Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is God for real? The purpose of religious belief

Believers and disbelievers alike seem convinced that religious beliefs are about explanations of how things are: the age of the Earth, what happens after we die, etc. Yet this is obviously not the case. Our beliefs are there to keep some of our dearest hopes alive in the face of cruel uncertainty.
Biblical inerrancy is no longer a hermeneutical proposition; it is necessary for the dearest of dreams to be true. A child who hopes to be reunited with a long lost deceased parent. 
If unreflective atheists mistake the window dressing for the view outside, unreflective religionists get too attached to the architecture of the window.
How not to believe in God? By confusing the Mystery with our all-too-human attempts to explain it. By confusing the finger that points at the Moon with the Moon itself. And by confusing the reasons why we believe with the content of our belief systems -- by thinking that it was ever about "belief" in the first place. But Mystery certainly exists, and perhaps it is simply that.

SHOOT: God does exist. God is simply what you think he, it or everything is. That's your reality, but it's not necessarily real.
If you listened to today's crop of neo-atheists, you'd think our culture's ideas about God are remarkably adolescent: a 6000-year-old Earth? A God who punishes the wicked? This sort of thing might have been convincing long ago -- but not to anyone who uses the Internet.
Sophisticated religionists have long had more subtle conceptions of their religions, of course, without the fideistic claptrap rightly derided (but wrongly labeled "religion") by today's detractors. For example, many progressive religionists understand God not as some old man in the sky, but as a name we give the reality of all of being, a God that does not "exist" but is, indeed, Existence itself. Others understand Scripture as myth -- its literal truth is no more relevant than whether Hamlet really lived in Denmark. The point is its meaning and its purpose. And so on.
A believer doesn't become convinced of the existence of the afterlife because of philosophical argument -- she becomes convinced because of grief.
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