Friday, June 12, 2009

What is faith for?

Being the pastor, the duty of choosing a book for our college grads fell to me. As I perused the religion/inspiration section of a local independent bookseller, I saw a wide variety of titles. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time or Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg seemed like appropriate choices. I saw something for myself that I would have to come back for: The Emerging Christian Way.

But then I saw This I Believe, a collection of essays from the NPR series of the same name, hosted by Jay Allison. Inside its cover is an array of viewpoints, from Newt Gingrich to Penn Jillette. The title of
Jillette's essay is particularly grabbing: "There Is No God". He goes on to say that he is beyond atheism. Saying that one doesn't believe in God actually says by negation that indeed there is a God, but you choose not to believe in God, and therefore, must come up with arguments as to why believing in God is not your thing.

Believing that there is no God eliminates all of that, says Jillette. For him it also eliminates a lot of the mental gymnastics of religious belief. I love this quote:

"I don't travel in circles where people say, 'I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith.' That's just a long-winded religious way to say, 'shut up' or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, 'How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do.' So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something."

But for me, saying "there is no God" is like saying "there is no mystery" or "there is no transcendence", as in the Campbell quote on the sidebar. And as Marcus Borg has been known to say as well, the God that most atheists denounce, I don't believe in either. Jillette names the God of religious belief as omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent but as most folks who don't believe in God or believe there isn't one, he doesn't go any further to try to conceive of a God who isn't any of those things--because if God isn't any of that, then it is argued, God isn't God. Just who gets to decide what or who God is? It's all of us, not just church fathers or seminary professors or theologians. Does that mean the mystery disappears? Of course not. How could the mystery of being and breathing and living and dying just disappear because someone believes there is no God? That's just one way of defining the mystery amongst countless others. And when you think about it, it's not very original.

As it is, Jillette is a faithful person--he believes there is no God, which when you think of it, is just as much of a faith stance as believing there is a God. The difference is, he would enjoy being proved wrong.

1 comment:

Andy said...

I think Jillette's stance - he believes there is no God, but he would enjoy being proved wrong -
makes him more open-minded than those who flout their belief in God and refuse to hear alternative viewpoints. At least he's willing to listen.

Too many people in these arguments never actually hear what the other person has to say; they're just waiting for their turn to talk.