Monday, September 3, 2007

Atheism, the emperor's new clothes.

I am sometimes a bit harsh on the evangelical Christian fundamentalists and recently I wondered if that was fair. My main concern about the fundamentalist churches is that they raise their flock in a very simplistic cocoon of faith – one that relies entirely on faith to resist the intellectually flawed but seductive atheist argument. “I don’t believe it, you can’t be right” is their only defence – like lambs to the slaughter. Unfortunately with the free availability of information and opinion on the internet that approach is no longer good enough.

I am reminded of when the Roman Catholic Church did not want the laity to read the bible without a priest present in case they misinterpreted it. The Catholics always knew the bible was neither literal nor inerrant, they knew one needed to be guided through it. Well with Vatican II that went out and Catholics were encouraged to read the bible – they started to trust the people to get it right. Unfortunately they did not really put in place the mechanisms to allow for the questions and debate – the Church had the theology, ever evolving, but it was there to help answer the questions – it was just not accessible to everyone. So many a “good Catholic” found themselves floundering on the rocks of finely crafted atheist argument.

Perhaps there is a lesson for both Catholics and evangelicals. Trust the people with knowledge, open up the bible for them and encourage them to think, question and debate – their faith will be stronger for it! If we shed the social politeness of not talking about religion, if the depth of Catholic theological thinking was made available to “the masses” then the pseudo-rationality of atheism would soon be seen to be no more than the emperor’s new clothes.

Theism has nothing to fear from the challenges of atheism, but the fear itself. Whenever I delve into Catholic theology in response to some question I can’t answer (and there are lots of them) I am always impressed by the fact that its is not a new question for the Church – they have ”been there done that” – the answer is there, unfortunately often buried, but there. Often the answer surprises me - the issue raised by the atheist is actually valid, but the interpretation they place on it is not at all persuasive. The “clever”, “rational” and “scientific” arguments of atheism may challenge our thinking and that is good, but armed with knowledge we soon see that they do not have the substance to undermine our faith.

As I have progressed along my faith journey, its highs, lows and my doubts, I have found my faith (the conviction that there is a God) growing stronger as each challenge is more easily dismissed than the previous. Even more to my surprise though, is that I have also been more strongly drawn to the Catholic Church, warts and all, as the vehicle for my faith.

I now understand why some 10 years ago a Methodist I knew who had a crisis in their church ended up becoming a Catholic. His explanation is now familiar to me, ‘the Catholics had thought it through and just keep on thinking”.

That said, on reflection there are those who for whom the more black and white approach of, say the Baptists, is what works well for them. Perhaps we do need the range of denominations to fulfil the different faith journeys of each. BUT Reality Check!!! A whole lot do get derailed – from every denomination. Everyone can do it better – faith yes, but faith with accessible knowledge.