Today I found this quote about religion and atheism:
“I have a problem with religion or anything that says,
‘We have all the answers,’ because there’s no such thing as ‘the answers.’
We change our minds on issues all the time.
Religion leaves no room for human complexity.”
-Daniel Radcliff (Harry Potter)
Honestly, this sounds like a whiny teenager who thinks they know more and are smarter than their parents. “My parents just don’t get it! They don’t understand me!” Blah, blah blah.
Well, guess what? Just like parents know more than their teenage children, religion contains much more wisdom than many atheists give it credit for.
I’m not here to pick a bone with Daniel Radcliff. I found this quote on a Facebook meme, so who knows if it was even him who said it. That doesn’t really matter. What matters is the issue that it brings up.
To say there is no such thing as “the answers” is to say there is no such thing as fact and fiction. I can’t even make purely objective statements like “I have brown hair,” “if a woman has sex she might get pregnant,” and”2+2=4.” Obviously, the speaker is making a gross simplification.
Even more disturbing, it would mean there is no such thing as right and wrong. This kind of relativism leads nowhere good. It means that there is no moral imperative against doing anything that you want to do, including lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering. If there literally are no answers, than anything goes.
I’ll skip the “We are complex” bit for now to discuss “We change our minds on issues all the time.” Since when does changing your mind a lot mean there is no such thing as objective truth? We ridicule politicians for flip-flopping; why is it suddenly a virtue when arguing against religion?
If I do a math problem incorrectly, there is still a correct answer. Morality is the same way. We can objectively state what is right and what is wrong.
Now for the “complexity” part. Yes, people are complex. We are amazingly, wonderfully complex. We are capable of learning, growing, and deliberately changing ourselves. Every year we are not quite the same as we were the year before.
Religion most certainly accounts for that complexity. I’ll only speak for Christianity, since that’s the religion I know best.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of how God understands our complexity and provides for our individual needs.
One of my favorite verses is found in 1 Samuel 16:7. The prophet Samuel is trying to find out who should be the next king, and God leads him to David. David seemed an unlikely candidate, but he was the one the Lord chose. The verse reads:
“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
The people around us only see us in a superficial way. They see our looks and clothes, hear what we say and how we say it, and see some of our actions. But God knows our motivations, thoughts, and feelings. God understand who we truly are. He understands our complexity.
Christ’s teachings also reflect an understanding of our complexity.
He condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. The Pharisees insisted upon strict observance of the law of Moses, yet failed to understand it. Among other things, they treated others with scorn instead of compassion and failed to recognize the Messiah they had long been waiting for. Christ clearly taught that following the letter of the law without understanding the spirit of the law is insufficient. Indeed, it is detrimental to our spiritual progress.
The story of the woman caught in adultery and brought it Christ is another excellent example. The Law of Moses said that she should be stoned. Instead, Christ said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). When her accusers had left, Christ said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Christ did not condone the sin, neither did he advocate the punishment be carried out. Instead, He extended mercy to her on the condition that she repent and not repeat the sin. Jesus understood her as an individual and treated her as one, rather than approaching the situation in an impersonal, bureaucratic way. He certainly understood human nature.
The first and great commandment is to “…Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Does this sound like it doesn’t take man’s complexity into account? It doesn’t sound that way to me.
Everything we do either shows we love God or we don’t, and that we love others or we don’t. These are not simple commandments. These commandments make us consider the implications of all our words and actions. It encourages us to live more purposefully and less by accident. If that isn’t complex, I don’t know what is!
People who criticize religion ought to understand what they are talking about before they speak.