YES, this article is about the existence of a deity (God or gods). Just bear with me for a second because I’m not here to convince anyone of anything.
We’re just having a friendly chat. Stellenbosch has a disparity in belief. A good percentage believe in a god(s) of sorts. And a good percentage don’t. This separation has been the fuel for endless feuds and shouting matches where the two sides perpetually disagree. Heaps of us would rather hear people moan about season 8 of Game of Thrones then get caught in another debate.
This has been written just so we can finally iron out the differences between theists and atheists. So, we can move on and maybe hold hands underneath a rainbow or something. A theist is defined as one who believes in the existence of a god or gods. An atheist is someone who either disbelieves or lacks belief in a God or gods. Agnostics have the belief that we cannot know whether God exists or not. Anyone who says that they’re agnostic is pretty much sitting on the fence between the two. But we aren’t here to talk about them, time is precious, and we don’t want to waste any.
Religion and the lack of religion is an incredibly sensitive topic. And it goes both ways. We’ve all had an outraged, misinformed atheist tell us that religion doesn’t make sense and spew out a stupid argument they heard on a Netflix comedy special. And we’ve all had a self-congratulatory theist condemning us to eternal damnation for questioning God while screaming Bible quotes at us. No one wants to hear that they’re going to purgatory. It’s unsettling, even for nonbelievers.
I interviewed two people for this article. Firstly, Dr. Eddie Orsmond of SU’s Department of Theology. Dr. Orsmond, a Dutch Reformist Minister, has a PhD and specializes in Old Testament studies. Then, Fabio Tollon, MA philosophy currently doing his thesis. The two have polar views on the existence of a higher power. They’ve also spent an insurmountable amount of time going over this topic. They’re qualified.
The fundamental differences come from how either side makes their arguments. An atheist uses arguments of empiricism (experience-based knowledge) while a theist uses arguments of meaning. Someone who does not believe in a god, would argue something like: I cannot believe in God because of the empirical evidence that suggests that we cannot know whether or not there is a God. Then, they would give reasons to back their claim. Whereas, a theist would use a different type of argument. They would, for example, say: “I believe in the existence of a higher power because God has given me guidance and meaning in my life. Despite empirical evidence, I have faith and belief in his existence and his plan for me.” There it is boys and girls: the difference is faith versus reason. By no means is this an attack on intelligence; it’s simply a difference in values. Both sides have the same ability to reason, there’s just a divergence in that a believer will choose to have faith in God. And be undeterred by opposing reasons because the existence of God gives meaning.
A theist will achieve meaning from their relationship with their God/gods and also, the purpose that higher power has given them. When I spoke to Dr. Orsmond, he spoke of the experience of being vulnerable and how important a personal relationship with God is and the guidance he gets from his faith. Dr. Orsmond also spoke of how “[empirical] reason subsides and that trust and belief…is the other kind of reasoning…a kind of wisdom to take into consideration”. Meaning comes from the relationship with God. So, what about those without a God or gods? How can an atheist solve the dilemma of meaning in life? Where can we find meaning in life? This is the pesky question. Half of us have had existential crises because of it and the other half are about to. In my interview with Fabio, he told me that “the realisation that one is an atheist and there is no meaning beyond this life is actually the ultimate cause for meaning in this life”.
Our time is limited and precious, and each experience we have is special. Essentially, the frugality of life is where meaning comes from. One could say that life is similar to supply and demand. It’s valuable because there is a low supply of it.
To draw this to a close, we can walk away knowing a little more about each other. To the atheists: it’s not about an inability to reason with empiricism, it’s about choosing to trust and have faith in a God regardless of contrary reasons. And to the theists: people can find meaning in life without a higher-power or greater purpose.