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Think Christianity Isn’t Complex?

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’re complex. 

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.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Adam Power says:

    I struggle with faith all of the time. Sometimes I think I might be an atheist, but I cannot understand the contempt towards the faithful. Maybe its just a case of negative voices being loudest, but I really hate it when either side says or implies that the other is stupid.

  2. He must not believe in physics or math and chemistry either, since they are objective sciences and therefore “leave no room for human complexity.”

    Sure, they change, but that’s because we’re essentially taking an enormously complicated math problem where you have to take 17 million inputs and guess what operations to perform on them to get an given (observed) answer. However, the reason science appears to change is because our understanding changes—the fundamental principles do not and can not.

    And Adam, EVERYONE struggles with faith. That struggle is actually what makes it faith—without that struggle its either perfect knowledge or ignorance (either genuine lack of knowledge or willful refusal to try to reconcile it). I contend that the very operation of scientific experimentation is faith-based. Someone takes a bunch of research and studies and formulates some kind of belief in how or why it works, then tests it. That is the same process every believer goes through—the trial of their faith.

  3. Lee says:

    Hi Fiona,

    I’m mostly with you. Religion is definitely complex, not simple. And like science, it keeps getting more complex, not less complex, the deeper you look. That’s because at the “deep end” of religion is God, who is infinite and therefore infinitely complex.

    I do, however, have some sympathy for thoughtful atheists and agnostics who are troubled by religion, as expressed in the Daniel Radcliff quote.

    For one thing, even though religion is complex, some religions try to make it simple, and present a one-dimensional view of God and salvation, which they insist must be believed to the letter or you are damned.

    For example, I have been told by a fundamentalist Christian that I am not a Christian and I am going to hell because I don’t believe in salvation by faith alone. Now, faith alone is mentioned only once in the Bible (James 2:24), and in that one place it is explicitly rejected. Yet that Christian believed in it so strongly as the one and only way of salvation that no matter what else I believed and no matter how I lived, he thought I was going to hell for not believing in it. (Meanwhile, I told him I thought he was going to heaven because he was doing his best to live as he believed God wanted him to.) Those are the kinds of religious attitudes that push many thoughtful people toward atheism.

    It is true that there is an absolute truth. But it is also true that we as finite humans don’t have it. Only God does. What we have is our best current approximation of the truth. And sometimes the things we believe are just plain wrong, even though we’re totally convinced they’re true.

    When it comes to ethics and morals, it’s even more complex. Different religions teach different things (though there is a commonality at the core), so people’s consciences are formed differently. Many atheists and agnostics are turned off by each religion thinking it’s right and all the others are wrong–as in the personal experience I just mentioned. They see people of other religions living good lives but not believing “the right thing” according to their own religion of origin, and being condemned for those “wrong beliefs” even though they may actually be living more loving and thoughtful–and therefore more God-like–lives than those who are condemning them.

    Some of my thoughts on this subject are in one of my own most popular blog posts:
    If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

    I think there would be fewer atheists and agnostics if religious folks as a whole were somewhat less sure they are absolutely right, and somewhat more willing to believe that God is in everyone else’s religion, too.

    • Thank you for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments!

      I respect atheists and agnostics who have honest questions but are respectful of religion and people who are religious. I have no patience for people who just want to bash religion to prove how “superior” they are, especially when it’s clear that they don’t actually know much about religion. I suppose patience is one of the virtues I still need to work on 🙂

      Your post was really interesting. While I don’t think any one religion has a monopoly on God or truth, I do believe my religion to be the one true religion (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called “Mormons”). If I didn’t think my religion was the right one, why would I bother going to church and living by its doctrines? But on the other hand, I don’t necessarily think someone is going to go to hell for not believing the way I do. I have great respect for people who live according to their convictions, even if I don’t agree with them. I feel that actions are more important than faith, not to belittle faith. Faith is certainly important, but doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t inspire one to love others and be a good person.

      Side note: Latter Day Saint doctrine also allows for all people to be saved, regardless of religion. We believe that, when we die, we are (of course) judged for our actions and beliefs, but those who never heard the gospel of Christ have a chance to be taught about Christ, to accept Him, and be redeemed.

      A lot of times the version of Christianity that gets bashed is the simplistic version, as you pointed out. I think of that as the version we tell children. At school and at church, we tell children the “simple version” of things. We expect them, however, to mature and gain an understanding of the complex, or, more accurate version. This process never stops; I’m still learning more about the gospel of Christ even though I grew up a Christian. As you said, we finite humans don’t have the absolute truth; we just do our best to approximate it.

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