Contemplation, Atheism, and Amputees

Contemplation, Atheism, and Amputees February 5, 2019

Monk reading the Bible, by Gerard Dou (1613-1675)

N.B. I wrote the first draft of this post about a year ago, at a time when several militant atheist commentators were active on my blog’s comment section. Eventually I banned the ones who were trollish, some of them moved on, and many of those original comments got deleted. I never published this post and put it out of my mind, until recently I found it while going through some other unpublished drafts. I figured it was worth sharing with readers… so here it is.

About this time last year, atheists were commenting on this blog. Who would have guessed?

I think it was because I put the word “Experiment” in the title of a post. For some reason, my post from a year ago today, Will You Join Me for A Prayerful “Experiment” this Lent? attracted several commenters who clearly were not showing up just to discuss the merits of a meaningful spiritual practice.

But rather, by asking questions like “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” and dismissing my writing as “horribly inaccurate and inept,” commenters who identify themselves with monikers like “Doubting Thomas” and “Satanic Panic” were inviting me (and, by extension, anyone who reads my comment section) into a debate over the existence of God, or the efficacy of prayer, or the integrity of Biblical teaching.

This is not an apologetics site, and I am not an apologist. I have neither the background nor the personality for apologetics (you need to be part engineer and part lawyer to be any good at it). In the words of Winnie the Pooh, I am a “bear of little brain.” I’ll leave the philosophical wrangling and apologeticizing (and arguing and counter-arguing) to those who enjoy such things, and are better at it than I am.

There are entire websites and blogs devoted to answering atheists’ objections to Christianity (and, for that matter, Christians’ objections to atheism). But even if I thought I had something to contribute to such debates, I think I would rather simply remain silent. Frankly, I find debate boring — and, ultimately, a huge waste of time. From where I stand, it seems like these kinds of logic-based arguments are simply treadmills — no one ever “wins” or conclusively proves (or disproves) God’s existence (or non-existence), etc.

Contemplation ≠ Apologetics

In contrast to debate and arguing about the faith, contemplative Christianity is not particularly worried about “proving” that God exists or that God answers prayer, or that religious claims are scientifically verifiable. Indeed, most contemplative Christians — at least in my experience — are more interested in applying the ethical and spiritual principles of Christianity to our lives, rather than getting lost in the weeds of propositional claims and counterclaims about theology, scripture, and science.

If you don’t believe in God, I really am not interested in arguing with you. If you really want to have a conversation with me, then let’s make it about building a relationship, not having a debate. For starters, I’d like to know more about the “God” you don’t believe in — chances are, I don’t believe in that “God” either.

I don’t believe in a magic sky daddy, or a flying spaghetti monster, or a cosmic santa claus. I especially don’t believe in a send-em-all-to-hell monster god. But I do believe in a God who teaches me to love.

Are there logical fallacies in the Bible? Sure, why not? I think it’s a mistake to read the Bible as if it were a scientific monograph — or, for that matter, a legal document. Read it as a love poem, a passionate letter, as myth, as metaphor. Read it for the love story — and then, I dare you, become part of the story. Bring that love into the world today.

Like all love stories, it has its share of conflict, misunderstandings, mistakes, false starts, blind alleyways and dead ends. But also like all really good love stories, the lovers always manage to find a way to overcome the problems that hold them back from their ultimate goal of falling ever-more deeply in love.

Borg and Crossan have got it right

As Marcus Borg suggests in his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, contemplative Christians take the Bible too seriously to take it literally. If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, then perhaps you need some basic instruction in good, solid Christian Bible scholarship. And I’m not talking about fundamentalism here, but rather historical/critical scholarship.

Another quote from John Dominic Crossan, author of Who is Jesus? sums up how informed Christians see the Bible and its authors:

My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally. They knew what they were doing; we don’t.

Incidentally, rejecting Christianity because some Christians are fundamentalists is itself a logical fallacy; that’s like saying the piano is a terrible musical instrument because some pianists aren’t very good.

Fundamentalism, believe it or not, appeared relatively late in Christian history. Go back to the great Christian thinkers of the past: folks like Origen, or Augustine, or Aquinas, or Bernard of Clairvaux — and you’ll see the foundation of a deeply contemplative, richly imaginative and mythical/metaphorical way of reading scripture that opens up the mind and the heart to a love that cannot be measured or scientifically quantified.

If my atheist friends don’t want to believe in God — this “Love with a Capital L” — then I simply wish you well. But coming here to argue about it is basically a waste of everyone’s time. The comment section here is intended for constructive conversation that is directly relevant to contemplative spirituality (which is the topic of this blog). Apologetics has its place: but it’s not here.

Plus, if you are abusive or trollish, I’ll ban you from my comment section. No hard feelings, but it’s my blog and I have a responsibility to all my readers to set the rules of the game. If you don’t like it, well, I encourage you to go start your own blog.

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