Religion asks you to accept a lot of things "on faith" without thinking them through, the young skeptic of religion says, calling himself a disciple of logic, reason and science. In the Christian Church, for example, one is expected to recite the Apostles Creed, to swallow it hook, line and sinker, which he isn't prepared to do. He doubts whether Mary, the mother of Jesus, was actually a virgin, and doesn't necessarily believe Jesus' miracles were performed in the way they are described, and he doubts whether the laws of science and gravity were broken and the body of Jesus "rose from the dead," levitated to heaven, where the body was healed of all earthly wounds, then flew back to earth to encounter the followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Was that really Jesus or an apparition in the minds of his followers? How did Jesus "die for our sins"? he asks. How could that be possible? Not only did Jesus somehow die for the sins of all those believers who came afterwards, Christianity asserts, but at least some of those who lived before? All that could be a lot of hocus pocus, he suggests, theological constructs, not too different from what the Greeks and Romans thought about the imaginary gods they created.
I reply that it's good he's thinking about these things, and yes, such details can be stumbling blocks to faith. But they don't have to be. The Gospels were written, what, 60 years after the events occurred, and if the writers got some details wrong, it's not a big deal to me. I don't consider doubts about any of those details to be barriers to participating in a Christian community.
The trouble with scientific atheism, I ask ironically, is "how do you live with your doubts?" By that I mean those moments when the spirit of God seems real, and you feel in harmony and at one with nature and the universe? Most if not all of us have such moments, as well as moments of doubts. Few people are religious believers all the time, every moment of life, and few people can sustain atheism or agnosticism, complete cynicism and doubt, through every moment of life either.
In closing oneself off from God, Allah, the Force, a higher power, or whatever you call "it," from a spiritual community, in proclaiming dogmatically that the spiritual world does not exist, one is closing the door on a whole dimension that makes life more meaningful and can help us get through disappointments, rough patches, bumps in the roads, disasters. Which nearly everyone, sooner or later, experiences.
I contend that one's understanding of various theological questions will change and develop over time, and no one will ever have a complete understanding. Words crafted by humans can be a pretty inadequate way of describing that which is so much larger than we are, often beyond our full grasp-- the divine and the eternal.
The essence of the religious attitude, wrote the late Ronald Dworkin, a professor of law and philosophy at New York University, is the conviction that "inherent, objective value permeates everything, that the universe and its creatures are awe-inspiring, that human life has purpose and the universe order."
Perhaps the crux of Christianity is the belief /hope/ faith that God cares enough to intervene in human affairs. He sent his "only son" or another way of saying it, Himself incarnate, as an example to humans on how to live, with love as the foundation of life. And that humans, in their half-hearted and sinful nature, denied and crucified Jesus.
And yet the spirit of Jesus was so strong despite the attempts to kill Him off through crucifixion. The resurrection might mean simply that His spirit survived death and still thrives in the hearts of men and women who open themselves to that spirit, from that day to this day and into eternity. And that God continues to intervene in human lives throughout the world. Our task is to be open to it, to try to comprehend it and try to be a part of God's love and work here on earth.
One doesn't need to accept or comprehend it all, certainly not all at once. I said I currently have a problem with the concept of heaven as a place of eternal reunion with loved ones with whom we "live" for eternity. Nice thought, but actually we are altered by death and by separation from our bodies. We can no longer be the same. And after 100 years or so, the individual personalities of nearly everyone who lived -- except for a few historical greats -- are forgotten, because there's no one around who remembers them.
So, the notion of my loved ones' individual spirits surviving or being active "until the end of time" seems improbable to me. But, what do I know? The notion of spiritual reunion after death is a nice, warm, comforting feeling and hope and if it's true, that's wonderful. If it's not, well, this life might be all there is, and it will have to have been enough because there's not much we can do about it.
What seems most important is that the spirit of God -- I might add Allah, or the God of other major faiths (the same by different names and with different cultural interpretations) -- the spirit of love, the spirit of Jesus, survives and thrives until the end of time. And that we all become part of that spirit, if we so choose or if it chooses us. Those who don't develop their spiritual side are dead when their body expires because there's nothing to pass on or to the spiritual world. But I've met only a few people in my life who seemed to have no spirit whatsoever or a purely malevolent spirit. So who's to know or to judge? Not humans, for sure.
Many of these questions evoke mysteries which we cannot fully solve in this life.
My friend Bruce Johnson also had some thoughtful answers to these questions. He writes:
There's a beautiful Talmudic essay asking why the psalmist asks God to place his words "on" the psalmist's heart rather than "in" it. The answer is that if our hearts are closed, the prayers can then fall into our hearts when we open them. The same I think is often true of words we say about faith - they come back to a person years later, an experience I've had both with things I've heard and things I've said to people.
My overall view of faith is similar to yours. Faith is above all a mystery. We can't pin down the precise truths because our experience doesn't yet allow for it, any more than a baby, before birth, could understand what the outside world is like. Not only do the mystics testify to this, but St. Paul says it explicitly ("We see now as in a glass, darkly") and Jesus does too ("the kingdom of heaven is LIKE . . .", he constantly says, because it can be expressed only by analogy).
In the end, my own faith I suppose is my trust that there is Someone who both cares about me and about everybody I care about and who has the power and the wisdom to make that caring effective, even if I only faintly comprehend it.
As for Heaven, it's sort of the ultimate mystery, but my basic faith is that there is a part of me and you that is realer than whatever this stuff is that SEEMS so real but which physicists tell us is basically a bunch of electrical force fields perched precariously on the edge of dark matter that cancels out the anti-matter that would otherwise destroy it and whose appearance as we perceive it is somewhat deceptive. And that whatever that part of us is, once it's separated from all its emmeshment in this world of appearances that can be both so enticing and so frustrating to deal with, will have all the fog cleared away and will see that Someone with a clarity that is impossible now, though we have faint glimpses or hints.
Interesting that we've both had recent thoughts that were quite similar about death - it did strike me forcefully recently that when we die, the part of us that can find distraction in selfish pursuits will be gone. The only part of us that will be left will be the part that loves and that is committed to what really matters. Which should motivate me to try to break free from some of those distractions before I don't have any choice but doing so, and be open to the real reality becoming a bigger part of my living, now.