Wednesday, December 7, 2011

God Week: Did you "get" the Tommy story?

There is a saying used in reference to the belief in God that goes "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't believe, no explanation is possible." I bring up that quote, because that's what came into my mind when I first read the story about Tommy that appeared in my previous blog post. 

For those of you who believe in God, then you were likely moved, maybe even to tears.  With the belief in God, then death makes sense - that it's not the end, but just the beginning of a different phase of life.  Although life after death is usually called "the afterlife" (because it's after the death of the physical body), it's more accurately described as "eternal life".  That is to say, our bodies are mortal, but our souls are immortal.

For those of you who don't believe in God, you probably shook your head in disbelief.  You might have even said that Tommy's response was actually a natural human response in a time of great emotional stress - to reach out to someone "on the other side" so that death does not look so frightening.  For this crowd, death is the end, and that's it.  There is no otherworldly paradise, and there is no magic genie in the sky who grants all our wishes.  There is no heaven and no hell, and at our death, we simply cease to exist.

The idea, the concept, the belief in God and his existence shapes our lives and our thinking, and that applies even if you don't believe in God.  For my part, I do believe in God.  Being raised Marxist, it wasn't always that way, of course.  So what got me started on the path of belief in God?  A couple of things.  For one, it was just plain ol' teenage rebellion to tick off my atheist parents.  But another was because I was such a student of history.  This allegedly non-existent entity has managed to shape our world in ways that no human person has managed to do. 

A study of the belief in gods seems to suggest that it is part of our human makeup to seek something beyond us; something beyond the day-to-day humdrum patterns of our everyday lives.  After all, back then, in the days before much of our knowledge of medicine and biology came about, death came early and often.  Death was so early and frequent that families had to have a lot of children in the hope that some of them would survive infancy - infant mortality rates being so high back in those days.

Think about that for a minute, to a time that a woman could have like 8 babies and 6 of them die before they turn a year old.  And perhaps one of the remaining two – or even both - is sickly for the rest of his or her life.  Also, think about what they didn’t know about basic personal hygiene like brushing your teeth, or cleaning and bandaging their wounds before they become infected.  And also think about how human wastes were dealt with before the days of indoor plumbing.  Given all this, it’s no wonder life spans were so short!

With such rampant disease and death, how to you make sense of it all?  What's the point if death was going to come quickly, either by war (another constant in ancient times) or disease?  It's very easy to fall into that trap of "the futility of our existences" mindset.

From the atheist standpoint, there is no sense to it all.  Our lives are what they are, and nothing else.  And if history shows anything, it’s that we can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it – no need to pray to a “supreme being” to make it happen.  The atheist side would also say that the lot of humanity improved because of men with drive and vision, who were able to see beyond the here and now and had the courage to think on how things might be different. 

And yet, these men weren’t driven to improve the lot of humankind in the name of atheism.  If anything, atheism doesn’t encourage helping your fellow man, but instead only looking out for yourself.  Ayn Rand is a classic example of this type of thinking.  If an atheist helps anyone besides themselves, it’s to eventually benefit themselves later on.  If this life is all we have, then what benefit is there to such ideas and charity and philanthropy?

Before I get comments from atheists about this, this is not to say that there aren’t atheists who give to charity and philanthropy; just that such selfless ideals aren’t generally part and parcel of their usual type of thinking.  In fact, some atheists embrace atheism precisely to get away from that societal expectation (usually based on some religious belief) of “helping your fellow man”.  If there’s no God, then there’s no sin, and if there’s no sin, then there is no need to worry about eternal punishment in some fiery pit called hell.

So in light of that, looking out for yourself not only makes sense, it makes the only sense if this one life is all you got.  And from a human standpoint, looking out for yourself is completely natural, because in a sense, we all do that.  It really takes a special insight to be able to see beyond yourself.  In light of that, being a believer in God and embracing the idea of selfless acts of charity and philanthropy are actually counter to our human nature.  So in a very real sense, believers in God rebelling against their own human nature!

For next time, I'll explain what I mean when I say that believers in God are rebelling against their own human nature - at least I'll try to explain it from a Christian perspective, since I am not as familiar with the Jewish, Muslim, or the other faiths of those who believe in God.

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