Pastor's Blog

Who is a pastor to talk to when his heart is struggling with weighty questions?  When I was wrestling intellectually and emotionally through the 1990’s, I had nowhere to go.  I trusted Christians and Christianity less and less.  I began looking for answers in the writings of secularists and atheists – and they made sense to me.

I decided that maybe talking to someone completely removed from my sphere of life would help me understand things better.  Those were the early days of the internet and I began reading the critiques of creationism and defense of evolutionary theory by a college professor in the western US.  I told him the intellectual issues I was struggling with and we had a pleasant and helpful interaction.

I came across a brief essay on his website, two paragraphs long, on why you should do favors for other people who could never repay you.  The professor said you should do such favors because the laws of the universe might one day repay your kindness. 

That struck me as odd.  This man believed the universe existed by chance, that everything was matter, that there was no such thing as soul or spirit, and yet he proposed that we should do good in the hopes that some spiritual law operating within or behind the universe would somehow mystically repay us.  That concept is called karma and is a religious rather than a scientific idea.  I asked why he felt it necessary to import religious ideas into his scientific view of the world.

The professor didn’t seem to understand my question.  “Isn’t it just good to be nice to people?” he asked.  That struck me as odd, too.  Secular atheism doesn’t acknowledge an overarching universal standard of good and evil.  “Good” and “bad” are just terms each person uses to mean “good (or bad) for me.” 

What benefit is there to me in helping a stranger?  Isn’t it a waste of my time?  The stranger is not really my problem.  I was unafraid to think or say that.  It didn’t seem to me at odds with an atheistic view of the world.  So I asked the professor those questions.

“So,” the professor responded, “the only reason you do good is because your God dictates it?”

“What makes ‘good’ good?” I asked.  “If I expend effort, energy, and time and get no positive benefit or advantage from it, how is that good to me?  If I don’t think it’s good – then why would you say I’m bad for saying so?” 

The professor responded that he didn’t think he’d ever met such a selfish, dark, and evil human being! 

When I read that in his email I had to laugh.  Here was a very educated and dedicated atheist who couldn’t accept the consequences of his own worldview.  He couldn’t live by his own lights.  He had to cheat and import religious ideas into his godless world to make his view of life work.  He insisted his ideas were natural and good – but mine, which were just as natural as his -- were selfish, dark, and evil.  By what standard?  On what basis? 

I began to find that pattern of thinking repeated among the secularists that I spoke with.  They all cheated.  When it came to how they believed people should live, they all affirmed basic religious ideas.  Suddenly, I understood that Christian ideas weren’t just “imposed artificial constructs” (what secularists and atheists often called religious ideas).  Christian ideas adequately explained the fabric of reality, of humanity, of human nature.  At the foundation of thinking, Christian ideas made good sense and accurately described the way things are.

That didn’t answer all my questions or solve all my problems, but it gave me some hope that at its foundation at least, Christian ideas were rational and perhaps warranted more thought on my part. 

So I went back and began re-thinking my way through my faith – from the foundations up.

 

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