Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's not about the science

Drawn by what I saw as a common position on a/theism I recently read Joe Hinman’s testimony on his DOXA site

While I note some similarities between his journey and my own, what struck me most was some of the revelations we seem to have shared – call them insights if you will, but I know I could not have got there myself.

Now the specifics are different but the messages are similar.

Firstly that of a form of universality. I was struggling with the idea of a right or wrong religion – everybody should be able to get to heaven, right? But why then did Christ appear to teach exclusivity. JH got his revelation from Romans 2, I got mine from John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In a moment of clarity I can only explain as a revelation I saw this passage to mean that God was about truth, a message and that the ‘Word’, the message was all important. For Christians the ‘Word’ is manifest in Christ, but the same Word is revealed to all, each in their own way – this makes all religions potentially true; the test of their validity lies in their alignment with what can be referred to as God’s greater purpose (not going into a silly debate about differences and discernment – either you want to see it or you don’t).

When Christ speaks of Him being the “the way the truth ..” etc He refers to the Word which while it is Christ also extends beyond Christ to all. Christians (actually the Jews) had the privilege of a very close encounter with the Word, I have no idea how close the encounter may be for other faiths, but I am certain that the Word, the message of God by which we can all come to know God has been revealed to all.

Now this may not be a scholarly interpretation of the passage, but it was what was revealed to me by the passage.

A second revelation JH and I share is that different things can mean different things to different people – the bible has to be the quintessential example – but also that we don’t have to be in exact agreement to share a belief in God.

How then do I explain the diversity of religious teaching – they can’t all be right. I don’t really have to, there is a core message that all can come to and there is human distortion of the message by all who have tried to pass it on – me included, right here and now.

What the experience did show me was that we have a spiritual component that is capable of far more than our conscious (or even sub-conscious) selves. Sometimes, we manage to see through what ever separates us – a veil is a good analogy – and life is different, everything is different. Of course we now know where in the brain the interface is active. Science has yet to find the other end of the “phone line”, the spirit – and is most unlikely to ever do so.

This is of course where the big difference between atheist and theist lies. Not in a belief in God, yes that too, but the real nub of the difference is in the existence of a spiritual realm.

This difference leads to some irreconcilable differences between atheist and theist.

1) The atheist is limited to an intellectual position. Theists can intellectualise their position but they have a spiritual dimension that the atheist cannot acknowledge.

Unfortunately this difference often leads theists to limit their argument with atheists to intellectual debate – I for one have been guilty of this. We need to get over it and accept that our personal spiritual experiences are part of our belief. The fact that we can’t “prove” them to others is of no concern – faith is a personal thing, a bit like love; I love my wife, can’t prove it to others in conclusive intellectual terms but it is true.

2) The atheist view tends to be absolute – there is no God. I won’t go into the strong/weak atheist position because while some people may be making up their minds, they are listening to people who have usually stepped off the fence. The problem with an absolute position is that it has to be defended in its totality. A tired child not wanting to walk may say “there is sand in my shoe” (yes I live in a country where children encounter sand) – a parent’s response may “no there isn’t” but victory is the child’s when an examination of the shoe eventually reveals a single grain tucked away in the lining.

Any single spiritual experience defeats the atheist position. Hence the intense argument against miracles and the rather gratuitous “I am sure they believed that is what it was” response to all personal experiences.

Thethird and crucial revelation JH and I share is that of the importance of freewill. We may differ in the detail but the thrust is the same. This revelation is important as it addresses the Argument of Evil which is a cornerstone of maintaining an atheist belief. In essence one has to elevate the worth of freewill above that of human suffering. Atheists argue that if we suffer through the exercise of freewill (our own or that of others) but that God could have prevented it by making us “all good” and placed us in a world with only positive outcomes. They argue that God was therefore in error in giving us freewill as the consequences outweigh any benefits, present God as condoning suffering (not omni-benevolent) and at the very least being impotent in its prevention – all leading to a case that there is no God.

Without going into the detail, as I now see it, freewill is what enables growth. To curtail any negative outcome from the exercise of freewill God would have to:

i) deprive us of all choice
ii) or only enable choices with options that all had exactly the same value to everyone directly or indirectly associated with the choice now and in the future (absurd, if all options have an equal outcome for all and for all time then there is really no choice)
iii) Micro manage every situation in violation of all physical laws at all time – it would be OK to skydive sans parachute, fire would not burn, guns could not kill etc.

Yet we live in a dynamic world with laws of nature that work and we grow/learn intellectually and with increasing experience. Reason renders the no freewill option either absurd or of no possible value – so we have the opportunity to make choices; do good or harm, see the consequences and learn, all of which enables to draw us closer to that which we call God or to distance ourselves from God. We can make choices that have negative outcomes for us and/or others. God has revealed (through the “Word”) how we ought to try and live our lives and has provided ongoing coaching in the form of a connection with the spiritual realm, the Holy Spirit of the traditional Christian Trinity. So God has not abandoned us to our plight, plus there is prayer and the opportunity that gives us to draw on its power (not in an unlimited sense) to improve outcomes.

This leads us back to the fundamental difference between atheist and theist – belief in a spiritual realm. Religion is not the issue that really divides us, nor is the bible or its interpretation. IF we agree that there is a spiritual realm then we can resolve the other issues in time.

A problem that atheists seem to have in coming to grips with a spiritual realm is their starting point. Most start from within the context of a particular religion and test the minutia of the religion – if they find inconsistency or flaws in logic, out goes the baby with the bathwater. The true starting point is to seek an answer to the existence of a spiritual realm. This is the fourth revelation we share – although it is not as obvious as the others. Once we have found our answer to the existence of the spiritual realm we can then seek the religion or group which best provides us with a platform from which to exercise it. Interesting that JH and I both ended up near the Catholics, but that can only be of interest.

Of course in seeking the answer to the existence of a spiritual realm we should use the right tools. We are looking for evidence of mainly personal relationships, maybe involving groups. Atheists are content to point science at the question and chuckle “told you so” when science can’t prove a spiritual realm exists (they usually omit to mention that “inconclusive” works both ways). But science is not the right tool – we do not use it judge works of art, we understand it has limitations but persist in trying it on a realm it is not relevant to.

Enough – peace to all.


Monday, November 12, 2007

It looks like a religion, it barks like a religion

Naughty of me, but when I found the First Church of Atheism I just could not resist this post.

You have the seminal texts,
you have the evangelists complete with click to donate web sites,
you need faith to believe (well strong atheists anyway - weak atheists need faith not to believe),
you have the regular meetings,
you have the T-shirts,
now you have the church complete with ordained ministers,

... and you still don't have an atheist religion?

Peace - Hamba kahle


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Why does he do that?

I have been trying to find the time to do a full post, but alas …

So as a teaser, I can’t go past the lecture I heard recently by Sam Harris, regarded by some as the more balanced of the big three atheist evangelists. I could and probably should devote a whole post to the nonsense of Harris and his fellow travellers, but for now I will pick one example from the lecture that really lit up my nonsense filter.

Sam Harris is fond of this quoting Luke 19:27 to prove his point that the NT promotes horrors, if your nonsense filter has too fine a setting you can pick it up at minute 17 - or you can play a game of spotting the interweave of truth and deception in the preceding 17 minutes, but it will be boring!

Any sensible reading of the whole parable Luke 19:11-27

makes it obvious that the words in verse 27 are those of the king in the parable and relate to the citizens referred to in verse 14. But not so for Harris who presents them as a decree by Jesus to kill those who do not submit to his rule. Come on … is this an example of the intellectual high ground claimed by reasonable, rational and logical atheists?

Now don’t you just wonder why Sam Harris resorts to intellectual fraud of this type? Why, if the teachings of Jesus are, as he says, evil, does he have to make it up? How is Harris different from the religious fanatics or Christian evangelists he so roundly condemns for using similar tactics?

Perhaps a healthy dose of atheist scepticism would go a long way to revealing the true nature or intent of the atheist evangelists. Should we not be asking what the likely impact on society is of such divisive preaching – or of any divisive teaching for that matter. More so, should we not ask why Harris et al want to discredit the “love thy neighbour” message of Christ and replace it by one of division and intolerance?


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Been busy in the salt mine

Being too busy to post on the blog is perhaps rude as it implies that I value what distracts me as more important than those who honour me with visits and their opinions. It would indeed be rude to elevate my needs above the calls other make on my time, but it is often uncomfortable to adjudicate between those demands. So please accept my apologies, no offence intended. As recompense I have now posted reply comments on:

Atheism, the emperor's new clothes.

OK, I rose to the bait

Time wasted? An apology

"Damascus Road"

Atheist argument - finely crafted, but lacking

So does God exist?

An advantage of having been away is that I had to re-read the posts and comments and that hopefully brought some clarity. As I result I have not necessarily responded point by point but rather tried to focus on what I now see as the core issues.