Friday, February 20, 2009


I do enjoy people with enough gumption to make a web site called, "God is imaginary." The proofs they offer that God does not exist are rather formidable, and I see no reason to pretend such arguments don't exist.

However, one argument against God's existence was especially curious to me. In Proof #7, "Understanding religious delusions," a comparison is made between belief in Santa Claus, belief in Mormonism, belief in Islam, and belief in Christianity.

The core arguments are substantial, namely that each belief has to an inordinate amount of rationalizing in order to recover from a lot of skeptical questions. Empirical evidence, it is claimed, will show that none of these beliefs are necessary or even helpful; in fact, quite the opposite, since to believe a fairy tale is unhealthy.

"No one (besides little kids) believes in Santa Claus. No one outside the Mormon church believes Joseph Smith's story. No one outside the Muslim faith believes the story of Mohammed and Gabriel and the winged horse. No one outside the Christian faith believes in Jesus' divinity, miracles, resurrection, etc."
The implication throughout is that each of us from our various faiths looks at the others incredulously.

"Why is it that human beings can detect fairy tales with complete certainty when those fairy tales come from other faiths, but they cannot detect the fairy tales that underpin their own faith? Why do they believe their chosen fairy tale with unrelenting passion and reject the others as nonsense?"
I guess what disturbs me about this brand of atheist thinking is that it has lost even the old liberal openness to dialogue. It assumes that Christians see nothing useful in Islam, and that Muslims see nothing useful in Christianity, etc.

But this is not the case with those who are truly committed to the deeper things of God. I will readily admit that there are good reasons to believe Islam. I can accept this without believing Islam. I simply respect the fact that many Muslims have thought about their faith, and understand how it ties together their human experience.

Moreover, Christians don't reject Islam for all the same reasons atheists do. Much of it simply has to do with theology--we don't agree on what God is like, even though we both agree God exists. I don't have to make Mohammed look like an idiot in order to make my theological points to a Muslim.

These same principles work between all religions.

Atheists, too, have good reasons for their beliefs, but what makes dialogue difficult sometimes is that atheists can be so incredulous. As a Christian with a sense of the sacred, I may not agree with Jews and Muslims, but I can comprehend their traditions as expressions of a similar sense of the sacred. The same goes for Buddhism, Hinduism, and any other religion. This creates room for dialogue.

In a certain way, there is a sense of the sacred in some secular thought (just look at Carl Sagan). But a sense of the sacred must translate, for all of us, into humility about our various traditions. Comparing any religion to belief in Santa Claus is counterproductive and, well, rude.

I firmly believe there is one true religion, but that doesn't keep me from seeing God's influence in all world religions. In fact, to think otherwise would make God look pretty small.

I respect the audacity it takes to say, "God is imaginary." But what I truly love is the audacity it takes to believe that every voice is worth taking seriously. Given the divisive rhetoric of our day, I'd say it takes some guts to stand up for openness. And I mean real openness, not the silly kind that says, "Well, we're both right!" and then gets on with life.

On the other hand, I guess I could be wrong. :)

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