|Waving A Little Flag
by Paul Walker
We know that there is a huge gap between traditional Christian
understanding and atheistic understanding of the world. For many this is
inevitable. It would be worrying if it were not so, because both
Christians and atheists seem keen to distance themselves from each other.
For those of us who wish ideas around religion to be taken seriously,
it causes a degree of concern. I thought I might quote two ideas which
bring into this divide into stark contrast.
First, Richard Dawkins is an outspoken scientist who believes that
science leads inevitably to atheism. He writes:
Nature is not cruel, pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the
hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might
be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous -
indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
Second, I quote from a runaway best-seller in the United States called
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The first sentence of Warren�s
book reads, "It�s all about God". He argues that to understand the purpose
of life you have to begin with God and his revelation through the
scriptures. The scriptures can help us to understand absolutely what our
purpose is as part of God�s plan, and to live accordingly.
So we have two opposing camps.
In the red corner are those who argue that life has no purpose
whatever. It simply is. In the blue corner are those who argue that there
is a great being outside ourselves we call "God" and who we know through
revelation. God is the purpose of our lives and in turn gives our lives an
On the face of it I can understand why Rick Warren�s book has sold so
many more copies than any work of Richard Dawkins. For when I read these
two ideas I fear my heart is with Warren and brain is with Dawkins.
There may or may not be a purpose to life. But as Dawkins suggests, I
cannot admit that this is the case. On the other hand, if the purpose of
life is so simple that a small Semitic tribe had it all worked out two
thousand years ago � then how come the world is so complicated?
As I pondered this question, I started to tie myself in knots. I was
seeking to reconcile these ideas and to wonder if there could possibly be
a bridge between the two.
Eventually I realised that of course there will be no bridge. This is
because Warren and Dawkins are incredibly similar to each other. They both
claim to know what life is about. Granted, their conclusions
differ. But they are both certain of the origins of the universe and that
they fully comprehend it.
In a sense they are both fundamentalists. And as the world is learning
to its cost, fundamentalists do not enter into dialogue.
I wish at this point to wave a little flag for agnosticism.
I find that I cannot look at the universe and conclude that it has no
purpose. Nor can I conclude that there is a knowable God behind it. I
simply do not know. The Greek for knowledge is gnosis. Hence those
who do not know are a-gnostic.
Yet I would also call myself a Christian. This is not because I believe
that Christianity has answers to the questions of the origins and purpose
of life. Those we will never know. Rather, I find that there are forms of
Christianity which help me make sense of my existence.
Let me illustrate. The year 2005 sees the sixtieth anniversary of the
liberation of Auschwitz. What are we to make of such an appalling thing?
Perhaps callous existence occasionally throws up societies which commit
genocide. Such an event has no meaning. It just happens periodically.
Then again, perhaps it was all part of God�s plan to help us learn
compassion and put the "people of the book" back in the land that God
promised to them.
To both conclusions I say no. Maybe my heart dominates my head, but I
can do no other.
At its best I understand Christianity to respond to such things as
Auschwitz by speaking of compassion, of justice, of love, of hope, of
Jesus lived and died in a world of equally harsh brutality. Yet he
still preached divine and neighbourly love. His response was to accept
people as they are and to draw them to each other and to a God who broke
down the barriers that divide people. This for me is still a viable way of
dealing with the horrors that existence can bring.
I am convinced that we cannot understand the universe. But asking
questions about it matters. We should allow people like Dawkins and Warren
to make their claims and in a sense leave them to it.
The rest of us who make no claims to understand the purpose of life
should still seek together to live lives which give it real
meaning. Let�s also live as if the meaning we give life is the very
purpose of the universe.
You never know it might just be!