When we think about the types of assertions Christians make when they talk about the Judeo-Christian narrative, how are we to understand those assertions? When Christians speak of “God”, in Trinity, what exactly are they referring to? Is this God sort of like a Superman on a distant planet called “heaven”? Is this God a “force” like gravity?
addresses this issue in his book “Is God aDelusion
He notes the analogy that people like Dawkins and others draw when they compare belief in God to belief in Santa Claus or other fictional characters.
“The main point I want to make in this chapter is that Dawkins and Stenger are just wrong about this. When it comes to God, absence of scientific evidence is simply not a reason for disbelief because belief in God is different in kind from belief in Santa, orbiting chinaware, or space lobsters.”
He then goes on to show that these are philosophical category errors (different in kind) made by people who, clearly, have no idea what Christian theologians and philosophers are asserting when they speak of God or transcendence (and maybe it would be a good idea to understand what is being said if these are the very assertions that have one’s panties in a bunch!–just saying). They seem to think Christians mean that God is some literal old man with a beard throwing lightning bolts around as he rocks in some chair floating above the earth. I’m reminded of the Soviet cosmonaut, the first man in space, who told the world he had not seen God “up there” anywhere. Really? Okay, thanks for that…??
God is not some “thing” or “object” like something else we are familiar with. To argue against something no one is asserting is rather pointless. God is, rather, the reason you can read this right now—the reason anything exists at all. Science cannot “prove” the very thing that makes science possible and to ask the question is sort of missing the point. It assumes too much. For instance, it assumes that only one way of knowing (modern/western/scientific/empirical) could actually contain and position “God” which would be to presume a space of superiority over such a being. If you as the observer can “look down” upon God, as it were, or bracket “God” wherein the observer is in control of the exchange and viewing/detection, then it couldn’t be “God”—as by definition, the observer would now be “God” or at least an equal. Second, it assumes that God is a physical object or force. Both presumptions completely miss the boat. All they do is send one on a fool’s errand. Like Godel’s incompleteness theorem, we find the being “God” cannot be captured by simple deduction or a tracing backwards. There is always a remainder that the system itself cannot account for, but must exist, for the system to even makes sense or exist. Or, it would be like someone going to see the new movie Les Miserables, watching until the very end, and then asking, “Where was the mercy—I didn’t see it?” “I don’t get it, what was the movie about?” Such questions reveal an embarrassing immaturity. It is something we would expect a 12- year-old to ask. It is the same when one walks into a serious conversation regarding philosophical/theological- ontological issues (conversations held over centuries by brilliant people) and asks why belief in God or transcendence shouldn’t fall into the same category as belief in Santa Clause. It just doesn’t follow given the nature, depth and scope of the conversation. It doesn’t make one inflammatory, clever, or even disrespectful to ask such a question. It just makes one ignorant.
It is no different with Jesus.
We know he was a historical person (One can look here
if still suffering from a sort of flat-earth belief that he was not). We know he was killed by the state.
We know a movement began shortly after his death started by those who had followed him before his death and then claimed to have encountered him in some fashion after his burial.
We know that these men who went into hiding before his death, no doubt fearful for their own lives given their association with this man, now branded a criminal, afterwards began to proclaim boldly that Jesus was alive.
And all of them died by the hands of that same state for those beliefs.
Just as an aside, wouldn’t it have just been easier for the greatest power in the world at that time to simply produce the body and bury (pun intended) the whole movement?
And if the disciples had somehow stolen the body, which is highly unlikely since the burial spot was guarded by Roman soldiers (the Navy SEALS of their day) so that very thing wouldn’t happen, why did not a single disciple crack under torture and simply tell where the body was?
Remember, these people weren’t hardened terrorists/criminals—they were your next door neighbor.
They were Joe Six-Pack.
Let me get this straight, each and every one died under torture or imprisonment to protect what they knew to be a lie—a premeditated hoax?
Okay, right, that is a reasonable and logical possibility.
How silly of me.
Anyway, we also know that at some point this rag-tag band—this uneducated collection of fishermen—and others of low cultural status (like women and the poor)—and the narrative they shared, became the dominant narrative of Western Europe and birthed what we now call Western Civilization (which includes modern science by the way). No small feat, that. This tiny group and the narrative they embodied changed the world and we—like it or not—live in that world. Sorry new-atheist but the world you wake up in every day is a world created by a narrative wholly other than your own. Every time you write the date and year, you mark the fact you live in a world created by a narrative you believe false. And yet, you still compare belief in God to belief in Santa Clause? Is anyone seriously that shallow or historically clueless?
None of us have a time machine. Unless one is a Dan Brown disciple and believes in conspiracy theories, chances are most reputable historians have it pretty much correct. There is no way to “prove” empirically/scientifically (or beyond the tools available to historians and archeologists—which are not strictly “empirical”) that these events (the life of Jesus) did not or could not have happened the way it is commonly understood. And within that history, the only way one could say that certain events didn’t (or couldn’t) have happened as reported and accepted (the resurrection for instance) is if he a-priori asserts a belief that the material is all that exists, which is simply to beg the question (which is 99.9% of “new” atheist reasoning it would appear). Knowing about natural laws and how things generally work means nothing as to what is possible no matter what else we might know regarding what is probable or what is routine. It then simply becomes an open question and a question that has to be considered in the context of the rest of the narrative and history. It is the historian, the philosopher, and the theologian and their tools that then need address such questions, not those stuck in a discredited 19th Century philosophical dogma called logical positivism/empiricism or other variants.
More importantly, we have the results of that history. If someone has comparable results from similar stories or events in history, then make your case please. And consider the results and the differences. No one has ever stepped forward and said their life was deeply and significantly changed by Santa Clause or leprechauns (and if they have, they are now in therapy or hidden in the attic). No one. Zero. And as to Fairies, spaghetti monsters, and other fictional characters, where are their temples? Where are their libraries and universities devoted to the study of their narratives? Where are their martyrs? Where are their Martin Luther Kings? Where are their Bachs? Where are their Rembrandts? Where are their Miltons? Where are their hospitals and orphanages? Where are their laws and values, literally written into nations’ constitutions, codes, and laws? Indeed, where are their civilizations and cultures? We readily believe our Presidents when they say they believe in God. If they were to say they seriously believed in the tooth fairy, we would not allow them near the nuclear “button” and they would be removed from office. If one cannot see the distance between the two “beliefs” and the reasons for our culture’s response to one over the other, the difference, then what are we to say? Again, none of this is to say that such makes Christianity true. It is simply to point out that comparing such to a belief in Santa Clause reveals an amazing immaturity along with an astounding historical, cultural, and philosophical ignorance.
The “fact” remains that no culture or history stands before us as a result (the only empirical evidence—such as it is—we have, and that truly matters in questions like this one) of belief in leprechauns or fairies. It is only in that arena (cultural artifacts—deep turns of history—significant impact) that we can come close to having something called “evidence” as to questions of a historical nature. As to the Christian narrative and related historical events, volumes line libraries and entire departments in the best universities in the world gather brilliant men and women to grapple with the questions related to that narrative and events and have for centuries. Why? Because of their profound, deep, and significant relation to every area of knowledge and culture in Western history and even world history. The distance between those events, their gravity, and their significance, makes exceedingly clear (or should!) that trying to compare such with a belief in Santa Claus or other fictional character is something only a rather dim-witted freshman philosophy major could dream up.
So whether it is philosophical category errors or questions of history, a strictly empirical, logical- positivist, scientific inquiry, into questions of this nature, is ridiculous and meaningless. The tools do not apply. It would be like a fireman showing up to fight a fire with an ice pick. That is why, for the most part, atheists are always participating in some other conversation, but rarely the one at hand. If one reads the word “God” in a serious conversation and then begins to argue against some object in space or some dude in a rocking chair, and asking for the “evidence” for such, then, well, good luck with that. That person is having a conversation with himself.
And there is a reason that most atheists will never deal with these failures or the one I noted in an earlier post regarding the meaning of “faith”. To do so would remove the only “reasons”-so called, they have for believing that God’s existence is impossible. If they ever come to grips with their philosophical category errors, problems understanding history, seeming unwillingness to try and understand basic philosophy/theology, and abject failure to understand the limitations of science, then it would dawn on them that their “belief” their “faith” is entirely a matter of choice and will, of disposition and sensibility, and is no more predicated ONLY upon “facts” and “evidence” than IS belief in God. None of us are compelled to interpret “read” the facts and evidence (including history) by some sheer, neutral, objective, and obvious logic or reason (both being contextually located and conditioned by underlying philosophies and theologies in the first place!) wherein we are force by the obviousness of that logic and reason alone to confess belief or unbelief—or even agnosticism. The facts and evidence, including our scrutiny of history, could be argued either way- for belief or unbelief. And that is why (whether it is the Christian fundamentalist or secular fundamentalist) when someone says they are just following the “evidence” and (by-the-way) it must lead us to their conclusion—we should ignore such simplistic nonsense.
Does all this mean that facts and evidence and the best historical research are not necessary or meaningless (I can still hear that coming)?
If that is all one heard in reading the preceding, then go back and read it again.
You are dead wrong.
Again, what I’m stressing here is that once we recognize we are always-and-already interpreting the research and the facts and the evidence—and after the process of interpreting the facts, evidence, and the best historical research—we must still choose.
We must still articulate what we think all this evidence, research, and our own subjective responses to it all might mean.
We must still put all of it in a comprehensive matrix of holistic sense.
We must interpret it all, in community, and individually.
We must exercise our will at some point.
And, we make decisions using our whole selves, minds and hearts.
We make decisions from a context, from a space, from a place, always and already situated.
There is so much more going on in our decision making than some simplistic surface appeal to “evidence.”
Especially when the question is not “Why is the fire hot?” but rather, “Why is there anything at all including fire?”
And again, if one cannot see the gulf and distance between those two questions and the tools necessary to attempt answers, then one is in the wrong conversation.
In all this, we can choose to believe that at the heart of everything is a primordial and infinite peace and love to which all creation longs, desires, and tends (The Judeo-Christian narrative), or we can believe that at the heart of everything is a primordial void, an abyss, a meaningless merciless accidental confluence of matter-in-motion, without purpose, embedded in amoral laws of survival alone. In other words, we can choose heaven or hell. Going back again to Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert from Les Miserables—the “evidence” is clear that there is a law against theft and we have caught a person who has broken that law. Valjean is guilty. That is a “fact.” Valjean and Javert see the same “evidence.” They are both aware of the same “facts.” However, they both choose to “see” and interpret the “evidence” and the “facts” differently (and thus respond differently—thus the objective/subjective nature). And so it is with us. Your choice.