An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.
This quote is apparently attributed to Woody Allen, at least so says the internet. Allen is also a confessed atheist (again, so says the internet), and as such I think we can assume the quote in Allen's context has a somewhat malicious sense to it. In my experience, most atheists have the absolute worse image of God that one could imagine: an angry old man ready to smite you at every turn for his own entertainment. But ironically this quote, or one very much like it was also used in the beautiful and tender-hearted film called "Bella."
In "Bella," God does not appear, nor has He any unseen yet overt role in the film. The quote is rendered true but not as some angry God thwarting your plans, but rather with the sense that God redeems human decisions that result in pain and tragedy. We make plans - often good and wholesome plans, but they are undermined and often by our own doing, what we intended for good is rendered bad. So God does not laugh at our failure, he "laughs" at our audacity knowing the bigger picture and that He will redeem the pain and suffering we don't see coming. The key being that we be willing to seek that redemption.
In our lives, we have very explicitly seen God "laugh" at our plans. The pain at such extensive plans being thwarted, however is such that perceiving God laughing at them is more than a little too much to bear. No. A LOT too much to bear. The anthropomorphism here is wrong. I believe He shares in our pain, but the quote rings true when we realize our plans had perhaps put more faith in ourselves than in Him. And as imperfect human decisions bring so much to nought, we are hopefully taught a lesson. No...I speak for myself: I am hopefully taught a lesson.
God will redeem this mess. He will heal it, He will turn refuse into gold. He will take all sinful human decisions (ALL of them) and he will redirect their ill-motivations (whatever they may be) and instead of more pain and suffering, there will be life and joy. It likely will not look anything like what we planned, but when we look back we will see God's redemption. I do believe that.
Believing it, though, is not enough. I must seek that redemption. Belay that....I must seek Christ Himself. Like Job in the whirlwind, I must let go of my perceived wisdom, my biases, my preconceived notions, and my faith in myself and then admit - repenting in dust and ashes - that it is ALL about Christ. "In Him we live and move and have our being."
There are no human solutions; Only Christ. There is no length or depth of dialogue that can heal; Only Christ. There is no peace to be snatched by our own effort; Only Christ. There is no hope in human institution or organization; Only Christ. On and on it goes...there is only Christ.
The extent to which I seek Him, will be the extent to which I will see His redemption. The extent to which I engage my anger, my self will to fix everything, to argue my way to peace....I will only perpetuate chaos.
It begs the question: have I prayed about it more than I have talked about it? Have I prayed about it more than I have posted online or emailed about it? Have I prayed about it more than I have worried or wrung my hands about it? No, I confess I have not.
Someday, if we continually seek Christ, we will see our thwarted plans redeemed. It will no longer be about who wins or who loses, but only Christ. It's a saintly goal, perhaps even impossible to conceive, but I truly believe Christ can heal all wounds and LITERALLY bring life from death. Someday, we will hear God laugh, and we will laugh with Him as He wipes away every tear.
What is Religion
Having a degree in it, one would think I could easily define it. However, I think it may be harder than you imagine. I will say it need not involve metaphysics or the numinous or the supernatural, but I would agree it must involve faith. That said, I think faith is FAR more common than people think - even amongst the most devout (yes I use the word very deliberately) atheist, a great deal of faith is employed. Indeed, they BELIEVE they have the universe quite figured out, or at least anything that isn't yet figured out, will eventually fall neatly into place in their tidy worldview. I'm not being insulting here, generally speaking I think this is a part of our human vocation. It's quite natural to want to have a grasp on these things - what the world is all about; the big questions. One way I would be inclined to define religion is that it is a system of interpretations of our perceptions that "ties it all together" and is the lens through which we make sense of most everything.
You may remember the MTV VJ Kennedy? Well she recently got in some hot water by claiming that atheism was a religion on the Bill Maher show (Why she'd go on that show I do not know, as it is my decided opinion that Maher is a condescending, arrogant jerk). But, anyway, she recently wrote an article about this experience (warning: there are naughty words). Curiously enough, she happens to be an Orthodox Christian (didn't know that) and I wondered about that when she humorously states that she didn't know what fire and brimstone was until she insulted atheism.
Not surprisingly, much of the heat she got was provided by that very common vector of passions: Facebook. I can't imagine what her thread must have looked like...oh my!
Anyway, the argument over whether atheism is a religion stems from the issue of whether or not the definition of religion must involve the "supernatural." Of course then we run into the problem of what exactly is supernatural, because quite frankly many of the things being discovered in the realm of quantum physics certainly bucks the title of what we used to call "natural." In other words, we keep on finding out that the universe is far more complex and full of wonders than we imagined and I'm not at all hesitant in suggesting that we have only begun to scratch the surface. Therefore what might have been supernatural yesterday may be decidedly natural today. "Supernatural" was often seen as some mysterious force breaking the "laws of nature", however what we are learning is that the "laws of nature" make congressional laws made complex by thousands of pages long look like child's play.
Despite what Penn says in the article, I think atheists MUST employ some degree of faith in order to suggest that all of the big questions of the universe are answered by their secular, "naturalistic" perception of the world. In this sense, I personally believe that the agnostic is the intellectually honest person who is NOT employing any faith by saying they don't know the answer to the big question. I need to be clear and say that the many unanswered big questions about the universe are not an apologetic for God's existence ("God in the gaps" as they say), but we must also consider that an atheist employs as much faith filling the gaps with their worldview as any theist claiming to do the same.
If you've ever read the works of Richard Dawkins or talked much with any of his disciples...ummm...followers...ummm...fellow atheists of like mindedness, you'd quickly ascertain that these folks see all of the universe through the lens of Darwinism / natural selection. They do not hesitate to make highly debatable claims without a shred of scientific evidence to suggest that evolutionary theory explains everything about us - this is particularly evident in the realm of evolutionary psychology. In essence, these atheists wander about the world, taking it all in and then filtering it through their faith in Darwinism as THE all encompassing theory of everything. I've heard them working it out in their head as it spills out verbally asking how it is that such and such a thing evolved - often positing an explanation and as long as it has some degree of possibility to it, it's largely taken as fact, for what other arbiter of the universe brings things into being?. Really, not terribly unlike a theist looking at a mountain range and in his / her mind marveling at God's handiwork.
All of that aside, I wonder if the better approach to the main issue at hand is instead of saying that atheism is a religion, that we say that atheists are quite religious in the practice of their atheism.
Kennedy notes one study that tends to suggest than humans are "naturally" inclined to be religious. In actuality there have been numerous studies that demonstrate this, and even the likes of Richard Dawkins and his entourage have not surprisingly offered an evolutionary explanation for our inclination to be religious. As I noted earlier, we all want to understand the big picture and we all have a natural sense of the numinous and awe at profound beauty (That we even recognize profound beauty as being distinct from beauty that fulfills our various desire, I think speaks volumes). Such things are tickling our religious inclination.
But what Kennedy discovered is that all of the same passions theists pour into their religion, atheists pour into theirs! No one likes to have their tidy worldview tinkered with or made light of. Atheists have enjoyed making of fun of theists (e.g. Flying Spaghetti Monster) and have claimed utter contempt and superiority in the face of the angry response they get at such insults. Well, as Kennedy has found, turn the tables and call their faith as faithful as any faith and the response rather proves the point. Insulting a person's religion gives rise to passionate responses, whether the supernatural is involved or not. Bill Maher has made an entire movie ridiculing religious belief in order to propagate and build up his own. I'd suggest that if one were inclined they could make a movie about the religions of atheism and pull out of the woodwork all manner on insane atheists to paint a rather ugly picture of that faith.
I'll go a step further and suggest that politics is also a religion unto itself - even if we believe that the only religion we have is the one that we think only informs our politics. Sometimes the line between the two is very difficult to discern and all of the same passions are quick to be employed. Atheists, having no church, will often seek one in the political arena. Or...perhaps they will just give up and admit that they ascribe to a religion.