name of religion, that mankind is inherently good, that it is ridiculous to posit a creator, that science and religion are incompatible enemies, that truly smart and cool people are not religious, that religion is on an inevitable decline. As I say, this does not come close to slaying his Goliath.

Let me, as a believer, disclose the blow that is needed to accomplish such a feat. You will kill my Goliath of religion when you first of all show that my religious experience and my introduction to the transcendence of God during my (born again) salvation was merely random firings in the brain. This will not be an easy task. You may have taken images of brain activity during this embedding of irrevocable belief and no doubt it would have shown interesting perhaps unusual patterns. As a believer, I must warn you that this would not indicate to me that indications of unusual brain activity were merely internal within the skull and not caused by the transcendent reality of God. Exactly how do you plan to prove the contrary. You see, we are inherently both up against the currently unprovable, we are both in the realm of faith.

That's just for starters. Next I will have to warn you that not one of your arguments came anywhere close to encroaching upon the actual experience of my faith. It has never occurred to me to dwell on any of what you take to be lethal stones but what I see as an ineffective spray of sand. My father, who was a Methodist minister, would find your arguments unrelated to his experience as a pastor. I can't stress this enough, none of your “lethal arguments” against religion came close to experiential religion. What daddy was concerned about was nurturing the communities in which he lived, and for him personally, and living the disciplines of love. The rigors of the disciplines of love are simply unattainable by human effort alone but are sourced and supported by the Godhead. Anyone who doesn't understand this doesn't understand the seductive power of sin to commandeer man's perception and the steady need for grace nor the involuted ethical challenges within which man must operate.

Next, I'm sorry but you will have to deal effectively with several facts. Belief is not a respecter of persons. Name any and every line of work, and you will find believers among them. Belief is not the enemy of freedom and equality but underwrites them with empathy, compassion, and love. An essential condition of belief is humility before God and man.

Now as for the imperfection of the Bible with its occasional God directed genocide, I will have to agree that mankind is sometimes selective it what it seeks to revere in its pages. Jesus came to fulfill the Scripture with a practicum of love. But believers seldom take up the practice of redacting Scripture in any formal sense for the lessons learned from even “hard passages” of Scripture are left to simmer subliminally within the mind. For example, when I read of genocide in the Bible I am repulsed by it not inspired to do it. It is best to leave Scripture whole as is since any of my bowdlerized revisions of it based upon my taste and proclivities are sure to emasculate it in the end and produce a work simply reflecting my own arrogant prejudices—a perfect image of who I am, not of who I should be.

Finally, as an American who thinks we will be in deep shit if we ever decide that we don't need God nor to trust in him, it is worth remembering that in respect of individual conscience we stop short of making anyone bow down to anything—even an idol of bald materialism. Thus, under the freedom that characterizes America, you are totally free to throw sand as much as you like. But I must remind you (and me) against the perils of arrogant certitude and blind belief especially as they are manifest in practical (especially political) affairs.

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