Religion is despised because it considers human accomplishment to be less than those who make, or depend, upon human accomplishment. Religion is castigated because it makes even the most accomplished men face the frailty of their good works and the lasting bitterness of their evil.
Religion, then, holds man up to an impossible, divine standard, far beyond simple activity, speaking as much to motivation as to one's deeds. It is not enough to do right, white-knuckling along our way, for that is not good enough for the religious. Man must do good, fight himself all along the way and then give the credit for his good deeds to some amorphous, unseen Being/Force.
Little wonder Free Thinkers refuse the strictures of the sacred vocation.
So, it is we come to consider the most important of Biblical thoughts for the 21st century, that "…God makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust…"
If no natural advantage accrues to the benefit of the religious, is there a good reason to bother with the fuss and bother of it all? One wonders, and not all the fifteen minute bubble gum sermons in the world, designed to be tasty and give a brief sugar rush, can possibly help us know.
If nature is impartial as to evil and good, what should be our stance to the good and evil man? The good fellow gets the same amount of sunshine and rain as the evil man. Nature is impartial and Jesus, the speaker of the quoted words, seems to indicate the impartiality of nature is the direct result of divine action; God makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. This sounds like a policy statement.
This is not a rationale for conversion, is it? Jesus is a poor closer. He seems to take the omnipotence of God (God maketh) and turn it upside down (the sun to shine on the just and the unjust). The undeniable impartiality of nature seems to the pure Rationalist to argue for a kind of universal randomness, as though we are like the little ball in the pinball machine, propelled by forces beyond our keening, helter skelter abounce off of this wall or that wall, actually gaining force only from our collisions with the material consequences of fate.
What is the divine act of omnipotence as seen in the impartiality of nature? I suppose it cannot be less than the deepest statement of the Christ on the unconditional love of God.
That is to say, there is no naturally occurring material benefit from conversion. Everyone who lives according to altruistic, morally courageous principles will both benefit from his actions as he pursues them according to his own conscience, quite apart from any religious participation. In the opposite, any man who lives according to his own conscience in whatever degree of depravity may expect to experience the same amount of sunshine as the Greater Souls. The depraved fellow, obeying his own standards and self-absorbed to the extreme, may actually benefit materially for the period of his earthly life-time.
Simply put, it is the rarest of circumstances when God directly intervenes against the human right to self-determination, at least in the most select form of some limited spiritual free agency. A man who obeys his own will is not free. He is simply absorbed by his own calling, awash in his personal circumstances and able to filter information only through his own personal needs and abilities, so to arrive at his own cock-eyed truth.
Man feels his own guilt as he feels the undeserved sunshine strike his ashen skin. He counters with asceticism, mysticism, romantic notions of love as the highest virtue (in which, one supposes, the Holocaust can be forgiven as a "regrettable moral lapse") but no lasting happiness can accrue from the compartmentalization of religious life. Self-denial is possible without Christianity or any other religion. There is no real moral energy in pure mysticism or in the love faiths, or any need for an embodied religious ideal, such as a personal God.
The appropriate human response to the impartiality of nature as an act of divine providence is not the creation of a new religion by paring down the old truths to create something acceptable to a new generation. No, this is tempting but useless.
In fact the appropriate response to God as personal embodiment of unconditional love is humility. Think of it; how embarrassing is that the God in whom I place my personal trust apparently cares as much for my godless neighbor as for me? In fact this action means I must not only humble myself to now in worship to the Unseen God but also that I must discipline myself in conversation with my friend, who cares nothing for my religion at all.
This will be a hard century for Christians if we cannot learn to humbly make an intelligent argument for our continued existence as a world force. If we lose the American monetary base as our great strength, meaningful persuasion will have to replace material force. For this, we will need a moral strength and energy not currently visible in most of religious life.