Recently the following story by Ancil Jenkins,
8591 SW 118th St., Miami, Florida 33156,
was sent to me:
We must not be willing to give up a belief
when it costs us something
article recently crossed my desk. It told of a small town which had two
churches and one whiskey distillery. Naturally, conflict came from such
a situation. The churches wanted the distillery closed. The owner, who was
an atheist, wanted it open.
Finally the two churches had a joint prayer meeting. They met on Saturday night and prayed for the Lord to settle the matter. During the meeting, a terrible thunderstorm hit the town, lightning struck the distillery, and the resulting fire burned it to the ground.The next morning, both preachers had a sermon on the power of prayer. This, however, was not the end of the story. The
company refused to pay for the burned distillery. It said its policies did
not cover "acts of God," and since the lightning came as a result of prayer,
they were not liable. The owner sued the churches, claiming they had conspired
with God to put him out of business. The churches countered that they had
nothing to do with the cause of the fire.
The judge in charge of the case opened the trial thusly: "I find one thing about this case that is most perplexing. We have a situation here where the plaintiff, an atheist, is professing his belief in the power of prayer and the defendants, all faithful church members, are denying that very same power.." --Ancil Jenkins
An example is the problem of suffering and cruelty in the world around us. Both atheists and believers seem to be willing to call certain things "acts of God." We sometimes hear an atheist complain about something God did in the Bible--like commanding the total destruction of all life in a particular city. We also hear believers ask "why did God do" (or not do) something that brought pain or loss to them. The fact is that, since the atheist denies the existence of God, he cannot believe God does any acts or commands anything in any real sense. Any reader of the Bible--even a casual reader--knows that the Christian system involves serving others, not just trying to get what we can out of life for ourselves. Expecting God to conform to our selfish desires when helping us might harm someone else or require us to be favored by God is a failure to understand the nature of our relationship to God. The Bible tells us "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34), that "He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45), and that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). The book of Job and Ephesians 6:12 tells us about the purpose and reality of our existence, and we cannot logically expect that purpose to be thwarted to allow our own selfish desires to be met. If skeptics cannot offer a satisfying alternative to the biblical explanation to suffering and difficulties in the world, and if Bible believers are unwilling to function as the Bible tells us we should, it is no wonder we have a world of inconsistency around us on all sides.
A second example of human fickleness has to do with the relationship between science and faith. It is not uncommon to hear sweeping condemnations of science in the creation/evolution controversy. Creationist writers will ridicule scientific assumptions and gloat over errors that are made by scientists. As a teacher, I had major battles with parents who were very religious and became angry with me because I had motivated their child to pursue a career in science. The perception of these parents seemed to be that, if their child became a scientist, somehow there would be a threat to that child's faith or at least a detriment to their involvement in the work of the church.
The irony of all this is that these are the same people who drive an automobile, watch TV, use a computer, take medicine, eat foods--all produced by science. Does this not smack of hypocrisy to enjoy all that science and technology have brought to us and then turn around and denigrate all of science and demean those who have made it possible?
On the other hand, we have militant atheists and skeptics who ridicule and scoff at religion as an ignorant and destructive waste of time, gleefully pointing out errors made by religious leaders and categorizing things like the Crusades and the World Trade Center disaster as the natural end result of religion. These same people will go to a hospital or learning institution built by religious people to get an education or medical care. They will place their aging parents in a retirement center operated and funded by a church. They will allow people sent by churches to deal with AIDS patients or to care for destitute people in all countries on the planet without even acknowledging the massive amount of good being done, much less getting involved themselves. Why is it that no atheist Mother Teresa has ever existed on this planet if all that religion does is wrong and destructive? The one experiment atheists did try in Liberal, Missouri, ended in such failure that the atheist leader declared that he never again wanted to live in a town with no churches. (See "It Was a Town without God", Does God Exist?, July/August 1989.)
It is one thing for religious people to disagree with conclusions of some scientists and for atheists and skeptics to disagree with some religions and their practices--but the fact is that man's attempts to understand and to control the natural world and man's attempts to live out faith that builds and serves his fellowman is good and positive. The hostility and abusive approaches that seem to be growing and dominating much of the media are reflections of the absurdity and fickleness of human beings.
The third example of human fickleness that I would like to suggest to you is in the area of church/state relations. In Indiana in recent years, there have been a constant stream of lawsuits to either add or remove things like the Ten Commandments from public buildings. Atheists and skeptics not only want religious references removed, but they want their belief system to replace those religious references. Sex education programs promoting abstinence have been declared to be religious and thus not appropriate for presentation in public schools in some places. Positive or neutral references to the role of religion in history have been purged from many history presentations and some textbooks. Students wishing to express their positive religious experiences and influences in commencement addresses have been throttled while students wishing to voice skeptical and antagonist views were tolerated. We have listed many of these cases in the News and Notes section of this journal over the years.
On the other side of the coin, we have had religious people who want public schools and courts to force their version of belief on others. In the widely publicized Arkansas law (that demanded creation and evolution be given equal treatment in public schools) was a textbook that presented UFOs as Satan's angels coming to prepare for the Rapture and the battle of Armageddon. The history of America is full of this fickleness on all sides. I can remember when laws existed making it illegal for general stores to be open on Sunday. These laws were called "blue laws" and wanted Sunday to be a day of worship and spiritual activity. It might be that many Christians would favor such a law, but if Seventh Day Adventists or Orthodox Jews were to pass such a law for Saturday, people would be upset. People want prayers in the public schools, but they want prayers that express their own belief system. I can recall when I started teaching in the South Bend Community School Corporation in 1959, that we had a devout catholic teacher who began each homeroom period leading his students in the Sacred Mother, Queen of Peace prayer. Protestant parents brought a stop to it even though a number of Jewish families had tolerated it for many years. In reality, no law has ever forbidden personal private prayer in this country, but forced sectarian prayer has and should be outlawed.
The separation of Church and State is vital to the survival of both stable political systems and to religious freedom. The problems of Iran, Afghanistan, and India in recent years demonstrate that loudly and clearly. None of us should attempt to convert someone else to our beliefs by government decrees or force. Jesus said it best: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21).
Jesus Christ dealt with human fickleness in His disciples, in the religious establishment of His day, and in the political system. If we expect to avoid it in our day, we are fooling ourselves. What we need to do is follow His patient, loving example with the knowledge that Jesus dealt with and handled all fickleness.
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JanFeb03.