Last week we examined the Introductory portion of ex-pastor Ryan Bell's year-end recap of his year without God. Here is where I continue it.Read More
*This took a very long time to write. And it is around 1000 words shorter than it started out as. Lucky you. I apologize for some big words and long sentences and complex, difficult thoughts, but that is the nature of this subject matter for me. It isn't meant to be overly complicated and if it doesn't help you get to a more applicable state of belief, (to basically rip off CS Lewis) disregard it. Maybe you'll at least just get a new word out of it. And I didn't even get it published before Christmas like I wanted to. Pity.*
So it's Christmas Eve and, here on the East Coast, a mere hour and a half from the descent of Santa Clause down the collective chimneys of those children lucky enough to believe in him. I don't mean this with any manner of bah-humbuggery or from a spirit of Grinchness or something of the sort, because I must confess a certain degree of envy at those fortunate children (a declining number nowadays) who take the jolly old man without so much as a grain of salt.
I sat today through a viewing of Les Miserables, a beautiful New Year's Eve service, precious family time, Elf, and again in the dark of my room A) Feeling incredibly guilty for not one single post since Thanksgiving and B) Not being able to shake the little urge inside of me like a twitch to talk about Belief.
I have probably begun and scrapped at least 9 entries devoted to the topic, but have felt somewhat unqualified to string together adequate words about it. So tonight, on the brink of the day containing the last remnant of real magic in this world, I have decided that there is not a better time for such an endeavour. So I beg of you, please bear with me. This may contain somewhat nonlinear (like normal) and possibly wanting utterances of what might some of the most important things I could ever have to say.
There are so many places to begin.
I spend a grand amount of my time during the semester around those who have an extraordinarily difficult time with belief. Honestly, these are the people that I intentionally seek out, because they are the ones that I both identify with and feel the need to talk to, because of that identification with them that I feel. (I've written about things like doubt and reason here and here, if you care to do some backreading). And although it could be considered, I suppose, like a recovering alcoholic preaching in a bar, there is something about that sameness of mindset that fills me with compassion and drags me towards them if anything to simply engage them in conversation. And the thing I try to get around to asking, since the majority of the most dubious are fellow students of Philosophy or Religion, is about God.
Now, a post for an entirely different day are my thoughts on religion, so I make it a point to assure the person with whom I will be speaking that I am at first not referring to God from the standpoint of a particular religious tradition. We need to discuss first the possibility of something bigger, separate, incomprehensible, outside of the human condition. At this point, I'm not talking about Yahweh, I'm talking about the idea that something like who the Jews call Yahweh could be "real." Baby steps. I have seen the other side and I think that this is among the more difficult steps to take in this little "God Journey." Here are a few of the reasons I have heard:
1) Can't see Him 2) A lot of the people who talk about this idea of God are imbeciles 3) It feels like something of a cop out or a scapegoat for blaming bad stuff on or for explaining things we can't necessarily understand with magnifying glasses and telescopes 4) Things that are "real" are testable, observable, and provable by empirical devices. 5) If God really is all-powerful why can't He create something more powerful than himself. OhSnapParadoxI'mRight
Honestly, the reasons for disbelief are about as varied as the people who defend the idea of Him - and descend diminutively from completely logical complaints to the infinity of the ridiculous. So we start at the beginning.
I say: "Let's pretend that there are two separate things we're talking about here: the first is the physical world that we occupy, with physical, observable things to deal with and interact with and talk to and touch and measure; and the second is the spiritual world that we cannot see, but rather feel and sense and spend time pontificating about." They say: "I accept your view of the first world - but because I accept that notion, I see no need for a second world, plane, existence, or whatever you want to call it. There is the physical and nothing else." I say: "Valid. And part of me wishes incredibly hard that that were true. But if that is so, I have a very hard time explaining the feeling that I get when I am betrayed or the sickly stomach that engulfs me at the thought of cold-blooded, pointless murder, or the rage that I experience towards people who rape children. Do you think that these things are wrong?" They can answer this one of two ways (the other being a conversation for a different day - because otherwise this will get even longer than it should be). I will assume that they say: "Yes, I think that betrayal, murder, and rape are wrong." I will say: "And there's a flip side as well, right? There is a sort of untouchable, indescribably 'good' quality surrounding non-empirical things like Love, honesty, charity, and things of the like, am I right?" They might (and, for the point of this discussion, will) say: "Yes." And then I might ask them to posit for me a hypothesis, in their empirical world, as to where these sorts of things come from.
Most likely they will tell me that it is a sort of Evolutionary conditioning. That feelings like love are nothing but chemical reactions to encourage sex, which enables procreation, and that anger towards rapists and murderers came about over time because of the many, many years Homo Sapiens spent depending on one another in bands and clans and whatnot. Then I point out that even though 'Love' may be a chemical reaction designed to enable the furthering of the human race, that doesn't answer the question of the mechanism or the force that made the necessity of procreation possible (and the last time I checked, the system which I attribute as being true comes out and describes the origin of this sort of thing - that living things are to "be fruitful and multiply"); and that "because it's always been that way" is the sort of argument people like them get mad at Christians for making. As you can see, those of us in this community are used to somewhat circular, oftentimes "unproductive" trains of conversation - but the point is not a full out conversion on the first go around. Belief is something that must develop within the individual like a seed. It is not a tap that can be turned on and off.
So often in these conversations, you will hear the "Santa Clause" references, the Unicorn jokes, the Wizard refutes (example: "Hey Christian, do you believe in Unicorns?" Christian: "Of course not." Atheist/Agnostic/Troll: "Why not?" Christian: "Because you can't see them/because they're just fairy tales from a book/Because they're not real." Athiest/Agnostic/Troll: "I rest my case.") but the application of such arguments is purely rhetorical, as this is as far as the refutation can go. My source for the definition of the nature of God says that He is Love and Eternal and Living and the root of all Good - which are the things that we should talk about when discussing Him, not banal, pedantic diatribes against the nature of belief in something that is fictional. I mean, Descartes can make his way with this sort of thinking into reasoning how unnecessary the body is. Rhetorical reasoning serves a purpose, but only to a certain point.
And look at how off track I have gotten from what I was trying to say. Christmas. I may try to write out a sort of process later on for getting to this point (even though I would be borrowing extensively from CS Lewis and Ravi Zacharias and GK Chesterton and Gordon Lewis and Alister McGrath - so I probably won't... if you have questions, go read some of what they have to say and get back to me - for they say what needs to be said far more eloquently than I could), but what I wanted to get at is this:
I see Christmas now not as a way to get what I want, even though sometimes I make myself think that I do, nor as a reason to get the family together, which it is, nor as a time to get mad at people who say "Happy Holidays" rather than something about Christmas (who I am fairly sure even some who say Christmas don't care about), but as a time to remind myself to be thankful to God for existing, and for making it possible through Christ to get to Him. THAT is what we mean when we say "thank you for Jesus" - of course we are thankful that He took what punishment was coming to us, but on a separate level, we are thankful that we were given a vehicle to get to the Creator.
It is a time to be refreshed in our amazement that we transcend the physical by means of something less demanding than what E-Meters and Orthopraxic doctrines and endless cycles of Samsara to suffer through have tried (incorrectly) to make it out to be. We are thankful for a Man who came straight from God so that man could get straight to God. For those of us who are fortunate enough to believe, we are thankful for the opportunity TO believe, and I can't help but value that as the most important gift to share.