Monday, 7 November 2011

The China Teapot, the Dragon in the garage, The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Invisible Pink Unicorn

The stories in the heading are all attempts by atheists to illustrate to theists how ridiculous their beliefs are.  If you're unfamiliar with them, there are links to videos about them below.  They all make basically the same case - believing in the existence of god is just as ridiculous and just as impossible to prove or disprove as a teapot flying in space, an invisible dragon in my garage, a unicorn that is simultaneously invisible and pink, or that a flying spaghetti monster created us and the world and touches us with his noodly appendage.  While all quite brilliant analogies, they usually fail to even dent the faith of true believers.  Why?  Precisely because they are ridiculous.  The believer simply has a disconnect, a blind spot.  Their own belief does not seem ridiculous at all, it makes sense to them, it is supported by millennia of history, tradition, and - perhaps most importantly - communal belief.  They may be able to see a superficial resemblance between these examples and their own faith, but most will just smile in that smug way that says cute, nice try.  I know, I have been one of those faithful that smiled like that.

There is a real blind spot that the faithful have that simply does not allow them to view their own beliefs through the same lens as  they view the beliefs of others.  I remember studying the mythologies of the Greeks, Romans, Norse, etc. and thinking how could anyone have ever believed these obviously made up stories?  I know he was speaking of sin, but Jesus' advice here is just brilliant:  Matthew 7:3-5  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (NIV)  Believers place their faith in a protective bubble, isolated from criticism.

But what if I were to say that there was a modern day prophet who received the word of god and he built upon the foundations of Christianity and other world religions, synthesizing them with the best ideas that rang true to the sensibilities of believers, but not outright rejecting the prior faiths?  What if he - or she -  preached things like the importance of individual lives, that all races are equal, that the sexes are equal, that no one may be made a slave, that war must be avoided, and other ideals that we hold dear in our modern society?  What if his visions resembled those of the old testament prophets, his language beautiful and poetic?  What if miracles were performed that defied easy explanation, and had eyewitnesses?  What if his followers were rational people, upstanding members of society, professionals, people we admire and respect?  What if this new religion was persecuted and had martyrs willing to die for their faith, not in some obviously cultish way like mass suicide, but murdered by intolerant people who saw the ideas as dangerous?  This new religion would seem real, on par with others, and over time as it gained adherents and mainstream credibility it would join the ranks of other respected world religions.  I could do it.  Anyone with sufficient charisma and a dedicated core of followers could create such a religion.  But would it mean that it was true?  That it was real?  What if, at some appointed time in the future decades from it's founding, the followers opened a time capsule set up by the now deceased founder, and in it was a video of the founder clearly admitting the whole thing was made up, and showed how the miracles were illusions, mere magic tricks?    Now that, a real life example of an admittedly invented religion, would shake the faith of many.  It may even shake the faith of those who believed in older religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  They might think if this seemingly legitimate religion with miracles that were even more well documented than those of my own religion is a complete sham, how can I know that my own religion isn't also a sham perpetrated by well meaning people who really truly believed it?  

You know what?  Even then, many, and possibly most, of this phony religions' adherents would say that the founder actually was guided by god unknowingly, even if they didn't believe it themselves.  It would be held up as an example of how god can work wonders in the heart of an unbeliever.  It would be proclaimed as a miracle that god used an unbeliever to reveal his true religion.  This fact that disproved the religion would be held up instead as proof of its veracity.  And people would believe it.  By the millions.   
People want to believe more than they want real truth.  They want hope.  They want to know that there is a higher purpose, that there is an eternal truth, that it all means something.  I think perhaps they fear the empty and depressing anomie of nihilism they imagine would be a natural consequence of not believing   I have heard this question again and again - if there is no god, then what's the point?  What's the point of living?  what's the point of having morals?  What is the point of anything without god?  My answer is that the point of life is what we make of it.  It's freeing to know that I was not born with a particular destiny not of my own choosing, but that I can choose to live the life I want.  My life has meaning and worth because I have made it that way.  I want to live because, quite simply, I enjoy living.  My family, my relationships, my community ties, my accomplishments, hopes and dreams are no less worthwhile for the lack of god.  As many Christians feel that the best way to evangelize is to live a life of love and charity and be "christ-like", so too must we atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and those with a naturalist worldview show others through how we live that we are moral, we are loving, we are charitable, ad we live lives worth living.  A believer will be more willing to consider unbelief if they can see that on the other side of that fence is not a desolate wasteland, but a world just as - if not more - green and vibrant as their faith world.     





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