Common (rational) ground for believers, nonbelievers

danielgriswold@gmail.comMay 30, 2012 

In my usual perusal of blogs, I stumbled upon an article titled "Religion is Going Nowhere." I enjoy opinion pieces, so I began to read a particular atheist's thoughts on theism and the irrationality of religion. It was a user-generated section of a news site, so the piece wasn't written by a reporter, just another guy or gal like me who had some thoughts to share.

There wasn't a central idea to the piece, but several assertions were made: 1. Religion would be around much longer than most atheists think. 2. Real atheism is hard to accept because it assumes a mechanical universe, which is probed for truth by science. 3. Many theists cling to their "Bronze Age Soap Operas" and refuse to face reality. 4. Atheists must fight theists who seek world domination.

It is a difficult thing to look at a critique of my religious identity and not become angry, but I think it is a worthwhile exercise.

The most poignant part of the article was the notion that the believer is an enemy rather than a friend. This should send us into a deep moment of asking "Why?" From a Christian perspective, how can the faith that had an early historian exclaim "Behold, how they love each other," and whose sacred texts admonish us to "love God and love others" be seen as the great enemy?

The first issue is a relational one. Love in our culture has become so twisted that I think even Christians have forgotten what it means to reach out and care without any preconditions. Love means risk. We can realize that when we reach out beyond our comfort zone to those who do not see the world as we do, there will be struggle. And to do it not to convince the other of anything but simply to be a friend? That is even harder.

Being a follower of Jesus when so many have been abused at the hands of pretenders -- those who have committed injustices against the defenseless in the name of God -- takes guts. It takes courage to say "Jesus is love" while taking a scalpel to the evils in the institution and cutting away the rot that created an atmosphere of abuse.

Evil is evil, whether you believe in God or not. This is a common ground for the future.

A second issue is philosophical and theological in nature and seems to provide a large divide. There appears to be an assumption that all religious people are irrational. Certainly, there are irrational people in all groups, and certainly across all religions there are those seeking a world of rational faith. The argument that religious people cannot be rational seems to be based on this logic: (x) theists trust Scriptures; (y) Scriptures are myths, thus (z) theists are morons.

The basis of this idiocy seems to be that there are many religions, all with sacred texts, all claiming absolute truth. The fallacy: Because there are many, all the sacred texts must be wrong, and this leads to (z) theists are deceived or ignorant.

My issue is this: Having varying texts all purporting to be from God does not immediately preclude that all of them are wrong. But one, or even two, if looking simply with logic, have the potential to be actual sources of truth -- if there is a God. A decision still has to be made.

It seems to me that a rational person would be the one who studies all the texts and considers all the data they know from the sciences, all they know of humanity, all they know of the cosmos and makes a call. There needs to be discernment either way.

I'm not writing to be argumentative, but to bring all people to think more with their minds and their hearts. Many things said on all sides are meant to hurt others rather than to heal -- and that is wrong no matter where you're coming from.

The book of Proverbs opens with this:

"Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the walls she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech: 'How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery an fools hate knowledge? Repent at my rebuke. Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings."

This is a good message for all the people of the world. Seek wisdom, find the way.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill.

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