Friday, June 10, 2016

June 3, 2016 From the Shelbyville, KY Sentinel-News, Column One in the Series on Belief and Unbelief

Note - I write a column for the Shelbyville, Kentucky newspaper, the Sentinel-News, every other Friday.  On June 3rd, the Sentinel began publication of a series of columns about belief and unbelief, written by myself and a member of our community, who is an atheist.  I thought it would be an interesting conversation and I appreciate the Sentinel-News and my co-author for participating.  For the privacy of the other person I am not including their name in the columns as I publish them each week on this site.  Even though the person has publicly agreed to have them published in the Sentinel-News, I am not assuming they want their columns or name published on this site.

It would be quite the understatement to say that we live in a time of great division. As a society, we live along clearly demarcated lines of politics, race, income, education, and other differentiating features. In recent years we have witnessed the rise of another area of division, one that touches on some of the most fundamental questions of our humanity – the division between belief and unbelief.

This column marks the first in a series of joint columns presented on the topic of belief and unbelief, and the growing division between these two perspectives. About a year ago, I queried Todd Martin, editor of the Sentinel-News, about the possibility of a series of columns on this topic, by two writers, each of whom would come at the topic from very different perspectives. I appreciate very much that Mr. Martin was both accepting and accommodating of the idea and was generous in offering space in the paper. With his approval, I then approached...and asked that...serve as the author of the columns to be written from the side of unbelief. well-known to the readers of the Sentinel-News, both for ... letters to the editor and My Word columns that appear from time to time in the newspaper. My reason for asking ... to take part in this endeavor originates from an association we shared in 2006, when we were both selected as Forum Fellows with the Courier-Journal newspaper. As part of a group of about two dozen, ... and I were also placed in a smaller group of three people, and it was in that capacity that we began to share conversations about our very different beliefs, and in the years since then we have continued the conversation about our respective beliefs.

After publication of this introductory column, ... and I will follow with columns, published simultaneously, on four topics – 1. The nature of belief. 2. The relationship between church and state. 3. Common objections to both belief and unbelief, and 4. The relationship between science and faith. Neither ... nor I will see the other’s columns until they are published in the paper and, after the appearance of these four columns, we will each write a final one, offering a response to what the other has written. This type of approach, it seemed to me, would make our writing more of a discussion than a debate. Our society could use, I believe, more discussions and fewer debates.

My hope, through the weeks these columns are presented, is to bridge the wide gap that often exists between believers and unbelievers. Though we are all aware that discussing religion – or the lack thereof – can be a contentious topic, it is becoming ever more critical that we learn to speak across this divide and endeavor to understand one another’s perspectives. In doing so, my hope is that we can transcend the common, and sometimes offensive, stereotypes, which far too often dictate the conversations.

Both sides of this discussion remind me, at times, of an old joke about a politician who had written in the margin of his speech:  weak point; be sure to pound podium hard and speak loudly. From both sides of the belief/unbelief continuum we hear a good deal of pompous pontifications – which might play well to their respective choirs – but offer little in terms of careful consideration and thoughtful insight. Too often, there is an abundance of arrogance careening back and forth in the debate about God’s existence, religion, and the attendant topics. I do not like the ridicule and dismissiveness that too often come from both sides, as neither of these attitudes constitutes a real or persuasive argument but serves merely as proof that a meaningful argument is lacking. Comparing, for instance, the belief in God with a belief in Santa Claus seems, I’m sure, like a powerful statement to rebut belief, but strikes me as shallow and uninformed about the true nature of belief and faith. Likewise, slogans such as I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist ignores the fact that there are some points that ought to be carefully considered from the unbelieving end of the spectrum. Honest, genuine critique I can respect, such as it exists.  In its place is, too often, ridicule, as if that is all that can make a point, or because discussion and respectful debate fail to have the desired effect.

As a person of faith, I consider it critical to seek to understand other viewpoints, especially those very different from mine, and atheism is a perspective a long way from my own. As ... and I present our points of view, I believe the entire discussion of belief and unbelief, and all of its related issues, comes down to one primary question – does God exist? That question is not determined by which side has the strongest argument, the best catchphrases, the greatest reasoning, or any other factor. The entire question rests upon whether or not God exists, and his existence is not predicated upon how strongly we believe, or disbelieve; it rests upon whether or not God’s existence is true, and every other question about faith, religion, and belief flows from that one question. It matters not how much I believe – or how much someone else disbelieves; it only matters what is true. God either exists, or He does not.

As the readers, you will agree or disagree or believe we make a valid or invalid point based most likely not on what we write, but upon what you already believe. No one among us is absolutely objective, no matter how much we believe our perspective might make us so. I certainly hope that we hear from you, the readers, over the course of this discussion, and that you are brought to think about what you believe.

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