Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Open Letter to the Faithful and Faithless

To all those who believe in God, and those without a faith at all,

Today, I read something online that gave me chills; you might have seen it too, if you were looking. A woman, a  paralysed cyclist, revealed she can now walk after thirteen years. One of her team mates used the word "miracle", and the Internet exploded into a two-sided debate. On one side, the Christians who believed her recovery - previously thought impossible until an accident in a race - to be a miracle and proclaimed that. On the other side, the atheists who provided the majority of the comments. Many claimed the woman's paralyses had been fake, many more began to throw insults at Christians in general - not just those who were commenting, but any person who believes in God.

Let's get some facts straight here: I am Irish, I am Catholic, I believe in God, and I accept the Bible as true. I also love science, accept the truth of evolution and I attempt to understand the gist of quantum theory in as much as it is possible without studying it in any detail. This is not a contradiction of terms.

The atheists who commented, not all atheists, are small minded bullies. They do not justify their words with scientific proof; they only wish to insults anyone with an ounce of faith in their life. One commenter said, and I paraphrase here, that anyone with a brain knows there is no God. Another said to let go of the "sky daddy" and "come back to reality." Another referred to people with faith as cretins.

Is this how society functions today? Is this really how discussions takes place and people communicate? It is not. This is the form of insult that exists only on the Internet, behind anonymous comments. These people do not pay the consequences of insulting someone. They may not even realise how much they might have insulted someone by what they said. Perhaps they did, and they are all the worse for it. Whether they believe in God or not, there are certain standards of ethics we all must adhere to, certain social standards that ought to be followed, if only to make sure we don't cause yet more harm to ourselves and this planet.

There have been religious wars before. This is a fact, we must accept it. But we live in a rational age. Christians Churches are coming together in dialogue, they reach out to people of other faiths - not to convert, but to talk - and they have put aside their differences for the good of their own beliefs and the strength of their own faiths. So why do the atheists in question and those like them start an online war of their own? Are we the fools for talking about faith, for using the language of the article? Are we the ones launching an attack? We're not out to convert, but to express our faith.

I will accept, maybe there were some who commented replying in as equally an insulting manner from a Christian perspective. This is also wrong. This is how people get hurt, and were this to happen on a larger scale the world would face a crisis.

Here are the facts about people: we are free to make our own choices; we are free to voice our own opinions; we are free to have a religion and equally free not to have a religion; our choices and our opinions, our faith or lack thereof, make us neither greater nor worse than those around us. We respect the pope because of his position and insight into religious affairs, just as we respected Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie because of their contributions to computers and technology.

Mindless insults pass back and forth, but the majority of the insults come from those who think that by not believing in God they have a right to insult anyone who does. While I hate to disappoint however many of you there might be, let me make this clear: you have no right to insinuate you are smarter than anyone else because of your own beliefs.

We'll make certain things clear, shall we? Evolution: it happened, it is still happening. Charles Darwin wrote about it. It didn't make him an atheist. What made him an atheist, what began to sway his belief in God, was the death of his daughter. Read Origin of Species before you make any remarks about my faith or the faith of other Christians, and pay particular attention to the closing paragraph. They are not the words of a man who does not believe God exists.

The creation accounts in Genesis: they are true. Does this contradict evolution? Absolutely not. The Bible is not a scientific document. While the Church at one stage may have insisted on the literal interpretation of the Bible, this isn't where she stands now. Of all the genres contained in the Bible, science is not one of them. We respect that, we acknowledge that, we move on.

The truth of Genesis lies in its meaning, not what the facts that might be interpreted out of it - the Earth was not made in 7 days and Adam and Eve were not created as described. The truth of Genesis's creation stories is that God created the world, that God gave us life and that God's creation is good. This does not mean we did not evolve.

We are smart enough to understand our origins. While some people refuse to accept science, this is not true of a majority of people in the world who believe a God exists. No one has the right to insult us on the grounds of that belief, not when we accept the same science as you do.

As to the specifics of what has been said? Let it first be said that God is not the "sky daddy". My image of God, the image of God accepted by the Church, is not that of an old man with a long white beard sitting in the clouds. That image of God creates God in our image, when we believe we were created in His. We will forget that image.

Think instead of the symbol of Christianity. Even the atheists among us know this one: the cross. Who died on the cross? Jesus Christ. Whether you believe he was the Son of God or not, he existed. There are historical documents aside from the Bible that show this.

From a Christian perspective, Christ is God. The Holy Trinity helps us to understand this; it's a message of love, and while it can get complicated, I shall sum it up as I was told. The Trinity consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; one to love, one to be loved and one that is love itself. This is why we ought not to fight back on the same grounds as the atheists who insult us.

This Trinity shows Christians that Jesus was God on Earth. He died for us on the cross. This is where the question of "Where was God when...?" is answered, and why the omnipotent God, the all knowing God and the good God exists as we believe: He is there with all those who suffer. It is not for God to rid the world of suffering, not now.

I will accept, this is not a proof for God; I merely stand by the belief in God and rebuke the arguments against Him. No one has the right to say God does not exist simply because they do not believe in Him or because science has shown us so much of the universe. No one.

The reason we have no proof for God is because He is a mystery. For the very same reason, we enter dialogue with the other religions of this world: to understand our own faith better. Just because we believe Jesus is the full being of truth does not mean we understand that truth. The Holy Spirit is not under our control, and so people can understand the world in ways we did not think of before. An openness to new discovery is precisely why the Church hasn't been abandoned by everyone, why I haven't turned my back on what I believe. There is meaning to be found where I have not looked.

It is not in the insults of the arrogant and the attention seeking, the conformist cowards who bully others from the safety of their own homes. Bullying is not okay. Religious persecution is not okay. If you nobody accepted these ideals then the Jewish people would have been eradicated during World War Two and thousands of children would be left to fend for themselves in schools across the world, picked on for being different to the bullies.

It is not okay to pick on people. It is not okay to call them cretins, to mock their beliefs or to belittle them. You don't have to accept what they say as being true. No one will make you. You need only accept that they think about things differently than you do, and let it rest. Or, do what someone with brains would do who still wants to respond: discuss their statement, don't just dismiss them as a person.

The woman who can walk? Her injuries are healed. Is this a miracle? I don't know. I would like to think it is, but that doesn't mean God has chosen to grace her with something other people don't deserve. This simply means she was given something back she once had. We are not to question why, as Christians. We cannot understand God. 

And if you don't accept it was a miracle, we will go for the scientific answer: her second injury may have undone some of the previous damage to her spine. While I wish her all the best in life, two spinal injuries, even if they appear to be healed, will come back to affect her in years to come. For now, though, her spine has twisted back in just the right way that she has feeling in her legs again.

Let us not make a mockery out of this blessing, religious or otherwise. Let us not dismiss how great this must be for her by darkening the situation with arguments that may well insult her too.

Let us not argue over who is right or wrong when there is literally no way of knowing, and let us keep the insults out of the equation. No one deserves the abuse that has been shared today and repeatedly in the past. There is more to this faith than certain atheists give it credit for, just as there are more to atheists than the ignorant fools who insults on dismissing other people openly. I know people, not just friends, who don't believe in God, and the key to us getting along is that we never insist the other person is wrong or stupid. Let us at least do that.

A believer in God and science.

1 comment:

Matt S said...

Thanks for sharing. I didn't see the article in question, but I see the kind of vitriol you describe all over the place. I'm a Christian, of the variety that is currently trying to figure out where I fit into the Church, and I've gotten that kind of abuse from both atheists and other Christians. People become convinced that they are right, and that they are right because they are superior beings, and anyone who disagrees with them is both wrong and dumb. It's frustrating and why I generally avoid religious (and political) discussions on the internet.