“We live in a society dependent on science, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science.”
Belief is a capricious thing. Exactly why people believe something is the question you are most likely to ask. In the case of religious faith, the absence of definitive proofs can sometimes can get you into arguments that are impossible to win, like Saint Thomas Aquinas’ question of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. The truth is, most people must decide whether or not to believe in the absence of any solid evidence. It’s what Kierkegaard called the leap of faith.
I once heard a discussion on talk radio about creation vs science. One man’s call-in struck me. It was the derision in his voice. He felt free to dismiss creationists with open disdain. Religious nuts, to be bundled together with the flat earth people. After all, science has explained everything. Right? No mysteries left, it would seem.
Of course, you could simply ask people where they think they came from, and you would have head scratching enough. The Bible gives us means to understand such unquantifiable truths with stories, sagas and epic poetry. It expresses the kind of mysteries we can touch, but never hold.
Unless you know something I don’t, mystery is universal to us all. Pascal described religious yearning as a God-shaped hole that resides in every human being, an empty space crying out for relationship. We touch the universals in those larger-than-life moments where we experience something particularly true, or unquestionably beautiful. Such things call out to the human heart when we cradle a baby, gaze at a sunset, or look into the stars. They draw us in a way that is beyond any creed.
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” is how David the shepherd boy, and poet king expressed it in Psalm 42. He was wise to know that such things might best be explained in art and poetry. Deep calling out to deep. Beyond pedestrian arguments and trifles.
I have always thought of faith more as a question of what you love, than a collection of facts. Religion is often defined by how we treat our fellow man. It seems that even God is on the same page. “I desire mercy not sacrifice” God advised his people through the prophet Hosea.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the incarnation of Jesus Christ shows us what God should look like. God came clothed in human flesh, beyond explanation. When Philip asked Jesus “Show us the Father”, Jesus chided him. “Philip, have you seen me and yet not known me?” Pretty hard to argue with.
My second daughter was enticed by a classmate at school, to join Girl Guides. I thought it was cute, and I encouraged her. It made me think of corny clichés like roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories huddled around a camp fire in the middle of the woods,
But that is not how things unfolded.
I went to retrieve my daughter from her first meeting. It was a campfire, I was told, on a stretch of green owned by the city. I pulled up, and looked for the light, but I could not see it. I could hear the indistinct sound of voices in the distance, and I followed confused, into the darkness.
Eventually, I came to a huddle of people clustered together, shivering and freezing. They were attempting to bluster through with Girl Scout songs, but it seems the flesh was weak and the spirit unwilling. It might have had to do with the campfire, that rousing thing which gathers all to its light and warmth. It was not there. What I found, was that the leaders had planted a candle in a bucket and that was it.
Instead of conceding that in the freezing cold, people do not naturally congregate around a candle in a bucket, they persisted in pretending that this WAS a real fire, and that all gathered must believe as well. They were having a hard go of it. I found my daughter, freezing in the dark, took her hand, and went home where we sat in front of a real fire, roasted some marshmallows, and vowed we would never go back again to such lunacy.
It seems that we are most defined by what we love. Tertullian, observing the early Christians simply exclaimed “See how they love one another!” I love a good fire, for example, as much as anybody else. I just have a hard time believeing that a candle in a bucket is it.