Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Imaginary Friend - the Problem with "True for You"

I was over at the Off the Map site (and their Church Rater site) the other day where they are having ongoing conversations stimulated by the book Jim and Casper Go To Church. It is interesting and in some ways a beneficial conversation. As Christians we need to always be open to evaluation and correction because it is easy to get off track in our world. The view from an atheist has been helpful in correcting some of the things we take for granted in our sometimes cloistered church world. I made a comment on their blog (some of which is repeated below) which got me thinking a lot about this whole conversation.

A guy in Canada (Drew Marshall) also “copied” the project and attended half a dozen churches in the Toronto area with two “atheists.” Some good comments there as well. I reviewed the book here and also responded to the Canadian version here. Each of those has links to the original works.

My main “critical” comment directed to atheists reviewing church life is one that they have probably heard before and probably have responded to somewhere, sometime. It’s simply this - that as atheists they don’t really “get” the God piece. Maybe it goes without saying and maybe that’s part of the point of the book. But I’m not sure that they really get that deep real experience of those who simply connect to God.

The "certainty" about God that Christians have that drives atheists nuts is the certainty of a real experience and a real conversation with God/Jesus. So spending time interacting with that God in worship and adoration is never wasted or pointless or irrelevant to life. Deep personal interactive worship of God (alone or with a group) is always worth the time and the effort - even if at times it produces no tangible "result." God always deserves to be worshipped and it is the chief end of humans to worship God. However, I do agree with Matt Casper that it certainly doesn’t need all the bells and whistles that some of the churches he visited attach to it.

I mean I stumble in the dark as much as the next guy. I wish I could control or explain more articulately how I interact with God or he with me. But what keeps me coming back to God is this certainty for me of this knowledge that I’ve interacted with the creator of the universe. The fundamental reality of the experience of connecting with God is what makes sense of the world.

The argument about "certainty" can definitely lean towards being quite condescending to those who are firm in their faith. Really, skepticism can be quite "certain" as well. Matt Casper asks us to affirm that faith is empirically unprovable and so by nature uncertain. He says this on their blog:

That’s the nature of belief and faith! It cannot be empirically proven, that’s why it can never be wrong. Faith is, in essence, your personally held belief. Like an opinion, it requires no proof to be true for you.

My goal is to get people of faith to be people of faith. Because when you start calling your faith “right,” then others’ faith must be “wrong.” And that leads to statements like “We’re good, they’re evil.” And that leads to conflict. And conflict leads to an ongoing horrorshow of people of different faiths killing each other (and millions of innocents, too), which simply has to stop.


While I agree that the church has a history of forcible conversions that often resulted in wars and the death of innocents, I take exception to some of the comments he makes because of the unspoken implications. Yes, there are stupid people out there who take wrong actions because of their faith. It doesn't mean their faith is wrong or untrue. Nor does it necessarily make someone else's faith more right or true. He also makes a logic leap from being "right" and "wrong" to being "good" and "evil" (which is a whole other post).

The implication he makes is that what I know to be true is considered only personal truth - which then is not really truth at all - and I really shouldn't take it so seriously. After all I can't risk offending someone else who might actually be wrong. Is there an empirical truth outside of myself? Yes. Can I prove it? No, not with a "scientific" empirical means because it is not necessarily scientific.

When we speak this way, faith then only becomes what I imagine to be true in my head. The implication is that I am out of touch with reality and only imagining it. It becomes "true for me." This is a polite (or perhaps politically correct) way of saying I'm crazy.

Because the only options available to me are:
1. My experience really is true and real. I know God and speak to Him and He to me. My assumption must be that if God is God there should be some consistency in His behaviour and that my experience should be somewhat similar to yours. We should be able to compare notes and determine some common denominators about who God is and how He speaks and the nature of His character. This is what Christians affirm the world over in different cultures and times and places. Their experiences are similar and they line up with the general flow of Scripture.

2. This experience is actually not true or real. Therefore I am either ...
a. deluding myself (thinking that I am actually speaking and listening to something I think is a divine being who is actually not really there). This is the affirmation of most atheists and most of the "pluralists" in our world. The god I interact with is actually a god of my own making and a god of my own understanding (true for me). I have made him up and I have conversations with my imaginary friend as if he is real. Therefore I am basically insane or schizophrenic.

... or,

b. I am being deluded (which means that someone or something has deceived me). This may be as a result of my upbringing or my culture or the preacher/pastor/televangelist that I listen to. The implication is that I am simple, gullible, dependent, brainwashed, stupid, uneducated, naive, uninformed, not intellectual, etc., and the religious scam artists have got me believing their schtick.

So for Christians to line up with Matt Casper's thinking, we should say the thing we are experiencing (that we call God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit) is actually a product of our unscientific, unprovable faith and therefore it provides no real certainty. It is just my experience of God (which may be different than yours). However to say that my experience of god is fundamentally different than your experience of god means that god is not actually real and not consistent in his actions with people - which means he does not exist except in my (or your) delusion.

That is the whole point of the atheistic argument. If there is no God everyone can have their own idea of God or even be god. But if there really is a God, I can be certain about it because He is found by those who seek Him.

1 comment:

Beth said...

I like your title, especially the "Imaginary Friend" part. Thanks for commenting on our church rater project.