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Atheism

“Live life fully now, and if you ask me why I should do that–I don’t know”

Julian Barnes poses for a photogr

From Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes:

On the radio, I heard a specialist in consciousness explain how there is no centre to the brain—no location of self—either physically or computationally; and that our notion of a soul or spirit must be replaced by the notion of a “distributed neuronal process.” She further explained that our sense of morality comes from belonging to a species which has developed reciprocal altruism; that the concept of free will, as in “making conscious decisions from a little self inside” must be discarded; that we are machines for copying and handing on bits of culture; and that the consequences of accepting all this are “really weird.” To begin with it means, as she put it, that “these words coming out of this mouth at this moment, are not emanating from a little me in here, they are emanating from the entire universe just doing its stuff.”

. . .

The expert in consciousness was also asked how she viewed her own death. This was her reply: “I would view it with equanimity, as just another step, you know. ‘Oh, here’s this—I’m in this radio studio with you—what a wonderful place to be. Oh, here I am on my deathbed—this is where I am . . .’ Acceptance I would say is the best that could come out of this way of thinking about things. Live life fully now, here—do the best you can, and if you ask me why I should do that—I don’t know. That’s where you hit the question of ultimate morality—but still, that’s what this thing does. And I expect it to do it on its deathbed.”

Is this properly philosophical, or strangely blithe, the assumption that Acceptance—Kübler-Ross’s fifth and final mortal stage—will be available when required? Skip Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression, and just head straight for Acceptance?

. . .

“That’s what this thing does. And I expect it to do it on its deathbed.” Note the demise here of the personal pronoun. “I” has mutated to “it” and “this thing,” a switch both alarming and instructive. As human character is being rethought, human language must be rethought with it.

 Nothing to Be Frightened Of
by Julian Barnes
pp. 180-82




Imagine

original_john-lennon-imagine-wall-sticker

In response to the Paris attacks, I’ve seen a number of posts and replies on social media quoting John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” A pianist set up in front of the Bataclan music venue where one of Friday’s attacks took place and led hundreds in singing the anthem, and Coldplay performed a rendition of the song on Friday. This song continues to serve as a response to Islamist terrorist attacks ever since 9/11. Back in 2002 when I was living in the Cayman Islands, the island’s newspaper was kind enough to publish the following editorial from me.
____________________________________

Imagine.

That’s what John Lennon wanted us to do. In a poignant voice he sang—

Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try,
No hell below us, Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries [sic], It isnt hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for, No religion too,
Imagine all the people living life in peace

The song’s popularity has returned since September 11 when men shouting “God is great!” took over the cockpits of 4 jet airliners to plunge them into prominent American buildings. Over the next several days we discovered that these men, and many others where they came from, hope heaven will welcome them for their “martyrdom.” Suddenly Lennon’s vision of how beautiful life would be without religion sounded fresh and relevant again. Neil Young sung the song on a live TV show raising donations after 9/11, growling the lines above with bitter sarcasm in his voice. Our local newspaper, the Caymanian Compass, quoted Lennon’s lyrics in their entirety on the back page of a booklet commemorating the 9/11 tragedy.

The former Beatle urged us to imagine a world where we all live only for today. So let’s imagine—it’s easy if you try:

Let’s see . . . the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia . . . the systematic “re-education” and execution of dissidents in Vietnam . . . the bloody revolution of Chairman Mao in Communist China . . . and Stalin’s “purges” . . . and don’t forget the brutal management of power in Castro’s Cuba (just read the book “Against All Hope” before you disagree with that last one).

Lennon urged us to imagine a world where we all live only for today. But we don’t have to imagine it. We can look back across the last century of a world exhausted by communistic atheism and see it.

Sometimes I’ll hear someone trot out that tired old line, “More people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason.” The implication behind the line is, “So, religion contributes to our world’s problems, it doesn’t solve them.” But none of the vast, horrible atrocities I just listed off took place in the name of God. In fact, they took place in societies that firmly and dogmatically rejected any belief in God whatsoever. I certainly don’t favor violence that is done in the name of God, but I’d venture a guess that more people have been killed in the pursuit of stamping out religion than imposing it. The Communist experiment of the last century proves my point.

It’s interesting that many years after Lennon recorded “Imagine,” and a few years before he was murdered, he began a spiritual search. What intrigued him most was the life of Jesus. He even hesitantly declared at one point that he had become a Christian, though by doing so he was more likely expressing his admiration for Christ’s teaching than announcing his conversion to it. Obviously the utopian sentiments he expressed in the song “Imagine” didn’t satisfy him in the long run. I wonder where his examination would have brought him had a deranged gunman not ended both his life and his spiritual search.

Imagine.




Theism in an Imperfect World

An imperfect world is a strong reason to doubt the existence of God, right?

Read Alvin Plantiga's answer.

Gary Gutting interviewed Alvin Plantiga for the NYT. Plantiga is a philosopher and a Christian, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, a former president of both the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Philosophical Association, and the author, most recently, of Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.

Gutting: Since the world isn’t perfect, why would we need a perfect being to explain the world or any feature of it?

Plantiga: I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.

Gutting and Plantiga discuss a range of subjects, including Plantiga's intriguing observation that belief in both evolution and materialism are self-refuting.

 




About Tom

ANCHOR COURSE LOGO Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.
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