Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Stubbornness, Irrationality, or a Closed Mind?

Why is it that the devastating, faith destroyed critiques of atheists, like the one in the comment here, aren't? Is it explained by the post title, or a combination of the three?

By way of analogy, a buddy of mine, who used to work at a women's prison, said that the heckling from the inmates never bothered him. As he put it, "I already know I'm short, fat, and bald." The inmates couldn't hurt him, because they didn't know how to hurt him. The basic insults had already been absorbed, understood, and dealt with. He's a bachelor, but were he married, do you think his wife could insult him? Could wound him deeply? Could mar his psyche in ways that would take years or decades to heal? Why? Because his wife would know the tender areas, the soft spots, the Achilles' heel.

To apply the analogy, I've had my faith more deeply tested by fellow believers than I ever have by the challenges of atheists. They know what troubles me, for it troubles them as well. The atheist challenges the apparent weaknesses, not realizing that those areas have been challenged innumerable times, and have appropriate defenses. It is in the rear areas were a true challenge comes, but it only comes from believers.

The comment above was a question about omniscient and omnipotence. I will give him a better question. How can such a God have his mind changed by the prayers of believers? Throughout the Old Testament, the prayers of men caused God to depart from his wrath, but He knew they would pray, and He knew He would leave aside His anger, so how is that any different from doing what He wanted in the first place, and faking "anger" for show--in effect lying to His people about His intentions?

The best answer I have come to is that it is evident that God can choose not to do something as well as to do something, including not to choose. In those cases, God chose to let human prayer decide the balance of justice and mercy. He knew how they would choose, but that is no more controlling than my asking my wife if she would prefer a Coke or a Pepsi. Nonetheless, God commands us to pray, so we should pray for that reason alone.

Even so, that answer seems awfully like defining a problem away. Can God change his mind? No, He chose to let His mind be changed. But atheists don't ask questions like these. Their assaults bear little weight, not because of stubbornness, irrationality, or closed-mindedness, but because to hurt someone deeply, you must also love them deeply.

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