A Need to Believe

I’m not planning on continuing my subscription to Time, but I do appreciate their basic coverage.  I’m considering a subscription to a more international publication that might provide another perspective on the world.  The Guardian is definitely one of my top possible choices. 

In last week’s Time, there was an interesting articleby Jeninne Lee-St.John on the phenomenon of ‘Sunday school for Atheists’.  The concept isn’t surprising.  Frankly, I think that’s what much of public education has become already.  But the idea of having a specific time for teaching these doctrines only makes sense.

But I still find it fascinating.

If you don’t believe in anything beyond this current life, or believe that you ultimately keep coming back until you figure out what the truth is, or believe that we’re just sort of absorbed into the cosmic essence and lose our individual traits and identities, then what’s the pressure to teach kids to believe something specific? 

It’s clear that these people love their children and want to educate them well.  But I find it curious that if you don’t believe in any metaphysical reality in particular, it would matter to you what your child ‘chose’ to believe.  If this life is all there is, wouldn’t whatever made someone happy be an acceptable and encourageable belief system?  So long as you’re not hurting someone else, wouldn’t beliefs fully enter the subjective realm of relativism that our culture is pushing them towards already?

Why the stress?  Why the bother?

To me, it speaks to our innate need to believe in something.  The denial of God or any larger metaphysical reality requires just as much faith as belief and faith do.  There are just as few answers, frankly, in empirical Western rationalism as there are in Christianity or Judaism or Islam – or Buddhism or Hinduism for that matter.  Regardless of the belief, you reach a point where you can’t answer your questions with a microscope.  You reach a point where your mind just can’t wrap around the details of reality completely. 

You reach a point where you have to trust.

But regardless of what people choose to believe, the need to believe is pervasive, universal.  Someone may claim that they have no beliefs, but that’s a belief in and of itself.  It isn’t physically possible to function in a purely rationale manner without taking some things on ‘faith’.  We couldn’t function in a day without doing this.  The only difference is what our faith is placed in. 

And on a side note, I wish that churches taught the sort of reasoning skills that these folks appear to be focusing on in their lessons with their children.  Christianity trumpets the absolute uniqueness and value of every individual – something that rationalism can’t do if people don’t posess certain intellectual or productivity-measured abilities.  Humanism can’t truly value all people equally, becausee it has no basis for declaring that equality.  Christianity does – we’re all of equal value because we were all created by God.  Period.  Whether we were born with all our limbs or not.  Whether we were born with high-functioning intellectual capabilities or not.  Humanism really struggles in these areas.  Ultimately, without a universal baseline that demands all people’s equality, no equality is possible.  The standards will just slip and slide around depending on who is in charge or what the popular opinion is.

Likewise, Christianity traditionally championed the ideas of communal interaction and interdependence, but that’s been practically destroyed in America by the Church’s co-opting of secular principles of rugged independence and the need to never need. 

And Christianity once was renowned for it’s ability to interact with the predominant philosophical and rational minds of the day, to not deny the intellectual side of mankind, but to embrace it.  It’s a shame that Christianity seems to have denigrated to the point where that is viewed in many circles as blasphemous, as though theology and faith can and should only be emotional, as if there are no rational grounds for our faith.  It’s a dangerous argument to lose, and one that I don’t see Christianity as needing to lose.  But it’s an argument that large segments have just walked away from.

We have much to learn as a people of faith.  We have much to share about our faith with other people of other faiths.  But regardless, we all have that need for faith. 

I think God was pretty clever in creating us that way.

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