Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Faith of Richard Dawkins and The Doubts of Mother Theresa


*Excerpted from my longer post, The Fight To Stay Light

(In response to those who point to Mother Theresa's doubt as a sign, and reason, for unbelief...)

David speaks of stumbling in the dark looking for a sliver of the light of God's face, and being concussed with a sense of God's absence (Ps 22.1-2); he laments God's seeming unwillingness even to lift a hand to help, "Why are you so far from saving me (Psalm 22.1)?" 

Sounds kinda like Theresa.

Jesus, God's very Son, once looked up to heaven and saw only a brass ceiling. In response, he lifted his voice in dismay and confusion, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Mt. 27.46)?" The words are moving; they are the bewildered scream of a lost child scratching in the dark for some slim answer, "Why?" 

Sounds kinda like Theresa.

Can you imagine what the heathen of the 21st century would do if they knew these things were in the Bible? They'd probably proclaim David and Jesus "skeptics" who sided with them against the Christian Church. Can you imagine what our despondent press corp would do if they knew such things were in the Bible; they'd run headlines proclaiming, "King David was an atheist!"

Theresa's struggle with God was sold as a sign, and even more a reason, for unbelief. When, in fact, such struggles as she had have always been the mark, and a reason for, belief.

Theresa sounds a lot like David, and the Lord Jesus. She sounds, in other words, just like the faithful have always sounded. 

I have a secret suspicion of the suspicious; I believe skeptics believe, not too little, but too much. I have been in some prestigious academic halls over the years, and I have been exposed to the great minds of the believing and unbelieving world. I was surprised to find, again and again, the Christians had questions; unbelievers, alone, seemed to have all the answers: often, these answers did not even particularly correspond to a question; as if, they could answer your question before you even asked; as if, your question was not worth asking. I once heard an unbeliever boast, "We question your answers." That was not my experience; my experience was, "We question your questions with our answers."

It was my Christian professors who encouraged me to ask questions I was afraid to ask. My atheistic professors were skeptical of Christianity, but it was my Christian professors who actually encouraged me to question Christianity in the sense of asking what it really taught, and daring to try and test its teaching for pure truth value. One of my Christian prof's once urged me, "You should do some research into Christianity. If it's not true, then look elsewhere." He trusted Christianity against all attackers; he cared more for truth than for getting me to join his 'side.' Another Professor would encourage unbelievers to read Bertrand Russell's "Why I am Not A Christian." 

I found Christians had all the questions, they were curious, and eager to learn; yet, they felt themselves ignorant; they had all the questions, and hardly any answers. Unbelievers, on the other hand, seemed to have all the answers, and hardly any questions. In short, believers were more like children in that they were curious, and always asking, "Why?" Unbelievers, on the other hand, were more like children in the sense of gullibility, and wide eyed naivete.

Take, for example, Richard Dawkins' recent book, The God Delusion. One is impressed, not by Dawkins' severe reasoning and unbelief, but rather, his naive optimism: not by his questions, but his multitude of answers; not by how little he believes, but rather, his belief in so many things, and in such a large and unquestioning way. He believes wild and wondrous things, things most humble Christians jut don't have the faith for. A few examples:

Like a boy who believes it is possible for a cow to burst the limits of gravity, and high jump the moon, he asserts:
I am thrilled to be alive at time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.
I could not spin a more optimistic and credulous perspective if I tried: "we may eventually discover there are no limits." I wish I had such faith. Then, like the mischievous boy who is convincing himself that he wasn't present when the window was broken, his twists logic in a millions directions and come up with the old excuse, "I wasn't there."
Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else could you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there.
When we were children, we believed our father could do everything: at times, that he was the only one who could do anything. If our father was a watchmaker, we dismissed the watchmaker next door. Dawkins is like the boy who believes his father is the one and only man in the town who ever did anything:
The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.
Just on the level of pure reality, this statement is absurd. I live in St. Louis, and we have a hundred watchmakers here. Like a gullible child, Dawkins makes a ridiculous and all-inclusive claim that anyone with google, and the ability to type "watchmaker," can contradict. I know Dawkins is trying for effect here; I know he would not contradict the existence of watchmakers around the world. And yet, he does contradict the existence of watchmakers around the world because he is carried along by his passionate faith and allegiance to one watchmaker. It is just the kind of statement a boasting boy would make.

Next, like a boy whose mind can only believe good is in the world, who just wants to roam and play happily, he has trouble processing what dangers really fill the world:
The mob hysteria over pedophiles has reached epidemic proportions and driven parents to panic. Today's Just Williams, today's Huck Finns, today's Swallows and Amazons are deprived of the freedom to roam that was one of the delights of childhood in earlier times (when the actual, as opposed to the perceived, risk of molestation was probably no less).
Finally, like the boy who finds comfort in being  a bully, he reduces his arguments down to the simple, and ever so easy creed, "Strong can't be wrong. Might makes right."
Does the pregnant woman, or her family, suffer if she does not have an abortion? Very possibly so; and, in any case, given that the embryo lacks a nervous system, shouldn't the mother's well-developed nervous system have the choice?
He might as well say, "Shouldn't the bigger boy have all the rights to the swing set? He has, after all, the better developed nervous system?" 

Read Dawkins carefully, and you will find the secret of the unbeliever; they believe. Read Theresa, or the Bible, carefully, and you will find the secret of the Christians; they doubt.
If I have a major problem with Dawkins, it is this: he believes too much, too easily, on scanty evidence; he is childishly gullible. His book is one of the most startling and positive statements of faith to come out in years. He asserts, with strict certainty and simple optimism, things about the universe that many of us are too skittish to believe. He confesses his faith, not so much his doubts.

Which left me wondering: why is it that the people with the fewest questions seem to be the very ones with the most answers. It would seem having more questions would be the better route to more, or at least better, answers. Then, I read Job, and I saw the man of greatest faith expressing an unbelief that made me blush; I was embarrassed by Job's unbelief until I realized: only Job could question God's goodness because he believed God was good. Had he believed otherwise, Job would be a very short book. I saw: good questions come from good answers; doubt comes from knowing.  And the sun came out.

Unbelievers wonder aloud if God exists; I wonder if unbelievers exist. Unbelievers demand proof of God; I demand proof of unbelief: I have yet to see it. "If there were no God, there would be no atheists." I believe the only man who can really doubt is the believer. I believe the believer alone knows the true pangs that the atheist pretends to know. I'm convinced the Christian is, of all men, the only one who can believe anything, and the only one who can doubt everything. The skepticism of the unbelieving world is not too severe, but too frivolous. I believe the man who believes is the only man who can lament unbelief because he is the only man who feels his unbelief. I trust the doubts of the saints. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth: and so I have learned to pray, "Help my unbelief." 

The issue I have had with unbelievers is not that they ask too many questions; they ask too few. They don't seem to have curiosity. They are content not to know, and to take it on faith that the creed they inherited from the 21st century is bankable for eternity. They believe too much; they are too gullible.

All this to say, Theresa reminds me more of Job than, say, Richard Dawkins.


And the whole argument worked out ultimately to this: that the question is whether a man can be certain of anything at all. I think he can be certain, for if (as I said to my friend, furiously brandishing an empty bottle) it is impossible intellectually to entertain certainty, what is this certainty which it is impossible to entertain? If I have never experienced such a thing as certainty I cannot even say that a thing is not certain. Similarly, if I have never experienced such a thing as green I cannot even say that my nose is not green. It may be as green as possible for all I know, if I have really no experience of greenness. So we shouted at each other and shook the room; because metaphysics is the only thoroughly emotional thing.

Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles.

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