There are questions religion cannot answer.
When I was very young, I’d occasionally attend Sunday school. This is not a proper school at all, in spite of the devious label. Instead, it’s a place for inculcating vague doctrines and incoherent models of reality, faint echoes of the thunderous fears of ancient superstitions. The pastors and senior pastors and youth pastors practiced their miseducation through sermons and rituals and the threat of hell and the promise of heaven and the singing of songs, songs accompanied by an amateur organist and consisting of ridiculous lyrics like, “God’s love is like a circle.” Whatever that means.
These indoctrinators employed less common methods, as well. One memorable Sunday, we arrived at church to find a large plywood box painted metallic silver, ornamented with rows of flashing lights. The morning progressed normally, with no mention of the very large, very obvious prop. Then, instead of dismissing us children to the children’s rooms, the pastor introduced the “computer.” The computer made a whirring noise, and then lectured us in the monotone voice that was the style of the day for computers. After the lecture on God and God’s love and how it was obvious God created the universe, they opened the floor to questions.
I stood in line, and I asked the question that had been nagging me for a while about this God character. I said, “How old is God?”
The box whirred for a moment. “God,” said the person in the box in a monotone voice that was the style of the day for computers, “is like a circle, never ending.”
Whatever that means.
Even at seven years old, I recognized this as an unsatisfactory answer. A circle may not have an end, but it has a definite, measurable circumference. What could that answer possibly mean? While the youth pastor inside the box possibly hoped to echo the sentiments of a stupid song, or perhaps merely plagairized his answer from that stupid song, the answer was no answer at all.
There was another question I asked indirectly, a year or two before. This is one of my earliest reliable memories. I was riding with my mom on this cloudy day, and across the valley, the sun shot through a break in the clouds, casting a pillar of light. I said, “That’s God talking to the world.”
Mom said, “No it’s not. Don’t be stupid. It’s sunlight on rain.”
The question I indirectly asked is implied after every unsupported assertion like, “That’s God talking to the world.” One of my first lessons was to recognize this question: “Am I right?” My mom answered this implied question, and unlike the answer I’d receive later from a false computer, the answer was specific, obvious, and satisfactory.
I’ve matured somewhat since then. While my questions about religion are slightly more sophisticated, the answers I receive might as well be declared in the monotone voice that is no longer the style for computers. They are equally vague, equally as specious, equally as presuppositional as the answer I received from the role-playing youth pastor hiding inside a silver box. My questions are simple: Assuming the existence of God, how can you have verifiable knowledge of the attributes of God? What does the assumption of God’s existence provide? How is God in any way meaningful?
What does God add to human knowledge? To the human experience?
There are questions religion cannot answer. Those answers it does give are all like a circle, never ending.
Whatever that means.