Occasionally, even polarized groups can find common ground.
Devout Christians and religious skeptics, for example can at least agree that some behaviour is simply wrong.
Killing someone in cold blood? That’s a Bad Thing — capital “B”, capital “T”.
Stealing an elderly widow’s pocketbook, or signing a contract under false pretense? No question, that’s bad.
But Jesus throws us a curve by slamming unbelief; rebuking it as “hardness of heart”.
That’s not gonna fly with the atheists in the room now is it?
But the Bible doesn’t stop there. Elsewhere, it ramps up another notch, using phrases like “evil heart of unbelief”.
At this point, even Christians start shuffling their feet. Defining sin as something we do? Sure, that’s easy. But what do we do with this? How do we claim skepticism is evil?
Doubt is almost a modern virtue, isn’t it; a sign of independent thinking?
So, is this check-mate? Have atheists proven their claim that Christian belief is irrational?
It’s a fatal wound, right? Superficially, you might think so — if you didn’t happen to notice they make similar judgements themselves.
Because what Jesus is denouncing has nothing to do with bare “lack of belief”. He’s addressing a deeper issue.
Before I explain that “something deeper”, let’s see some modern secular examples of “evil hearts of unbelief”.
Here’s one: did you happen to see Judge Richard Berman’s ruling against Dinesh D’Souza? Not one, but TWO court-appointed psychologists found no psychological failing in the accused. Obviously, he’s mentally sound, right?
So what does the judge do? He unilaterally decides D’Souza needs psychological counselling. Yes, you read that correctly.
He did it to be “helpful”. (Although, arguably, this wouldn’t be the first time a Democrat assumes the *only* possible reason to oppose their policy is mental deficiency.) The Judge made up his mind independently of the evidence. And “independently of evidence” is really the key issue here.
The next one is a little more universal: Holocaust Deniers. People who can look at the films, the footage, the physical buildings, the empty suitcases and piles of hair. People who can see the numbered tats, hear the personal testimony, or even peruse the Germans’ own WWII documents… and still call it an elaborate hoax. This is not mere unbelief. It’s something more. It is a decision to reject the evidence.
Anti-vaccine claims. The near-eradication of Polio, and several other major diseases among entire people groups carries no weight with the more militant anti-vax crowd. Evidence (peer-reviewed or otherwise) presented in support is immediately dismissed as “tainted”. The only trustworthy sources — not surprisingly — bolster their view.
Climate Change/Global Warming. The climate zealots have decided debate is no longer needed or valid. They throw around incendiary terms like “Climate deniers” (note the intentional parallel to Holocaust Deniers?) to discredit objectors, rather than engage their objections.
When errors arise in the models first used to make their claims, they claim it’s no big deal. When alternative theories to explain available data, or procedural problems in the studies are presented, these are brushed aside as “questions already answered”.
Could you show me any aspect of science (aside from those connected to billions of dollars in financing, in political power games, and policy making) that claims to have the entire scientific community speaking as one voice. The lack of univocal speech is *precisely* what gives strength to scientific inquiry. Once everyone starts saying the same thing, discovery grinds to a halt.
Yet, somehow, with climate, skepticism is no longer a healthy and a scientific virtue. Instead, it is offered as evidence that the questioner is either dishonest or stupid.
Similar problems also show up in the Evolution / Design debate. Without wading too far into the issue, it is enough to say each side accuses the other (to varying degrees) of bias, of ignoring inconvenient facts, and of willful blindness.
I could offer other examples like 9/11 Truthers, “Chem Trails”, or “the Moon Landing was faked”, but probably the simplest, least polarizing example is any kid who walks into the living room, sits down in front of the TV, oblivious to a dozen neglected chores lurking in plain sight. “I forgot” he says when the parents call him on it. But does that help his case any, with mom or dad? Not really.
And now we’ve come to the crux of our problem: not all doubt is intellectually honest.
When we prefer one conclusion, we will too easily reject others.
What Jesus was really saying about unbelief now comes into focus.
To phrase it in modern terms: you don’t reject God because you lack evidence. You lack evidence because you’ve rejected God.
That is an example of making a conclusion without available evidence, and then dismissing evidence because it conflicts with that unfounded conclusion. If researchers do that, it is considered intellectually immoral.
Echoing the words of Hebrews: “an evil heart of unbelief”.
So the question to my skeptical reader becomes an either/or question.
Am I rejecting God because I’m skeptical? Or…
Am I skeptical because I have first rejected God?
If you happen to fall in the second category, you must relinquish the term “Rationalist”.
As it turns out, your position is just as irrational (ie; unaffected by any dispassionate review of evidence) as that of the most rabidly Fideistic religionist.