Saturday, 29 September 2012

Atheist's faithless faith

One professor Mawson recently requested that  atheists pray to God in order to experience for themselves the presence or reality of God. He actually wrote an article persuading atheists to pray. Honestly, I do not see a point in this Atheist Prayer Experiment. Do you?

If you read the professorial article, you will find it fiercely utopian and rationally idealistic. I note his recurring theme on the plausibility of an atheist praying to God as one likened to this analogy, "It is surely no more unreasonable than the act of a man adrift in the ocean, trapped in a cave, or stranded on a mountainside, who cries for help though he may never be heard or fires a signal which may never be seen."

He also uses the illustration of a man lost in a dark room calling out, "Is anyone out there?" He said it is only logical for a man in the dark room to holler out. So, isn't it equally logical to expect an atheist to pray to God? Is it?

Imagine the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Dennett availing themselves to such a prayer experiment. What is one to expect from it? Wouldn't the enduring silence be interpreted as a false positive (or true negative) and an embarrassing confirmation that God is a figment of the theist's vivid and sometimes desperate imagination? As one comedian remarked, "Religion is basically guilt, with different holidays."

I can also imagine that many doubting Thomases had on numerous occasions closeted themselves in the privacy of their cellars, basements and rooms to call out to that Man-in-the-Sky for help in their neediest hour and yet heard nothing but "pin-drop" silence or mocking echoes. This has to be a very safe bet to make, or else there won't be enough churches on Sundays to take in the floodgates of converts

Bertrand Russell once remarked that believing in God is as absurd as believing that a teapot revolved around the sun. Why stop at a teapot? Why don't throw in an elephant, a trapeze act or the whole darn circus, all orbiting around some beyond-our-telescope planet, singing to the choruses of Eurythmics' "sweet dreams are made of this"?

The point is that Christianity falls short on direct physical evidence and that's an undeniable fact (at times, it can be quite a frustratingly lamentable one). If it was otherwise, there would be no need for any form of evangelism since miracles, that is, physical-law-defying occurrences, would be happening everywhere at anytime for everybody to marvel at; like raindrop, snowflake and lolly pop.

Is God playing hide and seek with the atheists? God says that "you will find me if you seek me with all your heart." Didn't many atheists and agnostics, who were in the throes of their trials and tribulations, once seek Him with all their heart, mind and even streaming tears and found nothing but a silent wall with no one on the other side?

Why didn't God show Himself to them? Are we to infer His irrefutable existence from the silence and His divine hiddenness? Should the atheist utter these words of an orphan: "I know I have a father but I can't see or hear him because he is never around"?

Going back full circle, I guess the prayer experiment is an exercise in futility. If an atheist wants to believe in God, he has to accept Him by faith and faith is antithetical to empirical proof. Faith is believing even before believing could be wholly proven. Faith is "reason gone courageous".

In the conclusion of the article, he wrote, "And whilst it was an atheist, Bertrand Russell, who said that were he to meet God in the afterlife, he would chide Him for not having provided enough ante-mortem evidence of His existence, we do not know if Russell anticipated what he would then say were God to reply to him, ‘Well, you didn’t ask me for any, did you?"

I think a better reply would be, "my son, the evidence is everywhere. You just refused to see it."

In a debate with scientist Francis Collins, Richard Dawkins once exclaimed, "There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding." Collins interjected, "That's God!" I think that is the position I take.

Einstein once said, "I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being towards God."

Are the Dawkins and Hitchens of this world less than the intelligent beings we would normally expect in the view of the Einsteinses of this world?

Predating Einstein, Charles Darwin once wrote, "When thus reflecting, I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; I deserve to be called a Theist." (Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882, Nora Barlow).

CS Lewis added that he believes in God "as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

How about these theistic insinuations from physicist Freeman Dyson, "The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense knew we were coming."

Finally, how many popular atheists of today are prepared to echo these words by the atheist-turn-deist Professor Antony Flew, "I am open to omnipotence...I am entirely open to learning more about the divine Reality."

So I say foolhardily that we believe that there may be a teapot orbiting around the sun. Or a circus playing in some far-flung planet beyond our scope, chanting "Sweet Dreams".

Because to the secular world, there's nothing crazier than a Christian subscribing to a belief that an all-powerful God, who created the vastness of the universe, even bothered to make His way down to a speck of dust called earth and offer Himself to die at their hands so that He may raise again to reconcile all of humanity to Himself.

Now tell me, compare to the orbiting teapot and revolving circus, which tale is even more exceptional? I guess such exceptionality only points to either of two things: I as a Christian have gone exceptionally mental, or I have a God who happens to love me exceptionally. Cheers out!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Conscious Hypocrite

Well, it used to be that there is no such thing as a conscious hypocrite. For a hypocrite to remain optimally functional, he must not know that he is one to start with. A hypocrite would strangely rebel against any such suggestion because he  associates that description as a derogatory label, which is universally scorned. What's more, a double-minded hypocrite is an ineffectual one

But now, it seems that one can be a conscious hypocrite and still be standing proud of it. And this hypocrisy is conveniently represented in the dichotomy of two lives as a Christian. The first is a public life where faith is openly suppressed and the second is a private life where faith is freely expressed. The two domains (work/home) never spill over and the boundaries are distinctly drawn. Never the twain shall meet and this is the evolving sleight of hand of the mind.

Faith in the public square is fast becoming a thing of the past. In fact, it may just jeopardize your career trajectory if you stand firm on your religious belief when confronted by the horn dilemma of moral decision. You may be seen as a relic of the past. Or worse, a stumbling block for those who are perfectly fine with little white lies here and there.

Maybe it is at times easier to maneuver in the shadows or cracks between right and wrong than to resolutely choose one side. Postmodernism will tell you that the rightness of an action depends on how you feel about it. When it feels right, then the action is instinctively self-endorsed. And now it is more relevant to ask this: "there's about 50 shades of gray to a "moral" decision, which shade of hue tickles your fancy?"

A recent article drew my interest here. It recounted an event where the archbishop (Vincent Nichols) was invited to chair a gathering of more than 100 financiers and business chiefs. His talk centered on this: "Too many people in big business are living a divided life, ignoring the moral values that they uphold when with their families."

The archbishop then added: "When businesses see themselves as set apart in some ways, free to create their own value system divided from the rest of life, then they are liable to do most harm." He said that "working in business is a noble calling which has had a profound effect on the development of human civilization." I sincerely applaud the humble cleric's noble effort and his rousing speech. 

But the question is, "Does it really matter?" Or, "Can the words of the Bishop cause a radical change in attitude?" Unfortunately, I highly doubt it. Although he was invited by the business honchos, I'm afraid it's more of a PR move to placate the disaffected public than a call for genuine change in the business community. 

Sure there are genuine corporate chiefs who lament the current business climate of greed and profit. But even they themselves would be hard pressed to admit that the business world of cut-throat competition can be wholly transformed by a public act of clerical admonishment. No doubt it will wake some up but those awaken will have to fight against the system to even hope to create a dent in it. 

Herein lies my main qualm. Recall the phrase, "Too Big To Fail?" Well, that's about sums up the market-driven economy where the pursuit of money is the new pursuit of happy-ness. This is the self-perpetuating behemoth that those with a conscience will have to wrestle with. Are we up to the challenge? Are we ready to do major overhaul?

I think we are operating in a culturally self-enriching system and the quandary of morality is more a systemic problem as a whole than a self-autonomous one. No corporate bigwig can turn the tidal wave of thinking around when the bottom line is still the ubiquitous profit margin. I believe the corporate culture is hardwired to make money either by hook, by crook or by snook.

Like a chameleon, we helplessly takes after the color of our environment;  least we look morally out of place. Most of us are blenders (wall paper) rather than outliers (wall bleacher).

I believe that capitalism is the best of the worst systems of economic management. It's the pick of the litter and so far nothing can rival it. It is a utopia of many empty promises. And what keeps capitalism alive, and even thriving, is definitely not that it is working well. It is because the top 1% have benefited insanely riding on it. And they have thus become so entrenched in the system that it is inconceivable for them to ever join the other 99% to undermine it. To do so is to flatline their bottom line. 

I remember one business professor once advised that regime collapses because the uber rich are too flagrant in flouting their personal wealth. Their self indulging ostentation stokes the ire of the masses and causes a public dissent threatening enough to topple the sycophantic government.

So, the lesson for the rich here is to pay homage to virtues by doing good for the sake of self-preservation. In fact, this change (or hypocrisy) is deftly subtle. Dictators are beginning to burnish their public records. They are doing more good works and scrupulously winning the trust of the people by deception of course. Corrupt business leaders are no exception. They are hiring spin doctors to white-wash their entombed image and pursuing philanthropy with hidden agenda.

Parting shot:  Doesn't this all just deepen the wedge of hypocrisy?Let me borrow Descartes's cogito ergo sum,  "I think, therefore I am," and add a modern twist to it with reference to hypocrisy:-

"I am not, therefore I am". 

Alas, as A W Tozer once said, "The world is waiting to hear an authentic voice, a voice from God - not an echo of what others are doing and saying, but an authentic voice." Cheers out. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Happiness as happiness does

Recently I read an article about the perils of happiness. In a nutshell, the author wrote that, in that self-serving name of happiness, many marriages were broken. And this breakdown starts with this trite self-justifying statement that when one is no longer "happy" with the marital union, one can rightfully leave it, period.

This accounts for why the author wrote that happiness in this modern age is a dangerous thing. He further wrote this: "Happiness is not something to pursue. Holiness is something to pursue."

We live in the Age of Therapy. The pursuit of well-being replaces the pursuit of either salvation or holiness. "The religious man was born to be saved, but the psychological man is born to be pleased." (so says a psychologist and philosopher).

I always wonder whether the pursuit of happiness makes any sense? If happiness is to be "pursued", then when will it be finally caught? Will it ever be caught? And what's next after we catch it? Is that the end of the pursuit and it is then autonomously self-sustaining? Will somebody throw me a happy bone here?

Many years ago, I have two clients who came to my office at two different occasions, not so far apart in time. Both want a divorce; but for different reasons.

The first case is a young lady, newly wed. She wanted a divorce because her husband told her that she's a burden to his personal freedom. You see, Josh, she, at her late twenties, needed a liver transplant to save her life. She needed money and had to go to china for the transplant. She wanted a divorce because her husband wanted it badly.

The second case is another couple, older, longer marital union. Now, it's the husband who wanted a divorce. He came into my office with his wife, both eyes were red, swollen. The husband desperately wanted a divorce to the strong protest of his wife.

You see, he had a life-threatening tumor and he didn't want his wife to suffer with him for the rest of his life. The husband wanted to release his beloved wife from the marital vows because he loved her too much. And ironically, but beautifully, the wife didn't want to let go because she loved him too much.

Here we have two cases, one same desire, but two different motivations. One cannot imagine being burdened as it would destroy his happiness. The other cannot imagine being apart as it would destroy their happiness.

What is happiness then? In the age of therapy, happiness is self-defining. In the spirit of the gospel, happiness is others-defining.

This is the truth as I see it: I love my wife and I cannot see a future without her - even if it is a future of uncertainty and illness. In jest, I always tell her, "my happiness is your happiness; your happiness depends on my happiness." In reality, it is actually this: Her happiness is my happiness and my happiness depends on hers. Subtle changes in the order make all the difference. Cheers out.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Why bother with the Science/Religion debate?

Recently I watched a video of a debate between the atheist evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins and the defender of the faith John Lennox, a scientist and mathematician in his own right. It is entitled “Has Science Buried God?”

I have read both authors' books on religion/science and I am equally impressed with their works, not to mention their prodigious wit and mental acuity. Personally, apologetics never fails to rile me up like an energizer bunny and that video did just that for me.

It's really great to see the titans of science roughing it out so cordially, with one denying God's existence completely and the other rooting for Him unwaveringly.

The debate has all the familiar issues expected of a debate of this sort. The existence of God is always the central issue. And the end of the debate is always predictable with neither side giving in to the other. In fact, it is so polemical that the gap between them often widens more than it narrows after the last word is spoken.

Nevertheless here are the three takeaways from the debate as I see it.

My first point can be gleaned from the title itself: Has Science buried God? It is however not the other way round, that is, Has God buried Science? This is indicative of who's the real antagonist here or who has a bigger bone to pick. (Now you know who holds the big shovel).

Alas, it used to be that science worked hand in glove with theology - much like a marriage of mutual respect and devotion. But, after the enlightenment, the scapegoated Darwin (who admitted that he was an agnostic), and the discovery of DNA, science somehow grew up, demanded its freedom and walked out of the door. The marriage had sadly suffered a very ugly divorce.

My qualm is this: Shouldn't both be working together to bury ignorance?

My second point is about giant turtles. If I recall the story right, I think a teacher once questioned a class about the origin of life and life on earth. It led him to ask this, "Who holds the earth up?" A student jumped from his seat and confidently replied, "Oh that's easy...a giant turtle."

Then the teacher smiled and probed further, "Ok, who holds up the giant turtle then?" The student smirked and replied, this time more self-assured than before, "Oh, another giant turtle of course!"

This is basically the epistemological dilemma on both sides.

Professors Dawkins and Lennox are equally stumped when it comes to the issue of the "giant turtles". Nevertheless, each offers their trademark answers. The Johns of this world will say that asking who created God is as redundant a question as asking, "How long is the string?" Errmmm...What string? Where is the string? What is he talking about?

The point is that you cannot measure something that defies measurement. It's the same with God. Being the uncaused cause, it is futile to even ask that question since the beholder of that answer would at least imply that he or she stands in equal stead with God. This is as illogical as expecting a book to claim authorship from its author - an imperfect analogy, I know. But you get the drift?

Atheists will of course revile at this answer as they see it as a complete cop-out since it explains nothing at all. On the contrary, it will make the whole quagmire of origin even more complicated as the postulation of the existence of a god would be like transforming the argument from one mortal giant turtle holding up the earth to another with divine powers holding up all the other mortal turtles! Simply more headaches.

But does the atheist have anything to offer here? Well, the Dawkins of this world will reply that science has yet to, but soon will, have a naturalistic and reducible answer to that question of origin. As of today, many theories are already sprouting out to fill in the gap with the multiverse theories leading the pack.

In the end, we move from a supernatural creator to a supernatural theory; both are equally unbelievable if you ask me.

Lastly, my third point is this: the debate is too complex to ever see the light of day and neither side is going to back off and give the other any leeway. Unless God personally materializes before a tongue-tied Richard and a prostrate John, it is safe to say that the debate is and will be absolutely indissoluble.

The truth is that this debate has gone on for centuries and it will go on for centuries to come. So, it is tempting to ask: Why bother?

Well, if I have to pick one reason, it would be plainly scripture-based: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15).

So bother we must but it is not with an argumentative spirit that we present our defence. It is with meekness and fear. It is with humility and a spirit of reverence. Because words alone will not convict hearts. The best advocacy, I guess, is a life well lived. Cheers.