Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bridging the great spiritual divide

Oh, what a waste of time and energy. Of the fire and brimstone kind. On the question "Is there a God?" One side says emphatically Yes! The other, just as loudly. No!

If only the energy invested in attacking each other were devoted to a more creative cause.

I recently invested a whole evening to hear the conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza deliver a lecture, "What's so great about Christianity?", the title of one of his books. He spoke to a "home-town" audience at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix Arizona, which very successfully offers a university education with a religious flavor. It's one of the fastest growing universities in the USA.

D'Souza, a darling of the Reagan Administration, is noted for challenging prominent atheists and philosophers in public debates. He takes on the likes of Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) as well as "radical" philosophers Dan Dennett (Breaking the Spell - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon) and Peter Singer (Practical Ethics).

He lays the blame for some of history's biggest debacles squarely at the feet of non-believers. In much the same way that atheists set out to show religion as the root cause of much human conflict and misery.

Yet, when the beliefs of both sides are subjected to closer examination, you discover they have more in common than each might imagine. Both are interested in "who am I?" and "what is my place/role in the universe?" "Is there life after death? "How did the universe, life and everything come into existence?' "What are the best rules for living and being?"

Imagine if organizations had a Department for Deciding and Promulgating New Beliefs. Atheists and believers would probably both be hired for the jobs in the same way that computerists or programmers - Mac, Windows, Linux and Cobol - work in IT, or copy writers, PR writers and artists work happily together in Public Relations and Advertising or accountants, economists, actuaries and managerial finance graduates co-exist in Finance.

So what if both sides joined up to explore what could be done together, to heal the rift? And then go looking for better solutions for humanity and the planet, that combine the best of what each has to offer. What if we could more deeply understand life, the universe and everything by starting out with an open mind and a preparedness to take on-board new knowledge we collectively create, and narrow the gap between what we know and don't know?

So here is a workshop to explore the gulf between us, no matter what you believe:

1. What big questions do atheists and believers in God both ask e.g. What is the purpose of life?
2. If the answer is 42, what is the question? (P.S. Thanks Douglas Adams, deceased, author of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).
3. Brainstorm a list of urgent projects of immense importance to human society which atheists and those who believe in God could profitably address. Jointly.
4. If someone/something e.g. Douglas Adam's Electronic Monk could do your believing for you, who and what would you be?
5. How do we know what we know?
6. Describe the differences between concepts, theories, knowledge, faith and justified true belief?
7. What new kinds of Wisdom Age (wise application of knowledge) products or services could be created  that would serve the interests of atheists, those who believe in God, and the rest of us?
8. Brainstorm a list of options for the creation of the universe, e.g. self-organizing, a designer/creator of some kind, and explain how each would work.
9. What is the purpose of life? And how does this relate to the purpose of the universe?
10. What is the difference between a mystery and a miracle and how might the two be reconciled?
11. What might be the rules of engagement, standards of proof etc. that might be adopted by atheists and those who believe in God in order to pursue useful joint investigations?

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