A reader writes:
I am an atheist (who was once a Christian) and wanted to comment on your latest missive to Sam Harris.
I would describe my own embrace of science and secular humanism as being motivated by a form of faith that is deeper than Christian faith. I believe that if Jesus lived today, he would be a secular humanist and would reject Christianity, just as he "rejected" Judaism and inspired Christianity. Christianity was once the vehicle for the boldest and most honest thinking about reality, the brotherhood of man, and the human condition. I think in light of the advances in science and our exposure to other religious traditions, it is time again to humanize further our understanding of "God" (or the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty) and come to a more universal understanding of religion.
It's time again to look beyond the letter and literal interpretation of immortality, heaven, hell, and miracles, and see the essence and spirit of these ideas. What is it about love that survives death? What is the ideal world? What is eternal separation from all that is good? Where do fundamentally new ideas and relationships come from? In the 21st century, we are able to see more clearly than the saints before us (just as Jesus was able to see more clearly than prophets before him) that deeds of love live on forever in the hearts and minds of all those who are transformed by such love and by those who value loving acts of goodness and justice. This is the immortality of the saints.
Heaven is not some place where we will go when our body dies. It is the world that we all yearn for and that each man of faith and good helps to realize in his small way through the march of human history. Hell is not some burning pit for the doomed and unsaved. Rather, it's a metaphor for the eternal separation from this community of the saints that the wicked are doomed never to realize by their rejection of what is good and beautiful. What are miracles? They are not supernatural gifts from an all-knowing God. Rather, they are what men of faith and good appreciate in this universe, despite all that is broken, evil and ugly.
I find that I am better able to love and appreciate Jesus as a humanist imagining him as a man than when I was a Christian and imagined him as a God or a spiritual presence. Jesus was a man therefore he is one of us and we can truly become like him.
I feel that I have lost nothing by rejecting the doctrines of Christianity. Rather, I have rediscovered what it means to have true faith and true understanding by embracing humanism and science. Humanism then does not reject Christianity, it completes it. Paul was wrong. Our faith is not foolish if Jesus is not literally and physically risen from the dead. We know our faith is true, because we know that death has not defeated him. As a humanist, I do not discard the rich legacy and richness of the Christian tradition, rather I claim to be the true heir to the Christian patrimony. Christians embrace a shallower version of Jesus. I know this because I continue to be transformed by Jesus's love and he continues to inspire my humanist faith - faith that there is yet some good in this earth, that we can all be redeemed by love, and that we should all choose life and should try to live it fully in a spirit of peace and brotherhood with all mankind. It makes no difference to me whether Jesus was born of virgin or rose bodily from his grave after three days. These are signs that the wicked demand because they do not have the heart to see the divine in Jesus and in all of us without such signs. Blessed are those who follow Jesus not having seen and without any need for signs and wonders.