I was mildly surprised at how strongly I reacted to a comment by “A friend” made on my “Turn on, tune in, or drop out?” post. If you read my response (in the form of another comment), you’ll note a decided tone of what I like to call irony, but others could reasonably term sarcasm.
Pondering my reaction, here’s how I explain it:
If you say to me, “When it comes to God, I don’t know,” we’re comrades in unknowing. Grab a chair and belly up with me to the clueless bar.
If you say to me, “When it comes to God, I believe…,” we can have an interesting conversation. I probably won’t agree with you, but I enjoy learning about other people beliefs, or lack thereof, in a higher power.
If you say to me, “When it comes to God, I know…,” we are going to have a really interesting conversation. For once you say “know” rather than “believe,” my skeptical radar sets off a Dogma alert! Dogma alert! siren inside my psyche.
I don’t expect reasons for beliefs. They’re your business. Just like sex, whatever turns you on. Go for it. But also just like sex, beliefs need to remain personal if they are to be unquestioned.
As soon as you say, “I believe _____, and you should too,” there’s going to be a stiffening of my argumentative spine. I’m pleased to be given advice by someone who is more knowledgeable about something than I am. However, that something needs to be objectively real, not imaginary.
And beliefs aren’t real, even though lots of religious people seem to think that they are.
Going further, some people actually claim that they know the nature of God or ultimate reality. Now, this requires some serious questioning. A claim like that, why, it’s amazing. I mean, in the entire span of recorded history there hasn’t been a single clearly evident, unquestionable, plain-as-day revelation about God or the divine.
So if you tell me that you know for a fact that God exists, or that God is such and such, or that God is realized in this particular fashion, then I’m going to be super-duper interested in how you’re able to back up that astounding assertion.
I want you to lay your cards on the table. Face up. All of them. Show me your four aces. And let me know in detail, exactly, precisely, how you were able to come up with that winning hand.
Of course, I know that this won’t be possible. If you’re just bluffing, and don’t really know about God, then you’ll be empty-handed. But even if by some miracle you truly are God’s bosom buddy, you still won’t be able to lay any material proof on the table.
I’m pretty confident about that, because nobody else ever has been able to do so, and I’m willing to bet that this run of “busts” will continue.
So, please, please, please. Pretty please with blind faith crumbs on top. If you write or talk to me and go beyond “I believe…” when speaking about God, bring your best stuff. Show me the money, as the saying goes. The proof.
I’ve shared this quotation before, but it’s worth sharing again. To my mind, classics scholar A.H. Armstrong hits just the right tone.
When claims to possess an exclusive revelation of God or to speak his word are made by human beings (and it is always human beings who make them), they must be examined particularly fiercely and hypercritically for the honor of God, to avoid the blasphemy and sacrilege of deifying a human opinion.
Or, to put it less ferociously, the Hellenic (and, as it seems to me, still proper) answer to “Thus saith the Lord” is “Does he?,” asked in a distinctly skeptical tone, followed by a courteous but drastic “testing to destruction” of the claims and credentials of the person or person making this enormous statement.