"Sometimes I sit there in church on the verge of hysterics,” he says. “I look around and I know everyone else thinks it makes sense. But for the life of me, I can’t figure it out. A Really Big Being out there that comprehends every atom in the universe? That just boggles the mind. I wish there were some evidence for God, I really do, but there’s not one shred.”
He is a senior executive in a telecommunications company. He sends his kids to cub scouts at the church because it’s a good place for them to socialize. He has season’s tickets for the symphony, he is active in his local community, generous to the United Way, committed to social justice in his city and a devoted husband and father. But the idea of God just doesn’t make any sense. For him, religion is a way of fooling yourself into worshipping an imaginary Very Big Being.
He could be just what the church needs.
The church spends a lot of time and energy telling people just like this man, and people like atheist Richard Dawkins, that they don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to God. But if we want to help people like them experience God, maybe it’s we who need to listen.
What Dawkins and my executive friend reject is the idea that God is an object you can examine. Which is very orthodox theology. They are telling us that the bigger we try to make God, the more silly such a God sounds. If we want people to take God seriously, they are telling us, forget the idea of God as a very big person out there.
Dawkins says that evolution finally puts to rest the idea of God tinkering with genes so life will happen. No special intervention is required for life to be created. Whatever God may be, they are telling us, it is a much deeper reality than that.
Like Charles Darwin, author of Origin of the Species, Dawkins is telling us that new kinds of animals are created when large numbers of normal animals die off. Misfits suddenly fit well and become the ancestors of a new normal. If life has arisen on other planets or anywhere in the universe, that process of death leading to new forms of life will be the way it happens.
But that sounds strangely like Christ. He was a misfit who insisted on fairness and dignity for all, including women, the diseased and social outcasts of all kinds. That sort of equality would never fit into the violent hierarchy of human empires, yet through his death, Christ became the ancestor of a whole new kind of human-the community founded in God’s kingdom of justice, the community that is a follower of The Way.
Rather than asking people to imagine a great Being in the sky, maybe we should be focusing on faith in Christ as a way to grasp the deepest mystery of life. What if our worship spoke to the realities of the cosmos, of life, that skeptics already know to be true?
Then, would our worship elicit hysterics or awe? Ω
Canon Harold Munn is rector of The Church of St. John the Divine in Victoria, B.C.