The London Telegraph reported last week, the next round in the ongoing slanging match between Christian groups and Humanist/atheists is about to start. In response to the recent London humanist message on some London buses, 'there probably isn't a God....., several Christian groups are now buying up similar ad space to say, oh yes there is, or words to that effect. One thing abundantly clear from this ongoing cultural clash is that signs on buses are hardly going to resolve anything.
One wouldn't expect a resolution to come from the humanist/atheist side. But their own prejudices too often undermine their position. More honest and to the point, what they don't simply say is: we don't know if there is a God or no, there is no direct evidence of such a reality, and the claims of 'truth' made by religion are unable to demonstrate that fact and are contrary to all the enlightenment criteria of evidence based knowledge that progress is derived from and for that reason, religion must be false.
One can thus argue that religion is false and that theology, the intellectual foundation of religious tradition is not a valid human intellectual endeavor, but this still does not answer the God question. To argue that because religion is false, there is no God is intellectually disingenuous at best. They are quite separate questions.
Yet the burden of 'proof' must remain with those religious traditions who make claims to represent a potential reality, and then contrary to their own scriptural record, are unable to successfully substantiate it. That is a quite a sizable failure for a tradition that has had two thousand years to come up with something more convincing? In the scientific community, as does happen, such vacuous claims coming under a stricter scrutiny would be ridiculed out of existence. Equally, the dogma and doctrine whose origins were founded nearly two thousand years ago in an earlier intellectual paradigm, if presented to mankind today, would have very little chance of finding credibility among a much better educated populous. It is often stated that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence and rightly so. and there lies the rub? There is no proof.
If the argument were only about signs on buses, this cultural joust would be an enjoyable amusement and no more. But this is no small question. Religious institutions claim vast sums of money from their believers, influence many, attempt to impose their dogmatized moral pretensions on others, nations states and terrorists use religious rational for their conduct and however ideal it might be to separate church and state, by hook or by crook, religious institutions are players in the political sweepstakes. But if their origins and claims can be demonstrated to be false, such a fraud against a considerable portion of mankind would dwarf any ponzi scheme ever imagined.
If a pair of aliens came down to earth, observing this contradiction, no doubt one would remark to the other, 'I don't think either side knows what the hell they're talking about'. In that sense, one might conclude that humanity, in spite of various claims to the contrary, remains in total ignorance of any such potential, commonly referred to as God. That being said, I certainly do not mean God does not or may not exist or to ridicule the sincerity of anyones faith, but those holding to religious ideas, who call themselves 'Christian' should remind themselves that their faith is not in the God they imagine but in the theological interpretation of that idea developed by tradition. And history has provided a very long list of good reasons to 'believe' that theology and tradition have strayed far wide of the mark.
While science has provided us with a solid method within its own material remit of discovering and demonstrating the difference between what is true and what is not, it struggles within its own limitations. But religious tradition, using their medieval conception of reality, have never benefited from the checks of open scrutiny of its claims, allowing its overzealous imagination unlimited license to decide for itself what it 'thinks' may be true. Even as we watch and applaud democracy in action, imposing its accountability by replacing one ethically corrupted administration with the new hope of another, there is one thing democracy demonstrates, that humanity and its reason are not only fallible but contains an ethical character which too often disengages when it should know better. Thus do we make laws and demand sanctions for law breakers.
One of the major contradictions of secular humanism is that it makes it's case against God as if religion were true, knowing that to be highly unlikely. But set that idea aside for a moment. Its other problem is Darwin, not the theory but its limitations. Evolution has my full support, yet It is constantly under revision and development and it is not predictive nor didactic, so while offering the big E full marks for understanding the past and even a part of ourselves, it is not a tool that carries the potential to resolve any of the gravest issues facing mankind. For example, there is a growing consensus that our species may not even last to the end of the century. If we don't destroy ourselves first by conflict, environmental degredation will make the planet so inhospitable that human life and civilization as we know it will become untenable, if it exists at all? There is not the time to hope evolution might provide humanity with a completely new set of values that would turn the world around. So while the world is getting desperate for a few big answers and very soon indeed, there are none here in the offing.
But if religion is wholly in error, there may be more potential than first appears obvious. Theology may only exist because NOTHING has been revealed. The discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library strongly suggest that Christianity as we know it has been playing with only half a deck.
Probably the greatest illusion coming home to roost from the environmental crisis, religions stock and trade, is to sell us the idea that as a species, we are 'spiritual' beings or that 'God' loves us'? Granted we often share aspirations for high ideals such as love, peace, a green environment, etc, etc, etc. It is also self evident we have failed to realize any of them. And a species that is destroying the very planet that sustains it, by its greed, gross materialism and throw-away consumer culture, can hardly call itself spiritual. Whatever extra ordinary efforts individual may make, those efforts however admirable, do not unfortunately effect or reflect the dominant culture values of the modern world.
Even if we have confused being 'spiritual' with having higher aspirations for a world without the troubles we are facing today, those aspirations have only made us susceptible to a great variety of charlatans, both secular and religious. The 'spiritual' supermarket has hundreds if not thousands of products on the shelves, with and without God, but as they say........... buyer beware. If any of these could have provided mankind with the answers it needs, it would have done so by now.
Have our perceptions of God become so conditioned, seduced and prejudiced by candy coated, happy clappy, new age wishful thinking? Or have our minds been atrophied by orthodox tradition and the respectable impotence of scholastic theology, priestcraft, metaphysical fog, vacuous debate and doublethink? After two thousand years of evolved human thought, are we no longer capable of imagining anything greater than pagan ritual, hocus pocus, obscurantism and theatre as revealed truth?
The religious quest remains unfinished and I suspect God will have the last laugh on both religion and athiest-humanism. For if such a reality does exist then there must be a proof for faith to demonstrate and confirm that existence. Now that would be a Revelation and a potent catalyst for progress and change. But is anybody bothering to look for it? It certainly won't come from any existing religious conception. That is the insidious nature of tradition. It sets limits to what can be questioned and never does it question itself. Yet, in the search for progress, that may very well be the challenge that lies ahead.
What else but such a proof would have the authority to direct mankind towards new goals, what else but such a proof could debunk the theological counterfeit of intellectual vanity masquerading under the name of Christianity. With new scriptural discoveries and even the Bible itself, God may even have set a trap to one day expose the very limits of human understanding with a sort of Divine Comedy, to lampoon and humble the illusions of human spiritual pretensions, to expose just how far reasoned ignorance, hubris, gullibility and self-deception and carry its step, and to demonstrate just how limited is the capacity of natural reason at comprehending the truly sacred. To quote Dante:
For as I turned there greeted mine likewise
What all behold who contemplate aright
That's heaven's revolution through the skies.