Indiana Jones holds up the picture of the Biblical battle for the two government men (Eaton and Musgrove).
Eaton: Good God!
Indy: Yes. That’s what the Hebrews thought.
Musgrove: What’s that supposed to be coming out of there?
Indy: Who knows … lightning … fire … the power of God.
Eaton: I’m beginning to understand Hitler’s interest in this thing.
Indy: Oh yes. The Bible tells of it leveling mountains and wasting entire regions. Moses promised that when the Ark was with you, “your enemies will be scattered and your foes fell before you.” (pause) An army which carries the Ark before it is invincible.
*Eaton and Musgrove exchange worried looks*
Indy: Oh, there’s one other thing that Hitler undoubtedly believes about the Ark … (a long pause) … It’s said that the Lost Ark will be recovered at the time of the coming of the true Messiah.
Musgrove: Dr. Jones, you’ve been very helpful. I hope we can call on you again if we have questions.
Indy: Most certainly.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
You may remember the scene above. It always stuck in my mind as being significant and instructive … certainly to the plot of Raiders but also to the whole idea of religion as seen by those who don’t have any themselves. The conversation takes place in the hallowed halls of the university (universities: the cathedrals of the humanist) at which Indy teaches. A couple of government morons stop by to pick the brain of one of the most renowned archeologists in the world and they are treated to a stark tale of supernatural power from the ancients; a Hebrew box, said to contain the power of God – able to lay waste to all in front of it.
Granted, the Indiana Jones movies are meant to capitalize on religious mystery and mysticism, on the weird and the wonky. Look at the strange, dark ceremony held by the Thugees in Temple of Doom or the strange way the Templars protect the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade for great examples of this. These looks at religion are meant to send a shiver of slight fear up your spine simply at the thought of people – very weird people – believing such hokum. But the peculiar Indiana Jones mixture and equivalence between Judeo-Christianity and destructive mystery cults indicates that a lot of the world probably views religion as a whole in a mysterious, distrustful way.
The stories of the Old Testament seem to reinforce this enigmatic supernatural-ness to the “uninitiated”. How many non-believers truly think (like Jews and Christians do) that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and then spit out, or that God parted the actual Red Sea, or that Joshua’s prayer for the sun to stand still in the sky was answered by God, or that Naaman was healed by dipping in a muddy river? Those who hold no strong views on the subject of religion can’t help but say something like, “All religions are the same. They’re all just differing sets of mystical stories and rules started by spiritual charlatans and quacks – they’re all interchangeable and combinable by the individual to meet their own personal needs.”
Now, by pointing this out I don’t in any way mean to say that there aren’t mysteries or aspects of true religion which are not “mystical.” Nor do I think that all non-religious people believe that Steven Spielberg hit the nail on the head with his portrayal of religion in his light-hearted adventure movies (what a silly, simple thought that would be). I’m simply saying that I think some of the parts and dialog of the movies (not just Indiana Jones) illustrate something which is deep down, to varying degrees known and unknown, understood and not understood in the psyche of the non-religious person.
I’m using the term “non-religious” versus the “non-Christian” here for a very distinct reason: I believe that while there are basically only two types of people in the world – Christians and non-Christians – the non-Christians can further be split into two types: the theists and the atheists (there’s no room for “agnostics” in my view of the world – not knowing whether you believe in anything or not is essentially the same as not believing). And the theists and atheists share a lot of the same … *ahem* … repercussions (for lack of a better term) of their spiritual state.
Where things really start to get gray philosophically though, is in the absolute view of right and wrong among the non-believers. As a Christian or a Jew, it’s easy to answer the question, “From where does absolute right and wrong originate?” We can simply say that right and wrong comes from God – the creator and sustainer of all things. And since God is unchanging and unchangeable, His precepts are unchanging and unchangeable; which then means that our answer to all of life’s questions on justice and righteousness is not malleable or breakable either. That morality and life is therefore defined by an identified unevaluated evaluator, or an identified uncreated creator: namely Yahweh – “I Am that I Am.”
Now the gray in this specific question comes when differentiating between the theist and the atheist. While they might share the same spiritual repercussions of their decisions, the theist and atheist might be near-polar opposites on morality and justice. The theist – whether Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Mormon, or unaffiliated – can at least say, “I believe that right and wrong come from god.” But the atheist has nothing above mankind to which he can appeal for any sense of justice or righteousness. He can make squishy statements about how mankind must be humane to itself … but look at how many references to man are in that sentence (i.e. “mankind”, “humane”, “itself”)! The atheist’s appeals are based on an emotional (ironic, based on the fact that most atheists claim to be such based on intellect and reason alone) response to being “wronged” – if they are intellectually dishonest. Or, if they try to be intellectually honest, they never make the case for anything being “right” or “wrong” (i.e. that right and wrong is an anachronism of a less enlightened age and useless in the modern sense).
But we all know that eventually even the most ardent atheist will protest against a seeming injustice and demand that a “wrong” against him be made “right.” If you don’t believe me, just think about what would happen if a judge made a ruling that took all of an atheist’s (let’s call him Bob) possessions and gave them to someone else randomly. First, the atheist would point out the injustice based on its arbitrary nature. But isn’t a worldview that says we are all laws unto ourselves in itself arbitrary? Next the atheist might argue that since he had earned the possessions taken away they are his by right. But isn’t an idea like property rights also primitive and useless if there are no moral absolutes? After that the atheist may argue that laws and regulations have been broken in taking his possessions away, therefore they must be reinstated based on those laws and regulations. But on what authority were the laws and regulations put in place? The whims of a group of voters or legislators from years past? How does that fit into the argument of the atheist when he argues that right and wrong are not only pliable in and of themselves, but also different based on time and circumstance? So the atheist has no recourse other than his or her own feelings on the subject of justice and righteousness. Moreover, consistency with the atheist’s fallback philosophical position as given by Darwinists for generations is that ‘might makes right’ and the laws and regulations are trumped by the simple fact that the judge sitting in the seat, presiding over little ol’ atheist Bob has the power … and Bob doesn’t.
Meanwhile the theist, if faced with the unjust taking of his possessions, has several avenues of recrimination philosophically. The theist might believe that whatever god he serves has placed in nature a natural order (also called “Natural Law”) which demands our conscience’s fealty and which nags us when we commit those things which nature deems wrong. This may seem a moot point to many of us, either because we’ve experienced our conscience separately prodding us on in doing good or reprimanding us for doing wrong, but as we’ve already acknowledged, not all people believe this. The appeal to a natural order exhibits an underlying belief in a higher judge who operates on a higher plane to subsequently administer a higher justice. Even a Buddhist subscribing to reincarnation can appeal to a higher power through the justice of one’s actions leading to a higher or lower plane of existence in the next life. Therefore, it is the intellect – not just the emotion – which spurs the request for restoration of the theist’s possessions. If the laws and regulations of private property rights are in place, they serve as a legal recrimination, but the theist can also philosophically be consistent in asking for said reinstatement.
You see, there is a HUGE difference between the idea of right and wrong based on a higher authority and right and wrong based on the whims of mankind. And the reason for this is the philosophical principle that says that you cannot prove a hypothesis through logical argument if the hypothesis is a part of the presuppositions going into the argument. So the atheist makes a critical and irreconcilable blunder by saying that he believes that man can determine right and wrong if he already goes into the argument with the presupposition that there is nothing higher than man (i.e. no God).
So this brings us back to the Christian versus non-Christian part of the argument. You might think that based on what I have just written there is no reason to believe that a Judeo-Christian worldview is any better than any another theistic worldview. And this is where the mysteries of God truly do come in. You see, the theist may be able to see the logic behind the precepts of Judaism or Christianity and they may even agree with them, but they may not see from where they originate.
Thomas Aquinas spent his lifetime trying to draw a line between the natural laws (the things which are evident in nature) and the divine laws (the things which are only known through revelation). It is this dichotomy which splits Christian thought from all other theistic philosophies. The mysteries of nature to which we can subscribe come through a simple – but spiritual – act of acknowledging that you are not the final arbiter of right and wrong; so the mysteries of God are only seen by acknowledging that you are helpless when entering the courtroom of cosmic justice.
I am no Thomas Aquinas intellectually or philosophically, and I don’t have the time or the ability to go through every known truth and determine their origin in the nature-divine revelation split. But I can say that the difference between Christianity and all other theistic philosophies is the idea of human depravity versus a graceful and loving God. All other theistic philosophies state that personal action (whether some form of chant or sacrifice) or human intercession (a priestly blessing or ritual cleansing) is what un-does the wrong things we do. But Christianity is the only one which says the only part played by the individual in the act of salvation and spiritual redress is in acknowledging that you can’t cleanse yourself.
You see, the quest for cosmic justice, for the difference between right and wrong, keeps dropping philosophies by the side of the road as one continues down it through logic and humility. This metaphysical journey continues until only one philosophy remains … and it is ironically (though understandably) the one that claims the most absolute relationship with the truth and with the love of what is good, right and decent: Christianity.
It is this absolutism which conjures up the silly ideas of mystery which pervade the non-believing mind when considering the Judeo-Christian life. Because the theist can only grasp the natural law innately – naturally – the move theologically from right and wrong on the level of “Do not murder” to right and wrong on the level of “I am the LORD your God … you shall have no other gods before me” or “you shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God” is the equivalent of the leap from the deepest ocean trench to the highest mountain peak. It is divine mystery which is only interpretable by the non-believer as spiritual voodoo, or some well-meaning custom at best. This interpretation by the non-believer leads to misunderstandings of the greatness of God so that His actions are viewed as vengeful instead of just or spiteful instead of merciful. It’s what leads Hollywood to melt the skin of the faces of Nazis because “they deserve it” instead of cowering in the corner in fear and awe at the very thought of the power of God residing in a box made and carried by human hands and in close proximity to you.
This absolutism is viewed as mystery and mystical, but is simply a truth that is so much higher than our truth that God had to compare it to how higher the heavens are from the earth (Is. 55:9). Indeed, this is the mystery of God: God is good, I am not, and He must rescue me from myself.
Paul says so himself in writing 1 Cor 13:1-3,8-12:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing … But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.