Church Visit #1 and Nice Surprises
I, along with some heathen buddies at the UChicago Secular Alliance, are taking a tour of the many religious services around the Chicago-land area. We plan on going to Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and more. We started our journey today at Living Hope, a small Presbyterian church that has its services at one of UChicago’s buildings.
First of all, the music was excellent. It was much more lively and eventful than the last church I’ve been to; a Jehovah’s Witness sermon literally bored me to yawning tears.
Most admirable was the community’s concern with violence and injustice in the local community. Though I don’t agree with prayer as a treatment for a serious problem, people at the church demonstrated that they were very aware of the insane amounts of shootings and criminal activities on our own streets. Inspired by this, I hope to speak to this topic and/or raise awareness at an SSA meeting.
After the sermon, the Pastor gave us a chance to have a Q/A session which was quite productive. We got to ask questions like, “how does faith impact your life?” and “Why do you pray?”
The first question I got to ask related to the service because there were quite a few instances when people prayed for people to get well in a hospital. I was wondering if people actually thought that their prayers would have an effect on the outcome. The answers I got, frankly, really surprised me.
There was a young lady who said she knew prayer worked because she or one of her friends (these things are always anecdotal, so bear with me here) had a miracle cure that was inexplicable. One day, a person didn’t need crutches anymore. The pastor also referenced a few examples in his life when people suddenly got better. I had no idea in this day and age, much less in an environment like the University of Chicago, people still subscribe to these superstitious beliefs about faith-healing. Of course, there was some discussion about scientific studies about the (non)influence of prayer, but few seemed to understand that virtually all the scientific literature pointed to the fact that prayer has no medical effect. Someone briefly mentioned this study which showed that only when patients knew that they were being prayed for was there an effect (and the effect was negative because of performance anxiety).
Anyways, the more interesting part of the discussion came when we discussed topics like morality and “finding hope as an atheist”. Nothing surprised me here, and the arguments on both sides were pretty standard. We got very very good questions from the Christians there too, like “How do you define good?” and “Where did we develop the ability to empathize?”
Of course, I’d be surprised once again. The pastor talked about how great it would be to survive one’s death and live into an afterlife. After all, we could do so much more than just try to leave a legacy here on Earth. My response was simply that, yes, although I find Hell an appalling concept, the idea of Heaven–the idea that one could survive death–is very appealing. It would be great if it were true.
The pastor then replied, “Oh. So you simply don’t see that the Resurrection shows that there is an after-life.”
“What? Did you say that the Resurrection proves that there is an after-life?” asking for clarification when I couldn’t believe my ears.
Do you see where this is going? Even if one could demonstrate positively that there was a Resurrection, there is no possible relevance to the question of whether there is an after-life.
I commented that I myself could be Resurrected, and everything I say could be nonsense. After all, there were many Resurrections in the Bible. Clearly, there was something terribly wrong with his argument.
So the pastor clarified that the Resurrection demonstrated the existence of an after-life because of who Jesus was. He was supposedly an exemplary moral figure, a man who made spectacular claims about the Universe, and performed many many miracles. He even predicted his own future. I found it quite odd that he admits that the Resurrection itself isn’t sufficient; it is only sufficient when it is couple with even more spectacular non-sequitur claims about being related to God, predicting the future, and performing miracles.
But how does that show anything? First of all, I can easily conceive of a (fictional) person who made the spectacular claims that Jesus did, did all the miracles, acted perfectly moral, and fulfilled many prophecies. Yet, he could still be the Devil’s assistant, sent here to trick men into believing an after-life.
But that’s not even the main problem with the argument. The most surprising thing is that this is a pastor advising people on what he believes based on a widely fallacious argument from authority.
Suppose Jesus said something demonstrably true like “for all right triangles, side one squared plus side two squared equals the hypotenuse squared”. It would seem like the pastor would like us to believe that the theorem is true because Jesus said it. I, and most atheists, on the other hand, think that propositions are true or false based on the properties of the thing being referred to (in this case, a right triangle). We believe therefore the only proper way to know if something is true is to study the thing itself (through geometry) and not by listening to authority.
Similarly, answers to questions like “is there an afterlife?” beg for study of the existence of the afterlife itself. We can try to study consciousness to see if it can possibly survive after death. We can refer to cognitive philosophy. We can look at studies of near-death experiences. Maybe the endeavor is futile, and we can’t know the answer.
But too many religious people say they already know, and that it is true because a figure in a desert said it was so, and because he:
i) had a mom who never had sex
ii) could turn water in wine
iii) claimed to be the Son of God
iv) was a perfect moral figure
v) etc. etc. etc.
If we imagine this list going to infinity, would that convince us? Would that convince you?
Always looking for surprises. Until next time, don’t keep the faith.
Posted on October 10, 2011, in Religion and tagged after-life, atheist going to church, Christian church, does heaven exist, finding hope, going to heaven, Jesus miracles, miracles, morality atheist, near-death experiences, resurrection, Secular Student Alliance, surviving death, university of chicago. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.