(Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22)
I have a friend – who I only communicate with via Facebook because she lives in Minnesota – who is an atheist. Even though she thinks it would be easier for her to deal with the difficulties in life if she could believe in God, she just can’t.
Recently, she posted a quote on Facebook from the psychologist Paul Thagard that seemed to represent her atheist stance. Here is the quote:
“Do you believe in Karma?
The idea of karma originated in Indian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but is also used in the West to mean that good deeds will be rewarded with good results, with the opposite for bad deeds. This assumption is captured in the popular saying, “What goes around comes around,” and in the much older proverb, “As you sow, so shall you reap” [Galatians 6:7]. . . . [T]he idea of karma is not based on any good evidence.
What would it take to show that karma actually exists? We would need to consider a large sample of human behavior, and look to see whether there is a substantial correlation between people doing good things and having good things happen to them later, and between people doing bad things and having bad things happen to them later. Of course, the study would also need to consider cases where good deeds and bad deeds are not followed by commensurate results. To my knowledge, no one has ever conducted such an investigation.
The plausibility of karma is based on a few anecdotes and on the general appeal of the idea that people will get what they deserve. In the background is the religious idea that cosmic reciprocity is ensured by divine actions, with a god or gods ensuring that people really do get what they deserve. This idea is no more plausible than the formerly widespread belief that the good will of the gods can be achieved by sacrificing animals. Reciprocity—treating people well because they have treated you well—is an important part of human interactions, but the cosmos plays no part in it. The original Buddhist idea of karma based on reincarnation is even more problematic with respect to evidence. [T]he conclusion [is] that karma is just a myth. The belief that what goes around comes around is just wishful thinking. . . .
People would be better off to use evidence-based reasoning to figure out how to deal with unavoidable uncertainty, without mythology.”
I think Thagard must be an atheist, because his way of dealing with a spiritual principle is evidence-based and not faith-based, as I’m sure you could tell from his quote.
This friend and I have a respectful relationship regarding religion, so I wanted to comment on her post. One of my favorite Christian philosophers I had to study in college is Soren Kierkegaard, who coined the phrase, “leap of faith.” I decided to quote something about his beliefs as a response to the post. Here’s what I quoted:
"In Kierkegaard's meaning, purely theological assertions are subjective truths and they cannot be either verified or invalidated by science, i.e. through objective knowledge. For him, choosing if one is for or against a certain subjective truth is a purely arbitrary choice. He calls the jump from objective knowledge to religious faith a leap of faith, since it means subjectively accepting statements [that] cannot be rationally justified. For him, the Christian faith is the result of the trajectory initiated by such choices, which don't have and cannot have a rational ground (meaning that reason is neither for or against making such choices). Objectively regarded, purely theological assertions are neither true nor false."
The bottom line, according to Kierkegaard, is that religious beliefs cannot be proven or disproven. They are arrived at through a leap of faith into something that cannot be proven! You can’t know God until you have a relationship with God, so in order to do so you have to take a leap of faith. The only way to cross the span between God and us is through a leap of faith, which means that we make a commitment to something we don’t know yet. In the act of making the commitment to a personal relationship with God we realize our true self. Our finite lives are received into the infinite life of God. We have arrived in our permanent home. We come to know God.
Thagard would not approve, of course. But, then, he hasn’t taken the necessary leap of faith. Until he does, he can’t understand how we who have taken the leap of faith could do so without any scientifically-proven evidence that God – or anything else spiritual – exists!
Long before Kierkegaard, of course, the apostle Paul expressed the leap of faith much more succinctly:
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”. . . For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:18, 21-25).
Neither science-based evidence, nor wisdom, nor signs will get people to believe in the God of Christ crucified, for the message about the cross is foolishness except to those who have taken a leap of faith in the God who is unknowable and disprovable until we’ve arrived at the other end of the leap and come to know our God.
And that is why we are called “fools for Christ,” for that is what we are (1 Cor 4:10). Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, March 4, 2018, the Third Sunday in Lent.