I love talking with people who are open-minded.
In my last post, we explored the problem of closed-mindedness and how it can hinder productive exploration of the truth about reality and about God. Thankfully, not everyone fits this description. I have met many people who are very open-minded in their search for the truth. This does not mean that these people are easily swayed by the opinions of others, or that they believe all things are true at once (we’ve discussed in the past why this is not an option), but rather that they are willing both intellectually and practically to follow the evidence where it actually leads, even if it disagrees with them.
One of my favourite conversations to have with open-minded people after we’ve already established what we each believe is to say “Let’s throw away everything we’ve ever been taught about our respective beliefs or religions, and let’s just observe what we can about the reality around us.” In other words, let’s not discuss truth from the perspective of what we already believe – let’s just look at the world and think through what makes sense together. Usually, the first thing we come to agreement on is that there must be some kind of higher power. But the conversation gets more interesting from there.
“Ok, so what do our observations of the world around us tell us about this higher power?”
Conclusions: This higher power (which usually ends up being referred to as God at some point) must embody all that is good and contradict all that is evil since he (or it) is the standard for our existence and thus also for our morality. Since we highly value things like love, justice, honesty, purpose, and success, it makes sense that God would be loving, just, the foundation for truth to exist, have designed us with purpose, and desire success for us in achieving that purpose. Since we are highly relational beings, it makes sense that God is also relational and created us to have a relationship with Him. We also observe that people of all religions not only seem to have an innate sense of something greater than themselves, but additionally seem to have an innate sense that there is a problem between us and this greater being which needs solving. This is why religions exist, really. People from all sorts of different cultures, time periods, and perspectives are seeking to solve the problem which is inherently understood to exist between us and God. Contrary to popular belief, the point of religions is not primarily to have community or just to promote good moral values; these are just natural outcomes, as are the abuse of them.
“So what possible solutions could there be to this problem?”
Conclusions: We only ever come up with three: we need to earn our forgiveness, there is no solution, or God Himself would have to do something to solve our problem. In other words, either we do something, nobody does anything, or God does something. Makes sense.
We always spend a fair bit of time discussing the first option because this is the most commonly held belief. Every single religion believes that we must do certain things and avoid other things in order to earn our salvation or freedom, whether it’s escaping from all desires (Buddhism), obtaining more good karma than bad karma (Hinduism), doing more good than bad to tip the scales in the right direction (Islam, although you must also believe in Allah and His prophet), or getting closer to God by avoiding the evils of Maya (Sikhism). Even Christianity acknowledges that in order to relate to God, one must keep His law perfectly. Of course, therein lies the problem. In order for a system of works to work, one must be perfect. Good deeds don’t actually make up for bad deeds in real life. It’s a nice idea which humans perpetuate because we don’t like to think of ourselves as bad people when lined up with Hitler and axe murderers. However, we’re not being compared with Hitler or axe murderers, or even with our classmates and co-workers. If a higher power exists, we are being compared with Him (loving, just, morally perfect, etc.). And suddenly, I don’t look so great. Of course, the natural consequence of failing to meet God’s standard would be to be cut off from Him. Option one always gets crossed out as an impossible and illogical solution.
Option two is actually quite plausible. Perhaps there really is no solution. This is not a desirable belief, but it is a brutally honest one in both acknowledging our incapability of achieving a perfect standard and not lowering God’s standards to accept us just because we don’t like the alternative.
Option three is always the most intriguing. We always agree that given God’s character (both loving and just), He would definitely do something to solve our problem if such a solution existed, but we also recognize that such a solution may not be possible given God’s justice. We agree that if such an act existed which could accomplish both God’s love and justice at once without violating either one, then God would do it. And then we get stuck thinking about what that would even look like.
This is where our conversation gets very interesting. Inevitably, I put forth the historical claim that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh who came down to earth to live the perfect life we are incapable of living and die the death which we deserve. And I simply ask whether it could be possible that this claim could fit the description of an act which could accomplish both God’s love and justice at once in order to save us. And inevitably, we agree that it could.
Notice that the account of Jesus is not brought up as something I already believe in, but only as an existing claim which may match our criteria. This always spawns a whole new direction of the conversation, exploring whether this claim could possibly actually be historically true.
I love talking with people who are open-minded because they are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it disagrees with them.
What makes sense to you when you disregard everything you’ve ever been taught and believed, and simply observe reality?