There is an increasingly loud voice of secularism in the West which rejects all religion as at best, irrelevant and at worst, dangerously intolerant extremism.
Certainly, Stephen Hawking, the physicist famous for his insights and intellect who passed away this month, thought God was an invention we no longer needed. Rightly influential as a scientist and writer, Hawking was also well known for rejecting the idea of a personal or creator God: “Before we understood science, it [was] natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said.
Hawking reasoned that man had to invent God because we needed to understand the world. But now we can rely on human reason and science.
Am I then a fool for loving the revelations of science whilst also believing that everything cannot be understood by the power of reason?
What has religion done for me?
- A tenet of humanism is that we are making progress as a civilisation: religion holds us back because of superstition but humans who trust in scientific fact will continue to move forward to greater enlightened thinking.
But human experience repudiates this idea. Our cleverness does not make us morally better with the passing of time. We make strides forward in some ways eg we no longer accept child labour in the west but sink into ‘mediaeval’ behaviour when we allow global trade in children’s lives for labour or sex; when we allow guns to be put in the hands of child soldiers or when we turn a blind eye to rich men abusing younger female staff.
How do we account for such actions if we accept no moral compass beyond our own individual benefit?
If we have a moral standard beyond our own, we have a universal and eternal standard of rightness that holds us to account – that allows us to praise good and condemn trespasses in individuals and as a society. I don’t have to kid myself that we are constantly improving – I can work for justice and right whilst also knowing that those things are imperfect because only God is perfect.
- Many people, not just Christians, accept that materialism and individualism are empty replacements for religion, but they are not sure how to address the mess. Does it lie in mindfulness?
Meditation and other forms of slowing down are good ways to stop our bodies and minds from overload but I have issues with finding the solutions to my problems purely in my own resources.
But believing in God gives me a sense of purpose, comfort and balance that is in my heart and mind but also beyond me. God helps me see my life and the state of the world through a bigger lens.
- Science invites us to measure things and downplays things that can’t be empirically proved but how can we measure the efficacy of prayer? or totally understand why music can calm the agitations of a person with dementia?
I’m OK with some mystery in life, with not being able to understand everything. I don’t think it is laziness, just a sense that we cannot know or control everything, and that if humans did, that might be very dangerous.
Science is grappling with this dilemma now as artificial intelligence gets more ‘intelligent’. Where do morality and goodness fit into the programming of a robot? And if we teach morality to a robot, whose morality is it – a PhD nerd’s in silicon valley?
God’s values put human life above all else, say we should love our neighbours as ourselves, remind us we are NOT the most important thing in the world, and puts sacrificial love as the highest value.
- Believing in God does not make me stupid or superstitious. It helps me to appreciate that I am wonderfully made but also makes me humble when I realise how much God has done to create relationship with me.
In one of my favourite films, Blade Runner, a key question is What makes us human? The simple answer is a very Biblical concept: that love and freedom make us human. Can we experience those without God? Of course. But understanding God is the only way to truly appreciate my ‘spiritual’ humanity and my place in a mysteriously wonderful yet perplexing world.
 Steven Pinker says in his new book Enlightenment Now, that the ending of the slave trade coincided with the Enlightenment. But he fails to acknowledge that leaders of the anti-slavery movement in the UK and USA were Christian Quakers and groups like the Clapham sect who were motivated by faith.
2 thoughts on “What has religion ever done for me?”
In my teens, I learned this anecdote from Billy Graham’s writing: “The mind that explains God fully must be grater than God”. This may not be the exact quote but I have lived with this thought. Like the good book says, only a fool will dispense with God. Science and reason do not explain the transcendent God. AI could well be humanity’s undoing, except for God.
As one who tinkers with physics and classical mechanics almost every day, looking at large scale interactions in man-made constructions – and in nature, I cannot be other than humbly awestruck at the design, and often vast beauty, of what I examine. And whilst I am no astrophysicist, yet with an understanding mind which too is capable of evidential conclusion, I have long begged to differ respectfully and fundamentally with the late Stephen Hawking, who posited that no creative limitless genius founded and nurtured (and with obvious love), the whole of original life and matter. In the face of the vast and immensely complex universe, and all the laws of physics, chemistry and mechanics which hold it in exquisite order – of which humankind inhabits one infinitesimal dot … I dare to call it arrogance, and a failure of the noble mind, to pronounce that we have all the answers! (We have an estimated 10% of them.) Part of the joy of accepting the evidence which is out there for all who wish to see it, and then more extraordinary still, that it comes jointly with an offer of relationship with its designer, is that that realisation elevates human endeavour and meaning to a level quite different from the sterile shallowness, and man-centred indulgence, of life devoid of looking together at the astonishing works of God.