Reason and the Reason Rally
Today being Sunday, I thought of the Reason Rally. That was the rally for atheists on the Mall yesterday that headlined scientists Dr. Richard Dawkins, comedian Eddie Izzard, and magician James Randi. That and yesterday a good friend sent me a piece that appeared in the New York Times by Gary Cutting with the provocative title, “Does It Matter Whether God Exists?”
The event and the article got me thinking about all my atheist, agnostic and theistic friends and as a Christian, the many wonderful and oftentimes impassioned conversations we’ve had about God, faith and religion. As I thought about my friends and read through Gary Cutting’s article I also thought about how many things atheists and Christians can actually agree on (that is of course, putting aside the question of whether there is or is not a God.) and how silly it was that we can’t embrace our agreements and move on to more interesting discussions and do so as Peter admonished Christians in “gentleness and respect”.
Here are at least three things on which I think many Christians and atheists can agree.
- You can be religious and spiritual without a God. This is most certainly true. There are many people who are religious and spiritual and don’t have a belief in a God. At least not the God that I know. Now I’d be quick to say that most Christians wouldn’t advise this. Jesus criticism of the Pharisees was, in part, that religiousity and spiritualism absent God quickly leads to legalism. But people can be spiritual and have a sense of ethic and moral rightness without a belief in creator God. I know because I’m friends with many!
- You can be a “good person” without believing in God. Absolutely! I know a lot of great, wonderful, decent people who are atheists. They are honorable, trustworthy, and people of integrity. Moreover, I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of people who believe in God (e.g. Christians) and who fall woefully short in this category – that is, behavior. You have to go no further than me. I’m a really good example. There are a lot of people I know who are not Christians and behave much better than me. I’ll be the first to admit that.
- “Being good” is important. Or as philosopher John Gray closes in the BBC article, “What matters is how we live.” Totally agree. (Note that Christians would challenge the prior statement – that what we believe doesn’t matter – but that’s a whole different issue.) A good part of the book of James talks about behavior. What we do. And if anyone wants to read the Gospels they can count how many times Jesus said that “if you love me you’ll do what I say”. He said that a lot. I don’t think he was kidding. And what did Jesus say? “Love your neighbor as yourself” – a pretty high standard of “being good” in anyone’s book.
So on this Christians and atheists can agree: (1) you can be religious and spiritual without a God; (2) you can be a good person without believing in God; and (3) how you behave is pretty important.
On this, we agree.
All I’d ask of friends at the “Reason Rally” to consider, is that belief in a God is a quite reasonable and logical conclusion when working through the answers to three important questions about life.
- How did life come from non-life? This is a tough one if you exclude a Creator. We can say we don’t know. But the conundrum of how animate, sentient, spiritual life came from a big blob of earth, water and air is a tough one without injecting a Creator God. String theory? Sure. But isn’t it reasonable to think belief in string theory is as much of a faith leap as believing in God?
- Are there objective, irrevocable, eternal moral truths? Is it right to tell the truth? Is is bad to murder someone? Is love the highest ethic? And are these things all true regardless of when you were born or where you lived throughout history regardless of our evolutionary state? God explains eternal truths in a very compelling way. Without God we are left to genetics, evolution, and societal norms which by their very nature have and continue to change over time. Without God eternal moral truths are hard to reason or logic.
- Is there a purpose and coherence in life? Absent a God, purpose and coherence become a struggle. That’s not just me. It is everyone from Darwin to Nietzsche to Sartre to Betrand Russell. They understood, recognized and openly spoke about it. One can conclude that purpose and coherence is self-made. But then man becomes the measure of all things and its reasonable for some to worry which “man” becomes that “measure”.
You can disagree with ALL of the above. All I’m trying to do is suggest to atheists, agnostics and those who challenge faith in God that (a) we agree on more than you might think we do; and that (b) while you may not agree or believe that a God exists, belief in God is indeed a quite reasonable thing.
And if you’re interested, read the thinking of legendary British philosopher and former icon for atheism Anthony Flew – “My Pilgramage from Atheism to Theism.” We’re not that far apart.