Several of my friends are atheists. Some say they do not believe in a God or any other sort of faith because it’s not ‘rational’…one person in particular is very condescending about religion and says that he no longer believes ‘because he has a brain, and if [I] had a brain, [I] wouldn’t either’. An ex once asked me how someone ‘as intelligent as I am’ could believe in something ‘stupid and irrational’ like God, the rudeness being one reason he’s an ex! 🙂 Even if they aren’t quite this blatant, the sentiment is the same-faith makes no logical sense, and thus isn’t worth pursuing. I’ve heard this a lot.
They’re entitled to their opinion; frankly, I don’t care what anyone else believes or doesn’t believe, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else by it.
In a way, I can see their point. Maybe it isn’t ‘rational’ to believe in things you cannot see, touch, smell, count, etc. I guess it isn’t scientific to believe a person rose from the dead, although zombie movies make a good effort. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for five loaves of bread and two fish to be made into a meal for 5,000+ people or for a grown man to walk on water. Truth be told, it all seems a little strange to me too. However, I’d like to let my friends know that it isn’t necessarily about cold, hard facts. Faith has its purpose; that it can meet other needs a person might have. What are those needs, you ask?
One of the biggest needs I’ve seen is the need to feel ‘connected’. To feel a community with other people, or a connection to something outside of and higher than ourselves. Faith can certainly give those things, or at least put a name to them.
Sometimes the love and acceptance of God, spoken of in the Bible and/or displayed through the actions of other people, is the only real experience of love a person has. I had a friend in college, who I will call ‘A’, who had had a rough time of it in life. He didn’t have much of a family life growing up and had been either let down or rejected by people in school, church or pretty much any other group he joined. For Simpsons fans, he was a ‘real life’ Barney. He had friends, certainly, but hadn’t really experienced ‘belonging’ or ‘being accepted’ on an ongoing basis. He was very much into computers and thus didn’t have much trust in things that couldn’t be tinkered with or proven. One night we were talking in the computer lab in my dorm, and I told him I was a Christian. He began to go off about how nasty some of the people in his earlier life had been, particularly those who claimed to be Christians. It turned out that he had been abused in some way and he didn’t find any support regardless of where he turned. He didn’t understand how any God who is thought to be so powerful and loving could allow this happen, much less how such a God could allow some of the worst things in human history to be done in His name. I wished I had an answer for him…hell, I wish I had an answer for myself! I think I then told him about my experiences, or maybe we talked about Monty Python. I don’t remember.
I saw A again about a month later, and he was in a much better mood than I’d seen him in a while. Turned out, he’d met a lady and they hit it off. She was a church-goer, and A started going along with her. At first he was going just to satisfy her, but then something started to happen. He’d heard of Jesus before, but now he started to really learn about who He is and what He taught. What’s more, he saw the people in the group practice what they preached. They told about how Jesus talked about welcoming strangers, and welcomed them. They told about how Jesus said not to judge others and didn’t judge others…or at least, tried not to. They didn’t do a lot of the negative things commonly associated with Christians, particularly in the Bible Belt where we live. They treated others as they would want to be treated, which to me is the summation of most everything else. They weren’t perfect with this, but the fact that they actually cared and made an effort made as big an impression on him as my ‘first church’ did for me.
Now, I know what you are going to say. I know that Christians don’t have the monopoly on good behavior. In fact, Christians and other religious people can be pretty nasty and hurtful…history can tell you that. I know how people can be hurt by doctrines and ‘church people’-oh, do I ever-but I am telling this story because it happened to be faith and the sort of community that this church group provided that changed A’s life. It was the behavior of this group and their exemplifying what Jesus taught that helped A learn about the love of Jesus, and feel that sort of unconditional love for the first time in his life. I know this is not the case with everyone, but this article is about the way faith or religion can fill needs a person has other than intellectual, and A’s story perfectly illustrates my point.
Faith can also give a person a sense of purpose in the world. I don’t mind ambiguity in many areas of life, but I really can’t stand the idea that the things that happen are just random, that there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of it. I don’t have to know what that reason is, just that there is one.
Sometimes I think that the only thing that makes me feel even the slightest bit better about the deaths of so many people in my life is the belief that they’re not simply gone…that there’s something else outside of this world that a person’s soul can look to and find comfort. Other religions handle this by the belief in reincarnation-the soul being reborn in other sorts of bodies, with the ultimate destination of a person’s soul being eternal comfort. This concept is foreign to many of us, but the idea is the same-the soul doesn’t die when the body does. We’re not just ‘blips on the radar’. If someone can be comforted by the belief that there’s something else out there at work and they’re not hurting anyone else, what is the harm in letting them?
I’ll stop preaching now.
I guess my question is…if a person thinks that they ‘are too smart to believe’, why can’t they also figure out that perhaps religion can meet other needs? There are other needs, you know. If they were really so much smarter than everyone else, they’d know that.
What needs does faith meet for you? How do you decide which needs are more important for you? How do you reconcile times when ‘heart’ needs and ‘head’ needs conflict with each other?