Sunday, March 30, 2008

entering the fray

Some of you have probably been paying attention to my recent post on "the purpose of religion". Chrisp was probably right when he said that no-one would have the strength to wade through 25 posts, and perhaps I should have stormed in with the pepper spray and called it quits.

However, I've not had time to respond for a while, but have some thoughts of my own. So to quote the wedding service I attended yesterday, "for richer for poorer, for better, for worse...", I shall now make an attempt to distill some of my thoughts.

I was hoping to tag a comment on the end but there seem to be some technical difficulties with that, so I'm taking the rather brave step of putting it all in a whole new post. On the plus side, some of you probably wouldn't have bothered scrolling down anyway, This would have been comment number 26 on this post, so I hope you'll forgive me if I don't respond to everything, if I've missed something important, or if I've grasped the wrong end of the stick. All sorts of issues have arisen, and I will try now to address one or two points.

Firstly, I'm not happy with the way that the debate degenerated and became unnecessarily personal. I like to keep an open mind, but I am nonetheless disappointed in this case. Scott, I think I've been critical of your posting before, and although I don't want to point the finger squarely at you, I'm not exactly impressed. I hate it when people uphold expectations of the way others should behave (as even Christians sometimes get it wrong, believe it or not), but at the same time, your behaviour hasn't exactly been a great Christian witness. For a start, I'd expect a bit more humility, and although the debate has been heated, may I remind you that you are afforded the luxury of thinking about what you write before you hit 'post'.

Anyway, moving on. The first issue which I'd like to think about is the idea that as a Christian I am "duty bound to explode the theories of others". I couldn't agree more that Christians should stand up for, and defend their faith. In fact, I would go one further and note that we are called to preach the Gospel and "make disciples of all nations". I'd also agree that it's often good to engage in debate, but "duty bound to explode the theories of others" sounds as though it's bordering dangerously on the blinkered, arrogant, and "Bible Bashing". For a start, if someone has a theory that there is no God, I cannot disprove them. If I could, I wouldn't have any 'faith' per se.

It's all part and parcel of the issue of accepting that other people have a different viewpoint. As a Christian, I believe that accepting Jesus is important for everyone, not just my fellow believers. Of course I find it sad when friends choose not to believe, and ultimately, if I believe that I am right, then yes, logically, I must believe that others are wrong. But no amount of bashing them over the head is going to change that. If it could, someone would have got there before me and we'd all be believers by now. Indeed, when Jesus sent people out, he didn't say "stay there and explode their theories until they've seen the light", he said "if they don't accept you, shake the dust off your feet and move on". Obviously, this doesn't mean that I should neglect my duty to stand up for my faith and preach the message, and neither am I about to abandon friendships with those who disagree with me; however, at the end of the day it's important to remember that as Christians we might claim to be "saved by God", but not "JP who repeated himself until it got through our thick skulls".

Another issue which has arisen from this debate seems to be that of setting Christians apart from other religious people. I disagree with whichever anonymous person said that to do this was questionable; is my judgment as questionable for not thinking that as an atheist you must have exactly the same views as Joseph Stalin? There are times when it is acceptable to view all "religious" people as a whole. There are, after all, some things which hold true across the board. But at other times, a distinction must be made. Buddhists don't believe in a God as such, and so the nature of my 'religion' is fundamentally different. Muslims believe that to get in to heaven you must live a good life such that the good outweighs the bad. As a Christian I believe that I can't get to heaven on my own merit, but that God will welcome me anyway if I repent and accept him. I could go on. Furthermore, when entering in to a debate like this, as a Christian, I am going to see it more from that viewpoint than any other. It's just the way these things go.

I don't deny that you don't have to be a Christian to live your life in a particular way. Neither do I deny the fact that Christianity hasn't been immune to corruption. As I said above, even Christians get it wrong, and the self-centredness I talked about in my original post creeps in at all sorts of levels. That classic "please sit somewhere else because this is my pew and I always sit here" is just one (perhaps trivial) example.

However, whoever made the point that fundamentalist Christians aren't known for blowing themselves and others up did actually make a fair point. Just because a religion has demonstrated extremes with such devastating consequences doesn't mean that all religions must form such extremes. Furthermore, although atrocities have been committed by religious people "in the name of God", talk of "Holy War" and "Jihad" is usually peppered with talk of "receiving glory for being a martyr" and on that basis my point stands that it's not belief in God which is the problem, but the self-centredness of humanity.

Finally, back to the issue of worshipping God. I can see that from an atheistic "god-less" point of view, the idea of putting a god first is difficult. But look at it from another point of view. I believe in a God who created the Universe and all that is in it. A God who created the people around me. A God who wants us to enjoy his world. A God who loves us and likes us to relate to Him. A God who answers prayer. A God who has given an assurance of life eternal. On that basis, to rank anything above God is foolish and illogical.

2 comments:

KDG said...

"..Of course I find it sad when friends choose not to believe.."


To pick up on a different point, can one *choose* to believe/disbelieve in something?

Gareth P said...

Interesting point. My initial reaction is that you can't choose what you believe per se. You choose to eat a cheese sandwich or you choose not too. I hardly think anyone of a particular faith would ever turn round and say "oh I chose not believe in God/Allah/etc today". I think choice implies a consious decision whereas faith is somewhat different.