(Part I of III)
A few weeks ago I was approached by a friend who asked me my thoughts on Christianity. I thought it was a good topic to elucidate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the dramatic role Christianity has played and continues to play in the world. Frankly speaking, however, for something as established, respected, hated, understood, and misunderstood as Christianity – there must necessarily be more nuanced things I cannot hope to comment on. So, for their sake and the sake of brevity – I do not. Nonetheless, I hope the reader will bear with patient stoicism the author’s fault of literacy and education on the matter.
Before I begin it is important to make transparent my own beliefs or feelings in context of this topic. I am a Deist, and since this post isn’t about Deism or my beliefs, I will offer a succinct explanation of it. Deists are people with a traditional Christian upbringing who have grown to harbor grave and irreconcilable issues with the testaments of Revelation, Miracle, and Prophecy in the Bible. Deists believe that there are fundamental truths proffered in the Bible, but the God that can be inferred from the laws of nature and the cosmos cannot be explained in exclusion as the Bible does.
The Devil is in the Dinosaur Bones. Christianity and Society.
Religions are innately resistant to negation. All they have to do is make statements that are incapable of disproof. Does that mean they are true or false? Neither, I would argue. Not at least within the confines of logical assessment. If they claim knowledge of such, then they may assuredly be disproved, but so long as they concern things immaterial no proof can be given for or against their nature. Argued either way, I would find suspect the motivations of a person who claimed the pathway to such knowledge existed in the first place.
The problem begins when religions attempt to make claims of testable knowledge nested inside this neat shell of disproof. Evolution, the shape of the Earth, Earth’s age – et cetera. Either this absolves us of our ability to construct arguments off of methodical processes, or is a formal mea culpa of religious overreach. It is even more problematic when traditional interpretation considers these types of arguments necessary to maintain textual integrity.
It is good to understand that religions are not designed to change, which one is right to expect. ( Spinoza and Einstein were both keen to point this out from a certain point of view. ) What about interpretation? That, too, is problematic, as interpretation always changes with the advent of additional information. More educated Christians will posit that the Bible’s integrity is such that it interprets itself though, which makes sense – and goes back to this shell of disproof. Yet this is where Christianity gets itself in trouble.
What happens when interpretation is in contrast to regulation? Or, worse, as a barrier to effective communication?
What that means in context of Christianity and its relationship with contemporary society is that disproportionate dialogue is legislated for and against the wrong things. Basically, two sets of people by and large prefer to talk about two different things. I suspect a majority of non-Christians will proffer their negation of the faith vis-à-vis the aforementioned testable data. In this form, their ‘non-belief’ (and I choose this term carefully) is reductio ad absurdum. Surely a faith that is contradicted by hard data cannot be construed as true? At least, I think that is the line of thought.
Christians don’t really help this argument. It’s an imminently indefensible position. In many cases dialogue on this matter is curt. A few places try – like Ancient Faith Radio, but the interpretations found there are inherently credulous. The worst case scenario for Christians is the one I see played out the most. That is to say, Christians choose to say nothing, or absolve themselves of an opinion on the matter. More ammunition for non-believers, I say.
It certainly does not help Christianity’s case when dialogue on the matter devolves into discussions of validity based on the nature of faith. It is certainly odd to hear a Christian claim that an understanding of the formal logic found in mathematics (‘science’) is rooted in the same ‘non-logic’ as the Gospel. It’s not, and to put it quite simply: What’s the difference between miracles and mathematics? One is testable regardless of bias. A Buddhist scientist will reach the same conclusions about terminal velocity as a Christian or atheist scientist. Will they reach the same conclusions about miracles though?
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. “ Society and Christianity.
I have spoken to some length about why I feel that Christianity generates its own difficulties in society. On the other side of the field, however, are the systemic dogmatisms society inveighs against Christianity.
What comprises these? If one looks back at what I said about how Christianity inflicts itself in assuming indefensible positions one can infer how society chooses to inoculate itself against anything Christianity has to say. Society tells Christianity to live by its own prescriptions, which is a bit ironic. Society wants to tell religion to keep its hands out of science (Which the theologically educated will seldom aver in ministry) and morals. Ah, but what then SHOULD Christianity concern itself with if not morals?
Now it is the time for non-believers to hedge, and nest their rhetoric in indefensible positions. Most, I think, will say Christians should just keep their faith to themselves. This seems innocuous enough, right? Perhaps – if it wasn’t an intentional way of saying ‘don’t tell me how I should live.’ The more educated milieu will more reasonably posit that a separation of Church and State is a historically important trend – which I agree with. Saying Christians should keep their beliefs to themselves, though, is an ignorant assumption of the values Christians choose to live and lead their life by. This, too, is a gross trivializing of Christians’ agency of opinion. Just as Christianity is an active faith, so too are its believers active and engaged citizens.
The implication is transparent here. There is a logical corollary between what people believe in and how their mission is made. By averring that Christians should ‘keep to themselves’ non-believers are culpable of a cardinal contradiction. It’s indefensible to suggest that Christians should absolve their right to moral legislation, when this is a central mandate of their belief.
Of course this speaks little of the cynicism to which many non-believers ascribe their interpretations of Christianity. This so called negativity bias creates a distorted picture of Christians and Christianity in the modern conscience – and the press doesn’t help. If one looks at the coverage Christianity gets in mainstream media there is an implicit bias against the faith. What do the media choose to talk about? What Christians don’t do. How Christians are militantly opposing progressive reformism – or, worse, Westboro Baptist Church. The informed reader can render their own conclusions from this.
Inside this disregard is a particularly insidious, and, I would argue, revisionist ideology. There is this notion that Christianity is an inherently dangerous institution in our world history. This, again, is a good example of how negativity bias induces people to make decisions on things they already had established opinions about. “Christianity repressed so and so for so and so!”
I would rebut that Christianity’s constructive force vastly outweighs the alternative (which by the way, we can rightly dismiss as ‘might-have-beens.’). Many of our greatest values and social intuitions exist by merit of Christians acting according to their mandate and sharing these convictions with a society that, by and large, didn’t/doesn’t seem to really care.
Ultimately, the expectations society foists on Christianity are many times disingenuous. The unitiated express at every opportunity their grievances against Christians’ habit of cherry-picking which truths they abide by, when this is an error of reasoning. People expect Christians to be Christians, not people, but when those people are Christians – their opinions are immediately invalidated by ridicule.
So, where does that leave us – society, Christians, non-believers?
Hopefully in a higher state of self-awareness. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof, there are unarguable, horrific truths that violate our sense of human decency occurring in our world on a daily basis. If people’s bastion against fear and hatred is solace in a faith that impacts their lives and the society they live in – I’m for it, but I want to see something out of this.
What I want to see is more effective communication. I want to see Scientists speaking passionately with Christian leaders. I want to see Christian leaders seeking out scientists and sharing the beauty of the Gospel. I want to see a mutual discussion on how the panoply of human affairs encompasses both the physical world of evolution and the immortal soul. I want to show the common man that we can dispel the torrid myth that Religion and Science are enemies.
I guess I just want to show people that it’s ok to believe, or even just respect something you don’t believe in. In a world where nuclear weapons exist, bringing the temerity of grace into discussions driven by convenience and political agenda can only serve us well. In finding peace in ourselves and the world around us we must strive to remain active, sur le qui-vive.