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Faith and Wonder

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 9/21/11 at 2:00 AM

 

A reader writes:

A friend (who is atheist) sent me an excerpt on 9/11 of some reflections by his favorite author, Sam Harris.

Here is a link, if you choose to spend your time reading the entire draft:

I wanted to just point out one particular section that reminded me of what you are always saying about ‘Climate Change’, how there doesn’t seem to be anything it *can’t* do. (The emphasis mine),

“Whatever else may be wrong with our world, it remains a fact that some of the most terrifying instances of human conflict and stupidity would be unthinkable without religion. And the other ideologies that inspire people to behave like monsters—Stalinism, fascism, etc.—are dangerous precisely because they so resemble religions. Sacrifice for the Dear Leader, however secular, is an act of cultic conformity and worship. Whenever human obsession is channeled in these ways, we can see the ancient framework upon which every religion was built. In our ignorance, fear, and craving for order, we created the gods. And ignorance, fear, and craving keep them with us.”


So, what have I learned from this? That even when religions aren’t responsible for all the bad stuff that has ever happened throughout the history of humankind, they actually are still responsible.

Yes.  Hitchens tries much the same prestidigitation with Stalin and Mao, claiming that their atheistic ideologies are really somehow “religion” and therefore the fault of, you know, not atheism or anything.  Silly.

One basic blunder atheists keep making is confusing faith in God with ideology.  Ideology is an all-explaining theory of Everything.  Everything is about sex.  Everything is about economics.  Everything is about power.  Everything is about gender conflict.  Everything is about class warfare, etc.  It is the attempt to reduce a vast and varied world to a single thought, to imprison it in the clean and well-lit cell of a single idea.

Faith in God, properly understood, is faith in a God who is Mystery. The Church’s message is, in part, we don’t understand much, but we do know God exists and that he has told us a few truths (sketched in the Creed) which we believe.  As to the rest of the huge and colorful pageant of life, the Church doesn’t provide one size fits all ideological explanations.  Instead, it takes the attitude of Proverbs: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search a matter out.”  Soviets actually punished “counter-revolutionary weather forecasting” because their forecasts included rain, cold and snow that got in the way of Stalin’s Five Year Plans.  The Church doesn’t try to tell nature what to do, it receives nature as a part of God’s revelation.  The Church doesn’t claim to know everything or to be able to explain everything.  Indeed, religion, art and science all begin with wonder.  Evangelical atheists feel an incorrigible need to claim that the religionist thinks he has all the answers.  No healthy Christian I have ever met thinks that.  Some diseased forms of Christian faith try to reduce the faith to an ideology, of course.  But that’s not Christian faith as the Church understands it.