2/22/2010—Happy Washington’s birthday.
There is an old story about a British actor (it is not clear who the speaker actually was) on his deathbed who was asked what dying was like. He replied, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
This story is brought to mind because of a study of the beliefs of 18-29 year olds, released on Wednesday, 2/17, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. This group, dubbed the Millennials, showed themselves to be much less affiliated with religion than older Americans and less affiliated than Generation X and babyboomers had been at similar points in their lives (people tend to become more religious as they age).
What is odd about the report is the gap between belief in God or a universal spirit, on the one hand, and belief in an afterlife, heaven and miracles, on the other. Only 64% reported themselves to be “absolutely certain” about belief in God or a universal spirit, whereas 75% believe in an afterlife, 74% in heaven and 78% in miracles. The gap is really much greater than at first appears because some of the respondents believe in a universal spirit, which presumably lacks the capacity of action associated with an orthodox belief in God.
Thus, some of this group do not believe in God, but believe in aspects of reality usually associated only with God traditionally understood. For example, no one disputes that our brains die at biological death. For our personalities to continue to exist after death, there must be some exception to the material basis of our lives. The traditional God could ordain such a result, of course, but nothing else could.
Whatever you may think of Christianity, it is not magic thinking. The God of the Bible is the sovereign of the universe. He makes ethical and ceremonial demands. He punishes and rewards. He is not a fairy tale.
But when someone disengages the miracles God can accomplish from God, then how could these exceptions to the laws of nature come about? I worry about this coming generation.
Back to the joke. The concept of God can always be reinterpreted to express nontheological beliefs. One can believe in the absolute. One can trust in the beneficence of the universe. One can attribute divinity to cosmic processes. Thus, God is easy. With enough interpretation, anyone can say I believe in God or I don’t believe in God.
But death is either the end of us or it is not. The real definition of the secularist is one who says, “I know my existence ends forever with my death.” Apparently some people want things both ways. Death says they cannot have everything. We can dispute what God means, but not what death means.
Monday, February 22, 2010
God is easy, death is hard
Posted by Bruce Ledewitz at 7:52 PM
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I really can't figure you out. Do you honestly believe this:ReplyDelete
"Whatever you may think of Christianity, it is not magic thinking. The God of the Bible is the sovereign of the universe. He makes ethical and ceremonial demands. He punishes and rewards. He is not a fairy tale."
If believing God impregnated a virgin, incarnated himself in the resulting baby, performed miracles, and was resurrected from the dead isn't magical thinking, what is? Btw, the middle sentences are more Jewish than Christian.
"But when someone disengages the miracles God can accomplish from God, then how could these exceptions to the laws of nature come about?" Magical thinking, of course. It isn't rational. You can't explain it.
And yes, Christians do dispute what death means with materialists*. We say it is the end of us and they say it is a beginning. Don't you see that?
* materialist is a better word than secularist here.
Religious belief is not the product of magical thinking on the part of the believer.ReplyDelete
Loosely speaking, magical thinking is the claim that one can wish some object into existence. In that sense, a belief in an afterlife that is not founded on religious tenets may be the product of magical thinking. It's true because I wish it to be so.
Religious beliefs involve accepting the testimony of sacred scripture or other believers as true. Thus, religious belief need not be the same as magical thinking. In essence, it's true because scripture or authority says so.
I get your point about magical thinking arising from the mind of the person doing it. But what makes it different when they read it in an old book, then think it?ReplyDelete
Magic thinking in this context means that religious believers attach their belief in an afterlife to a narrative account that is coherent and that makes ethical demands that go beyond the believer's own comfort zone. To imagine life after death without any other elements is not even internally consistent.ReplyDelete
By the way, I believe lots of things because I read them in books. I actually know nothing about science, for example. I take global warming on faith because I trust the scientific community. Is the religious believer so different?
These two situations are completely different:ReplyDelete
1. "and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.' " Luke 1:33-35.
I believe that a virgin was impregnated by God and gave birth to his Son, who was also God, in equal parts human and divine.
2. "The ice shelves in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula appear to be disappearing because of climate change, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey." USA TODAY
I believe global temperatures are rising and causing ice sheets to melt.
PS I wish the bible would have been written today, just think what the Holy Spirit could do with links!
PPS "a narrative account that is coherent" Really?
Religion is an expression of the sublime just as mythmaking is. (Whether there's a difference between the two is beside the point.)ReplyDelete
To characterize both as the product of "magical thinking" is simplistic, to say the least. Our sense of the tragic derives from Greek myths. For example, Albert Camus was an agnostic, yet one of his most profound essays is based on the myth of Sysiphus.