I really wanna know You. I really wanna see You.
I’d like to see You, Lord. I wanna see You, Lord!
It takes so long, my Lord. My sweet Lord!
Oh my sweet Lord! My sweet Lord!
– George Harrison (1943-2001), from “My Sweet Lord” (1970)
Seeking and relating to gods is a process as innate to human life as thinking and speaking. That is an amazing fact! We can trace organized religions back to at least 8,000 BCE, to the advent of farming and the first settlements; and the earliest archeological evidence for religious beliefs dates to at least 200,000 BCE. The notion of gods is fully as old as humanity itself. This fact suggests that our having lived before birth in a very much better place may always have been a kind of folk-memory. Perhaps we always have known on some level that there was Something Greater that called to us and nagged us with Its wish to be found. And we have had no way to imagine the Source of that call except as a mimic of ourselves, so every god created by humankind has been an extra-powerful human-like being. Naturally, all those human-made gods were imagined to also have outsized human flaws! Including even the Christian God. The God that you and I met in our childhood churches was envisioned as a strict but loving Father who insisted that we must learn to better love and forgive. He demanded love and forgiveness of us, even though the Christian God was Himself so lacking in love and forgiveness that He refused to forgive us for our human failings unless He first got to watch His Own Son being tortured and murdered. People have created some awful gods!
We have talked here about the fact that Christianity has been declining rapidly in the United States and worldwide. Currently 43% of adults in the U.S. identify as Protestants, which is down from 51% in 2009; and 20% of American adults are Catholics, down from 23% in 2009. The forced lockdowns of 2020 seem to be accelerating this trend, so it is estimated now that fully one-fifth of the Christian churches in the United States that temporarily closed their doors last spring will close them for good within the year. This dramatic implosion of the world’s most popular religion seems to have a number of causes. But I think the primary reason why Christianity is desperately struggling now is the fact that it requires us to believe what to most modern adults is flat-out unbelievable.
People have learned a lot in two thousand years. When Jesus was born, human beings knew almost nothing about anything! And we had few intellectual skills with which we might begin to figure things out, so for religions to give us their dogmas around which we could build a bit of hopeful faith was better than accepting that everything was and would forever remain a puzzle. But after the advent of the scientific method, the Enlightenment and the first human landing on the moon, humankind’s default setting has been reversed. Today many people’s general assumption is that we already understand most things, and many in the West are sure that before long we are going to figure out everything else. From our present, much more self-assured perspective on reality, many moderns are finding it harder to believe in anything that they cannot see. And what Christianity requires of us is even more of a stretch than mere belief! After all, each of us holds many “beliefs” that are supported by good evidence, from the notion that the sun will rise in the east to the theories that gold is worth more than lead and season will follow season in a predictable way. None of what we believe is an eternal certainty. In fact, everything that we believe with confidence is likely to one day no longer be true; but for purposes of planning our daily lives, our beliefs based in longstanding evidence have proven to be pretty reliable. Unlike our ancient ancestors, we have good reason to be confident now that we live in a stable and comprehensibly facts-based world.
It is precisely our experience that facts-based beliefs are reliable that is the enemy of religions. Each religion is based in its own dogmas, which are arbitrary ideas not rooted in evidence so they don’t rise to the level of actual beliefs. And yet they are essential, since without a broad acceptance of its dogmas each religion would topple like a paper house. And for us to firmly hold religious beliefs that are unsupported by evidence requires that we believe without needing evidence. Christians have a favorite word for that! Quite simply, “faith” means something like “confident belief not rooted in evidence.” The word is derived from the Latin “fides,” which means something like “trust that a concept or idea is true, even though we have no definitive evidence.” To the Christian ear, “belief” sounds cold and mechanical, while “faith” is the warm and spiritual way to describe our relationship to the religion and to God. This notion that believing without evidence is a virtue likely stems from what Jesus is quoted as having said to Thomas when His disciple put a hand into the spear wound in the side of the Lord’s risen body and then said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (JN 20:29). So Christians have been sure from the founding of the religion that the highest virtue is for us to have faith in God, in Jesus, and in all the Christian dogmas, even without evidence that any of it is real.
This notion that “having faith” is a virtue lasted throughout Christian history until about the middle of the twentieth century. By the Sixties, that ancient cultural understanding that just about everything was inexplicable and required of us a lot of faith was being replaced by a modern confidence that since we even had learned how to split the atom, we were likely before long to work out everything else! So by the start of the twenty-first century, having faith without evidence was no longer seen as the virtue that it once had been, and many more sophisticated Christians were starting to look askance at a lot of the peculiar dogmas they still were being asked to take entirely on faith.
So then some of the most ardent Christian apologists sought to prove that Christian dogmas could indeed be supported by evidence. They found and trumpeted evidence that Jesus actually had lived on earth, and even that the Shroud of Turin could be used as evidence that He had been crucified and resurrected. But of course, far from supporting the fear-based and frankly unbelievable central Christian dogma, all the evidence that Jesus was an historical figure who had died and then reanimated His body gave no support at all to the religion’s assertion that God had long ago required the torture and murder of His Own Son.
There are a number of reasons why Christian church membership is in such sharp decline, but the fact that having faith without evidence is such thin gruel for modern people is a big one. When you and I were learning in our childhood churches that Jesus had died as a sacrifice to His Father because God would never forgive us otherwise, perhaps we looked suspiciously at our own dads at the time, but we accepted that central Christian teaching. We also were accepting television, telephones, automobiles, and electric lights without knowing how any of them worked, either! But as we grew and finished our educations, we were figuring out a great many things. And then another generation came, and another very soon followed it, with each of them feeling ever more confident that truths require real evidence, and therefore they were ever more suspicious of Christianity’s insistence that we trust its dogmas. In the twenty-first century, any religion that demands that its adherents “just have faith” and offers no evidence to support its ideas is simply no longer viable.
Christianity’s dogmas always have been built on nothing but faith-based ideas. There was no need for supporting evidence when Christianity first began, and nor was there a need for evidence during most of the religion’s history. But emphatically, we need evidence now! And importantly, we do have evidence that, far from being bothered by our now seeking meatier evidence-based truths, the Godhead welcomes our curiosity and will gladly reward it!
The world’s greatest pioneers in the field of afterlife research are Victor and Wendy Zammit of Sidney, Australia. One of the Zammits’ own special teachers is an elevated collective in spirit that speaks through an entity called Silver Birch and gives us encouragement. Silver Birch says, “We never say to you ‘… do not use your reason: faith only.’ We say ‘Use that which the Great Power has given you. Test us. Examine us. If aught that we say is debasing, cruel or immoral, then reject us ….’ If we seek always to teach you to live nobler lives, lives of greater self-sacrifice and of idealism, then surely that demonstrates that the hallmark of the Great Power is stamped upon our teaching.” – (Silver Birch Anthology – p.43 The Divine Plan)
Even more importantly, Jesus says the same thing! He encourages us to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (MT 7:7-8).
For most of Christian history, no amount of seeking with the primitive intellectual tools that then were available to us could have helped us learn much of anything! So these words of the Lord’s seem to have been spoken and preserved just for this beautiful day, when we can begin to seek and find in Christianity only the parts of it that are worthy of a rational and evidence–based belief. Now, in the twenty-first century, when so many things can be researched and will yield to our reason-based understanding, Christians who no longer feel able to believe the fear-based dogmas of a human-made religion can now take Jesus at His word. We can seek, and we will find inside the ugly shell of Christianity’s fears the real and abundant evidence we crave for the glorious truths that Jesus taught.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
– The Prophet Isaiah (ca 700 BC) (Isaiah 6:8)