Philisophical Musings

of an agnostic polyamorous heterosexual artistic soul

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Critique: The Reason for God

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I have been reading “The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Skepticism”  by Timothy Keller, as part of my continual search for answers to my many questions. I am not one to take things at face value, or to necessarily trust my “hunches” and “emotions”, and therefore I also strongly believe in challenging myself by taking seriously “answers” from all walks of life, religious or not. Not one of us can be completely non-biased when trying to formulate what we believe. I continually have to struggle against many years of Christian religious teachings, which though I now for the most part reject, still have undeniably had a part in forming the person which I am today.

Tim Keller is a superb speaker. Gifted, talented, engaging, interesting. He is certainly not a poor writer either. And these are of course reasons why he has a great deal of committed followers. As I am starting this critique, I am only half way through the book. The first half deals with all the “reasons” which moften are used in trying to refute the plausability of Christianity in specific or religion in general. Because there is a lot in the book to react to, I need to start getting things down before I have too many loose thoughts floating through my head.

So far, I have found the book to be an interesting and engaging read. Keller certainly seems to be a well read author, and I would say he has done a lot of his homework for this book. Most of what he claims is supported by footnotes which lead to the sources of his propositions. It would naturally be a huge task to also verify all those sources, and one must, as always, work on an assumption that such statements are basically accurate. However accurate though, all the footnoted sources are subject to personal interpretation. What I am saying is, I certainly do not have the time to verify all the sources, and therefore, will base my critique mostly on what Keller himself makes of those sources.

This critique will proceed chapter by chapter. This not only serves to keep things more organized, but also allows commenting (which I would encourage) to also follow that same organization. My hope is two fold. First of all, this method of critiquing a book is for myself a personal method to really absorb, understand and make my own a writers ideas. Secondly, I hope to encourage healthy and respectful dialog  within a wider community. We all have a lot to learn about life, and inevitably, we will all have to make our own choices in how to best go about life. But without true, open and respectful dialog, life will only stagnate. And stagnation is never a good thing.

So, on to it…

Written by Philoman

March 7, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Critique: The Reason for God – Introduction

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“One survey showed that in the last several years more than a hundred churches had been started in New York City by Christians from Africa alone” [xiv]. As a missionary kid who spent 15 of his most influential childhood years in Africa, this survey somehow doesn’t surprise me, and certainly doesn’t ‘prove’ anything. I think anybody looking at the general history of the growth of religion, when laid next to the development of society, will see a correlation between how “traditional” and “modern” a society is, and how willing the society is as a whole to accept traditional religious stances. I used quotes around the words “traditional” and “modern” to indicate that I in no way wish to imply that there is something wrong with a society which is less modern and more traditional. It is simply a fact that different parts of the world contain societies which are in different stages of modernization, and this can be seen in many areas, including their approach to religion.

Keller talks about “a divided culture” [xv] where people are either opting for a “nonreligious life, for a non-institutional, personally constructed spirituality” or for “orthodox, high-commitment religious groups that expect members to have a conversion experience”[xv]. So society is apparently becoming less religious and more religious at the same time. This I suppose says just as much about the “lure” of what Keller calls “relativism and permissiveness” as it does about the falling short of orthodox religion. Maybe it even says more about how orthodox religion fails to meet peoples actual needs, since that is the one thing they apparently are not turning to. But a little earlier in this introduction Keller mentions how others “were incredulous when I explained that the beliefs of the new church would be orthodox, historic tenets of Christianity…” [xiv], exactly what the majority of believers ( and non-believers ) are walking away from. If orthodox beliefs are so worthwhile hanging on to, would that not be clear to the majority of the masses? Granted, on a person to person basis, people often do not make soundly based or even correct decisions, but I generally hold to the theory that ‘most people, most of the time, will choose what is most likely to be good for them’. That also seems to fit best alongside the evolutionary idea that a species will typically evolve in a direction which, in the end, is most beneficial. So what sense would it make if then, religion, which for a religious person should be central to life, goes against that statement in that supposedly we really don’t know what is best for us “religiously speaking” and therefore need to resist the temptations of “relativism and permissiveness”.

Keller states “We have an impasse between strengthening forces of doubt and belief…” [xv]. If by ‘doubt’ one means doubt in the existence of god, I would agree that the “force of doubt” is on the rise. I seriously wonder as to the statement that the “force of belief” is strengthening. I think what I see is a ‘shifting’, not a strengthening. Those religious in society are, and rightly so, slowly becoming wary of orthodox beliefs simply because they are harder and harder to hang on to in face of the unrelenting storm of knowledge science places before us. Sure, people will always be able to find reasons to retain their beliefs, even orthodox beliefs, but I suspect that their numbers will only become less. As Keller says, “When fundamental understandings of reality conflict, it is hard to find anything to which to appeal” [xv]. The “fundamental understanding  of reality” that science places before us is quickly eroding many long-held and unquestioned religious beliefs. Science may not prove those beliefs wrong, but certainly makes a strong case for questioning their very legitimacy.

An interesting article along the same lines as Kellers argument that Belief is on the rise.

From here, Keller goes on to explain that believers and non-believers alike exercise a form of faith. “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternative beliefs” [xvii]. I find this section to be of little help in providing me with better arguments for or against belief. Any clearly thinking human being will be aware that, no matter what they believe about the world around them, they will never gain 100% certainty in a host of subjects. That is simply the nature of life. So yes, we live in the “faith” that we have of the worth of life or the reason for living. Keller than says “The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts, and then to ask yourself what reason you have for believing it”[xviii]. Exactly! And this is , I suppose what the rest of the book will examine. The reasons not to believe, and the reasons to believe.

He talks about the “blind faith” of skepticism [xviii]. True, I, like many others, am skeptical about faith in a god. But, does that automatically translate into “blind faith”? I am not skeptical about my life, and the worth of it, or life in general. In fact, though life doesn’t provide all the answers we desire, in the same way as science falls short of the same, I find myself having less and less doubts about a “secular and relativistic” society. And certainly, it cannot be called “blind faith”. Whether right or wrong, there are every day more and more reasons to support my faith in life without God. I respect how Keller makes it sound as if the goal is to both camps to understand the other better, but I wonder if that is really the only goal. Then again, I also fall prey to pushing my own agenda while acting like I am neutral.

I could say a few more things here, but let’s move on.

Written by Philoman

March 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm