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Friday, December 05, 2008

Discussion Starter

CNN has a story about an atheist placard that was stolen. For the record, I don't think it is dramatic or ironic that there are Christian sympathizers who are also vandals and I don't think anyone should apologize for the sign being stolen. I also think there is nothing inappropriate about the way the sign puts out its message and I don't think it is hateful. What I do think, is Christians and atheists and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Jews should talk about whether the sign is right or wrong. Nothing meta, nothing that starts with "I'm not saying X, but Y." Here's what the sign says:
At this season of
THE WINTER SOLSTICE
may reason prevail.

There are no gods.
no devils. no angels.
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.
I'll start. I hope reason prevails, but I think there is a god, which is to say I think there is more than our natural world. I agree that Religion can harden hearts and enslave minds, but I think it can also lead to deeper spiritual truth of interconnectedness. I do not think there are devils or angels or heaven or hell.

Another question, asked by an ad by the American Humanist Association, that would be good to answer is: "Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness sake."

3 comments:

Westwind Projects said...

I agree that the message is neither hateful nor disrespectful nor should it be an affront to those with religious beliefs that have evolved beyond the "scratch and grunt" stage. It represents the questions of a segment of our population that has benefitted from the same grace that created all of our existence. Without question I believe in God, in His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and the power that can be wrought simply by the use of His name. I do believe in heaven although my beliefs about hell are not "fire and brimstone" but rather a darkness of mind and spirit where communion with all is lost.

As to the premise that we can apply the "be good for goodness sake" adage without recognition of its origin denies the influence that belief in God has had on shaping human behavior. But to the point of the "Why believe in God?" question (although it is more like the "have you stopped beating your wife yet" question) I offer only the evidence of my own life. I have seen too many instances where it was the intervention of God through one of His children that made the difference between life and death, health and sickness, food and starvation...the examples are endless. It was not for the sake of "goodness" that those acts I have witnessed were done. It was because there was a simple commandment followed: "...feed my sheep". This is not the place for the discussion but those words are profound and considering the life of the one who gave that instruction, are the culmination of what love and goodness are all about - and they come from God. Though no one can discount the horror committed in the name of a god through the ages, so too should no one be able to ignore the goodness brought to the world; not for the sake of goodness alone, but in the name and praise of God. So why believe in God? Why not?+

Matt Dick said...

I think the sign is disrespectful. I think it was meant to be, and I think it's okay that it is. I don't think we have the right to be unoffended by our neighbors.

I think the sign is right. I agree with both Jim and Westwind Projects that religion certainly does not always, nor does it have to harden hearts, that's clearly untrue.

But Westwind, I must ask, when you say I have seen too many instances where it was the intervention of God, how do you know? Can you see the possibility that someone could be acting for goodness and *think* they are acting for God? I can certainly believe that is true.

I think belief in God can be a vehicle for acting well, but I don't believe it is necessary. I know too many atheists who do tremendous good to believe that God or belief in God is necessary for goodness to prevail.

Finally, just a question to Jim in particular, if you do not believe in devils, angels, heaven or hell, why believe in God? Where's the evidence for one that the others lack? We go into so many detailed and specific topics but sometimes I have to go back to square one, since I'm just so stuck there--there is nothing in my life's experience that speaks even one iota to there being something other than the natural world. I can't look at anything about our world and conclude there has to be, or even that there is any evidence for, a God.

I certainly can agree that Creation implies something about an extra-universal effect, since that's as plausible as a vacuum fluctuation in terms of explaining an origin, but the idea that the human mind is contemplating that reality with *any* clarity pushes the bounds of credulity too far for me.

Lin said...

Ahhhhhhh, now I see where the question about why I believe in God came from. Matt, you are so intelligent that it scares me -----and I know Jim. So I'm really scared.

I like what you said about: "I know too many atheists who do tremendous good to believe that God or belief in God is necessary for goodness to prevail."

I agree with you.

God's action in the world is not dependant upon anyone's belief in God.

I know, it's an arrogant-sounding thing for one who believes in God to say. For that I apologize.

But I hope you will consider the other arrogance that's involved when either non-believers or believers in God imply that God only has agency (or doesn't) if we believe (or disbelieve).

I'm not being arrogant. This really is elementary to my particular concept of God: God is at work as an agent for the best possible outcome in every instant for each of us. Because we also have agency, sometimes what God would wish doesn't happen. So we wipe the slate clean, and God begins again. For the life of me, I can't quite figure out why God hangs in there........ but that's really, honest to God, what I think God is, whether we believe in God or not.

BTW, I love those whom I fear the most.