Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Romans 12.2

People who share a common experience and commonly ascribe to certain descriptions of it can discuss it, even though there may be a lurking ambiguity or outright disagreement about it owing to their disagreeing over its complete description. For example, if I believe tomatoes are vegetables and you take them to be fruits, we may still discuss tomatoes because we agree about many of their other properties and are in harmony over many of our experiences of tomatoes. We may cross swords over their genus and even, as the cognitive infects the gustatory, disagree on whether they taste like fruits or like vegetables.

A similar consonance mixed with equivocation can be found in conversations about God, though exceedingly rarely. Consider this passage from the Bible that speaks of salvation and moral transformation through God.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12.2)

It is possible for an atheist to see this as sound advice and to agree with the theist that there is more truth in it than falsehood. The God-talk language game is one that the atheist can play, as well as the theist. He can play with conviction and not just as though it were a mere play that he tacitly dismisses is as devoid of truth-bearing statements. In particular, it is possible for an atheist to find value in Romans 12.2 the following lesson:

It is a good idea to do the following:
1. Keep one's mind from being immersed in the river of mundane thoughts in which it is almost constantly swept away and which so frequently subject it to resentments and frustration.

2. Reflect on the facts that the existence of this world is unfathomably better than nothingness and that one’s having this life in this world is unfathomably better than not having it.

3. Realize that the state of patience and eager acceptance of this world that results from 1 and 2 makes one better able to respond to any situation with greater wisdom, strength and courage.

These practical principles are not a translation of Romans 12.2. This is not a reduction. But it is an atheist’s recognition of the profundity and value of the scripture.

Of course, there is much more to the story.