Thursday, January 09, 2014
My thanks to my Twitter acquaintance @naum (Naum Trifanoff) for introducing me, through his tumbler blog, AZSPOT, to Stephen Mattson. Stephen is a Christian writer whose blog at stephenjmattson.com is subtitled "Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing." I've been impressed by his willingness to take on difficult topics and ask questions that are unusual in a lot of Christian writing, and also to engage rationally with a non-believer like me.
Today, I saw that he posted this list of "13 Questions Every Christian Must Eventually Ask Themselves". I found the post refreshing for its candor and challenge to the faithful, but also a bit disappointing because questions like these are usually expected to inspire yet more circuitous apologetics and tortuous rationalizations, to deny the the simplest and most obvious answer, that gods are figments of the human imagination. That's the proverbial elephant in the room, you might say.
I thought I'd provide this non-believer's point of view here and link it from a comment on Steven's blog. You should fully read each of his questions first, by the way, to fully understand my answers.
1. What is salvation?
Salvation is an imaginary cure to an imaginary disease, sin. The promise of a life of eternal bliss after death, or more to the point the escape from an eternity of suffering is not unique to Christianity, except in the decorative details. The human brain, being able to apprehend its own mortality, wishfully invents imaginary methods to escape death. I find this to be the best and most obvious explanation. All the other questions about permanency, predestination, etc. are irrelevant unless you believe the primary assertion in the first place. Contrary to the last sentence, salvation is only complicated if you believe it exists.
2. Do I own my faith?
Every baby is born an atheist. For the vast majority of people, they were indoctrinated in the faith of their family or the prevailing faith of the place they grew up. Even the most bible-believing Christian would probably have been a Muslim or Hindu except for an accident of birth.
3. Can I trust the Bible?
Not any more than any other holy book and a lot less than, say, a high school chemistry or history book. It was written by people with an agenda translated from translations and heavily edited and "harmonized" over the centuries to remove even more inconsistencies than it currently contains.
4. How do Biblical texts apply to modern society?
The Bible is a historical Iron Age anthology of myths with perhaps a sprinkling of semi-accurate anecdotes. Attempting to apply the Bible to modern day civilization is usually an exercise in picking out passages that justify, in some indirect or painfully convoluted manner what you think you ought to do anyway.
5. Who is God?
"A million different people have a million different definitions of God", you say. Isn't the most obvious explanation for this that God is an imaginary concept that every person constructs from their own mind, guided by an arbitrarily chosen set of dogmatically asserted qualities? If God were real, there'd be only one basic definition, wouldn't there?
6. Why does God allow bad things to happen?
The simplest explanation is that the universe has no intent, no purpose, no knowledge. It just is. And volcanoes explode and lightning strikes and storms destroy with no malice aforethought. They don't know we're here and they don't care. On the plus side, the universe carries no grudges, it's not out to get us.
7. Why is God so morbidly violent in the Old Testament?
Because when the Old Testament was written people were barely civilized and barbaric, so the deity they invented merely fits in with the times.
8. How does free will affect my faith?
Leaving aside the general philosophical question of free will, all of the issues you bring up about the implications with respect to faith exist only because of the inherent incongruities of a supposed perfect God and an observed imperfect world. If, instead, you consider that the universe is simply the way it is without apparent reason or purpose and without an omnipotent and omniscient controlling deity, all these perplexities and conundrums simply evaporate. They are only artifacts of the base problem of trying to fit the square peg of a perfect deity into the round hole of reality.
9. How can you believe in something that can’t be scientifically proven?
I'd suggest a better way to ask this is, "How can you believe in something for which there is no evidence?"(1) I think people pretend or force themselves to believe because they've been told they'll go to hell or they're a bad person if they don't. In other words, what they really believe in is belief, as Dan Dennett puts it.
10. What make Christianity different than any other religion?
Basically nothing except for the choice of wallpaper and drapes, the trappings, the inconsequential details. In the most important attribute of being true, it's just like all the others, there's no evidence to support it being true.
11. How has my faith been influenced?
We don't have different arithmetics or different physics depending on where we were born or what religion we are. They aren't "filtered" as you put it. If there really was a God and He spoke to people and the Bible really was true, how could what anyone believes be different than anyone else?
12. Am I using my faith to serve another agenda?
Nothing further from me necessary. You nailed it.
13. What is the point of following Christ?
I only wish more self-described Christians actually followed Christ's example and simply left the "believing" bit behind. We'd all be a lot better off. It's what you do that counts, not what you believe.
(1) Strictly speaking, only mathematicians "prove" things. Natural scientists only have provisional explanations for natural phenomena that have not been disproven by experiment or supplanted by simpler, more comprehensive explanations.