“If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?“
I find the atheism vs religion discussions frustrating at best. On the atheism/science side, science tends to be presented in an unscientific way. (“We know …”) The humility inherent in true science is absent. Actual science begins with the caveat that, “We cannot say with absolute certainty …”
It then continues, “However, to the degree that we are able to study this empirically, we believe this is probably true, based on the evidence we have. The likelihood of it not being true is infinitesimal but yes, we don’t know everything. Further study may reveal something we were not previously aware of and that may bring us to a better informed conclusion.”
A scientific approach says there is no way we can prove the existence of a god or gods because there is no way to empirically verify that existence. “Based on that and our experience with the reliability of empirical verification, we say there is no god. But …” (Re-read caveat above.)
In other words, belief in a god does not come about through scientific investigation. This is why such things as Intelligent Design are silly. If there is a god he or she or it will not be found and explained through dreaming up Intelligent Design – something that foolishly tries to suggest it is science.
On the religion side, the worst and loudest examples of it are presented as representative. Personal experience tells me they are not. However, they are the ones most eager to engage in a pissing contest. What ends up happening is a debate that is no debate at all and makes no sense when we know neither side will change its mind. It also strikes me that if, given thousands of years of religion and an array of variations of it and its persistence in the modern world, despite all that science has revealed to us, rather than ranting about it, a more scientific approach would be to ask, “Why?”
The simple (and least scientific) answer is to say people are ignorant. But if you actually make an effort to engage with people of various religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc. – with the idea of discussion rather than argument, you’ll find it is very difficult to maintain the position, “It’s due to ignorance.”
The question remains, “Why?” I’m pretty sure there are a number of reasons ranging from the psychological to the emotional to the spiritual and things I haven’t even thought of.
But my favourite humanist (and atheist and/or agnostic) Kurt Vonnegut has written about and explored this question in his fiction and I think he is on to something. At least one of the things that draws people to religion is community.
People don’t like feeling alone. Religions tend to be welcoming. Community is religion’s positive aspect.
But as with what we see daily on the Internet, there is also a negative aspect to community and the word associated with that is tribal. Community is about inclusion. Tribal is about exclusion. Tribal is about who doesn’t belong and it is this aspect of human behavior that leads to things such as street gangs, fascism and communal outings like the Crusades. (The Crusades would have happened whether there was a Catholic Church or not. It just happened to be the raison d’etre of the day. Were it not there, another excuse would have been found – possibly science because such undertakings have nothing to do with either spiritual belief or science.)
Today, atheism, humanism and science need to be cautious about the same question. Community or tribe? Which will it be?
Either/or discussions of atheism and religion tend to miss the mark because the sides are about asserting what they hold to be true when they would be more productive if they were about learning and understanding through discussion and debate. Myself, I think I’m more agnostic than atheist though that may be because I like saying, “The head says no; the heart says yes.”
None of it matters. Seriously, none of it matters.
I love science but I question what is presented to us daily as science. Throw the word study or research in the headline and, “It must be true!”)
“New Study Shows Tobacco Prevents Cancer!” (No, that’s not not an actual story. But these days, it’s just a matter of time before it is.)
And I love religion, when it is about spirituality and ethics. Not when it is about politics which is what it seems to be about these days, at least in the media. I feel a kinship with Mr. Vonnegut on this one who disliked the nastiness of what religion could sometimes be. But he was also able to see what it could be because he saw what was at the heart of most religions. I leave you with Kurt Vonnegut:
Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort.
I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead. My German-American ancestors, the earliest of whom settled in our Middle West about the time of our Civil War, called themselves “Freethinkers,” which is the same sort of thing. My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut wrote, for example, “If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?”
I myself have written, “If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”