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Review Post: "Unbelievable?" by Justin Brierley

I have been reading ‘Unbelievable?’ a book that includes the question mark. Well I don’t know what to believe. This is a book that has been written after many eponymous radio shows. It discusses the arguments between Christians and Atheists, a subject which I think many people are interested in, even if they haven’t been to church, or indeed any religious buildings.

The start to life – where God it seems began to work – is an area of contention. It is very unlikely that the Big Bang – also recognised by Christians - would occur and produce the universe as it is. So to provide life – a reason for God to exist – we have either invented a need for religion or for science. From one perspective, only God could have made a universe like this. From another, even if it is very unlikely, it is the only one that could have invented as we are here to question it.

But what was God doing before the Big Bang? Has he always existed - and therefore been around playing endless games of patience or twiddling his thumbs? And why a world like this? Why the dinosaurs? Why the periodic table? Why did he not make us to live with him in heaven? Surely, we could have stopped him from being lonely? The bible tells us he made us in his own image – so someone must have chosen somewhere along the line a need for a philtrum and a bald spot. And whose mind have we mirrored? Someone clever I hope. Of course, we are all different. So we have clever people, stupid people, beautiful people and politicians. We also have people who are good and evil. This is presumably God’s way of giving us free will. If we were all the same, it would also have been a lot more boring.

If we are all equal, how come animals are beneath us? Does God not care about them? Do they have feelings or moralities or are they just food in a bag of skin? Not everyone of us humans is moral – what about those people? If they have been shaped in God’s image, what’s wrong with them?

We used to be apes according to Darwin. Somewhere along the line then we became human and evolved to a state of thinking and morality. We have evolved, learnt and improved over the years. By this state of reaching humanity we have defeated a lot of evils: improving society, happiness and freedoms. We didn’t start off with laws – we have developed them. And with this we have developed religions; and atheism too, which has grown much more popular recently. Is that shedding ignorance?

Are we moral because of God or because we have learnt that it benefits society and ourselves over the years? If we were given morals by God, why did the world use to have more evils? Have some of us grown beyond the need for religion? Will atheism become more popular now our quality of life has improved?

Why do we have morals? Is it because of God? A dog can be trained. If he is told off, he learns not to do something wrong. Is that what has happened to us over the years? Have we learnt not to do wrong, because of punishment, laws etc or has it all been given to us by God?

As I read further on in the book, I was more and more taken in by it all. I was becoming more enamoured by the Christian claims written inside: but then it is written from a Christian viewpoint. Then suddenly I was back to being atheist again.

If you think about it too much it all seems quite depressing. If there is a God then there is a devil. That pisses me off. But Atheism is even more depressing. No heaven, no divine purpose, just the grim, harsh realities of science.

However, the arguments for both theism and atheism seem very unlikely. The collision of molecules that led to our existence – very unlikely. An omnipotent and omniscient god? Also unlikely. Is there a third option? No. That is then what people call faith. It is difficult to believe in something you cannot see or hear. Maybe someday we will invent a thing like a microscope that we can use to talk to or see God. But probably not.

If there is a God, why has he left us here, alone? Why does he not walk among us like the ancient Greeks thought? They were presumably wrong though – for none of us nowadays worships Zeus and Athena. They are now myths. Which brings me to think why the present Gods are anything more than myths (and that history repeats itself – possibly in ignorance? – so that in the future we may have debunked Jesus and moved onto another God.)

I have more questions as well:

Why are there so many religions? Do all the different Gods live in the same place, having tea and cake – or do they fight one another – in fantastical heaven-created games of chess? I do not think they actually have fist fights (for one thing most of them advocate peace.)

I think though Christianity has done many great things for this world. It’s fantastic that Christianity has helped mankind evolve and found a modern society with such great ethics and human rights. Is that justification to believe? – to be a Christian as a thanks to all those who have developed its morals?

Thinking of its history, from the first days of humanity there has been a need for God: poverty, pain, answers. Maybe now we don’t need one so much. Some of what was written in the bible has no historical evidence, and science disproves some of the rest (resurrection, miracles.) We term these things supernatural. If you believe in that sort of thing, you also have to believe in the boogieman. You can only believe in that which you can prove, or experience, surely. Life is not a fairy tale. One argument that Christians would pose is that you don’t need to believe in everything supernatural, just Christianity. But this blinkered approach seems a little biased to me. Our imaginations show us many things. Comic books have provided Superman and Batman, heroes with the powers of Gods. But no one thinks they are real.

Religious books have been much more popular than marvel comics though. As long as you enjoy prayer and worship, religion is fine. If it involves self-harm and sadness, then maybe you have to question your life-choices. Religion is there for people who need it. But whose religious prophets can you trust?

Unbelievable? talks about Christianity. But why are people Christian if Jesus was Jewish? Surely they should have followed the beliefs of his fathers. But the Messiah himself presumably thought that somehow in the womb God had given his genes, or his mind to the developing embryo. Why is Jesus special? Why was his life Godly? Plenty of people were crucified (it was only Jesus that thought he was doing it for a purpose.) Christian belief all comes down to whether or not Jesus was resurrected. (And who had sewn him up afterwards – Dr. Frankenstein unfortunately wasn’t around to do it.) If he was resurrected, then that would be irrefutable proof for Christianity. If not, a lot of people have been duped.

Resurrection is surely impossible, given all our medical knowledge. There are so many dubious moments in the bible, (the ark, genesis) which makes me think this is untrue as well. You can’t cry wolf, even if you are Christian. But what then happened to Jesus’ body after he died? It is a great mystery. If God does indeed work in mysterious ways, then maybe his son was a little eccentric too. It would have been very difficult to fake it all.

If God exists then it makes sense that people believe in him. It also goes along the same lines if Santa Claus exists then we would believe in him too. But he doesn’t. We need proof that God exists, that is the problem. There is already proof that he doesn’t. We created the idea of Santa Claus. We also created the idea of God. I don’t think our precursors – the ancient apes - believed in god. So somewhere along the line he came into existence in our minds.

There is more evidence in the lack of existence of God than the opposite. We cannot prove he exists. We have to make a leap of faith. And that is the problem. We can prove science. We cannot prove God. I agree there is proof Jesus existed and he died on the cross. That he is the son of God I don’t know. If he did come back to life then I can understand the belief.

But who exactly is God? Who made him? What underwear does he wear? How did he get to be born all powerful and have the gall to create all the cripples and disabled people? Who elected him King? And why is heaven a kingdom not a democracy?

These are questions the answer to which we will probably never know. There are very strong arguments for both sides of the Unbelievable? debate, which makes it very difficult to choose a side. The book has made me ask a lot of questions as you might have realised - and few I have been able to answer.

What is true and uncontestable is that people for some reason get very hett up about arguing for, and against religion. Whether this anger is based in our genetic makeup, our society, or our upbringing, I again don’t know. It makes sense though for it is a fundamental part of life and its’ experience. Who knows who is correct? If there is a God he might know, but then that would solve the debate for everyone. He’s definitely not letting on though. However, the debate must make for a very good radio show. No one knows anything for absolute certain, apart from our own names maybe. This question has been asked from our very beginnings as a thinking species and we are nowhere near knowing the answer indisputably. I think even the Pope has doubts sometimes.

As for myself, at the end of the book I am better informed about the subject, but still no closer to knowing what to believe. Religion needs a leap of faith that I and others simply cannot make. If God does exist and has a place for us all in his plans surely even atheists are included in the grand scheme of things. I am sure I am agnostic now, which doesn’t solve anything. Ignorance may seem stupid or wise to other people. But I just cannot make up my mind.

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