The other night Hubby and I watched Bill Maher's Religulous (it's 'religious' combined with 'ridiculous' in case you haven't heard of it). He has a very obvious intent with the film: to show that religious people are hung up on unsubstantiated fairy tales because they are too weak to stand up and ask questions, and that this blind devotion to silliness is destroying the world (via holy wars, religious terrorism, etc). OK, so obviously I disagree with him across the board, and frankly the film would be offensive to almost everyone I know, so I don't recommend it. However, I wanted to take the chance to give my responses to some of the questions he threw at his interviewees. You see, as any intelligent documentary-maker would, he choose to interview people who would help him make the point that he wanted to make; in other words, he choose nice people who felt strongly about their faith but didn't know how to carry on a good debate, or how to give a strong answer to a hard question. (Or, in the case of his sequence about Mormons, he chose to interview a pair of apostates; and everyone knows that a former-member will always paint a different picture than a faithful-member.)
So here are my responses to some of his questions (in no particular order):
The Bible says a snake talked to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Can an intelligent person really believe in talking snakes?
No, I don't believe in talking snakes. I believe that's a metaphor for the devil. Surely you've heard the term "he's such a snake!" [I might say that Bill Maher is a bit of a snake!]
Scientists tell us that evolution is fact. So how can you believe in a creation story like the one in the Bible?
I have two thoughts on this. First, science is a growing and changing field. 600 years ago science told us that the world was flat and that Earth was the center of the universe, then folks like Columbus and Galileo came along and proved otherwise, so everyone adjusted their theories to match the newly-found facts. I'm not convinced that science can ever give us a final answer about anything, it can just tell me what our best guess is right now.
Secondly, I don't think that evolution and creationism are actually in conflict. I believe that God created the world and put a multitude of creatures in it, but that over time many of those creatures and plants have changed and evolved. Do I believe that men came from apes? No, I believe we are created in the image of God just like the Bible says. But I do believe in evolution.
How do you explain that the same stories (virgin birth, miracles and healings, resurrection on the third day) were told around the Mediterranean and even across the world for centuries before Christ?
Cultures around the world also have flood stories, and creation stories, and first man/first woman stories. I believe that the same stories come up all over the world because they are all based in one truth. I believe that that one truth is most accurately described in the Bible, but I think the very fact that cultures around the world are telling the same stories is a very good indication that somewhere up the line the stories were true. Of course they vary a bit from one area to another, because each society is going to adapt the story to fit their culture and way of living, but that doesn't mean they didn't start as one story.
If God wants us to be happy, then why would he let the Holocaust happen?
Because God will not interfere with our free will. He wants us to be happy, and He wants us to be kind to each other, but he does not and will not force us to do things. I think He did and does weep at many of the horrible things that men have done to each other, but He won't interfere because that would not be fair. The fact of the matter is that some people are going to choose to do good kind things, and some people aren't, but a fair God has to treat us all equally, so he allows us all our choice.
Incidentally, I think that the periods of intense evil--times such as the holocaust--also serve to bring out intense goodness. There is opposition in all things, and I think of people like Corrie Ten Boom or Eli Wiesel, and I see that the worst situations can often bring out the best in people. So even those terrible things are giving people a chance to choose who they want to be.
"Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking... The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions, is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble and that is what man needs to be..." [yes, that one is an actual quote from the movie]
I actually agree that the only appropriate attitude is to ask questions. I think that some religions hold a lot more water than others on the logic front, and that 'blind faith' is never a virtue. Yes, I consider myself a woman of faith, but it's not blind. I have studied the tenants of my faith and frankly I find that they explain a lot of things in what I find to be a very logical way. My faith is not about feeling comfortable or taking anybody's word for anything, it's about having logical explanations for life, the universe and everything. ☺ I find that the more I learn of science and the world, and the more I understand my religion, the more they fit together beautifully.
Too bad he didn't interview me, huh?