The editors at Patheos picked up a post by Bad Catholic and placed it on the main page under the title, “Answer This, Atheists!” I think they’ve misunderstood something, because BC’s post isn’t a question or a challenge. It’s an attempt to explain the Christian answer to human suffering – which I guess you could call the core OS of the religion – in a way that’s approachable by non-theists. That makes it a version of C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity.”
BC’s own title is An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out, which is a bit condescending but probably honest. But like most other attempt to create a “mere Christianity,” it’s hard to know how to respond beyond saying, “Yes, that’s nice, thank you for explaining your theology to me.”
For example, his big opening is the line, “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”
One of the annoying things about being a materialist is that I’m never sure how to react when someone throws this kind of thing out. It’s obvious that they feel that it’s a very powerful statement, but my initial reaction is, “Yes … And?” I’ll leave the philosophy to others more qualified, but the lack of purpose is something that I’ve just always believed.
BC would likely respond by saying that a purpose for our suffering is something that all humans crave when suffering. I can only answer by saying, first, that craving does not establish the existence of a purpose, and second, not all humans. I have family members who have suffered greatly in war and in health and yet are the family atheists.
It should also be noted that there are many streams within other religions, notably within Buddhism, that are less concerned with the purpose of suffering and more concerned with the causes of and solution to suffering. Sometimes these great edifices of theology seem to be beside the point.
But maybe the greatest problem, for both BC and CS Lewis, is that there is no one “mere Christianity.” We atheists, who more often than not are ex-Christians, are well aware of the fact that Christianity has multiple explanations for suffering. There’s the Deuteronomic explanation, (“You suffer because you’ve angered God.”), the enrichment explanation (“Suffering is necessary for human development.”) and the warfare explanation (“Suffering exists because we’re caught in a middle of a war between God and Satan.”), just to name a few.
Despite his claim to “explain Christianity,” the most that BC can give us is his own view of the purpose behind suffering. And while he’s willing to explain that view to us, he doesn’t provide any reason to prefer this explanation over other Christian explanations. Or, to go beyond the scope of his post, any other religion’s explanation. Or no explanation at all.
So, yes, that’s nice, thank you for that report. Now please sit down so the next person can have a turn.