by Kenneth Justice
~ Sitting at a table with an atheist and Christian in recent months, the conversation came to an impasse and the Christian friend of mine said to the atheist, “You are simply stubborn because you will not consider the possibility that you are wrong”. However, as I sat there listening to the two of them, I couldn’t help but notice that the Christian was being just as stubborn as the atheist.
Religion, atheism, and morality are among the most discussed topics when I sit down at coffee. While fellow coffee goers are always talking about the latest buzz when it comes to politics and social events, ultimately much of the conversation ends up going back to ethics, morality, and the meaning of life.
One of the difficulties when talking about these issues is that it is often difficult to navigate the line between people’s differing views on religion, metaphysics, and atheism. More often than not people come to the table in these discussions with their minds already made up. Western philosophy (the worldviews that you and I come from) trains people to believe that they are entirely right about what they believe unless someone can prove them wrong, and it makes for quite a few difficulties in dialogue.
At coffee recently a good friend of mine said to me that everything he believes is emphatically correct unless someone proves him wrong. While on the face of it that might make sense, in reality it is a nonsensical position with which to build your worldview. Such an attitude creates a never-ending series of arguments, because instead of being open to dialogue, it renders the person to be close-minded and stubborn.
Imagine a child that comes to every discussion thinking they are ‘right’ about everything; the parent would have to argue with the child on even the most simple of subjects. And as you and I know, children most definitely do not know everything; they need to be taught.
The philosopher Rene Descartes said “Some years ago I was struck by how many false things I had believed, and by how doubtful was the structure of beliefs that I had based on them. I realized that if I wanted to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and likely to last, I needed – just once in my life – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations”
So for Descartes, this newly found knowledge led him to a new attitude; that nothing should be accepted as true unless it had been proven to be true.
What a joy it must have been to talk about life with Descartes, a person who didn’t start every conversation with an air of all-knowingness, but was open to hearing alternative positions and ideas. A person who was quick to listen and consider, rather than disagree and argue.
As the Proverb says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame”.
Obviously, you and I have certain preconceived notions, it is simply a fact that cannot be denied. Yet the question that lies before is also quite simple; will we choose to come from the position that we are entirely correct about what we believe, or will we choose to strip away our preconceived beliefs and open ourselves up to more constructive dialogue?
If you are a Christian and want atheists to be open to the idea that they are wrong about a universe that lacks an all-powerful and all-knowing god, then you yourself must also be open to the idea that god does not exist. Is that too difficult a pill to swallow?
Francis Schaeffer, one of the most influential protestant thinkers of the 20th century was very adamant about his position on this subject; “how can Christians expect atheists to be open to being wrong, but they themselves will not be open to being wrong” he asked.
It is the height of arrogance for a Christian to come to a dialogue with atheists and expect of them something they themselves will not do; consider the possibility of being wrong about their preconceived notions.
“But Kenneth, I KNOW that God exists, why would I even for a moment consider the possibility that God does not exist?” you might be thinking. Yet isn’t that the very thing that is going on in the mind of the atheist; “I KNOW that God does not exist, why would I even for a moment consider the possibility that God exists?”
It is a simple issue of justice, is it not? To be fair and just, to truly love your neighbor as yourself, shouldn’t you expect of your neighbor nothing more than you yourself are willing to do?
Stripping away our preconceived notions is difficult to do, and being the imperfect creatures we are, we will never be truly objective; we will always be polluted by elements of our humanity that are beyond our control. But if we are committed to maturation, if we are committed to having positive dialogue with people on the other side of the aisle, then we must begin letting go of our one dimensional mode of thinking. We must let go of our close-minded attitude, we must allow a spirit of humility to flow over our being, and open our minds to new ways of thinking.
Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,
Categories: Culture & Society