Wednesday, May 16, 2007
There has been a lot of talk recently of Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's religion. Everyone from Slate to Time Magazine to the NYTimes have commented on how his chances of winning the Republican nomination are low, given that many Evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult.
I was watching Bill Maher's "Real Time" the other day and Maher asserted that unlike Christianity, which took place thousands of years ago, the origin of the Mormon church took place only a few centuries ago and that there were historical "facts" about the history of the Mormon church that could easily be disproved.
I was curious about this, so I took a look around and found this article which asked five questions about the Book of Mormon, that apparently no one has been able to answer satisfyingly. They are as follows:
1. Linguistics. Why, if the American Indians were descended from Lehi, was there such diversity in their languages, and why were there no vestiges of Hebrew in any of them?
2. Why does the Book of Mormon say that Lehi found horses when he arrived in America? The horse did not exist in the Americas until the Spaniards brought them over in the sixteenth century.
3. Why was Nephi stated to have a bow of steel? Jews did not have steel at that time, and no iron was smelted in the Americas until the Spanish colonization.
4. Why does the Book of Mormon mention "swords and cimeters" when scimitars (the current spelling) did not come about until the rise of Islam after 500 A.D.?
5. Why does the Book of Mormon mention silk, when silk did not exist in the Americas at that time?
The matter-of-factness of these questions is almost humorous at times (e.g. the question about silk). I don't know how revealing or relevant these questions actually are so if anyone knows, please do comment/e-mail me.
However, what I do know is that these questions got me to thinking about what questions about my own faith in Christianity, and unanswered questions I have about God. In recent days, I've been reading a lot about atheism. Christopher Hitchens new anti-religion book was recently released and the reviews are mostly good. Richard Dawkins, of course, remains a force to be reckoned with on the lecture circuit. This piece that was posted on Dailykos was an incredibly well-written perspective (and defense) of atheism. And now there's stories in the news about the Blasphemy Challenge:
Atheism is on the rise in pop culture but there are many other, better articles that document this more thoroughly than this blog.
But what I give you is one Christian's perspective. That article above prompted me to ask four questions that I personally haven't been able to answer about Christianity, and four questions I haven't been able to answer about atheism as well. These should NOT be compared to the five questions about the book of Mormon above (although it did make me think about the subject), as I don't think these are unanswerable, nor do I claim to be a scholar. Furthermore, I don't think that any lack of answers indicates a death blow to that respective system of belief. Right now, I'm just confused and looking for the truth. And right now, for me, neither Atheism nor Christianity provides all the answers.
As with all things on this blog, the purpose is not necessarily to convince, but rather, to start a dialogue. Here are the questions, in no particular order:
Four Questions For Christians:
1) The Environment - I read this horrifying article yesterday (on Reddit) and I remain convinced more than ever that humans from the 20th and 21st century are well on our way to destroying planet Earth (or at least, our ability to live on it). If Christianity is true, God gave humans care of planet earth, yet he also gave us the ingenuity to destroy it. Why didn't God command people, more forcefully, to take care of His creation? Nor warn us of the ways in which we could destroy it? The human population is growing at an unprecedented rate and we are quickly overusing the limited resources we have. What would God have to say about this?
2) Religious Violence - As atheists are quick to point out, many people that believe in God spend a lot of time killing each other these days. They kill each other because of different beliefs about God or different beliefs about how to worship God. So why does God allow this to happen? There are clearly billions of people that want to worship Him. Why doesn't He come down with a loud voice and just clear things up for us by telling us which one of us is right? Does He really prefer to see us destroy each other in His name? Related to that note, more generally...
3) Using The Lord's Name In Vain - Why does God continue to allow bad things to happen in His name? For example, take one of the most famous Christians in the world today:
This man won the presidency in no small part because of his professed Christian faith. Yet he has been responsible for tremendous loss of human life and of civil liberties. This man has signed off on the practice of extraordinary rendition, on secret prisons, on secret government wiretapping.
Why does God continue to allow people like George Bush to profess Christianity and yet perpetuate some of the worst acts this country has ever seen? Why doesn't He step in and at least say "Hey, just so you all know, this guy doesn't represent what I stand for"?
4) Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? - I'm not talking about brutish dictators or serial killers inflicting their misdeeds on innocents. I'm not even talking about genocide, like that in Darfur. I'm talking about things outside of the realm of human control, like the tsunami in Thailand, like flooding in Indonesia, like hurricanes in the United States. These latter things are all presumably things God is in control of, yet he allows thousands to perish at the hands of his creation.
The closest that God comes to addressing this is in the Bible, in the Book of Luke. In the 13th chapter, Jesus refers to how The Tower of Siloam fell and killed 18 people in an apparently freak-of-nature disaster. Jesus' response? "Unless you repent, you too will perish." Direct and forceful, yet not very comforting or illuminating. So what are we to make of this?
(This point is best put by Sam Harris at this link.)
Four Questions For Atheists:
1) Human Emotions - I don't think that the world was created 10,000 years ago. I believe in evolution, and in species change over time. I believe in natural selection. But I don't believe that these things can account for the full panopoly of human emotions and of human experience. What scientific process explains why humans experience guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, sorrow, shame, joy, love? I know that science points to altruism as being evolutionarily beneficial, and although I can certainly buy that, I can't buy that that accounts for the human emotions we see and experience every day. Relatedly...
2) Majesty - I don't quote much scripture on this blog, but there's one verse in the Bible that strikes me as particularly relevant to the topic at hand: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1-3). I've stood at the tops of mountains, I've stared at the vast firmament of the sky from the middle of the ocean, and I've seen lots of things in between. There's a sense of awe, a sense of wonder at the majesty of (what I believe to be) creation. I know I'm not the only one that feels it. So how did we evolve that awe, that appreciation? And more importantly, is all of the beauty we see in this world merely a result of some haphazard seeding of proteins and amino acids, with no rhyme or reason? To answer "yes" seems wrong on a visceral level, though of course, I acknowledge there's no way for an atheist to really rebut this point....
3) The Human Void - The great Christian and author C.S. Lewis wrote often (and often brilliantly) about Christianity. Lewis once opined that "creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists." This led him to draw the following conclusion: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
The vast majority of religious people turn to it because they feel some deep, profound need for fulfillment, something that only belief in God or some other supernatural being can provide. You can debate whether or not God actually exists but even most atheists will acknowledge that people are driven to seek meaning in their lives through the act of faith and/or belief?
So why does the preponderance of humanity have this deep, abiding need inside us to believe in a God? I've read evolutionary explanations [Times Select only] and come away unsatisfied.
4) Jesus - Despite claims to the contrary, Jesus bones haven't been found yet. So if Jesus wasn't God (and most Christians believe that He was), wouldn't archealogical digs have unearthed his remains by now? I understand that it's not incumbent upon atheists to defend why Jesus remains haven't been found, but I find it curious the fate of such a major historical figure, so major that our calendar is divided into before-he-was-born, and after-he-was-born, still remains shrouded (no pun intended) in mystery.
[Update 1: The comments have been phenomenal; thanks to everyone for making them. One of the biggest complaints about this post is about the #4 question for atheism. On reflection, yes it is a lame question; billions of people have died in the history of the world, and so there's no reason why we should have been able to find ONE person's remains.
I guess the impetus behind me putting that forth as a question is simply because I've been told since a very young age that if they were to find one bone of Jesus' body, it would disprove Christianity once and for all. Perhaps what I really crave is not knowledge that Christianity is true, but knowledge that there is some obtainable truth, whether it proves Christianity true or not. I don't need incontrovertible evidence; I just feel like I need a more solid, factual, and rational grounding for my faith. This post was a way for me to come to terms with that.
Ultimately, there are probably "better" questions that could be asked; my brother brought up a few good issues to me, like "Why does the Bible leave room for a young earth theory," which is an issue that's still tearing up our public school policy. So just so I'm clear, these 8 questions aren't the only questions there are, but they are ineffably my questions]