This statement is false! Can you wrap your mind around that? If the statement is false, then the inverse is true and the statement is true. If the statement is true, then false is true? So, is the statement true or false? No, it isn’t!
Let’s try a different one—can God make a rock so big that even God can’t move it? Or—what is the sound of one hand clapping? These enigmas are designed to baffle us.
We, human beings, seem to be hard-wired to create meaning and make sense out of the data of the world around us. Science and religion are two meaning-making systems. Each approaches meaning from a different direction. Both have a fatal flaw as the root of their meaning-making.
Science is understood as a method for examining and explaining the world as it is. Science does its work openly, inviting falsification (prove me wrong) and verification (prove me right). Science is held in such esteem that it has been called “the predominant belief system today.” (Steve Hagen)
Science’s fatal flaw, however, is to be found in its assumptions, its presuppositions about the nature of reality—for example, nature is orderly or a thing is what it is. These presuppositions are taken for granted. Any contradiction of those assumptions causes a kind of scientific panic. Is light a stream of particles or a succession of waves? Actually, when examined closely by scientific experiments, an individual photon can be experienced as either a single particle or a wave. The experiment itself determines how the photon will present itself. The very nature of the experiment determines the outcome. Scientific experimentation affects how reality presents itself. Presuppositions determine outcomes. Science is the best approach to relative knowledge about reality, but not the final arbiter.
Religion, like science, proceeds without close examination of its presuppositions. In the popular mind, faith is often described as believing in the unbelievable. Presuppositions—for example, God is a presupposition—are assumed to be true. The end result is a system of beliefs, each built and dependent upon other beliefs—a double-looped system that is designed to prove its beliefs by citing other beliefs. How do know that God created the world? Because the Bible tells me so. On and on it goes.
Joseph Campbell has suggested that religion’s fatal flaw is transforming religious experience into ideas, concepts, and beliefs. He writes, “I don’t believe that people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
There is a movement in the church away from orthodoxy toward orthopraxy—from belief systems to integrated practice of faithing. Theology is the discipline of articulating and explaining the church’s belief system. Orthodoxy suggests that there is one predominant and particular set of beliefs that is primary and true. If you don’t shape your beliefs in this prescribed way—if you don’t believe correctly—then you are probably a heretic.
Orthopraxy accepts beliefs as a secondary phenomenon. Christianity, for example—taking its lead from Jesus of Nazareth—is about integrating into your life compassion, peace, and justice. These are the basic values of the commonwealth of peace and tender justice (kingdom of God) that Jesus proclaimed. This approach to being alive wasn’t unique to Jesus. It was a part of his Jewish legacy—“Act with tender justice; show compassion in all you do; be humble as a follower of God.” [Micah 6:8]
I agree with Gretta Vosper (With or Without God) as she explains “… why the way be live is more important than what we believe.” Our beliefs can be extremely valuable, but not in and of themselves. Instead, our beliefs must support a vibrant way of living that demonstrates care for self, others, and the creation.
What if a dynamic, zesty life were the measure of religion—passionate and filled with compassion; wholesome and integrated; groaning and growing; peace and tender justice; caring for self, others, and the creation? What if you could be called a good Presbyterian, a good Buddhist, a good Methodist, a good Jew, and even a good citizen, if it didn’t matter whether you believed or disbelieved in God? Maybe genuine religion is an open approach to life that resembles the best that has been associated with the name of God, without all the superstructure of a predetermined belief system. What if belief is simply a tool, a resource for living life to the full?