MonthApril 2017

I Simply Believe in One Fewer God than You

A common argument against belief in God–does it stand up?

Actually, that’s not all there is to it.  I mean, it’s not quite so simple.  Affirmed atheist, Ricky Gervais used this argument when he was a guest on Stephen Colbert.  The YouTube clip has received over 4 million views.  In the interview he said that there are about 3000 deities that people have worshiped at one time or another and Christians don’t believe in 2,999 of them, the atheist simply goes one god further.  Gervais’ exact words are:

I don’t believe in just one more.

Colbert didn’t respond–perhaps he was just being polite, but what is the Christian response to Gervais’ argument?

“I don’t believe in just one more”

This argument needs to be unpacked a little.  Gervais is suggesting that that there is a logical, and therefore necessary, step that Christians (and other monotheists) fail to make.  His use of the term “just” suggests that this step is insignificant.  This is far from the case–the step is neither a logically necessary nor is it insignificant.

His argument is that the rejection of the final god is the same as, and in line with, the rejection of all preceding gods.  But this is wrong.  It does not follow that if one rejects 1 god, one must reject the remaining 2999.  Nor does it follow that if you reject 2999, you must logically reject the last. 

This has only been taken by very few, and these only recently.  Of all the millions of people that ever lived in all of the remote corners of the world, all of them came to the same conclusion.  They concluded that there is more.  Belief in any one of the 3000 gods is an acknowledgment of some form of transcendence–that there is something beyond or above the range of ordinary or merely physical human experience.  The belief in any deity is a claim that there is some external standard to which we must all align our lives.

Gervais’ leap of faith

Rather than making a small step in line with the rejection of the first 2,999 gods, Gervais is making giant leap in the opposite direction.  He doesn’t go one itty-bitty step beyond Christianity, as the “just” implies, he and those like him are breaking with conclusions arrived at by the rest of humanity arrived at independently.

That all of humanity has arrived at the same conclusion, isn’t irrefutable proof that their conclusion is true.  People who believe in God certainly take a leap of faith.

Gervais points this out as he explains atheism in a nutshell:

You say, “There is a God.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

Perhaps many in Colbert’s audience feel that Gervais has scored a point against believers, but he hasn’t.   A theist can illustrate the atheist leap of faith similarly:

You say, “There no spiritual reality beyond the material.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

I think Gervais would acknowledge his leap of faith.  Who takes the greater leap?  The person who says that everything that we see in the cosmos and through our experiences in life are the result of material processes or the person that says there is something more than matter and its movements and modifications.

Who takes the greater leap of faith, the theist or the atheist?

The conversation can start here, not where Gervais thinks he ended it in the Stephen Colbert interview.

Are All Other Religions Wrong?

Christians are not as intolerant as you might think.

Are atheists more tolerant than religious people?  Are Christians intolerant of other faiths?

On a site called Hubpages, a person that calls themselves “kittythedreamer” asked the following question:

Why is it that Christians believe that Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, etc. are all wrong in their beliefs?

It generated quite a bit of discussion.

This question makes a lot of sense in our culture.  We find Christians, indeed all those who take their faith seriously, as judgmental.  When we accept that there is no God, as many in our culture have; tend to also abandon the idea that there is a universal purpose and meaning–we are uncomfortable with, or reject, the idea of objective truth.  We’d rather create our own truth.

That’s why Christians baffle people like kittythedreamer (“kitty”).  Christians have this old fashioned idea that truth is objective, rather than subjective.  We believe that some things are true, or moral, or good, or just, whether we like it or not.  It follows then that some things are false, immoral, evil, unjust.

In our culture, saying someone’s views are wrong is the same as telling them that they have the wrong favourite ice cream.

“kitty” is right; Christians do say others are wrong. They do so because when they claim that some things are true, they can’t also accept the opposing idea as also true.   To do so requires a mental dexterity possessed only by those who don’t believe in objective truth–those who create their own meaning.

But “kitty” is wrong in another way.   Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, at least not entirely so.  We believe other religions are right in some very important ways.  Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:

Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, They are are right in some very important ways. Here's a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:
  1. We’ve already covered the first one.  All, or very nearly all, of the world’s religions believe that truth resides outside of the individual.  They don’t entirely agree on what that truth is, but it’s external.  External often means universal–that means it’s true for everyone, everywhere, for all time.  One of the things that humans are supposed to do is conform themselves to that external truth.  So rather than thinking everybody is wrong, Christians believe that, in this respect, that these religions are right.
  2. Another thing that nearly all religions believe is that behind the natural world there is a mystical and/or spiritual reality.
  3. Most of the religions of the world, past and present, believe in transcendent gods or a God. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  4. Most religions believe that God or the gods is/are occasionally active in the lives of humans. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  5. Many religions believe that God is interested in human flourishing. Christians believe it and any other religion that believes it too are considered to be right.
  6. All religions believe that human beings must contend with evil in their lives. Christians believe this and they agree with any religion that believes it too.
  7.  Many religions believe that other religions possess truth.  Some are closer to “The Truth” than others.

Obviously, Christians don’t believe that other religions are wrong. There is tremendous agreement among religious adherents.  This is not to say that the differences aren’t significant, but the points at which all, or most, religions agree might give one pause.

So who is more open-minded?  Does the atheist say, “You are all correct”?

Atheists usually say of religious believers, “You are all wrong!”

I know it feels like there is a lot of conflict between Christians and others in our society.  Not all of it can be reduced to closed mindedness and bigotry–some of it has to do with the fact that people of faith look to a source of truth outside themselves.  Their claims might not be true, but it must be admitted that the idea that all meaning is necessarily internal also has some significant drawbacks that make it hard to believe.

This is where the dialogue should begin, not with kitty’s question.

Zombies and the Resurrection of the Dead

Some people refer to Easter as “Zombie Jesus Day.”  I’m guessing they are being provocative or trying impress their like-minded friends.  Perhaps it is because of this attitude that Christian writer Eric Metaxas has taken the position that zombies are a parody of the resurrection of the dead.  I think zombies are much more than a parody, and they can be part of a gospel conversation with our children and even with our unchurched neighbours.

Jesus died and, after that, he walked around.  These are two of the main things that zombies do, and it is upon these two qualities that the case for zombie Jesus is based.  Missing, of course, is the third main characteristic of the ambulatory dead: the mindless consumption of living human flesh.

Zombies turned up in popular culture about a century ago, but they really took off with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and they’ve been going strong ever since.  Why this popularity?  The simple answer is that there is something about the zombie horde that resonates with our culture.  Given the popularity of zombie narratives, it must be resonating a lot, and has done so for almost fifty years.  Why?   By materialism I mean the belief that reality is material, and material only.  There’s no room for the spiritual–no such thing as God or the human soul.

More and more we have organized our lives and our society around materialism.  On a popular level, we don’t really dig too deeply into the implications of materialism on human identity and the meaning of life.  In general, we don’t have time to read and think about these heady issues.

But we do have time to go to the movies.  Many movies reinforce a materialist philosophy, but some question it.  Zombie movies are among these.  The zombie is a monster and, like all monsters, it is trying to tell us something about ourselves, something that we are trying to suppress.  Zombies are an embodiment of our fears of a possible future if materialism is true.

Zombies are an embodiment of our fears of a possible future if materialism is true.
“We are human beings, so we have first-hand experience with what one is.  We know how human beings respond to a beautiful waterfall.  We know what it means to fall in love and we know what it means to be very, very sad.  We not only think thoughts, but we can think about our thoughts.  Is any of this possible if materialism is true?  Even in a secular society, there is enough in this question to cause some doubt.  Monsters turn up when we have doubts, and they keep coming back until they are dealt with.  With the popularity of the zombie, we know that there are some doubts about being human in a materialist context.  If there is no spiritual dimension to reality, would we response to beauty as we do?  Have emotions like love? Could consciousness signify that a human is more than matter?  If materialism were true, wouldn’t we be zombies?  Are we zombies?   

The Apostle Paul’s faced some resistance to the resurrection of the dead as he proclaimed it.  The ancient Greek culture, too, had some incorrect ideas of what a human being was.  Gnostics and Platonists taught that the body was evil, or at least inferior to the spirit.  The resurrection of the body didn’t make any sense to them.  Why would we want to resurrect that old thing?  We can see very well what happens to the body after the spirit has left it—it rots and wastes away.  If humanity were to live beyond death, it would be in spirit, the good part, not in the body.  Paul’s response to this incorrect anthropology is found in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44.  Paul writes of a someone who seems to be stating that the resurrection of a corruption like a rotting corpse is impossible.  Perhaps this “someone” imagined a shambling horde of animated, partially decomposed corpses.  Paul declares this talk foolish and explains that as a dead seed goes into the ground and comes out completely new, so too, the “perishable” body goes into the ground and is resurrected “imperishable.”

Paul argues against zombies in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44.
The error of Paul’s audience reduced the essence of humankind to spirit, where modern materialism reduces man to mere body.  Paul says that you will get the resurrection all wrong if you fail to understand that a human being is both body and spirit and that the resurrection will be of the whole person.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he had a new, resurrected body.  This is what Paul’s audience needed to understand about the resurrection.  Paul’s words to the church in Corinth apply to our culture as well.  We need to understand that Jesus wasn’t just reanimated body, but a heart and mind and spirit as well.  Consequently, he was nothing like a zombie.  And rather than eating living human beings, Jesus was satisfied with eating fish with his friends (Luke 24:42-43).  This is very unzombie-like behavior.

It is clear that AMC’s The Walking Dead TV series, one would rather be truly dead than one of the “walkers.”  A materialist resurrection is much worse than the nothingness of a materialist death.  Disrespectful  internet trolls aside, I don’t believe that the zombie apocalypse is a parody of the resurrection of the dead, I believe it is a lament that resurrection isn’t what it used to be before we grew out of our belief.

The Gospel message to the zombie culture is that human beings haven’t changed.  We have always been a lot more than our material bodies and we still are.  Our need for salvation has also not changes—there are no true zombie movies that don’t clearly present the truth of human depravity.   The good news is that the God who made us with, not just a body, but a heart and a soul and a mind as well, loves us so much that he redeems all of me.  Jesus wasn’t a zombie, and neither am I.  This is the resurrection we celebrate at Easter.

#Zombies are much more than a parody, and they can be part of a gospel conversation

This article was first published for The Christian Courier at christiancourier.com.

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