I want to base my life on what I believe is the truth. If I really believed that it’s more likely than not that there’s no God, I too would be an agnostic. In a heartbeat. Even as a Christian, I’ve spent years trying to sort out that question. I finally realized that I cannot accept (neither intellectually, intuitively, or emotionally) that there is no purpose and intention behind life. To me, that story doesn’t account for human beings in the fullness of their experience, or even come close. Since science in all its power can never answer questions of meaning, the story science tells is – though really important – ultimately insufficient. And that is all it can ever be. All science can ever do is provide us with the “hows” behind the same questions to which religion gives the “whys.” That’s a hugely important role and I would never want anything to diminish that role (which of course religion has done for a great part of its history). I just hate seeing science set itself up as the giver of the answers that really matter. It’s not. And it can’t be.
Only religion answers the questions people actually deal with day to day – what is the good life and can I have it? If so, how? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? What do I tell my children about why THEY are here? What will become of me when I die? How do I best live my life right now? When someone hits me, what should I do? There’s this person I find attractive and really want to have sex with her – should I? What do I do with my emptiness and discouragement? How do I deal with my anxiety? What is the best use of my money, given the fact that I am going to die? How do I handle my regrets? I have done a lot of bad things – what am I going to do with all this guilt? The world is going crazy – how can I find peace? Why should I try to “be good,” and what does that look like? Why should I avoid being bad? How do I make some kind of sense of immense tragedy and suffering? Why should I not just live to satisfy all my desires every minute of the day? I could go on for hours. I’m not exaggerating – I could literally go on for hours listing the real questions people struggle with day in and day out, and pointing out how science is either totally insufficient or woefully inadequate to provide meaningful answers to them.
As a pastor and counselor, I work with real people everyday (“real people” meaning normal people who don’t spend their lives dealing with science and intellectual fare) and that’s the stuff they want to know about life. Even those who say they don’t believe in God, like you [name omitted], are hungry for answers to those questions that have some chance of ringing true. The answers provided by science never will. Not because there’s anything wrong with science but because science cannot deal with those issues. It’s not meant to.
Satisfying answers to these questions can only be found if mankind has a spirit and a soul, and if there is someone behind our lives who “intended” them or “meant” them for something. Why? Because they are by definition “spiritual” questions. I realize this is a very, very long way from the Christian god, but to me the conversation begins here. Inquiry then proceeds along the lines of “Which god, if any, has seriously attempted to answer these questions? Which religion, if any, provides answers that can help knit life into an intelligible framework?”
This is why I get extremely irritated over the casual way that religion is often dismissed by secular people. It’s one thing to really think hard on it and come to the conclusion that one simply cannot accept the idea of a god. It’s quite another to dismiss it out of hand and ridicule it, as if science has already provided answers to all the questions that matter and anyone who would even consider religion must be a dolt, or a raving lunatic. Regardless of what conclusions people come up with, religion must be taken with deadly seriousness. Yes, it has been horrendously destructive at times throughout history, which is only evidence of its immense power. But consider that at this very moment scientists are playing with materials that have the power to destroy mankind. They proceed in the name of the “good” that can be done with those materials.
Some of those same scientists (and the people who read their books) would turn around and advocate for the expiration of all religion on the planet because of the damage religion has done. It’s hypocritical. Anyone who thinks for five seconds and isn’t so biased as to be completely incapable of being rational will realize that oftentimes the power of something to destroy is simply the flip side of its power to bring life, which religion has done for billions of people over tens of thousands of years. People who didn’t own slaves, or participate in the Inquisition, or support Hitler, or whatever cultural grievance we may wish to bring, but simply lived quiet lives, informed and grounded by ancient wisdom that has stood the test of time. And then died with a smile on their faces, certain (or at least hopeful) that their life had meant something, had mattered, and would continue. And that therefore their death meant something too. It’s impossible to overestimate how much good religion has done and how it has been found to answer the deepest and most important questions of life over and over again, in every age, across every people group, and against every ruler that has undertaken to stamp it out. Religion remains for one reason and one reason only (hear this now, free marketeers) – it matters, and serves the interests of people. Some are interested in manipulating it and do so – but that is because they are manipulators and would manipulate whatever is available. Many more build lives of peace and kindness and goodness upon it that leave huge legacies for generations to come.
That’s what I appreciate about you, [name omitted]. I have heard and understand your difficulties and objections to theism, but you usually at least try to take religion seriously. That shows that your intelligence goes beyond the surface.