Dawkins, Christianity, and the Meaning of Life

Dawkins, Christianity, and the Meaning of Life.*  Many readers will be familiar with Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, among other works promoting atheism.  Darwinism, argues Dawkins, offers a better explanation of what we observe in the world than does the assumption of a creator God. 

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. (1995, p 133)

The world is exactly as it appears to be if there were no God and no higher purpose to human life. 

The trouble is, the world is also exactly as it appears if there were a creator God and a higher purpose.  One doesn’t look at the world as a blind set of facts, and conclude there is no God.  Instead, one begins with a general outlook on life, and then chooses the facts that support this view.  Unlike so much in life, our religious views are not primarily expressions of early childhood experiences.  People seem to choose, and change, their worldviews later in life, often in the late teens or twenties. 

Consider the basic questions of life: why are we here, what’s the meaning of our lives, where are we going, what may I hope, what should I do?  One does not find these answers in the facts; the facts are interpreted in terms of these questions. 

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The psalms aren’t what you think they are

The Psalms aren’t what you think they are.

I set for my task to read all the psalms.  I came close, but instead of writing about as many psalms as possible, I’ve chosen a few that seem especially important or challenging.

Some generalizations about the psalms

At first, I decided that there was a modal psalm, an average psalm that said something like this.  “Oh, Lord, I am being tormented and mocked by my enemies.  Slay them, and I will be thankful and worship you forever.”  Not every psalm is a lament and call for retribution, but it is the most common type.  Some psalms simply praise the Lord, such as psalm 8.   Songs of thanksgiving (for example, psalm 136) and wisdom psalms (for example, psalms 1, 14) are other common types of psalms.  

The psalms are diverse, but it’s possible to find a question common to many of them.  Do I live for myself and my pleasures, or do I follow the path of God?  Psalm 1, which in so many ways sets the scene for the psalms that follow, states the issue clearly.

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked . . . but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.

This is called Torah piety.  Torah piety is more than just rule following.  It is trust in and loyalty to one’s covenant partner, God.

Covenant or commodity    

Every psalm expresses or assumes a covenant between God and humans.  Humans agree to worship and obey God, and God agrees to protect and foster humans.  Covenantal faith teaches that communion with God, and consequently solidarity with one’s neighbor, who is made in God’s image, constitutes the true goal of human existence.  The alternative to communion with God is the endless pursuit of commodities–things that promise to make us safe and happy (Brueggemann, p 319).

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