One of my guilty pleasures is Netflix documentaries. They’re the flame and I’m the moth.
Sometimes it’s Bill Maher’s “Religulous,” other times it’s “Room 237” with all the Kubrick conspiracy theorists, but I’m always on the lookout for that nugget to either illuminate me on their perspective or make me change my beliefs. The people in these documentaries often claim to have the truth or at least enough of a truth that makes their stance valid. Maybe I’ve overlooked something in my own beliefs, I mean, I’m only human.
And I try to keep an open mind because coddling my beliefs have never made them stronger.
Most recently I watched “The Unbelievers” featuring biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. They were self-professed to search for truth, yet started by showing Dawkins laughing at a priest because the priest understood human evolution incorrectly (which I’m guessing wasn’t the priests profession).
Instantly my expectations sank.
Rather than illustrate their knowledge in talks with theologians they chose to highlight religious protesters who were practically frothing at the mouth: a stereotype Dawkins and Krauss presumably think is an accurate portrayal of all believers. Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t assume all teachers were lazy because of that one teacher who played video tapes while he napped at his desk.
Dawkins says the creation story doesn’t literally accord with science (a fact I don’t believe is in contention no matter what you believe), but then seems to assume the entire Bible must be based on a premise on lies, that those lies builds upon each other throughout the book and that this leads to why Christians must be kept in check with threats of burning in hell. He seems to see religion as a system that you must unwaveringly and literally believe in or be completely wrong about everything.
If he were the rationalist he claims, then maybe he’d understand that view is a slippery slope – a logical fallacy. But I don’t want to digress into Christian apologetics.
The thing that struck me as I looked at Dawkins and Krauss’ audiences was they were often students, and it made me think back to my time in college. I scored high enough on my ACT test that I could have had my education paid through a science scholarship. Perhaps that made it easier for me to walk away from the Sunday school version of religion because the grown-up version of religion seemed no different from the watered-down children’s stories.
For many years I was a very proud atheist. I set religion up like a straw man, easy to knock it over because I’d oversimplify religion or I’d undermine valid points by citing other problems in the Bible.
Snakes in gardens and floods covering the earth suddenly seemed like obvious fabrications. What made it worse was my parents didn’t have an educated understanding of religion, so they had no answers. I suspect my parents didn’t believe in an actual Garden of Eden either, but were too afraid to entertain a discussion about it being allegorical instead of literal. They were too afraid to answer even the most simple questions I asked because they didn’t have the education to answer them.
Ultimately they quit attending church entirely.
But the truth I’ve discovered is that science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive. I believe in evolution and physics and biology and chemistry, yet I no longer see any of these in conflict with my religious beliefs. It’s not because I’ve watered down my beliefs or because I have a poor grasp of science.
I consider myself fortunate to have found my church. We talk about these things. There’s no fear in suggesting that God didn’t literally create the universe in few days or that maybe snakes didn’t talk or a whole host of things.
More than that, we talk about dates when scripture was written, scientifically measurable history from religious academics and attempts to understand the culture they originated in.
It’s surprising. I’ve not yet seen a person who came away feeling less secure about their beliefs for having questioned them.
To put a different spin on Asimov’s famous quote: fear is the first refuge of the ignorant. To find truth in our lives we have to find what’s true in our own eyes and thoughts. If we never ask the questions, if we never think about the uncomfortable, if our beliefs are never challenged then we’re not finding truth.