Friday, January 7, 2011

Part III – We see what we are looking for: Meaning.

We spent last time looking at what people of faith are looking for and why that influences what they see.  Last post, I told you about how a leader of the seminar I was taking had to tell us to look for the white rabbit before we saw it.  Once he told us what we are looking for, we found it.

This happens to us in the everyday.  When you spend the evening watching a movie that plays on your fears, you tend to see things on your way to bed that make your heart race.  Because you have spent the last two hours in a heightened sense of alert, ridiculous things like children’s dolls or portraits on the wall leave you creeped out.

We all come to crises in our lives - whether they are in childhood (attachment), adolescence (identity) or midlife (the worth of our lives).  In those crises, we look for meaning and purpose.

So a young lady that is going through a rough early adolescence feels threatened.  Her body, her mind, even her friends are changing.  This crisis yearns for some kind of stability.  At the same time in her life, she starts attending a youth group with some friends where the pastor talks about peace, love and understanding.  Is it any wonder that she is going to ‘see’ what she is looking for as she claims a belief in God?

If I were an atheist, this is where I would challenge the faithful.  You find meaning because you are looking for meaning.  It could be a young girl or someone nearing the end of their life who is looking for resolution to whether their life means anything.  You find what you are looking for – even when it is not there.  Is it just a coincidence that people ‘find’ Christ at times of crisis?  Is it just because that is the time that they are looking for meaning and they aren’t at other times?  Or is it rather because the crisis in their lives makes them look for and project that desire onto things that are not really there.

Of course, as a skeptic, I would have to go one step further (which most atheists do not do).  It is true that we tend to look for the thing that we want and often times we project them onto things that are really not there.  But if that is true for the believer, it is also true for the skeptic.  If it is a human trait to find what we are looking for – to project onto mundane objects the very thing we are seeking – then the atheist is guilty of the very same thing.

Now of course you might be asking, “how could a person possibly be looking for nothing?”  No, I am not saying that the atheist is looking for nothing and therefore finds it.  What I am saying is that as humans, we seek stasis – a place of calm.  We seek to get rid of discordance or disharmony.  For the young lady we looked at, the crisis in her life caused a stress that left things out of harmony.  Her pursuit of harmony left her searching for a particular ‘note’ to bring it all into balance. 

But if that is the atheistic argument for the existence of religion, then it has to be the same valid argument for the existence of atheism. 

Consider a young man who goes to college and sees a lot of his value system turned completely upside down.  Raised to believe in God and make friends with people of good character, he finds that most of his life he has been sheltered.  Intelligent professors deconstruct the faith that he held dear.  Students engage in activities that run completely counter to his moral code . . . and they are nicer than the ‘religious’ ones (that he discovers are doing the same thing anyhow).  In the midst of this, his own search for meaning brings him to a point where the easiest conclusion is that there is nothing to find. 

When we reach crisis points in our lives, we find what we are searching for.  And we may even go so far as to search for the God that we think should be there – so much so that when we don’t find Him (in the manner that we have created Him), we come to conclusion that He is not there.

The strict scientist who doesn’t ‘see’ or ‘sense’ God in the logical sense is perhaps the greatest example of seeing what you are searching for.  Using only the senses (which has a very limited bandwidth) and the reason that rises from the senses (which is similarly limited) to search for God, she sees nothing.  She sees nothing, however, because she is looking for nothing.  The conclusion has been stated before the investigation begins.  Scientia – ‘to know through the senses’ – there is nothing beyond what we normally experience.  Is it any wonder that the atheist scientist only sees what they are looking for?

I sat down with a person this week who had the same question two days ago – “if God is really there, why is there so much evil in the world?”  Translation: “the God that I have in mind wouldn’t allow evil in the world.  I have searched for this God and I found what I looked for – there is no God.”  By becoming atheist, the person remains true to what they are searching for.  They were never looking for God; they were looking for their God.  And since it doesn’t match what they see in the world, instead of looking for a God beyond their idea they stay true to their idea and claim there is no God.

So beware of the idea that somehow atheists have passed through the subjective experience of religion and have reached the objective conclusion that there is nothing ‘out there.’  No one is objective.  Everyone sees what they want to see.

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