I had a classmate in school. She was part European and part Arab, and spent time growing up in both parts of the world.
She was an atheist, and explained that the sectarian violence she saw while living in Lebanon had convinced her that there was nothing good whatsoever about religion.
During one section of our studies taught by a futurist–one of the most fascinating people I had ever met, actually–we were tying to gameplan how things may look 500, 100, and even 50 years from now.
I was in a group with this particular classmate, who predicted that in 50 years, religion wouldn’t matter, and would indeed vanish entirely from the face of the Earth.
“Fifty years?” I said, and I’m paraphrasing here so bear with me. “There are a few billion people who might disagree with that!”
In fact, I further propounded that, no matter how “modern” we get, religion probably won’t ever entirely go away.
Anyway, we had an interesting, very civil group discussion. But one thing this classmate said to me those years ago still resonates.
“You’re Orthodox, aren’t you? I’ve been to a few churches. That’s really…heavy.” She said the word “heavy” as if she felt the weight just speaking it.
I had no good answer then, and indeed didn’t know if I had to answer, since she didn’t seem to be saying it as an insult. Now, though, I realize what my answer to such a charge is:
Of course it’s “heavy.” Why wouldn’t it be?
How couldn’t matters of the soul, of eternity, of the literal meaning of life, not be heavy, regardless of what faith you belong?
This, perhaps, is what most non-Christians don’t get about us. Maybe we’re just wired a different way, but if you want to understand why we’re preoccupied with these sort of things, it’s because eternity is a very, very long time.
We also aren’t satisfied with the explanation that everything just happened and continues to happen for no reason whatsoever, nor with the certianty that humanity will ever know, and indeed might know now, everything about everything, ever. This seems…arrogant to us.
So to help with this and a few other things, I’m back with another edition of Ask a Christian to maybe explain some of this heavy stuff we’re so preoccupied with, as well as a few other common misconceptions.
“Where’s the evidence of God?”
Well, define “evidence.”
By chance, I’m reading Moses Maimonides‘ Guide for the Perplexed. Maimonides was a Jewish scholar who lived in Muslim-controlled Andalusia some 900 years ago. The Guide sets out to, among other things, answer scriptural conundrums about prophecy, the universe, and the nature of God, as well as some linguistic issues in the Bible. And as Jews and Christians share much Scripture and belief about the Almighty, it’s been an illuminating, though difficult, read.
The point is that God is incorporeal, a point Maimonides goes to great lengths to prove. It doesn’t make Him any less real to Jews, who also believe in angels and so on.
Christians likewise believe in all things visible and invisible; it’s a part of our Creed, after all.
All religions, not just Christianity, deal with the metaphysical, the incorporeal, and the supernatural. Note that this is all different from “magic,” since most religions hold there are rules to all of this. Miracles, another topic Maimonides touches upon in the Guide, are things that go against the rules of the universe, and are rare things indeed.
Anyway, if God is incorporeal, and by nature different than what we sense before us as matter–indeed, if God is of a different essence–it stands to reason there’s no physical evidence of His presence (beyond, you know, Creation).
Even the ancient Greeks were interested in his stuff. “Metaphysics,” they called it. The Latin term is “supernatural.” Aristotle himself considered metaphysics the first science, with physics following thereafter.
But I digress.
The common “Where’s the evidence?” harangue will never end as long as this is not understood (making sure you know what it is you’re arguing about when arguing is important!). You’re never going to find a strand of God’s hair or the stub of His old cigar. There’s no God fossil. And no one serious is arguing that there is.
Christians also point to Jesus Christ as evidence of God–indeed, as the physical manifestation of God’s Word on Earth.
Maybe you don’t believe this. But that doesn’t mean that there’s “no evidence”; it’s just that you don’t believe it. The same way I don’t believe the evidence proffered by flat-earthers.
Which is fine. To each his own. I myself don’t buy the idea that everything just happened randomly with no cause for no reason whatsoever, and that we’re all just slaves to the whims of biochemistry. But your mileage may vary.
This even tripped up the Athenians, who were with St. Paul until he got to the resurrection of the dead. And even the Sadducees denied the resurrection.
But this is a central tenet of Christianity, and one that is taken literally. The belief that death is a temporary repose in paradise in the bosom of the Lord until the Resurrection is the focal point of the faith.
And the belief is that this resurrection will be bodily, in an incorruptible form. At least, this is he belief in my tradition, and in the Catholic tradition as well. I’m not familiar with what Protestant denominations believe.
So maybe this sounds hokey to you. And that’s fine. But the misconception I’m trying to clear up is that Christians don’t believe in a Heaven full of earthly pleasures like sex and food and so on.
This is a powerful one, and I see where many non-Christians are coming from. An all-loving God allows evil? Ridiculous, right?
But it’s more complicated than that. At least in my denomination–Eastern Orthodox–we believe that evil is caused by man’s free will. And given our fallen nature, it’s easy to see that some will be prone to evil.
That doesn’t explain disease and natural disasters and things like that. But stay with me here: What if after the fall of man–which in my tradition, as discussed here, we take the Adam and Eve story symbolically–nature too became fallen? Or maybe our bodies are fallen because of it and susceptible to the whims of nature? We die, don’t we?
Just thinking out loud here. But the idea that God created evil is anathema to most of us Christians. Just ask us sometime; you might be surprised.
Our friend Maimonides postulated that God created good. Therefore evil, in his estimation, is the absence of good, not something also created by God. I find this an intriguing proposition.
My point is that this has been mulled over for millennia and religion of many kinds is still here. If these points alone was sufficient to erase all faith on earth, we wouldn’t still be arguing about it.
Again, this is what most Christians actually believe, not the mustache-twirling cartoon villain depiction you probably see in the popular culture. You might not believe any of this yourself. That’s fine. I’m not out to convert anybody. I’m just trying to explain things.
I’d hope you found his helpful and interesting, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. But do please try to keep it civil. I know that this is a touchy subject for some.
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