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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lament of the Atheist: Standing Idle in the Marketplace

by Susan Fox
Editor's Note: Religion News Service  reported on Dec. 19, 2013, that it is a growing trend to rebuff contributions and volunteer labor from atheists' groups. Atheist Giving Rebuffed I am a Christian, and I don't agree with that policy because every man and woman needs to be able to participate in the act of giving. Giving is  the most supreme act of the  human being, the one act in which someone might discover they are indeed made in the Image and Likeness of God, who is total Love and Self Giving. These atheists do not know God, but in their love and generosity they are able to reveal His Face to the world and intimately share in His work. So the act of giving can actually be a conduit to a change of heart. 
Ever step on a hornet’s nest?

That’s what happens when you meet a group of atheists on Twitter. 

Suddenly Noah’s ark is an object of ridicule, and God killed 3 million babies in Africa, while evolution is established scientific fact. Some atheist groups are even playing grinch and stealing Christ out of Christmas. 
Atheists billboards are "small evil baby steps"
to another holocaust,
warns NY State Senator Andrew Lanza. 
I tweeted back, “If (you think) little cells suddenly decided to walk, then YOU have more faith than I do!”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with evolution as a theory of the means by which God created the world. I live in Colorado, and we have more dinosaur footprints than anywhere else in the world.  I don’t think the world is only 6,000 years old, and I don’t think the Grand Canyon is carved from faux rock made to look old.

The Book of Genesis is a beautiful work of poetry, which explains that we were made by God in His image and put into the family of man. God is love, so the image we reflect is that of Eternal Love.  Our own choice knocked us out of Paradise, and brought suffering into the world. Now all creation groans for redemption. But Genesis is not a science textbook. I know this is a surprise to some Protestants as I met one on Twitter arguing vehemently with the atheists on that very issue.

I thank God one Christian was talking to them. There was also a brave Muslim taking on one hornet at a time.  

But really if you are an atheist, how do you cope with suffering? How do you overcome your bitterness at a God Who either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist? Both thoughts seemed to cause enormous pain to my little hornets, who flashed pictures of dying African babies with a vulture nearby ready to eat them.
 
Atheist argument for God's non-existance
These pictures infuriated me as well. How dare someone photograph a dying baby and do nothing to help the child!

It reminded me of Pope Francis’ economy of indifference, the “economy that kills.“ My friend, Mary, survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans on top of her roof. She said CNN‘s helicopter flew over many times, and filmed her. (Long before I met Mary I had seen the television images of her struggling to stay on her roof with floodwaters all around) But she said CNN never offered her a single bottle of water -- even as days went by. Meanwhile all the news media complained about President George Bush.

CNN reminded me of my little hornets, complaining about the world’s ills, blaming the president or blaming God, while they had it in their power to relieve at least some of the sufferings of their fellow man.  I wasn’t nice. I reminded my little hornets of this option.

But my hornets also reminded me of the story of the kingdom of God in in Matthew 20:1-16. The householder went out in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard, which He did. But going out again in the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place, and he hired them. He did the same in the sixth and the ninth hour. But at the end of the day all received the same wage. This is a welcome reminder to Christians that the last will be first and the first will be last. In the end, even those who convert on their deathbed will receive the same wage – eternal life. And we all rejoice in our brothers’ return to the home of Our Father.

Spiritually, this is the place where my little hornets rest: idle in the market place. They wait for the householder to come and hire them. In the parable, he does. But in the Twitter Feed, in real life, either the householder is awfully slow in coming or his offer of employment was rejected. Pope Benedict wrote about this condition in “Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship between Faith and Reason.”

“Happy the man who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently, who reflects in his heart on her ways and ponders her secrets. He pursues her like a hunter and lies in wait on her paths.” (Sir 14:20-21)

But what is distinctive in the Bible is the “conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and knowledge of faith,” Pope Benedict wrote.

 “The world and all that happens within it, including history and the fate of peoples, are realities to be observed, analyzed and assessed with all the resources of reason, but without faith ever being foreign to the process. Faith intervenes not to abolish reason’s autonomy nor to reduce its scope for action, but solely to bring the human being to understand that in these events it is the God of Israel who acts. “

The pope is saying by faith, we can see history unfold in an entirely new light without abandoning our reason. We can see God actually present in history, and we can marvel at His works. If it rained in our evergreen woods, my mother would say, "Isn't God good?" The atheist would assume He didn't exist or else that He wanted to ruin his day.

 “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

But if man abandons fear of God, he runs the risk of “ending up in the condition of the fool,” the pope added. What a nice way to put it!

“The fool thinks that he knows many things, but really he is incapable of fixing his gaze on the things that truly matter. Therefore, he can neither order his mind (Prov 1:7) nor assume a correct attitude to himself or the world around him. And so when he claims that ‘God does not exist,’ he shows with absolute clarity just how deficient his knowledge is and just how far he is from the full truth of things, their origin and their destiny.”

So we see photo-shopped pictures of dying African babies with a vulture standing nearby and laborers standing idle in the marketplace.

Perhaps American memoirist Emily Rapp was one of those laborers waiting in the marketplace for the householder to hire her.

The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Rapp was married and had a nine-month old son, Ronan, when he was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a death sentence for a baby before the age of three. Perhaps in Emily’s life, this was the moment that her idleness ended. The householder had indeed made his appearance.  
Emily Rapp & son Ronan

"I was definitely not identifying as a Christian long before Ronan was born. I think having that kind of a diagnosis, which really feels straight out of the biblical JobI mean, it really does — it's like you feel cursed, and what Job does in the Bible is wander around asking everyone why this is happening because he doesn't understand, and I think that's a little bit how I felt,” Emily said in an interview with  Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. Tay-Sachs disease is a genetic and degenerative condition that is always fatal before a child’s third year.

In her own words, Emily said, “Ronan’s body lacks hexosaminidase A, an enzyme critical for brain development, and his brain is, as they say in the neurology world, “devastated.” Nerve damage progresses quickly, leading to dementia, decreased interaction with the environment, seizures, spasticity and eventually death. Before he dies, Ronan will become paralyzed, lose his sight, his hearing and his sense of touch.”

She and her husband watched their beloved baby grow up a little and then become a baby again. “We no longer wonder, “What if he starts talking today?” but, “What if he stops smiling, cooing?”
They watched, put away his more advanced toys and brought out ones he played with earlier in his development. Ronan died on Feb. 15, 2013 just before his third birthday.

In her book published this year, “The Still Point of the Turning World,” Emily ponders, “How do you parent without a future? What is it possible to learn from a dying baby? Rick and I spend each day with Ronan, trying to enjoy him, loving him, taking him for walks, to the zoo and the aquarium. We’re not worried about what college he’ll attend, or what he’ll do with his life. We are not living for him, or through him; we are living with him.”
To be present to her son, and not to plan his future, represented quite a transformation in her life. A Harvard graduate, she freely admits she had made plans for her son’s future. In fact, she had planned out every aspect of the pregnancy including a test for the likelihood of the very disease that her son died from.  He died from a very rare form of Tay-Sachs for which there is no test.
“I read all the parenting magazines. My husband and I thought about a lot of questions they raised: will breast-feeding enhance his brain function? Will music class improve his cognitive skills? Will the right preschool help him get into the right college? I made lists. I planned and plotted and hoped. Future, future, future,” She wrote.
“We never thought about how we might parent a child for whom there is no future. Our parenting plans, our lists, the advice I read before Ronan’s birth make little sense now.  No matter what we do for Ronan — choose organic or non-organic food; cloth diapers or disposable; attachment parenting or sleep training — he will die. All the decisions that once mattered so much, don’t.”
Her blog bleeds with a newfound understanding that life’s true treasure is simply being with the ones we love. “Love is spilling out without apology,” she wrote in a November 2012 post on “What If This Thanksgiving Was Your Last?”
A writing teacher as well as a writer, she said she used to assign her students the task of creating a Thanksgiving scene, bringing in conflict: the rude uncle, someone falls asleep in the potatoes, or a teenage vegetarian gives an angry speech about the turkey.
But because of her experience, “I’d change the writing exercise I give to students,” she said, “I’d ask them instead to write a holiday dinner scene with all the people they loved best, but with the added knowledge that it will be the last time everyone sat around the table together and passed around crystal bowls full of cranberry sauce and relish dishes. Write the scene knowing that everything, always, can be fractured, broken, dissolved. Write it knowing that the only conflict worth worrying about is this one: When faced with the choice between shutting down your emotion, at the fear of risking pain, or opening up to everything and trusting that you’ll survive it, which will you chose?”
And in that understanding, unbeliever Emily Rapp has uncovered the secret to happiness.  
Love someone. 
Love someone passionately.  
And you will tenderly uncover the Face of God.

For as we Christians know, God is Love.
And man is made in His image.


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