CategoryApologetics

Monkeys Don’t Get Music

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Human beings like music.  Macaques don’t.

This is not simply because monkeys are a bunch of uncultured louts.  Apparently, it’s a brain thing. Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Maryland studied the difference between macaques’ and humans’ ability to hear things. They discovered that humans have areas in our brains that respond to music. Macaques don’t have these.

Scientists observed people brains and monkey brains as they responded to sounds. Sounds came in two groups: pitch without noise, like a sung note and noise without pitch, like a whisper. The auditory parts of human brains lit up much more when tones were played than they did when noises were played at the same frequency. The macaques showed no preference for to pitched sounds, even when they were based on their natural calls.

The ability to enjoy music seems to be structural to the human brain.

The big question for the scientists is “Why?”  Why have human beings evolved the ability to love music?  We might expect a rudimentary response to pitch in monkey brains, for what would have been an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors would also be an advantage to the macaques.  Why would we get Mozart and Kenny Chesney and monkey’s get squat?

I have an idea.

Perhaps music is not an evolutionary necessity, but a superfluous gift.

Perhaps music is not an evolutionary necessity, but a superfluous gift.Click To Tweet

The Gift of Music

Perhaps there is no evolutionary advantage to having brain structures that allow us to appreciate music.  Maybe we were given the ability to create and enjoy music as a gift of Grace.

This is problematic for some because it would imply a transcendent gift-giver.

The gift of music touches us so deeply that even if a satisfactory evolutionary explanation for the human ability to hear music is someday found it would be difficult to explain the universal power, depth, complexity, and diversity we find in humanity’s experience with music.

Our natural response would be wonder and gratitude.

Real Presences

George Steiner says that music tells us that there is “something else,” that music is “the great force, the hope of a transcendent possibility.”

In transcendent experiences, such as those encountered in good music, lies “a presumption of presence” (214)—the real presence of God.  Through them, we experience “the unassuaged, unhoused instability and estrangement of our condition.  We are, at [these] key instants, strangers to ourselves, errant at the gates of our own psyche” (139).  Steiner suggests that when we encounter the transcendent, we become aware of our alienation from ourselves.

So he laments the replacement of many forms of good music with “the deafening folly,” and “barbarism of organized noise.”   I’m not sure exactly what Steiner means by these aspersions, but I can guess.  We might say that degraded music degrades our humanity by making us deaf to the transcendent, a condition leaving us little more than macaques.

 

 

The Theology of Hell’s Kitchen (1)

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I used to watch Hell’s Kitchen.  I like Gordon Ramsey, despite the arrogance.  He knows what he’s doing in the kitchen and his food is amazing.  I’ve eaten it.  And he knows how to run a restaurant.  Always a little harsh, he’s nearly altruistic in Kitchen Nightmares and the new Hell on Wheels; he’s almost nurturing in Master Chef.  But I’ve stopped watching Hell’s Kitchen because it’s way too hellish.  Ramsey is abusive and the contestants are mostly a bunch of cocky malcontents with personality disorders. To have to go out to dinner with these people would be hell enough. To have to live and run a dinner service with them, I don’t have to imagine–this is the subject of the show.

Although Ramsey is not all that religious, he’s given his show a name that is foundationally Christian.  Is the kitchen in the show anything like the scullery where the reprobate will eternally toil in “adamantine chains and penal fire”?

The simple answer is, of course, no.  And Ramsey is not really anything like a devil.

All images in the show’s opening credits suggest Gordon Ramsey is the boss of hell.  Horns, pointy tail, glowing demonic eyes, but if you look at the show theologically, Ramsey occupies a position similar to that of a pagan god than the Christian Satan.

The opening credits of Hell's Kitchen show Gordon Ramsey with horns, pointy tail, and glowing demonic eyes, but if you look at the show theologically, Ramsey occupies a position more like that of a pagan god than a devil. Click To Tweet

Pagan Worship

Life was hard in the ancient world.  Floods and drought threatened vital food supplies as did marauders who were forever running off with the harvest.  In this world of uncertainty, vulnerable humanity sought the aide of the gods to ensure fertility and security.  Survival, they believed, depended on their ability to humour and mollify these gods.

The gods themselves were very unpredictable. The slightest thing could set them off.  The demanded attention, the right kind of attention.  They were jealous when they felt others received more attention.  When resentful, they lashed out against the people.

How do you manage gods like these?  Invariably, people came to the conclusion that the gods needed to be manipulated.  In almost all religions the gods need to be appeased.  Worship was, and in many cases still is, appeasement.  If you can please the gods, blessings will follow.  Failure to do so means disaster.  The rain ceased to fall, and the land failed to bear fruit and the women were barren.

It is no accident that in places where there were no natural barriers and the climate was most unpredictable, the sacrifices demanded by the gods were far more costly than in places with more reliable food supply and less threat from enemies.  The bad things were thought to be an indication of the gods’ displeasure with the sacrifice, so the ante had to be increased.  This is why some cultures ended up sacrificing their children, so high was the gods’ price for blessing.

Appeasing Gordon Ramsey

In Hell’s Kitchen, worshipers must obey and appease a powerful and aggressive diety in order to earn favour and blessings.  Through appeasement and performance, contestants attempt to earn, the salvation for which they hope: survival into the next episode and ultimately, a dream job in the restaurant business.

In Hell’s Kitchen, appeasement is both individual and collective.  The most competent team is rewarded with a cool culinary field-trip; the losers are given a hellish chore, and one member of the losing team will be sent away.

There are three means by which Ramsey is appeased.

Appeasement in Hell’s Kitchen means getting good food out fast.  “Two scallop”  means two, perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented scallops at the pass when Ramsey wants it.  If your number, cook, seasoning, presentation, and timing are perfect, or nearly so, you will earn a blessing–a “nicely done” or “the scallops are perfect.”

Woe to the chef who fails in one or more aspects of this complex ritual.  Many cooks will be berated for failure to appease, but one will be banished.  Banishment from the presence of the god, banishment from the community and the hope for salvation will be dashed.

There are other means of appeasement in  Hell’s Kitchen.  As you stand before Gordon Ramsey facing eliminations as one of three, he asks you, “Why do you think you should stay in Hell’s Kitchen?”  He can be appeased, it seems, if a would be Executive Chef can convince him of her passion.  Passion is what one must bring to the altar.

The third way to appease the pagan god, and Gordon Ramsey, or more accurately avoid his curse, is to submit.   Muttering under your breath, talking back, or directly defying Ramsey will bring down his wrath.  No ego but Ramsey’s is permitted in Hell’s Kitchen.

Christian Worship: Favour First

Christian worship is different from pagan worship because the Christian God is different.

God is love and he is also holy.

He loves us.  He wants to be with us.  This is mostly for our sake, not his.  It’s good for us to be with him; he desires our good; therefore, he wants to be with us.  The problem is, we can’t be with him–we are not holy.  Unholy things can’t be in his presence–they couldn’t survive.

As in pagan worship, Biblical worship involves sacrifices and offerings to God, but not to appease him, but to purify ourselves.  Purification comes from the blood of sacrifice.  The purification from the blood of animals was very limited.  There were still many barriers between the Holy God and his people.  But they laid the groundwork and created a pattern through which his people could understand his holiness and their need for his grace.

In pagan worship, the people acted first so that the gods would give favour.  In Old Testament worship, God’s acts first–in giving favour.   It need not be earned, we have it already.

Christian Worship: Gratitude, not Appeasement

In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1–16) we see two offerings.  Able’s offering was acceptable to God.  There was something about Cain’s offering that wasn’t acceptable.  It is not certain, why God rejected Cain’s offering, but I think there is a good possibility that Cain’s offering was meant as appeasement–a bribe for divine favour.  He sacrificed in a manner consistent with the pagan nations.  Abel’s offering, then, was a gift of gratitude.  An appropriate attitude toward the God that he knew.

The sacrifice of animals on the Old Testament was inadequate.  It was always temporary and symbolic.  To purify all of humanity and all of creation, a much bigger sacrifice must be made.  Bigger and completely perfect.  The only one who meets these requirements is God himself.  He would have to bring the sacrifice; he would have to be the sacrifice.

Jesus is God and his death on the cross was the once and for all sacrifice that purifies all of creation, including humanity for all eternally.  We can only be in God’s presence if we are clothed in the blood of Christ.  We are not thus attired unless we accept the sacrifice.  This is all that is required of us, but it makes all the difference.  If we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we can be in God’s presence because we are covered in the blood of Christ.  He took on our sin received the effects of sin, we take on is purity and receive the effects of his purity.

Christian worship can’t be about appeasement, because we had his favour before the sacrifice.  We couldn’t bring any offering that would have purified us, so God made the only sacrifice that could save us.

1 John 4: 8-10 is the summary.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

We don’t get what we deserve; we receive salvation at his expense.  What can we do now, but be grateful?  This is central to Christian worship.  And Christian worship isn’t limited to church services.  Christian worship is a life lived out of gratitude for what God has done.

My favourite part of all of Gordon Ramsey shows is when he comes down from his throne and offers grace to one of the lesser folk.  He takes on the price for someone else’s benefit.  These moments are always poignant, but even more so on Hell’s Kitchen where we are usually experiencing Ramsey’s continuous wrath.  Viewers like these gracious moments.  I think something resonates in us when we see moments of grace.  Perhaps because this is what our hearts were made for.

The Meaning of Life: Consumption

 

A manufactured object obviously has a purpose that was built into it by its designers, but a lot of people do not believe this is true for human beings.

comment on TED in response to the question, “Does humanity have a purpose?” says, “Humanity has no unified purpose and I suggest that history shows us that giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous (religion, eugenics…).”

It is true that giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous, but perhaps this is only true when the single purpose is one for which we were not designed.  If I use a swivel office chair as a ladder, the results can be disastrous, but this doesn’t mean that the swivel chair has no purpose.

Giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous, but perhaps this is only true when it's one for which we weren't designed. If I use a swivel office chair as a ladder--disastrous, but this doesn’t mean that the swivel chair has no purpose. Click To Tweet

There is a danger in living for the wrong purpose, but perhaps it is just as dangerous to avoid purpose if we were actually created for one.

Our Default Purpose–Consumption

In our culture, one of the purposes we have collectively chosen for ourselves (or perhaps it has been subtly imposed upon us) is that of consumer–we buy things, lots of things.  The things we buy are designed to wear out after a time, or they are improved upon, so we throw out the old thing and buy another thing.  We are manipulated to be ever discontent and then offered things that will make us content.  It doesn’t work, of course, but that’s OK because contentment would be bad for the economy.

Were we made to consume?  Is this the purpose for which we were designed?

Zombies and Consumption

This question is a weak spot in the fence of our cultural identity and the hands of the undead are pawing at it.

The zombie is the picture of humanity which lives only to consume.  It ever eats, but is never satisfied.  It takes and takes, but no matter how much it takes–brains, liver, thigh–it’s still empty.

Perhaps humans were not made for religion, but the zombie tells us that we weren’t made for consumption either.

If we were made for another purpose, the cure for the zombie is to orient its whole life toward that purpose.

The zombie is the picture of humanity which lives only to consume. It ever eats, but is never satisfied. It takes and takes, but no matter how much it takes–brains, liver, thigh–it’s still empty.Click To Tweet

Designed for Relationship

I suggest that humanity is designed for relationship.

Not just any relationship, but the kind that is more interested in the flourishing of the other than the flourishing of the self.  Most people have caught at least a glimpse of what this relationship can be like.  Some lovers are like this–they are so interested in the happiness of the other one that they forget themselves.  Parents constantly set the needs of their children higher than their own.

The paradox in these sorts of relationships is the more you give, the more you get back–and not usually from the kids or even your lover.  It comes from someplace else and it’s so fulfilling.  It’s like you are a swivel chair being used as a swivel chair.

Sadly, not everyone has experienced this sort of relationship.

Zombies haven’t.  They are too busy eating other people.

In a consumer culture, other people can easily be reduced to something we can to use–in essence, something to consume–it makes us zombies.  Some people treat their employees this way.  Some men treat women this way, and women men.  Some kings, their subjects and some mothers, their children.

The good news is that there is a cure for zombies.

Here’s more analysis of the meaning of zombies.

We Just 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?

Click To Tweet

“I don’t believe in just one more”

This argument needs to be unpacked a little.

Gervais is suggesting 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 step, the one that Gervaise takes, 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 have come 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.

The Atheists leap of faith

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

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.

The question is–Who takes the greater leap?  The person who says that everything that we see in the cosmos and through our experiences in life is 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?Click To Tweet

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:

[tweetshare tweet=”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:” username=”Dryb0nz”]

  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.

Perhaps the Overwhelming Majority Is Right

In his article called “Only A Minority Is Right,” J. H. McKenna Ph.D. argues against religious truth.

His argument is based on the diversity of religious belief.  First there was polytheism, then their was monotheism along with “several sects and denominations of monotheism,” then there came “other new religions” and “several thousand denominations and new religions.”  This story tells, according to McKenna, that “there is no uniformity in religion and no majority religious opinion” (italics mine).   His point is that, “In religion, your view is inevitably a minority view.”

McKenna concludes: everybody, or almost everybody, is wrong. You can’t, therefore, look to religion for truth.

But what if there were uniformity in religion? Would that be a source of truth?  What if there is a majority religious opinion?

There is.

Billions and billions of people for millennia, regardless of other more particular religious claims, have held to a single belief.

That belief: There is something and/or someone beyond the physical world, something bigger than we are–the transcendent.

Until recently, all religions have held that, out there somewhere, there are gods or a spiritual force or God.

Now, in Western societies, we have floated the idea that we–that is, human beings–are god or that nothing is.

It is only recently that this alternative has been proposed, and it’s been catching on because the conditions are currently just right for us to believe such a thing.  Growth in the belief of human autonomy may or may not continue.  Right now, the number of atheists and agnostics numbers in the low, very low, hundreds of millions.  This up against the billions and billions of human beings in a wide variety of circumstances and conditions that have all  believed in a transcendent reality.

Perhaps this much agreement across so may centuries and cultures might be, at least considered, a source of truth.  I thought I picked up in the article, that McKenna suggests that this sort of unity in religious belief might carry some weight.

McKenna has missed this unity in human thought, present since humans started thinking, but he’s not wrong in his call for dialogue and respect between the more particular beliefs about the transcendent reality.  Not because most of us are wrong, but because we all look at reality through very particular cultural lenses.  It’s always a good thing to try to reduce the tint a little.  We have much to gain from meaningful dialogue with other places and with other times.

Is Atheism a Religion?

Free-Photos / Pixabay

I recently read an article in which the author insisted that public funds not go to support religious schools. The rhetoric in this article was very much in the “us” versus “them” vein. In essence, “their” views, those of the religious, are tainted with the irrational and divisive forces of faith or belief common to all religions, unlike “our” rational and unifying position which is free from dangerous subjectivity.

In the comment section someone agreed saying:

Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

No child is raised without “religious” indoctrination

What this commenter does not understand is that there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination.

Modern rationalism or postmodern relativism, which dominate much of western education are inherently “religious.” So to is atheism.  Consequently, public schools are, in essence, are engaged in religious education–religious indoctrination, if you will.

I said as much in my response to above comment. To which another commenter objected saying:

Atheism is not a religion for the same reason that bald is not a hair colour.

He is right, baldness is not a hair color, but it is a hair style.

Two Meanings of “Religious”

There are two ways in which one might use the term “religious.” In one sense, atheism is not a religion.  When we define religious in terms of rituals and believing in spiritual beings, then atheism is not a religion for the same reason baldness is not a hair colour.

But in another very important sense, atheism is religious. The term can also refer to the guiding principles that one accepts by faith, that shape ones reality, and around which one organizes ones life.

These guiding principles are revealed in how one might answer fundamental questions about reality. Not everyone is aware of their own answers to these questions, but their lives testify to having answered them one way or another.

  • Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?
  • Does human life have value? If so, why?
  • Do we have a purpose? If so why?
  • Does the universe have a purpose?
  • Is the universe friendly, hostile or indifferent?
  • What’s wrong with the world?
  • What is the solution to what is wrong with the world?
  • Is there a God or gods?

Every human being lives out their answer to these questions. Interestingly, many people proclaim an answer to a question, but live out another answer. The answers, stated or lived, are religious. They are religious in that they cannot be proven; they are accepted by faith.

The Faith of Atheist

The atheist believes that there is no God on the same grounds that a theists believes that there is.  Both do so by faith; neither can know it to be so.

One may chose not to use the term religious to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it.

Baldness is not a hair colour, but it is a hair style. Atheism does not engage in religious activities that arise out of a belief in a God, but they do make unverifiable claims about reality based on faith.

There is no way we can have an a-religious education, so the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which religions will they fund.

Moral Lessons from Traffic Lights

We had some pretty big winds in my corner of Canada this past weekend. It really messed up the traffic lights.

My daughter suggested that the various scenarios we experienced as we navigated the streets sans traffic signals were instructive.

Various Scenarios

I went through intersections where all the lights were black. People dealt with the absence of direction in two ways. The more thoughtful treated it as a 4-way stop, as they are supposed to do, but others blasted right through.  They were either oblivious to the situation, recklessly celebrating this unusual freedom, or laughing at all the fools who where stupid enough to take turns.  Whatever the reason, these people were a hazard.

In some places they had another problem: I heard that when power was restored to some intersections, all the lights showed green.  Apparently, with all sorts of assumption and no use of peripheral vision, there were numerous fender benders.

I went through an intersection where the lights in all directions were red, except a green left turn arrow. The 4-way stop procedure worked well until a guy in a Dodge pick-up drove down the left turn lane went with the arrow. This confused the working order of the whole intersection.

Everything seems to run a lot smoother when we all acknowledge and obey an external authority.  Be that a functioning traffic light or a 4-Way Stop procedure.

“If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Someone commented on a blog post, “If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

To this another commenter replied,

That only applies if you don’t go to stamp collecting sites and explain why stamp collecting is stupid, produce podcasts about why stamp collecting is stupid, write books on why stamp collecting is stupid, sue because someone want to promote stamp collecting, or hold rallies to celebrate non-stamp collecting.

Is atheism a religion?

Not in the sense that it is a belief in a god or Gods.   In this sense, Penn’s quip is absolutely true.

But’s this is not all that is contained in the term religion.

We might also say that a religious claim is one which rests upon unprovable truth claims.

Religion generally arise out of the search for meaning and truth.  An agnostic avoids making a religious claim when she says that she doesn’t know if there is or is not a god.

The atheist, on the other hand, makes a fundamental and unprovable truth claim that there is no God. This, in the sense that it is a belief about truth and meaning around which one orients one’s life, is a religious claim.

So you can see, the original commenter is insisting on a narrow definition of the term “religion” so as to avoid the fact that his belief is not ultimately based on reason.

Atheism is a religion like not believing in stamps is a hobby.

A God Shaped Hole?

TeroVesalainen / Pixabay

Everybody asks big questions at some time or another.

Questions like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why is there suffering and death?” “Why bother?”

Human beings ask a lot of questions and we are strongly compelled to answer them.   We cannot live without seeking answers. Seeking answers to questions asked of the material world is at the core of our sciences.   But we also ask questions beyond the material using human reason. Asking questions and compulsion to seek answers and meaning is foundational to being human.

Luigi Giussani says that if we have a hundred questions and answer ninety-nine of them, the one we can’t answer drives us crazy.  And the thing about the so-called “big questions,” they are not answerable.  Hamlet quite correctly says,

“There are more things, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies.”

As we seek answers to our questions, we come to the conclusion that we can’t answer all of our questions. This is a tough situation for us. On the one hand, we have an insatiable desire to understand and on the other hand, we are limited to what we can know. The tension created by the disparity between our ideals and our actualities suggests the existence of a source of ultimate fulfillment.

C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

This from Blaise Pascal in Pensées VII

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

According to Lewis and Pascal, the big questions, which seem to be foundational to human consciousness, affirm the existence of an Ultimate.  We cannot answer the big questions, yet we crave and even expect an answer. This expectation suggests that there must be an Other from which we crave the affirmation of our existence that an answer would give.

Giussani says that our inability to answer these questions leaves us sad, but to deny the possibility of an answer is to disconnect man from himself because the desire for answers is structural–foundational to being human. To deny the possibility of an answer is to declare everything meaningless–this leads to the opposite of sadness–despair. As Macbeth says, it would be as if life is

“a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

There must be an answer, and a human being cannot live without seeking that answer. Giussani says that a human being can’t live five minutes without affirming “the existence of a ‘something’ which deep down makes living those five minutes worthwhile” (57).

The disparity between our questions and our inability to answer them leaves us sad. Denying the possibility of an answer leads us to despair.

 

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