Thursday, February 23, 2012
reason versus faith part 1
Disclaimer: Some people asked me for notes about the talk last weekend; I supposed it stirred some things up. Here’s the bulk of it…in three parts. I warned you.
In this segment of the weekend series Barriers, we tackled Reason versus Faith. The argument goes like this: since the Enlightenment, light-year advances in the sciences, archaeological discoveries of other Ancient Near Eastern texts, the development of brand new fields like psychology, genetics and neuroscience, and the overthrow of the Church as a socio-political power creating a cultural context to question what were absolutes, launched an undercurrent of modernist thought that reflected this idea in the most simplest terms: no rational person can believe in a personal god any more than belief in a tooth fairy. We all know who puts the money under the pillow at night and pockets the little incisor. Religion was seen as a dinosaur, lumbering around with a brain the size of a walnut, doomed to extinction. It was viewed as anti-intellectual, anti-science and antiquated.
In high school and college I laughed at the idea of a god. I was way too smart for that. What’s more, I had felt the sting of so-called good church people who judged me because of the way I dressed and the length of my hair. There were churches I would not have been allowed in. It seemed to me that Christians were mean-spirited, hypocritical, judgmental and frankly backward. Creation could be explained naturally, telescopically we had found no evidence of heaven “out there”, and the supernatural stories of the Yahweh God seemed as unlikely as Zeus. The Bible was filled with contradictions as old as the Scopes Monkey Trial: just look at the opening chapter of Genesis—you have three days and nights before God made the sun…let alone calling the moon a light. And don’t get me started on where Cain found a wife. I had good reasons to be an agnostic at best.
And so in my dismissal of all-things-God, I assumed that morality was a human construct as well and, frankly, sexuality was purely animalistic and finally the Sexual Revolution had dawned on the human race. In my mind, everything was being liberated from restrictions, and certainly medieval ones.
And then a funny thing happened on my way to hell.
I met Jesus.
I’ve told my personal God-story before so there’s no need to rehash it. But what happened was that people inexplicably began popping into my path telling me how their lives had changed by surrendering to Jesus. What I had to admit was that they seemed different in some way than the people I hung out with. What’s more, I couldn’t argue with their personal experience. I had no reason to think they were lying; for one, several of them were family members who radically changed. I could certainly say they were going through a phase (“They’ll get over it…”)…or had joined some cult and been hypnotized…or that the basis for their conversion was no more than mythology. But nevertheless, they had experienced something. That was undeniable.
They had something I didn’t.
The genius author, mathematician, and philosopher Pascal, after he came to Christ in a dramatic way, once described the condition of someone who doesn’t know God like this:
“I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.
“…Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state.”
You would think that just stopping to reflect on life for more than ten minutes would cause us to go on a desperate search for God, but instead, we jam our time with diversions and busy-ness to avoid the despair and angst that naturally comes when you do think about those things.
I had one other problem I had to admit…and hated to confess: I felt deeply and intensely lonely in the universe. British writer G.K. Chesterton famously wrote: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” I had to admit that the stuff I was drinking, smoking, ingesting and watching was not really filling my heart. I felt like the story in John’s gospel of Jesus and the woman at the well: “If you have water that can make me never thirst again, give it to me!” There seemed to be a big hole in my soul that had me puzzled.
And so I would think and think about this Jesus-thing late at night. And when I finally surrendered my life to Him in a church in Clifton, things started to change remarkably. I began to discover how much God really loved me…that I had a purpose in the universe…that life isn’t all random events...that I could actually experience the Spirit of God in a real way. That was pretty mind-bending.
But a few months into it, the doubts came roaring in. What if I psyched myself into this? What about other religions and their truth-claims? What if the stories of Jesus were made up…or at least exaggerated? What about issues of evolution and the Biblical creation story? How do I deal with doubts?
In other words, I knew I had experienced something real, but I had a lot of intellectual—not to mention practical—questions to be answered. Something had happened to my heart, but my head had real questions. Part of the problem was that I had bought into the atheist mantra that only people with double-digit IQ’s believe in God.
Now here’s what’s funny. Somehow I had overlooked scientists like Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Planck (the father of quantum theory) and Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project).
Interestingly enough, in a recent study from Rice University, over sixty percent of natural scientists—people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology—said they believe in God. That’s much higher than I would have thought. While a separate survey from the University of Chicago revealed that 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God.
And what’s more, I somehow missed brilliant authors like Dante, Shakespeare, Dafoe, Bronte, Hugo, Longfellow, Dickens , Harriet Beecher Stowe, Swift, Wordsworth, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene…and even, uh, John Grisham.
Or artists who believed in God like, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo, Cezanne, Delacroix, Renoir, Blake, and Matisse.
And brilliant musicians and composers like Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Charlie Hines, Jim Zartman…not to mention the Fray, Common, Switchfoot, the Civil Wars, Mutemath and Mumford and Sons.
Or what about brilliant philosophers like Hegel, Kant, Kierkegaard, Spinoza, Wittgenstein and Barth?
The only reason I’m mentioning these—and they weren’t all Christians, but did believe in God—is because there’s a “pub theology” that says that smart people don’t believe in God. That’s so arrogant and narrow-minded it’s embarrassing.
And so I prayed that God would put me a place where there were books and I could read and learn (I had earlier tossed away a four-year scholarship to chase a music career). I landed a job at the Public Library downtown and discovered in about the Dewey Decimal 220’s that there were actually brilliant Christian writers and a whole area of study called apologetics that challenged my mind and got me thinking way more sharper to answer ontological and theological questions that had been tearing me apart.
The learning is this: if you have doubts, don’t be afraid of questions, but approach it scientifically…look at the evidence for proof. If you’re going to do serious studious research into Christianity or have questions regarding its validity, don’t just read the pseudo-intellectual agnostic blogs with their interpretations of it, but go to the source material. Find Christians who are smarter and sharper than you and find out what they have to say. I’d have to say that C. S. Lewis saved my life with three books: Mere Christianity, The Problem Of Pain and Miracles.
In other words, feed your faith, not your doubts.
[ Part II continues… ]