IF RELIGION IS ALWAYS DYING WHY ISN'T IT DEAD?


The decline of religion in the past Century has been a phenomenon well documented by modern thinkers heralding the arrival of a ‘post-religious’ world. Many writers point to the rise in self-identified atheists and the accompanying drop in religious adherents to imagine a future in which secularism will be the only real force in the world. Of course, such thinking relies heavily on the atheist proposition that all religion is false or on the supposed indifference of people to religious truth.

In this article, we will explore three separate arguments for religious faith that just won’t go away.

The Insufficiency of the Atheist Proposition

Sometimes atheists make a lot of sense and some of their criticisms of religion are worth thinking about. Certainly, people with strongly held religious convictions can do bad things. But, at the heart of atheism is the belief that the human mind or spirit simply evolved accidentally as a result of enough time acting on matter over billions of years. To put the argument more simply: matter plus time led to human consciousness. On any day of the week, this proposition seems a stretch too far for many people including many scientists. There is just something so profound about the human condition that it is impossible to explain solely at the level of material factors.

When we examine the role of religion in our deep past, we find that religion shaped the story of human development in fascinating ways. For instance, evolutionary biology and social brain theory together suggest that religious experiences may have helped our ancestors to live meaningfully together in large groups. If that is the case, then we can say that such fledgling responses to God shaped the future of our species. What we know for certain is that countless generations of our ancestors sought to respond to God’s call. Put simply, religion has long been a common feature of human nature across diverse societies.

Whatever we think of religion today, it is intricately and intimately linked with our natures. It is inescapable that our curious, reflective and far-seeing minds wrestle with the big questions of our existence. The answers to such questions are not simple. Indeed, the answers are more likely to be found through a magnificent narrative that we believe and try to live within, the type of larger truth that we only find in religion.

The Problem of Goodness

We’re all familiar with suffering to some extent. We may even be familiar with the existence of evil. For millennia, theologians and philosophers have wrestled with the problem of evil. In a good world created by God, why does evil exist?

This question is often posed by atheists to convince people that God doesn’t exist, but one could easily flip the question to ask why does goodness or love or beauty exist in a world that came about accidentally.

Without God, there is simply no strong reason for goodness or beauty or love. Many survival strategies that we learn about in evolutionary biology would work just as well without these values.

Yet, we know that goodness and beauty and love exist because we can directly experience them. Without God, it is very difficult to explain the existence of goodness or beauty. Without God, it is impossible to explain the existence of love, specifically the unselfish love at the centre of religious identity.

Puddleglum’s Pragmatism

The third argument is inspired by the character Puddleglum from the Chronicles of Narnia books written by C.S. Lewis. Puddleglum’s name aptly describes his character and he is a pessimist always thinking that the worst will happen. Puddleglum helps lead a group of children in search of a lost Prince. Their journey takes them to a foul underground kingdom where they find the Prince under the spell of a witch. The witch tries to put them all under the same spell with a magic fire and soothing words that their dreams of their true king Aslan and the world of light above are just silly dreams.

The witch is persuasive, and her account begins to seem perfectly reasonable. Then Puddleglum, an unlikely hero, breaks free from the spell, stamps out the deceptive fire and makes a very poignant speech to the witch:

‘One word, Ma’am, he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.’

People of faith must always come to terms with the existence of doubt within the world around them and within their own hearts. Puddleglum’s brave speech in the face of growing despair provides a straightforward and uncomplicated starting point. We don’t have to engage in rigorous debate with the atheist viewpoint. Because, even when we’re told persuasively that our religion isn’t true, we can still see the goodness of our beliefs, at the very least. This shouldn’t surprise us for God is Goodness itself.

A Comprehensive, Consistent and Coherent Conclusion

When we are surrounded by darkness, we can each spend time hoping for the light. Being made in the image of God gives us the capacity to profoundly experience love and community with each other. It also gives us the capacity to have a deep relationship with God.

God calls to us in the depth of our being and it is our ability for self-transcendence (i.e. seeing beyond ourselves) that allows us to hear God’s eternal voice. Knowing God opens us up to an ever-present rediscovery of the light of God’s grace. Within this light is beauty, goodness and truth. Once we truly experience this light, we feel a powerful sense of wholeness. There is no finer journey than our journey with God.

Religious practice helps us on our journey to wholeness by giving us a sense of wonder, respect and gratitude for the unmerited and miraculous blessing of being here. We best express the dignity of personhood when we gladly bow our heads to God. In this way, we become more fully human and more fully alive.

Our Christian faith gives us a comprehensive, consistent and coherent approach to understanding the universe, the world we live in and our own lives. Through religious practice, we come to appreciate the rich intellectual, spiritual and social heritage of our faith in a way that engages our heads, hearts and hands. This level of comprehension, consistency and coherence is unmatched within secularism and so religion will never die. Nothing else can compare with the grace and grandeur of God.

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