My daughter has recently begun walking. It’s been going on for a little over a week now, and every day she is able to stay upright for a few more steps. She’s by no means an old hand at this skill yet, and if I had to compare her gait to something, the only thing that would lend a comparable picture is some of those moves Jackie Chan displayed in The Legend of the Drunken Master. She flails her arms and points at random objects as she staggers by. And, eventually at some point along her random path, she collapses like Maggie Simpson. A few minutes ago, she fell back against the counter and plunged her hand, which was full of refrigerator magnet letters, into the dog bowl. She then proceeded to suck on those magnets.
Needless to say, she’s not all that accomplished at this walking thing yet, but she is walking. That’s my point.
My last post, along with the subsequent comment section conversations on two different blogs and my Facebook page, has spurred within me a deeper consideration of the similarities between all people, specifically between Christians and atheists. And the more I watch my daughter teach herself to walk, the more I realize that the
practice art of living life is something that I am always going to be learning, always going to be improving, and it is also something I’m never going to perfect. Just as I know Katy Jo is never going to be a flawless walker, that she is going to fall down time and again, I know also that she won’t quit. There won’t come a day in years to come when she will wake up and decide this whole walking thing is ridiculous, that crawling is the appropriate means of movement. Aside from wishful thinking of jetpacks and hoverboards (four more years, Zemekis!), or a physical inability that places a person in a wheelchair, you would be hard-pressed to find a person who abstains from the act of walking. Let’s face it, you really can’t get around without it.
There are a lot of people out there on both sides of the “debate” that are convinced there is not a lot of commonality between Christians and those who do not profess faith, or even belief, in a God. I disagree. I think the reason most people feel this way is that disagreements often become quite heated. Unfortunately, sometimes the people we have speaking for our sides possess little patience for the other one. In some of the exchanges I entered into after my post about atheism, I encountered one or two of these people. You know the ones I’m talking about – they are quick to dismiss not only your belief but your very intelligence as well simply because you do not see things the way they see them. Some will even result to name-calling, which always makes me wonder whose intelligence should really be in question. Sadly, these kinds of people are found on both sides of the theism/atheism debate, and all other related disputes. A Christian can be just as nasty, and often without provocation.
Yet it is absurd to me that there cannot exist an authentic, amiable discourse between the two sides. The way I see it, while something very significant divides us, there is so much that we hold in common. The most important thing is the fact that we are all making some sort of effort to be moral people. Sure, we fail at it from time to time, but unless you are a sociopath, you are interested in doing good over doing bad, peace over war, compassion over indifference, kindness over vindictiveness, charity over cruelty, and justice over chaos. Even folks who fully support the war (and I mean the war, not just the troops) support it because they desire that the eventual outcome will be peace. No clear-thinking person supports a war in hopes that it will simply cause destruction and perpetuate agony! One way or another, we are interested in the good things. We want our leaders to be honest and righteous, our government to help people and protect the innocent, and our families to celebrate in joy rather than rage in hate. We are moral people whether we know it or not. We are all teaching ourselves how to walk better.
It stands to reason that, to a certain extent, both Christians and those who reject faith want the same things for our lives. We want to experience love and joy and contentment. We want genuine friends and strong bonds with them. Even if it is not always possible, deep down we still want peace with other people. Take a moment to consider your motivations for, well, everything that you do. At some point, are you not working for some bit of good? Sure, your initial motivation may be selfishness, but, as C.S. Lewis points out in his wonderful work, Mere Christianity, even greed is an immoral longing after money or possessions as a means to contentment. Contentment, itself, however, is good. It is a moral ideal.
Now, I’m not condoning all forms of behavior, honest or sordid, as long as we recognize that our end goal is something essentially good. My point is that, if we will dig down inside ourselves, I believe the vast majority of us will find that we are people who desire good things – who, if given the choice, would choose good over bad ten times out of ten. I believe the vast majority of us will keep on walking, day after day, because when we are completely honest with ourselves, we know that walking will always trump refusing to walk.
Perhaps this makes me an idealist, but I’ve never really considered that a bad thing. In fact, I consider that to be an inherently Christian thing. If we can agree that there is such a thing as Good, basic philosophy and our own mind are capable of stating the possibility of a Perfect Good. An ideal Good, if you will. As a Christian, I believe this ideal is revealed to us in the person of Jesus, and in God who created and set in motion all things. To live toward an ideal Good is to live toward this God. Thus, there are some people who are closer to God than they might think. It’s not such an unsettling thought if one remembers that we’re talking about a Perfect Good, not the lesser, mortal description so many religious folks point to. In truth, if God is the Perfect Good (and I believe he is), then he must be so far above what even those who profess belief in him try to say about him.
“The superficial and the slipshod have ready answers,” writes Peter De Vries in his novel The Blood of the Lamb, “but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization.” What we need are Christians and atheists (and everybody in between) who are committed to “looking this complex life straight in the eye.” What we don’t need are Christians who revel in dishing out just desserts or ludicrously attempting to prove God, nor atheists who don’t believe in God because they don’t like these Christians, or because the mystery surrounding faith in God is too unsettling for them.
So let us all keep walking. And just as I sometimes let Katy Jo clutch my finger to guide herself across the floor, helping her in her learning, perhaps we can help each other learn to be better people. Truly moral people. Perhaps minds will be changed, hearts will be softened, and true friendships will be forged.
Will you walk with me?