Monday, December 8, 2008

Why humans in God's image; attention atheists

Here I will explain why it is important to believe what the Bible and the Qur’an both teach, which is that humans are created by God in the image of God. The Bible explains this in Genesis, and that belief is fulfilled in Christianity through Jesus Christ, as Son of Man. The Qur’an supports this belief through a vivid image, of God instructing the angels to bow in obeisance to the first man, Adam.

A December 7 article on regarding the release of a book by an atheist who is a cordial intellectual colleague of Pope Benedict’s contains this quote where the atheist points out that this belief is important for all to embrace, in order to maintain identity. Here is the quote (and, by the way, the word “prescind” means to separate from what has gone before):

Pera noted that Christianity's concept of the human person as created in the image of God is not something found in other cultures, and said that this exists "prior to the state's intervention.

"If we prescind from these Christian principles, he warned, we will have destroyed our constitutional heritage.

So Pera argues the importance of maintaining this lofty principle of Christianity, even if one is not a believer. That is an excellent point. It is reading this that I got the idea to explain why exactly, from the theological perspective, and the important societal implication, that God created humans in his image. I especially want atheists and agnostics to understand this, as it might help them to overcome an intellectual blockage that they have toward faith in God.

God created humans in his image because even though God knows that every human cannot help but fall short of being divine in reality of spirit, behavior or mind, God gives as a gift to every human a goal to reach that protects them from fellow humans who would pull them down into despair.

For example, imagine being a child who grows up in a totally dysfunctional family filled with violence, abuse and addiction. Suppose that the child is raised to believe that he or she can “Never do any better than be exactly like his or her parents or ‘caregivers.’” You might argue that a child could look to neighbors, or school teachers, as role models, and thus “overcome” the inculcation that he or she must be exactly as the parents and is no better. But here is the problem with that argument. One is that the child might be in a culture that is rife with negative role models everywhere, drowning out the one or two role models that seem to rise above. The second problem is that children cannot separate themselves from what they are told at a young and formative age, and so they cannot discern disbelieving that they are only as good as the parents and community cohorts, and that they can strive to be “as good as” the best available role model. And that is the third problem, which is that the child, even if he or she relates to the best role model, cannot imagine being even better, striving for more, than the best role model that they are exposed to in their milieu.

Extend that analogy, then, to a child who is born into an avowed anti-religion and anti-God society as was the Soviet Union. Now the child can no longer imagine being better than the best role model within their society of enforced “equality” of the lowest common denominator. If you are old enough to remember the old Soviet Union, you know what I mean. China, too, went through that phase. It is for that reason that certain citizens in both the Soviet Union and China clung, often in secret and in peril, to belief in God. Knowledge that one is created in the image of God is one of God’s greatest gifts to humans, and it is a God-given impulse, a spiritual and not biological "DNA" within humans who thirst to know this and to believe. It is not a biological gift, or one that has come into being through “natural law” or “natural selection,” as atheists might incorrectly posit. It is not “instinctive” to strive for the highest moral and spiritual goodness. Actually, one would be more accurate to say that striving to the highest moral and spiritual goodness is counter to evolutionary survival instinct. After all, omnivores, from whom humans descend, did not have an evolutionary reward for pausing from their quest for food to love their neighbor, and to believe that they are in the image of God. That is why this belief did not, as Pera points out, spring up in any culture as a belief before that of Christianity.

God created humans in his image and told them of that truth so that every human who believes has access to the gift of reaching for the highest goodness possible, regardless of the political, societal and familial situation in which he or she was born. This belief cannot be explained as a natural law or an evolutionary or survival trait because, in fact, all arguments demonstrate the opposite, that this belief is counterintuitive to all of life forms.

I hope that you have found this helpful.