by Grania Spingies
In the wake of complaints such as this one and angry reviews of Jerry’s new book Faith vs. Fact, one has to wonder whether any criticism of theism is acceptable or valid to a believer. One of the complaints that irks Jerry the most is the charge that he – or indeed we – as fellow atheists, have not read the right theology books, or not enough of them, or that we haven’t understood them properly.
The charge continues: therefore we haven’t truly understood religion, and therefore we lack the credentials to rebut it.
Of course, the charge is bogus. At very least, Jerry has read more theology than the average human being, more even than the average church-going believer. Tomes of Sophisticated Theology are rarely if ever referenced by ministers and priests in their sermons and homilies, because they know that those in the pews have not read them and don’t intend to either. The notion that the real answers to difficult questions lie between the covers of such books is simply a security blanket proffered where the congregation appear to be of above-average education and perhaps don’t literally believe in talking snakes chatting up naked women.
Perhaps because most theology books are rarely read, the champions of theology as Christianity’s best argument aren’t always aware of the fact that, for example C.S. Lewis (still so very popular after all these years, perhaps simply because he writes more accessibly than the average theologian) has been very comprehensively taken apart by other theologians.
However, I maintain that most theology is dead in the water from the outset. Here’s why: they all operate off the base assumption that God is real, and is moreover the Christian God of the bible. This is why theology fails to convince anyone who isn’t already in the club.
Lewis actually tried his hand at “proving” God with his infamous “liar or a madman” argument. Basically Jesus is God because he said so, and he wouldn’t have said so unless it was true, because we know he wasn’t a liar or a madman. Plenty of people have pointed out that those aren’t the only two other possibilities. And any non-believer who has read the bible can attest that in fact some of Jesus’s doings come across as quite mad (figs, anyone?). In any case, anyone can spot a circular argument. Cosmological arguments and Pascal’s Wager don’t get any better even though some of them use really long words with lots of syllables.
Anyway, the point here is to have a discussion about whether it is possible to satisfy a believer that your lack of belief is not owing to a lack of theology. If not, why not?