The Reason for God – Chapter 1 – Review

—— The Reason for God ——
Belief in an age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller

I figured we would skip the intro and get into the book, but for those not reading this book, Timothy Keller is a pastor in New York. Most will understand that NY can be a diverse and socially hostile place. He’s probably seen a lot of Christian, non-christian, and anti-christian mentalities. His experiences are likely why he was compelled to write this book. The most interesting thing he said in his introduction is that any faith isn’t healthy without a dose of skepticism. Being a big fan of reasonable skepticism this draws my curiosity.

Part 1 – The Leap of Doubt
Chapter 1 – There Can’t be just One True Religion

The chapter is setup with an introduction leading to the author’s agreement with the idea that religion is one of the main barriers to world peace. He recognizes that people who feel they have “the truth” have a tendency to develop a superiority complex. Stereotypes and caricatures ensue and you may see oppression, abuse or violence against their supposed spiritual inferiors. He says that civic and cultural leaders often propose three approaches for rectifying or alleviating this: Outlaw Religion, Condemn Religion, and encouraging the privatization of religion.

That’s the way I read it, anyway. I’d write his text word for word, but I’m pretty sure that’s bad joo-joo. I don’t see anything really wrong with his logic; but I do notice that he’s pointing at authority when, later, he mainly addresses the general skeptic. Is he trying to avoid alienating his potential audience? I’d say probably, plus I can see how talking about the range of ideas for different individuals would make for a much longer chapter.

1. Outlaw Religion
To me this is a no-duh. ANY authoritative suppression of thought or speech is unacceptable. Period. He basically says this, and he gives civilly oppressive societies such as Soviet Russia and Commie China as examples.

The next bit is interesting… many have heard of the idea that technological advancement will make religion obsolete. He says that contrary to such belief religion is growing and thriving. He then gives a couple examples in developing countries and China to express that religion isn’t just a temporary mechanism of social evolution.

Contrary to what he thinks, though, this ISN’T a bitter pill for ‘secularists’ to swallow as his examples are fairly explainable cultural phenomena. I can’t really say he’s wrong with any certainty, just that what he brings to the table doesn’t discredit the idea. I’ll expand on this if asked.

2. Condemn religion
This section transitions from the ban of religion to social discouragement of religions that claim “the truth” and try converting others. The author gives a number of quotes that would discourage the divisiveness of religion and the possible presumption that if repeated enough they’ll be more believable; then he looks into them and finds them to be self defeating.

To keep it short I’ll just put down the quote and give a summary of his view and a summary of my response.

“All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing.”

-Him: Insisting that doctrines do not matter is a doctrine in and of itself; this view holds a particular idea of god, touts it as superior to other religions. It’s whole premise is hypocritical.

-Me: I agree and disagree with him in my own words. The one primary constant between the origins of different doctrines in completely different cultures is humanity. Regardless of pack, humans are all the same mammal. Rudimentary ideals having to do with how we are born, nurtured, procreate, and die are going to remain similar. The aspect of how each group observes the universe will form differing beliefs based on how they’re able to cope with and understand the universe and their experiences within that universe.

“Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth.”

-Him: By saying this you claim to see more of the truth than the religion, how can this be?

-Me: Different religions compile different appealing ideas, usually, without consulting other religions. They all do their best to interpret the world around them and they all, usually, mean well. But this begs the question: “who has the truth?” Unless you find something constant the answer will remain entirely up to individual experiences.

“Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be ‘truth.'”

-Him: You can’t say, “All claims about religions are historically conditioned excepts the one I am making right now.”

-Me: True, you can’t say that about all claims but when there’s evidence that a religion is misguiding people I would think that to be worth mentioning…

“It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it.”

-Him: “It’s no more arrogant to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that they are all equal) is right.”

-Me: I wouldn’t just call certainty arrogance. As C.J. Keyser said: “Absolute certainty is a privilege of uneducated minds and fanatics.”

Or Shakespeare: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Or Carl Sagan: “The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.”

Change is the closest I have to a ‘doctrine’. I do my best to maintain acceptance that anything and everything I presume to know can, and probably will, change. Life is a journey that will end when you allow yourself to become stagnate. Without curiosity our brain is dead… we become little more than walking memories repeating what we know until our bodies fail. And without people to share our lives with what we learn is for nothing…

Mr. Keller does me a disservice by saying: “some think that this material world is all there is, what we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you.”

While this is kind-of how I see things; the disservice is the light he cast on the point of view. But he makes it sound as though those who carry this idea wont care for their life or the lives and opinions of others. It leads me to believe he doesn’t actually know the the skeptics as he claims to. Perhaps his ideas are just based on who he’s interacted with… I do realize that I can only speak for myself.

I can fabricate a similar sentence that makes Christians sound paranoid and ignorant; but that would be unjust and untruthful since that’s not what I think when I look upon strangers or loved ones.

3. Keep religion completely private
The last approach talked about is just as it sounds… keeping ideals that lack secular grounding out of the public eye. He tackles this from a general point of view saying that you can’t just ask people to leave part of themselves at the door while in public; which I figure to be reasonable.

I agree that the line between our ideals and our conscience is practically nonexistent. The reason I refuse to swallow this pill as a whole is because no one holds all of their ideas at the same level of consciousness. For example:

The sky is blue. Blue is a color. Color is what most perceive when our brain interprets waves of photons hitting the cone cells in our retina at a relatively constant rate. The sky is actually relatively clear because when there is no sun we can look out at what’s beyond the earth’s atmosphere. The clear sky appears blue during day because air in the earth’s atmosphere scatters the sun’s light at a short, perceptually blue, wavelength. The reason why sunrises and sunsets are often not blue is because the sun is relatively level with the earths surface causing it’s light to pass through denser atmosphere lengthening the light’s wavelength into the spectrum our brains perceive as reds, oranges, etc.

You can see a progression of thought here… obvious to the less obvious. It may or may not be apparent, but I was becoming less curtain of my knowledge with each statement. This uncertainty is because I was supplementing my own knowledge with what I read on Wikipedia. With my lack of time/experience thinking and studying about this subject I was fumbling while trying to understand enough of what they said to create my own interpretation. If you were to talk to me I would still only be able to give you a general concept assuming that my interpretation is correct. If I were honest, I would admit to this during my explanation. Given time I may make some new observations comparing them with the assumptions I’ve made forming a more certain truth for myself. Everyone has their level of understanding on various concepts. I can talk about anything from happiness to the concept of god using the same progression I just did for light.

If a person claims something using their doctrine or divine gleanings without being able to show personal understanding… they are showing that they, themselves, don’t understand the practical application of what their religion suggests. Does it matter how deeply or profoundly they believe? Of course not, certainty is nothing. The only communication within certainty is a plea to a perceived authority. If no one recognizes that authority or no one gets the same interpretation from a mutual authority then this person should EXPECT to be shot down and asked to come back when they figure out a way bridge the gap between certainty and knowledge.

I don’t know how long can babble about this so I’ll stop here. Let me know if you need expansion or if you see an issue with my point of view.

— Christianity Can Save the World —
The last section of this chapter. I don’t really see a way I could effectively comment on it without sharing his point of view, as I interpret him telling it anyway. I did my best to compress these last three pages without butchering his point.

—All him
He brings up the superiority complex slippery slope again acknowledging religion’s potential to bar world peace. Then he separates robust, orthodox Christianity from that saying the faith has a remarkable power to “explain and expunge the divisive tendencies within the human heart” making its followers agents for peace on earth.

He says Christians have a firm basis for expecting and respecting the goodness and wisdom in all humanity because they believe that all human beings are made in the image of God. They can’t claim to be or have anything more than anyone else when asked about performance, wisdom, or virtue. Sure, they do their best to be advocates of humanity, but their only means to salvation is that Jesus lived and gave his life so they could admit their failure to perform and acknowledge their need for a Savior.

He goes on to say that the real question is, “which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ?” He then gives the example Christianity had on the Greco-Roman society. They mixed its people and classes in ways no one thought possible. In a culture that frowned on the poor, Christians gave generously to the poor their own faith as well as the other faiths. During the plague Christians cared for all the sick and dying in the city often at the cost of their own lives.

Does this sound like an exclusive belief system? Their icon was a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. We cannot skip lightly over the fact that there have been injustices done by the church in the name of Christ; yet who can deny that the force of Christians’ most fundamental beliefs can be powerful impetus for peace-making in our troubled world?

— End Chapter
He makes good points for the peace keeping nature of many Christians and their institutions. I can go off on what I’ve seen, what I’ve read, and so on but all of that is irrelevant to this conversation. I cannot help but remember that there are over 38,000 separate Christian denominations (according to wiki). I believe that the real question I have is: “How have you, or would you, verify that your version of Christianity is the true one?”

I’m truly impressed at your dedication if you read this far :p