I have recently been amazed to find the often proclaimed 'arrogance of Christians' residing more aggressively and entrenched in those who claim to have no faith.
Time and time again I find people of faith reading books from those who oppose their belief on the grounds of reason, rational thinking and logic and yet rarely do I find the opposite taking place.
Time and time again I find those who claim that reason, research and evidence form the basis of their thinking and attitudes rarely exercise reason, never do research (unless this is the revised usage of what I call reading newspapers) and accept the flimsiest of evidence (anecdotal and unsubstantiated is always of course acceptable if it's not faith for some).
The reality is that there are those from both camps who dialogue, read, think and continue to engage in research. When I became a Christian I was challenged to collect a brain at the door rather than leave it as those of no faith often accuse. My faith demands that I continue to study and to challenge the Bible and the settings - I acknowledge consistencies and similarities with some of the Biblical narratives and other writings; I accept the psychological imperatives and definitions of faith and can agree that religion does indeed provide someone to thank when it goes well, plead with when it's going wrong and appease when 'under a curse'. That said I also acknowledge the empirical evidence before me and test it with eyes that seek explanation in both science and faith. I look at the stuff I can understand and seek to find answers to that which I cannot - acknowledging the intelligence of those 'ancients' and trying to see what their cultures might have added to the mix too!
Would that those on the other side of the divide did the same.
Recently I encountered two sides of the same 'ignorance' coin on the same day in the one episode - I find myself returning to the people and their comments and, on each replay, find myself more frustrated and (to be honest) just a little angry with them each time - Let me explain:
This person was firmly stuck in a position whereby their faith was something fixed and what they believe was totally dug in and fixed. They 'knew what they believed' and they were not going to be shaken from it. The problem was that what was on view was an immature faith in a long-term believer and this was all due to the place they worshipped in. You probably know the type of place - great sermons on a dozen passages, a Bible with about twelve books and a faith that move mountains and a reality that made its members walk around them!
They were rigid in their belief and vehement in their rejection of 'God haters' - the primacy of the Word they neither knew or understood was central - and yet they could neither defend it or show themselves to be able workers for it. 'In the name of the Lord' is a great way to travel - but the words need to be fleshed out and take upon themselves the incarnacy that God's Word did!
There was no willingness to debate - just to shout people down and assumed to work on the basis that by repeating trite little Christian mantras and closed statements that others would 'be saved'.
Were keen to tell me how open-minded they were and yet even had it been open (and believe me it wasn't) there was so little of it (a mind) that chewing gum and walking would have cause a core failure!
As the conversation progressed I realised that they kept using the word evidence and yet when prodded and probed it was obvious that their evidence was gleaned from the laboratory that is the pub, newspaper and that oft quoted source: The Friend. They (mis)quoted from their prophets and gurus and (in the name of balance I'm sure) also misquoted Bible and other 'religious' stuff too. They appealed to reason but there was little of it. Pointed to facts, but they were misquotes and error-filled utterances. They spoke of research and yet had never really even read the basic books of either faith (for theist and non-theist are but two opposing faiths - God or Science, free or under authority, self-pleasing or God-pleasing - divide it as you will).
What was sad in these encounters was that both adversaries worked from a position of entrenched ignorance. There was no research into what they or those with whom they disagreed believed (or didn't) and thought. There was no ability (or apparently willingness) to engage in dialogue and find out what the other side believed - just a reliance on the belief that merely opposing, and writing off, the other side was enough.
What was really sad was that neither of the people had even the basic tools to be able to defend their own beliefs and this, in my book (and God's too) is probably the most sad part of the whole.
The way forward (for theists and non-theists):
Please remember that faith engaged in without involving your brain is useless and hollow religion - it is the stuff that ignorance grows in to choke everything that God (or not god) would have us celebrate and renders us an impotent and limited, superstitious and empty people.
So read the books that form the basis of your belief (And where this is the real Bible - read ALL of it, there's 66 books you know!)
Read books about the things you think challenge our faith and find out for yourself.
Read books by people you might think oppose your faith (and people) and dialogue with them, then
Dialogue with people who believe what you believe and check your understanding (and theirs) and, that done, engage in dialogue with people you think you don't disagree with.
Remember that no one group has the monopoly on being good, acting wrongly, being stupid, having closed minds, bias, ignorance, stupidity, blind faith, selfishness, exclusivity and best of all - being just plain ugly people!
How can we say we love God when we hate the image of Him made visible in the person before us?
I scribbled this over a period of weeks - revisiting and rethinking about how what I'd encountered informed and challenged my own position and attitudes. I think that this might be the right time, as we reach the end of 2013, to post it.