Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about the existence of God. We never said it that way, as in: “Do you believe in God?” – but that’s what it was about.
We were discussing a recent research project in the news, from which scientists had discovered the part of the brain that collects memories, thereby explaining that eerie sensation of deja vu. In response, this friend – let’s just call him H – said he believed that science would eventually explain everything, and that all the myths and “hocus-pocus” we’d been taught by our parents would one day be laid to rest – proven, for once and for all, to be completely untrue.
He said that 95% of the members of the National Academy of Science are atheists, and that all the progressive, intellectual people he knows are moving that way, too – an all-out migration to the sensible world of unbelief. “People of faith should have to prove their positions,” he said, “the same way scientists have to prove hypotheses.”
This entire conversation I had with H totally depressed me. I haven’t been able to shake it. And not because I was suddenly moved to atheism, or because I wanted to damn anyone to hell, but because his own perspective was just as boxed in and immovable as those with whom he disagreed.
As a person of faith, I am constantly challenged to reconcile the world’s tangible and intangible inconsistencies. Living in a culture no longer drawn to imagine and question the unknown would be like having a birthday surprise perpetually spoiled. The opportunity to merge a progressive, thoughtful faith with science (or social responsibility, or any other secular point) is a gift. It is an impetus for forward thinking, expansion and enlightenment. It is an invitation to become more open-minded and all-encompassing than before, driving out mean and narrow preconceptions, lifting up a shout to the unknown with joy and trepidation – a salute to what we all know already: that we are not in control.
And while my faith might be strengthened by this grappling as another’s is challenged to the breaking point, how terrible to silence those conversations, to so limit the scope of the human spirit that it becomes something that can be read on a data chart.
I didn’t want to argue with H because I wasn’t in the mindset to respond thoughtfully. He’d caught me off-guard, and our conversation wouldn’t have been productive.
But if I had responded, really responded, I would have turned to Annie Dillard, who wrote, “No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful? ”
How do you prove the existence of love? Or of mercy? Beyond the realm of science, what, exactly, can anyone prove?
When it comes to faith, my hope is for curiosity, for more probing with less vexation. My hope is that we might have the bravery to sift through our world’s inconsistencies without shutting down; to wrestle with them, knowing we may never know the answers.
In time, with discernment, perhaps we can find ourselves on a place in the path that is marked less by fear than by wonder, with an ultimate respect for the unknown, and an appreciation for surprise.