These are my thoughts, replies, and reflections on what I took as the main thread/theme of Week 2 for AFL. They build off of last week’s deconstruction of a standardised, Western view of who or what God is, because the tendency is to put God in a box and make God out to be what we want God to be so it’s beneficial to, or makes better sense to us as human beings. There are three parts that I engaged with the most to garner this thread.
PART 1: Jean Meslier
A French Catholic priest in the late 17th and early 18th century, named Jean Meslier would later would write a “sermon” in which he admits that he is not a believer and apologises for taking advantage of the minds of the people in his parish.
From what I gathered, he initially decided to become a priest because it was a job for the elite people of society. It was a fraternity of security; a position of power and strength that few could reach. It meant power and wealth and he was attracted to those things.
He confesses that the “fat payments of the ministry never brought me to love the duty of a profession so full of errors and impostures.” What are these errors, and who are these impostures?
He talks about how he hated the attitudes of the clergy who, with their large incomes and fancy things, would, “cheerfully mock the mysteries, maxims, and ceremonies (which Meslier would classify as vain and deceitful) of their religion, and even mock the simplicity of those who believe.” He’d even call out three popes in particular (Julius III, Leo X, and Boniface VIII) whom he knew to joke with their friends, paraphrasing their sentiments saying, “Ah! How rich we are from this fable of Christ!”
Well, Mr. Meslier (and contemporaries who notice such detestable hypocrisy in the church today), I would say to you that I would detest such attitudes as well. And I would say that’s not what the Christian faith is about. Those dealings were some of the very same that sparked the Protestant Reformation in the first place. Following Christ isn’t, nor should it ever be, about money and power. It’s not even about security! “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” – Matt 8:20 And take the parable of the Samaritan for example (Luke 10:25-37). The underlying tension found in the context of this passage is that the road to Jericho was one of, if not the most, dangerous roads in the land. Robbers would lay traps and hide along every turn and twist, waiting to jump passersby and beat them and steal from them. In fact, that’s exactly what would have happened to the man beaten on the side of the road. What’s extremely unsafe and insecure is the act of going to the man, exposing yourself to be completely vulnerable if it was a ploy, or even if others were around waiting nab whoever might stop to help this man. Anyway, my point is the idea that Christian life is meant to signify safety, security, wealth and power is a lie; a lie born in the belly of the beast that was the converted (but not wholly renewed) “Holy” Roman Empire.
To be honest, I found in the readings this some decent arguments against God, but really where they all break down is in a misunderstanding of who God is. Who and what these proponents are describing are not the God I know and love and worship either. The religious life that Meslier was protesting is the same I think anyone reading this would protest too! That’s not Jesus’ way.
However, hypocrisy like this is a HUGE factor in modern atheism as well.
These things can leave a heavy stain on our faith as a whole. For non-believers, and even believers, who see these things in their own settings this hypocrisy becomes a strong, and fair, argument against us. We have to remember, too, that these are the same things that Jesus himself pointed out to the religious elite of his day! And we must stand against and separate ourselves from such stains, pointing to a heavenly power, and eternal power, and not an earthly power.
PART 2: Charles Darwin
Other arguments from the articles and audio bites from this week were different but also more of the same. They all stem from this sort of standard idea of God that has been impressed on us more so through the influence of the Roman Empire under Christian rule (Christendom) than through the Bible itself. And from that there’s the tendency to trivialise God by putting her (yeah I said it) in a box. Charles Darwin (whose autobiography was part of this week’s content) explained how over time, through his work and scientific findings his faith diminished, and eventually disappeared all together. However, from how I see it, his faith was influenced by set of standards, and when he found something that that didn’t sit well with what he had been taught about God it shattered what he believed.
However, in the end he admits that there is a mystery to life and a design that seems impossible for the human mind to fathom or for science to fully explain, and he asserts that he cannot be a Christian, but rather an agnostic. And his argument, to me, is flawed because of the “God in a box” problem, and in truth, I think it actually stands as an argument for faith in God.
He questions that the human mind (which he fully believes evolved from the lowest form of species to what it is now), as advanced as it is, is even capable of truly conceiving “the immense and wonderful universe.” He says he doubts that the mind can be trusted to draw such a grand conclusion that there is no God. And he also concedes that, “the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us.”
See, to me that’s just obvious. It appears to me that in the day of Darwin, faith came down to putting God in a box. The Enlightenment was upon us and everything was to be explained. Even God. But we aren’t so naive or arrogant to admit that we can’t possibly actually understand the universe. Are we?
The third main point I got out of last week’s content comes from a notable philosopher whose main field of work was philosophy of religion; Anthony Flew. Although the son of a Methodist minister, he grew to become one of the strongest advocates for atheism in the 20th century. He wrote a modern parable called The Invisible Gardener, which equates God to this invisible, intangible, eternally elusive being who comes secretly to care for a garden that he loves. The sceptic asks how this invisible gardener is any different to an imaginary gardener, or even no gardener at all?
The difference, as I hope you can see, is that the descriptive words are contrary to the God we know. God may be invisible, but I see him. I see him in creation. I see him in the hearts of others. I see him in Scripture. God can be described as intangible, but I feel him. I feel him comfort me, encourage me, enlighten me. I can touch him when I touch the hurting and the broken. And finally, I don’t see God as eternally elusive. He came to us in Jesus Christ! God. Came. To. Us. How is that elusive? God answers prayers and God intervenes with miracles. Yes, it is true that when and where and how and who all come into play. Sometimes prayers, and especially miracles seem to lack consistency, but who are we to know the purposes of God? It doesn’t prove that God is elusive, only complex.
Anyway, Flew continues the parable and argument against the existence of God, leaning on these points, but also drawing on the apparent inaction of God in times of human suffering, and he ends the parable ends with a prompting; a question that I think is good for you to kick around as well…
“What would have to occur, or to have occurred, to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of God?”