Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why I Am a Christian

This past week the leader of our church small-group gave us a homework assignment:  Imagine that noted scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins has requested that Christians write to him explaining why they believe what they believe.  Write a letter in response.  

The following is my homework.  I share it here for the sake of anyone who may be curious as to why, in this age of scientific discovery, I continue to adhere to the Christian faith.

Dear Mr. Dawkins,

In this letter, I am pretending that you have asked me to explain why I am a Christian. As you are a noted atheist, I will begin more simply with why I believe in God. For the first 40 years of my life I lived as a nominal Christian (which most Americans were in those days before it became so fashionable to disassociate with religion). I experienced occasional bouts of evangelical fervor interspersed with long stretches of practical atheism - times when I lived as though there is no God and yet without openly denouncing my religion.

I've lived the last eight-plus years, beginning at the age of 40, as a committed Christian. Since then, Christ has been my hope and the Scriptures (the Christian bible) my guide. They have been the source of all hope, joy, and meaning in my life. They have instructed my thoughts and attitudes. My faith has dramatically reshaped me into the person I am today.

I always prided myself on being a person devoted to truth, though, in truth, I was mostly a person devoted to my own self-preservation and personal happiness. I liked whatever truths were convenient to my goals and disregarded all the rest so much as my conscience and societal pressures permitted. For me, God was many things. On the one hand, He was someone I could to go to for help or defense, assuming I believed my life and cause was worthy enough to assure He would be on my side. On the other hand, He was someone whose judgment I feared, thus my years of avoidance. I was never particularly interested in knowing God for His own sake, or in knowing what He really intended in creating this world, or me. I also never seriously considered any atheistic arguments, having believed in God my whole life. One great truth I have learned is that there is a vast difference between believing in God, even the Christians' God, and being a Christian.

Since my conversion, I can say that I truly am a person devoted to truth. I can think of no fate worse than to learn I've based my entire life on a lie. In these last eight years I have listened to argument after argument against faith in God. I do not listen to news sources that favor my religion. I very rarely read Christian “scientific” literature. I learn science from scientists, most of whom are atheists or agnostics, via mainly secular sources. In fact, I listen to atheists, almost daily, and you are among those voices I hear. You, and many others, insist that science invalidates my beliefs, that it disproves God.

I believe both science and scripture have truths to teach us, and I learn from both. I weigh what each has to say. In the past eight years I have yet to hear anything from science which challenges the truths I have learned in Scripture. Yet, I have very often heard science used and interpreted in such a way as to attempt to disprove God.

Is this what science is for?

I always understood the question of science to be “How?” not “Why?”

You are a scientist, and so it makes sense that “How?” would be the foremost question on your mind. Yet just because “How?” is the only question science is equipped to answer, does not that mean it is the only one worth asking. Just because science can't answer the “Why?” does not make it an invalid question. Is it appropriate for science to rule out intentionality in the universe simply because it can't study for it? If that is the case, then I wonder, what place does the question “Why?” have anywhere in our world, and why on earth do we humans persist in asking it? Have you ever honestly considered that there may be some questions which science can never answer, because they are not matters of science at all? How do you account for art, for literature, for philosophy, for all the humanities? Can science explain all these and the deepest and highest aspirations of the human soul? Can science explain why life fights to be lived and to perpetuate itself? Can it explain why there are laws in the universe without which science, along with all the things it studies could never exist?

Certainly you know that there are questions that science is not equipped to answer.

One of the arguments I have heard you make against religions (though Christianity seems to be your pet peeve) is that it is responsible for the greatest atrocities committed by mankind. I have heard you attempt to disassociate atheism from the atrocities which have been committed under its banner by claiming there is no direct line between the ideology of atheism and the violence done in atheistic regimes, and that there is a direct connection between religion and violence. (You tend to treat all religions as equal. They are not.) I think I recall that part of your reasoning here is that atheism has no dogma, no holy book. Atheism doesn't have a bible. That much is true. And yet I assert that there is an even straighter line between atheism and violence than between religion and violence. That line runs straight through human hearts, unfiltered by any religious code. The human heart is capable of dreadful violence. Most religions go to great pains to try to regulate this. Still the violence finds a way to express itself. And, yes, it often uses its own religion as an excuse. The atheist heart needs no excuses. But this is not to say that atheism necessitates violence any more than to say all religion does.

You are a brilliant man. I believe you know full well that the violence done in the name of Christianity over the centuries is not truly in keeping with the teachings of Christianity. So I will move on.

You are a man of science. But you do not seem content to hold science up for what it is and let it speak for itself. You go about not so much as a man with something to prove as a man with something to disprove. There is little need any more to prove the value of science. Most of western society agrees with its value and benefits from it daily. I do understand that there is an element of Christianity which majors in “junk” science. The reason it is junk is that it twists and interprets the data to fit preconceived ideas, rather than letting the data tell its own story. And while I would never presume to call the science you engage in “junk”, I would venture to say that from your mouth science often seems less like a goal in itself than a means to an end - a tool to disprove the thing you have presumed not to exist: God.

And so you approach science with the vengeance of a man seeking to destroy a thing he hates rather than a man seeking truth.

You've devoted your life to undermining belief in God - to dismantling, if possible, any faith that has been placed in Him. I know you believe you're doing a good thing. You are setting people free from slavery to superstition. You have your own gospel – the good news of freedom from the knowledge of God. Yours is a world where each life's meaning is a blank slate waiting to be defined by whoever is living it. After this life there's nothing - nothing to account for, no one to answer to, nothing to fear, nothing to anticipate. The freedom your belief system offers comes from knowing that. It is the freedom to live each moment to the fullest and according to your own terms.

I have allowed my imagination to run wild with the freedom you describe. I've thought long and hard, wondering what would be the way to live if this is all there is, if there is no God, no judge of the universe, no standards, no accountability, no ultimate right or wrong, no punishments, no rewards. There would be no sin, that is true. There would be no guilt, also true. There would be no fear of future judgment. There would also be no reason to respect human life or laws, other than to suit whatever instinctual emotional tendencies I may have, or to avoid society's established penalties (the value of which is hard to establish if there is no purpose in the universe). If men are not created in the image of God, then there's no reason for me not to detest any person of a color not my own, or of lower intelligence, or one who is uglier, or crueler, or kinder, or more beautiful, or richer, or weaker, or older, or sicker.

In fact, we might as well give up talking about human dignity, of the higher good, and the perpetuation of the species. What on earth difference does any of that make? If it's all just random, what difference does any of it really make? I am of no more value than an amoeba, a speck of dust, or a puff of smoke. There is no benefit, or lack thereof in the continuation of any species, or of this world as we know it. There is no reason for me to watch my language, to be kind and gentle, or to seek not to offend. As for those who suffer around me - there is no reason to feel anything but glad that it is them and not me who is suffering - unless of course I could think of something tangible to be gained in assisting them. There is no reason for me to love anyone except to the extent that they please me, and only for as long. There is no reason for me to love my children or care for them, except that pesky maternal instinct which inexplicably and without purpose insists on perpetuating the species. There is no reason not to abuse them or even kill them if I want to. There is no reason for me not to seek revenge if I feel "wronged" - though how I could be wronged, when there's no such thing as right - well.... (If I don't make it "right", who will?) In a godless world all there is for me, a being formed by random happenings, is to follow my moment by moment sense of pleasure and pain (though why I would interpret one as "good" and the other as "bad" would also be a mystery) - or, as the Scripture so nicely says: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

I could go on like that, but I hope I've made my point. Your godless gospel, if wholeheartedly embraced and consistently applied, leads to destruction and death. But then, if your view is true, I suppose it doesn't really matter after all. And then again, if it is true, it shouldn't matter so much to you what I or anyone else believes either.

Now, I have probably said enough, but if you have read this far I might as well add a few words explaining why I am convinced that the God of the Bible is the one true God, and why I am a Christian. In short, Christianity is the faith that most accurately represents the world, humanity in particular, as it really is – wonderfully made, so rich with potential, and yet inescapably corrupt. It is the only religion whose God is as vast and powerful as the universe He created, yet so attentive to even the smallest of creatures. This God loves the world He so carefully created and the beings He formed to reflect His own image. This is the only God whose concern for His creatures was so great that He became flesh and sacrificed for their sins. Going further, Christianity is a historical faith based upon a historical figure who entered into a long established religious system (Judaism) fulfilling countless of its prophecies. The life and death of Christ are well documented and are not seriously brought into question, even by secular historians. His mission and even His resurrection are validated by many witnesses – witnesses willing to die rather than deny what they saw. These people gained nothing, no power, no wealth, no prestige in doing so. They did it because they believed. Their testimony is recorded in many voices in Scripture. I trust this testimony and stand near the end of a long line of people who have found the Scriptures to be a living document with power to open eyes to the light of God.

Sincerely,
Laurie M.

No comments: