Do we need God?

Reverend Jack thinks so. Do Uniter readers agree?

Since the 1940s Canada has witnessed a significant decline in the number of people who attend religious institutions. Specifically, it is young people who are pulling farther away from traditional religious behaviours.

What has led us to question our faith? And should we be concerned by this disillusionment?

For the past two weeks, Rev. Jack Duckworth has argued the case for Christianity, coinciding with a number of dialogues he was holding here at the university.

In response, a variety of guest and regular Uniter writers tried to show the wide ranging and passionate opinions that arise when questions of faith are brought to the table.

We want to know how you feel about the social implications of religion. Are we losing something integral to our culture by pulling away? Do we need God? E-mail your ideas to comments@uniter.ca.

The non-Christian Christian

Rev. Jack Duckworth

In last week’s issue of The Uniter Joe Kornelsen raised valid points. First, poor study and application of the Bible is troubling. However, scholars do not rely upon the Vulgate or the King James versions – they turn to the earliest Greek and Hebrew texts to engage the translation process.

Second, the inherent values within Christianity benefit our world even if billions have little idea of these principles. The real issue still remains: faith in Jesus.

Third, I agree that one can choose or reject religion based upon reason and logic. However this offers an easy way out either way. Further investigation suggests a common theme. The post-reformation era offers grounds for a new reformation to begin from within the community of Jesus’ followers.

Growing up in the church, as I have done, our view of faith can be discoloured if we take it for granted.

“Churchianity” reflects a microcosm of cultural norms. Instead, let’s think about living for Christ as non-religious people. Jesus crushed the religious norms of his day and ours.

A new reformation carries the weight of the voice and teachings of Jesus, as well as his disciples, Paul, Augustine, the reformers, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and today, Driscoll (Mars Hill - Seattle) and Cavey (The Meeting Place - Hamilton) among others. These voices ask us to step outside the pattern pleasing religious institution and be Jesus’ people.

Regrettably the hostility towards church empires, flashy faith and TV image-makers will not go away easily. So like it or dislike it, but the call to faith in Christ is unsettling because we are to do something with our convictions.

Internally, the Church is called to a new reformation. Externally, like the respondents to these articles, there are valid challenges. The centrality of the person of Jesus and clear Biblical understanding could be better focused. Regardless, attitudes towards Jesus Christ have to be viewed as credible inside and outside the church building.

I am troubled that the Church is increasingly withdrawn and marginalized in the face of growing need in our world. Instead of looking closely at Jesus, people inside and outside the church easily find fault then look to secondary ideas. The Apostle Paul states that in the face of struggle the focus is the Grace of Christ (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

We screw up. So do all people in relation to their worldview. The best way not to accommodate 21st century religiosity is to follow Jesus. It makes sense. He repeatedly frustrated the hair splitting accusations of his accusers by answering with truth. Jesus dismantled a convoluted process-ridden religion by teaching two points – Love God with everything you are and love your neighbour as yourself (Mt 22:36-40). Love. How logical is that? “The kind of love we are talking about (is) not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God (1 John 4:10 The Message).”

Rev. Jack Duckworth is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church Winnipeg and is available as volunteer chaplain at the U of W Thursdays from 12 to 3:30 p.m. He will be conducting the last of a series of dialogues on Christianity during the free period from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Wed. Feb. 11 in room 3M58.

I am troubled that the Church is increasingly withdrawn and marginalized in the face of growing need in our world.

Rev. Jack Duckworth

Human responsibility versus divine intervention

Ethan Cabel

Religious ideology, despite its strong rhetoric, is fundamentally weak if viewed as a combination of sentimental appeal and intellectual understanding.

Traveling through Arkansas from Little Rock Airport to attend a debate in April 2007, noted atheist/journalist Christopher Hitchens was greeted by the Little Rock faithful.

On the roadside was a large billboard emblazoned with a single word: “JESUS.” At the debate Hitchens remarked, to the chagrin of a predominantly secular audience, that the sign said both too much and, somehow, too little.

Hitchens’ sentiment can be extended to the very heart of religious dogma. The sign makes an appeal to the good feeling associated with the name of the Christian prophet but this appeal means nothing when reasonably evaluated.

Take, for instance, the lack of restraint given the word “miracle.”

On Dec. 23, 2008, 55-year-old Donna Molnar was found near her Ancaster, Ontario home after being buried for three days in 23 inches of snow. Molnar survived (incredibly) but was in danger of losing some extremities to frostbite. A family friend reacted, saying: “That’s the miracle. That’s a Christmas miracle. Sometimes the good don’t die young…”

At once, optimism and good faith are satisfied but the intellect is left starving.

We must assume God played no role in administering the horrendous weather, the frostbite, or the three day rescue delay. God, apparently, is capable of getting us out of a jam, but not capable of preventing it to begin with.

A natural disaster or near-death rescue are seen as God’s judgment because, morally, disasters contradict our ideas of fairness and, with the Molnar case, a rescue acts to reinforce our optimism. We often forget – and religion compels us to forget – that nature does not play by our rules.

Similarly, God is used to explain the end of cause-and-effect in the material world. He is offered as the uncaused cause: the creator of the universe. But, granted that all things are caused, who created God?

There was a moment in my youth where I realized this sort of disjointed logic can be found nearly everywhere an altar or a robed man in a pulpit is regarded with adoration or respect.

I went to a Catholic high school and attended monthly, mandatory church services. On one such occasion our school chaplain told a story about our gym instructor. Allegedly, “Mr. Williams” had lost his office keys and came, oddly, to the school priest for advice. Our good chaplain advised him to pray to Saint Anthony of Padua, a saint particularly skilled at locating lost items.

The moral of the chaplain’s story? That Mr. Williams, by praying to St. Anthony, found his keys. I wondered aloud in my pew, “If Saint Anthony is responsible for locating items who is responsible for losing them?”

Although these logical shortcomings seem benign, I think it is important to remember that, by ignoring human responsibility for the good in our lives, religion propagates the guilt and shame it desperately wants to escape from. By denying individual responsibility and the cold, amoral nature of the material world, religions deny what it is to be human.

Through religious criticism, in the words of Karl Marx, secularists are attempting to, “Pluck the flowers from the chain, not in order that man shall wear the chain without consolation but so that he may break the chain and cull the living flower.”

Canadians, whether it results in empty chapels or lonesome clergymen, should continue to pluck.

Ethan Cabel is a University of Winnipeg student.

Published in Volume 63, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 5, 2009)

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