One of the blogs I follow is hessianwithteeth, which I find interesting because it is a good place of encounter and dialogue between theists (mostly Christian) and atheists, including the two atheists who write for it. Recently, they noted that in their experience, Christians often grill atheists with lots of questions about their unbelief, but similar questioning is seldom turned on Christians. (I note that this doesn’t match my experience!)
However, in the interests of good dialogue and good will, I have undertaken here to answer their “15 questions for theists.” I encourage anyone else who is also interested to do so. And, while I’m on the topic, they are also running surveys on discrimination against Christians, against atheists, and because of religion or lack thereof. I think those surveys are looking at interesting questions and encourage you to provide them with much-needed data.
But, without further ado, here are their questions and my attempts at succinct answers.
1)How many gods are there? What are their names?
One God. יהוה.
2)How do you know these gods (or this god) exists? Why do you believe they exist?
I can’t be absolutely certain, but it’s got to the point where either God exists or I am quite mad. I prefer to believe (and the world seems to concur) that I am sane, so I’m operating on the assumption that God exists, that I have a relationship with God which is deeply personal, in which God and I can converse and have conversed, and in which I have seen God’s power and positive influence in my life and in those around me.
3)How do you think the universe began?
The big bang; but that speaks to material cause. I would say that God was the efficient cause.
4)When do you think the universe began?
The physicists say that it’s about 14 billion years old, and I’m happy to accept that as a working number.
5)How do you think life began?
I’m pretty happy with the idea that complex organic molecules organised into self-replicating particles gradually over time.
6)When do you think life began?
I believe scientists are currently estimating 3.5 billion years ago or so. (Have we established by now that I’m not a fundamentalist and quite comfortable with a world view which integrates my faith with current scientific understanding?)
7)Is morality objective or subjective? How do you know, or why do you believe, this?
Objective. Right and wrong are not something we each get to determine for ourselves, on a whim; there are ethical principles which transcend that kind of petty individuality. Ultimately, since I believe we are created in the image of a moral, ethical God, I believe all human goodness is a reflection of divine goodness; but you don’t need to agree with me on that for us to have ethical common ground.
8)What do you think this god, or these gods, want from humans? Why?
Relationship. God is within Godself relational and communal (a trinity of persons), and that desire for relationship, for mutuality, is what I believe has motivated God to create other beings to draw into communion with Godself.
9)What do humans mean to gods? What is our importance or significance?
I think I’ve sort of covered that in talking about relationship. We are loved. I believe we are destined to go on to deeper relationship beyond this life and into eternity.
10)Could they get whatever it is they want from humans without humans? Do they need whatever it is they created humans for? Why?
I guess there are the angels, and possibly other created sentient beings as well. But our existence suggests that we bring something unique. I’ve come across the idea that if God didn’t create us, God would have needed to create some other for the relationship which would fulfil God’s relational nature, so I guess in that sense it’s a need.
11)Could you conceive of a world where humans exist without need of a god? What would that world look like? Why would it look like that?
I guess I could conceive of a world which had become entirely atheist – I think that’s more denying/not recognising the need for God rather than truly not having that need.
I’d be out of a job, for a start… Beyond that, I’m not sure. I’d like to believe it would be possible to construct an ethical, humanist, peaceful, just, atheist society… but deep down I suspect it would be no better than now, and probably worse, as whatever good influence religion does have would be removed, with nothing to replace it. Perhaps the atheist forms of Buddhism could flourish?
12)What do you believe to be the consequences of a world without god(s)?
I think I sort of covered this with question 11.
13)Where does evil come from? What is the god(s) role in the existence of evil?
Ahh, theodicy. The big question. I concede here that there are multiple views, and I am not claiming any ultimate authority.
Evil is not-good. The shadow where there is no light. It’s not a substance or essence in and of itself but the quality of an absence.
I guess God’s role is allowing a space where there can be that absence. But I do not believe it will endure forever.
14)What makes one thing good and another thing bad? Do good and bad have the same source (ie. The same creator)? Or do they have different sources? What is the source of bad things (if it’s different from the source of good things)?
What is good is, broadly speaking, what is aligned with God’s nature, and what is bad is what is contrary to it.
I think I’ve kind of covered your following questions already.
15)Why do you think your god(s) exists, but the other possible gods don’t? Why do you thing I should believe in your god(s)?
I believe that if the other gods were real and important for me to know about, God would have pointed me in their direction (as indeed the Father did with Christ – long story). As God hasn’t done that, I feel free to commit myself within my own tradition, and I find more than enough to occupy me there!
I acknowledge that others have had similar experiences to me and claim that their belief in their other gods is validated by those experiences. I suspect that at least some of them – giving a particular nod here to the other monotheists – have encountered the same God within different traditions. Beyond that I can’t say much about what they have encountered, except that one day we will all know more fully than we do now!
That last question – why should you believe? I can’t argue you into belief. All I can do is invite you into encounter. Come and see.