Posts Tagged ‘uncertainty’
September 4th, 2012 | 5 Comments
I recently read two articles that, while they’re directed at very different audiences, have a common thread between them that regular readers will recognize as a concern of mine lately.
English writer Francis Spufford is on the press-junket for his book, Unapologetic. This article he wrote for the Guardian (with a tip of the hat to Arni) seems to be setting up an approach toward speaking of religion that consciously and…well, unapologetically avoids putting up faith as “Reason 2.0″ as is done by most Christian apologists. To give you an idea of his approach, which is sure to be controversial among believers and unbelievers alike, here’s a bit from the post:
The point is that from outside, belief looks like a series of ideas about the nature of the universe for which a truth-claim is being made, a set of propositions that you sign up to; and when actual believers don’t talk about their belief in this way, it looks like slipperiness, like a maddening evasion of the issue. If I say that, from inside, it makes much more sense to talk about belief as a characteristic set of feelings, or even as a habit, you will conclude that I am trying to wriggle out, or just possibly that I am not even interested in whether the crap I talk is true. I do, as a matter of fact, think that it is. I am a fairly orthodox Christian. Every Sunday I say and do my best to mean the whole of the Creed, which is a series of propositions. But it is still a mistake to suppose that it is assent to the propositions that makes you a believer. It is the feelings that are primary. I assent to the ideas because I have the feelings; I don’t have the feelings because I’ve assented to the ideas.
I have recently been considering that the goal of “breaking down the barrier between faith and reason” may be misguided, at least to the extent to which it tries to blur the line between them. “Faith isn’t against reason: it is reason!” The enterprise of making sure that people don’t conclude that our religious convictions contradict the world of reason too often slides into the quagmire of “proving” our unprovable convictions.
This pitfall comes from the ubiquitous misconstrual of “faith” as “believing”. Faith is not belief, but a commitment to a belief (at least in its dullest form: for the Christian it should be a commitment to the Truth himself). Reason is for believing; faith is for living. I think Spufford was trying to say that we will only live out what we want to, what is emotionally real to us.
To be sure, we don’t want to base our beliefs on things that we know aren’t true (which isn’t the same thing as resting in beliefs we aren’t sure are true). But living without reasonable beliefs is the danger of Scylla to the Charybdis of reasonable beliefs without faithfulness.
It’s the latter danger that I see gobbling up most Evangelicals. Everything important to them about their faith has to do with beliefs about this or that fact or “truth”. If Jesus were to come back today, they’d rather be found committing an act of sin (since we’re all hopeless, dirty sinners) than believing something incorrectly (something about finding “faith” on the earth, wasn’t it?). Completely, utterly, hopelessly backwards.
This observation is behind the other post I wanted to share, a post by Zac Bailes called “Jesus, Truth, and Coffee“. It’s his reflections on a conversation with one of those Evangelicals I was just talking about. Here’s a salient quote:
Christians across the globe have become so concerned with making sure people know the truth about Jesus that they forget what that truth provokes. Love for the neighbor becomes sublimated to a concern about recognizing truth. They remained entombed in the truth of power, rather than the liberation of love.
No wonder our faith seems so trivial to the world! We tell them it’s about believing “facts” without any evidence, often enough in contradiction of evidence, and then we refuse to live as though those “facts” had any value for our lives at all. When the positivists tell us that our beliefs must be proved to be worth anything, we take them at their word and get waylaid as we single-mindedly turn our entire religion into an exercise of maintaining the right beliefs and proving them to others.
Instead, we have despised the only thing that could demonstrate the value of faith, the one unmistakably clear charge given to us by the one in whose name we claim to be acting: devotion to God as expressed by devotion to one another. The most emotional investment we have is put into holding everyone else accountable for behaving in ways that indicate that they believe correctly. This is why, as Spufford notes, the world looks at believers as people doing our level best to shut our eyes, clench our fists, and just believe something. We do not attempt to feel our faith; we are content to believe it. We do not love that in which we believe; we are not committed to it enough to energize it with the affection of commitment.
And in so doing, we demonstrate ourselves faithless.
July 13th, 2012 | 1 Comment
They said the birds refused to sing and the thermometer fell suddenly, as if God himself had his breath stolen away. No one there dared speak aloud, as much in shame as in sorrow. They uncovered the bodies one by one. The eyes of the dead were closed, as if waiting for permission to open. Were they still dreaming of ice cream and monkey bars, of birthday cake, and no future but the afternoon? Or had their innocence been taken along with their lives, buried in the cold earth so long ago? These fates seemed too cruel even for God to allow. Or are the tragic young born again when the world’s not looking?
I wanna believe so badly in a truth beyond our own, hidden and obscured from all but the most sensitive eyes; in the endless procession of souls; in what cannot and will not be destroyed. I want to believe we are unaware of God’s eternal recompense and sadness; that we cannot see His truth; that that which is born still lives and cannot be buried in the cold earth, but only waits to be born again at God’s behest, where in ancient starlight we lay in repose.
from The X-Files, S7xE11, “Closure”
There is no theodicy; there is only the choice to wait and see.
My friends, you can keep your confidence about the ultimate meaninglessness of our lives and our love, the irredeemability of our pain and our sorrows, the ephemerality of all we hold dear, the transience of even Love itself. I’ll certainly not begrudge you your ability to keep a stiff upper lip while staring into that yawning gap (are your eyes really open?). I readily admit that I don’t have proof to the contrary.
But I stand with the majority of humanity throughout history and rest in the conviction that there is, must be, more than this. I doubt I could even be said to truly love anything whose immortality I do not undyingly await.
So please don’t hold it against me that I have chosen not to feign your practical certainty about the matter; forgive me for not even attempting to be contented by, much less in love with, such a universe as yours. There are times of such goodness and joy that that sort of universe doesn’t even seem plausible, times when existence itself seems too good a gift not to have been granted us by a good Giver. But in the other times, when confronted with the most horrific scenes that humanity or nature can paint, I will not give pat answers or cheap apologetics. I’m not in denial; I know exactly what it looks like. But I will wait and see.
July 9th, 2012 | 2 Comments
“All I now say is, that in the story of Jesus I have beheld such grandeur—to me apparently altogether beyond the reach of human invention, such a radiation of divine loveliness and truth, such hope for man, soaring miles above every possible pitfall of Fate; and have at the same time, from the endeavour to obey the word recorded as his, experienced such a conscious enlargement of mental faculty, such a deepening of moral strength, such an enhancement of ideal, such an increase of faith, hope, and charity towards all men, that I now declare with the consent of my whole man—I cast in my lot with the servants of the Crucified; I am content even to share their delusion, if delusion it be, for it is the truth of the God of men to me; I will stand or fall with the story of my Lord; I will take my chance—I speak not in irreverence but in honesty—my chance of failure or success in regard to whatever may follow in this life or the life to come, if there be a life to come—on the words and will of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom if, impressed as I am with the truth of his nature, the absolute devotion of his life, and the essential might of his being, I yet obey not, I shall not only deserve to perish, but in that very refusal draw ruin upon my head. Before God I say it—I would rather be crucified with that man, so it might be as a disciple and not as a thief that creeps, intrudes, or climbs into the fold, than I would reign with him over such a kingdom of grandeur as would have satisfied the imagination and love-ambition of his mother. On such grounds as these I hope I am justified in declaring myself a disciple of the Son of Man, and in devoting my life and the renewed energy and enlarged, yea infinite hope which he has given me, to his brothers and sisters of my race, that if possible I may gain some to be partakers of the blessedness of my hope.”
George MacDonald (from his novel Thomas Wingfold, Curate, 1876)
June 20th, 2012 | 36 Comments
If I were to ask you why you believe in inerrancy, would you answer with any of the following?
1) The Bible affirms that it is inerrant.
2) It’s a logical inference from other things I believe (e.g. about God’s perfection).
3) Without a perfect record of divine revelation, anything goes. What’d be the point?
I left off one likely response, as it doesn’t get to the root cause: “Because it’s never been proved wrong.” The problem here is that this response shifts the burden of proof off of the inerrantist, despite the fact that an expectation of complete perfection is not a natural position; no one expects that anything is perfect until it is proved to be flawed unless they have a prior reason for that expectation. So assuming the Bible is perfect until proved otherwise assumes something not in evidence. What I’m asking is, “Why do you expect it to be perfect?”
Let me look at the remaining answers one at a time.
1) For the Bible tells me so.
Ok. Forget the circularity of “I trust X because X told me to”; after all, presuppositionalism has nifty ways of embracing such circularity as a “feature, not a bug”. There are other problems.
Where does the Bible tell you so? Before answering that, realize what that question really means: does any passage ever refer to this specific collection of books as they were canonized centuries after the individual books were written? If so, does it additionally refer to them as entirely free from error? In other words, can you find even a single passage that refers to the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible (“the word of the Lord” doesn’t count)? Do those passages also refer to this canon as inerrant, or with an unarguably synonymous term? If not, does it even say something like that in a way that doesn’t require philosophical/theological (i.e. extrabiblical) extrapolation?
Pretty sure I know what the answer is. But I won’t spoil it for you: go look for yourself.
2) Ok, maybe it’s not spelled out precisely in the Bible, but it’s a logical inference based on other Scriptures and on what one should expect from a perfect God.
A common pitfall is to suppose that because Passage X:YZ makes a claim about a passage or portion of “Scripture” (e.g. Psalm 119 speaking of the Law), we can extrapolate that everything the Church eventually determined to be “Scripture” somehow gets grandfathered in. So when one verse proclaims, “The Word of God shall stand forever,” it must be referring to what inerrantists now think of as the totality of the Word, the Bible. That’s clever: but it’s not biblical. In fact, it’s unapologetically extrabiblical; that is, it requires you to add other assumptions to the text, assumptions about the Church’s role that Protestants by definition reject when applied outside this one issue. What I mean is this: you’re rallying around Source A for authority while rejecting Source B, yet citing Source B as the authoritative body that proves Source A’s authority.
Many hold on to inerrancy because they believe that God does not lie, and so by extension we must assume that this must be applied to everything we call Scripture. By now you should be able to anticipate my response: what makes you think that everything we call Scripture is comprised of God’s words? This is yet another mask of a presupposition that needs to be peeled away so that we can ask the underlying question. There has to be a reason you believe that Scripture = God’s very words, and preferably it’s more defensible and less based on personal ignorance/incredulity than, “I can’t imagine it being any other way.”
A typical response to this is rhetorically asking why God would leave us without an unimpeachable source about Him and His ways. I return, do you mean to ask why He wouldn’t ensure that we had a source of knowledge that was capable of proving His truth to us and that was free from human obfuscation, manipulation, misunderstanding, and exploitation? Why indeed! Instead, what we actually have is a book whose truth claims are very easily disputed and that has been obfuscated, manipulated, misunderstood, and exploited for all kinds of nefarious purposes–and all the more because of its supposed authority! If God intended to invest it with an authority used properly so rarely and misused so commonly, it would not go toward lessening the problem of God’s transcendence from our plane of existence: if anything, it would compound the problem of why He has chosen to (ineffectually) intervene in our affairs only to deliver us a much misinterpreted and too often dangerous collection of ancient writings while leaving everything else in our world in such a state of glaring imperfection. On the other hand, if our very human Bible is instead yet another example of humanity’s grasping after the ethereal, always just out of reach, and frequently misunderstood regions of the Transcendent, there’s no hollow exception. All told, everything makes much more sense: the Bible’s not perfect because its authors weren’t, either. Nothing’s perfect.
At this point, most will have asked or at least thought the third possible response to my initial question.
3) Without an inerrant Bible, why should I believe in Christianity – or God Himself – at all? How are we supposed to know what to believe? Christianity is just not intelligible unless God left us a clear, miraculously accurate demonstration of His activity in the world, which is what the Bible is.
What it comes down to for those of you asking that is that you were sold a bill of goods. You believe the Bible, and therefore Christianity, because the Bible is inerrant; the moment you stop believing the latter, despite having had no good reason for starting to believe it, your foundation is gone. You become fallible; your beliefs become less than 100% sure; you stand the chance of being wrong about it all. And it’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? I felt more secure when I was confident I knew everything–or if not everything, I at least knew enough to consult the complete Source of All Knowledge, which conferred absolute truth to me on demand (magically, my interpretations were spot on as well). How much simpler things were then!
Let’s just say that, given only a Bible that’s human rather than divine, you decide that it’s all a sham and a scam. Let’s say you throw in the towel on faith. Are you so worshipful of Almighty Certitude and the Right to Be Right that, in place of your shattered inerrancy, you’d be willing to embrace a version of certainty that affirms, “There is no God, no transcendent meaning, and nothing but the material world”? (This is a very popular choice, unfortunately.) If so, I weep for you and for all the people you take with you into that rigid, harsh realm of fundamentalism. Good thing you don’t base everything in your life off of complete certainty, or you’d never leave your bed in the morning!
The difficulty is in managing expectations and dealing with disappointment: if you were never accustomed to forming your beliefs and outlook on life from the belief that the Bible is a codified list of unquestionable direct messages from God, I don’t think you’d miss it. It does, however, hurt a bit to have what you’ve planted your feet on suddenly jerked from underneath you.
Thankfully, the situation for the non-inerrantist isn’t nearly so bleak as the former inerrantist might be tempted to believe. Most of us are used to living in expectation of things not seen (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Human beings can’t escape living by induction; the assumption that the sun is going to come up tomorrow is based only on inferences from our prior experiences and our unverifiable trust that past events are indicative of the future. We assume a lot in our daily lives, and have literally nothing we can say with certainty. We use Wikipedia. We Google to find answers from fallible people all over the Internet, having to pick through what is and isn’t credible on our own (well, Snopes helps). And by and large, we’re ok with that. That’s just the way it is. And for non-inerrantist Christians, the same goes with our faith; we don’t go around pretending we’re exempt from uncertainty because of some special knowledge we have about the world through our divinely authored handbook. We don’t set our gaze on the window with all its smudges and imperfections, but on what’s on the other side, which we can still see remarkably well.
For those brought up without such unrealistic expectations of the Bible as inerrancy, the faith is still communicated as it always was: the sacred but not necessarily infallible word of the saints’ testimony, leading to personal encounters with God. The earliest church spread by passing on their beliefs about their encounters with Jesus by word of mouth long before it was written down and spread around: even then, there were soon quite spurious testimonies as well, and so, like us, they couldn’t just trust that everything they read was…well, the gospel truth. The testimony of those changed by God in Christ was passed down and continues to be replicated. My father was brought to faith in his adulthood not because anyone had demonstrated the Bible inerrant, but because someone demonstrated the risen Christ in his life.
A faith without a perfect, unquestionable source for knowledge and truth is a light that shines in darkness without completely eliminating the darkness; in fact, when pointed in the wrong directions it can cast some pretty ominous shadows. Dim places are navigable as long as we tread lightly, but the inerrantist plows through boldly while pretending to see it all clearly, often with results that harm others more than themselves (which is the only reason I bother critiquing inerrancy). For instance, without permission to critique the Bible, we cannot convincingly condemn slavery, which is prescribed (by God, apparently) in the first part and never truly repudiated in the second.
“The faith once delivered to the saints” is bigger than will fit between the covers of a book. It’s unwieldy at times, and full of mysteries that can frighten some of us (and thrill others). But it’s entirely adequate for giving us insight into the backend of our universe and teaching us to recognize our place within it.
So what’s your answer? Why are you an inerrantist?
December 1st, 2011 | 8 Comments
Going into this post, please be aware that I will indulge in the obnoxious habit of capitalizing Truth to distinguish the abstract concept of veritas from small-t truths that amount to individual factoids. I hope this will not distract you.
As a teenager I was once informed by a mentor that I was a “seeker of Truth.” This was a defining moment for me, not because it changed my behavior, but because it made me startlingly aware of this behavior. I have proudly owned that badge ever since, although I do generally try to keep it under my coat so as not to annoy people. This blog has been a workshop for me in my continuing mission to search for Truth, especially in places considered unlikely by others who shared my upbringing.
In the last year, however, something has changed. It’s not that I value Truth less; it’s just that I have behaved less and less as though it were my sacred calling to fight for Truth. One of the truths I have seen confirmed again and again over the last several years is that no one, not even inveterate Truth-seekers, have a monopoly on it. The greatest threat to Truth comes from those whose confidence that they have it lead them to root out everyone making a counter-claim. This conviction puts me on a collision course with heresy hunters, who in the name of defending the Truth of God have crammed it so tightly into a cage that I can scarcely imagine their having any real affection for it.
Here’s another lesson that I have been learning over the last several, quiet months, which I’ve just now figured out how to articulate: Truth doesn’t need my protection. It is larger than I am. I am not its steward; instead, I am responsible for my own character — my own actions and reactions. I can and should promote what I think is true and show what is false for what it is, with discretion and all due diligence in determining it, of course. But primarily, I am called to follow Christ, subjecting my will to the service of God and others. By far the best and most important way to serve Truth is by acting like we believe it, viz. through obedience to what we believe. I believe that the highest, most elusive truth of the universe is Love — so if my life is not characterized by Love-seeking, how can I pretend to be a Truth-seeker?
Watching the biblioblogosphere as closely as I have for the last couple of years, I’ve seen and participated in far too many ugly wars for Truth. Bitter, dismissive, and insulting diatribes put into defense of beliefs are not a bit more common among the heresy-hunting Fundamentalist types than they are among the enlightened who embrace doubt and uncertainty. Friends, Truth is a sword meant to hew through the brambles of untruths, not the people trapped behind them.
If I can’t act in love during my tousles for Truth, treating the other person as a child of God no matter how obviously, infuriatingly ignorant they are, then what I am upholding and defending is not Truth but my own pet truths, factoids that I cognitively assent to, at the expense of the greatest truth I know. There is nothing more false than conflating my truth with the Truth.
I forsee the objection that impassioned debates are often necessary to ferret out the facts; besides, didn’t Jesus himself use angry words and call his opponents on the carpet? Indeed he did. But he also told us, “Be angry, and sin not.” This tells me, until you’re righteous, don’t feign righteous anger. Righteous anger is so hard to distinguish from the unrighteous kind; this ambiguity is a caution against blowing up in defense of our rightness. We need to remember what we’re fighting for.
You see, fighting for Truth so often treats it as a trophy to be won, a public reward for our diligent Truth-seeking. I want to get out of this closed circuit of seeking Truth for seeking Truth’s sake. If we don’t live up to the light we do have – and I hope we can all agree that living a life characterized by loving humility qualifies – no matter how accurately and convincingly we argue for truths, we are not lovers of Truth.
The old meaning of the adjective true, seldom used these days, was faithful; actually, that meaning is still around in our usage of it in the sense of faithfulness to reality. The Truth I seek is a more robust form of faithfulness than that: faithfulness to God even more than faithfulness to reality, which we can hardly claim to know with any certainty anyway. I want to be much more than a Truth seeker; I want to be a Truth lover. Even if I miss truths here and there, and even though I recognize that I’ll never obtain certainty in this world, Truth will continue to be my ideal and the template I use to shape my character.
If I mistake, he will forgive me. I do not fear him; I fear only lest, able to see and write these things, I should fail of witnessing, and myself be, after all, a castaway—no king, but a talker; no disciple of Jesus, ready to go with him to the death, but an arguer about the truth; a hater of the lies men speak for God, and myself a truth-speaking liar, not a doer of the word.
The subtle, silent epiphany of the last several months has been that what I must seek first is not truths – disembodied facts and undeceptions – but righteousness. One of the most profound undeceptions I’ve undergone is the realization that righteousness is not some legal decree that magically covers and converts my own rancid attitudes and actions. It’s not that simple at all. Being a true Christian in the deepest sense of that word (maybe I should capitalize it) is hard work. But the real dirty work of Christianity is not in controlling our actions, but our re-actions: how we respond to problems such as getting cut off in traffic, how we deal with those who are hurting those we love, and how we treat defenders of patent falsehoods. Seeking Truth is not enough; we must be true.
God give me a true heart.
June 14th, 2011 | 9 Comments
What in the world am I trying to do with this site? Who am I writing for? Who do I expect to come away with something of value?
I ask myself these questions periodically. Am I a “faith” blogger or a “skeptic” blogger? The posts I write criticizing aspects of evangelicalism are the most popular, and are quite common given that those beliefs are most often the object of my own undeception; on the other hand, I make no bones about my own abiding faith. Yet in observing those who encounter difficulties with the Bible, especially in the blogosphere, it seems things too often go in two diametrically opposed directions:
- The Disillusioned: The Bible is acknowledged to have deep flaws. Discussion develops around criticizing the Bible’s flaws and sneering at the inanities of Christians who deny them.
- The Defenders: The Bible is perfect. Any discussion of alleged flaws in it is stolidly defensive; more often, it is outsourced to apologists.
From there both camps trudge along their separate, well-worn paths. Typically the more bitter of the Disillusioned become the Deconverted. I come across many deconversion blogs, which isn’t surprising considering that disillusionment and deconversion are so emotionally repercussive. Their communities and survivors’ groups form very easily, commenting and linking to one another as a form of mutual support.
There are plenty of blogs by those militantly confident in their Christianity as well; the Defenders remain happy where they are…at all costs, seemingly.
Comparing the content of the blogs from those groups to mine, you’d see many more affinities between me and the Disillusioned. Indeed, because I spend so much time discussing the deep flaws in the Bible and in the forms of Christianity championed by the Defenders, my blog attracts mostly the Disillusioned and the Deconverted. But I do not count myself among either group. Rather, I am a part of an increasing number of believers no longer confident in either the pat answers of the apologists or the knee-jerk reactions of the self-styled enemies of Christianity. Even upon realization that our pursuit of God and His truth does not terminate in Scripture or systematic theologies, we do not find enough grounds to repudiate that pursuit.
I know that both the Defenders and the Disillusioned/Deconverted would consider me and the growing numbers of people like me to be living in an untenable state of cognitive dissonance. They would say I am the unreasonable, illusioned defender, denying the fruits of the doubts and disbelief I have uncovered and at times trumpeted. Their premise is that without an inerrant Bible that tells us exactly what to believe we have no good reason to believe in anything resembling the God of the Bible. I reject this premise as reactionary as I rest hopeful in a conviction that a good God, and one that bears more than a coincidental and passing resemblance to the God the Christians have always worshiped, actually exists. Why is this?
Please do not think that I offer the following as any sort of philosophical treatise, but as a statement of my current stance given my own analysis, based on my own experience, constantly and repeatedly judged against the various philosophical ideas I encounter in my reading. Crucially, none of it is proof: in a universe in which proof is impossible, we are all, to a person, left choosing what to believe.
I believe in God because I believe in goodness; I believe in God because I believe in beauty; I believe in God because I believe in justice; I believe in God because I believe in non-arbitrary meaning. I choose to believe in these absolutes not because of proof, of which there is none, or because of overwhelming evidence, of which there is precious little; I realize that it could just as well be that there is evil, ugliness, injustice, and/or chaos at the bottom of the universe. But I will not worship those things, even as far as to grant their absolute existence or entertain the notion that they will have the final victory. I will worship what is good and right and lovely, and grant it all the honor of believing in and even worshiping its absolute existence as the Ultimate. We are disappointed to have seen those ideal virtues violated or at least imperfectly modeled in other people; it makes sense that this is in part because there is actually a Person in whom those virtues are embodied perfectly. I find that the God of Christianity coincides with these expectations to my satisfaction.
I cannot help being convinced that certain absolute ideal principles exist regardless of any prevailing cultural sensibilities. Loving concern for a child: always right. Torturing a child: always wrong. Looking out for the interests of women: always right. Raping a woman: always wrong. Showing honor to an honest man: always right. Slandering an honest man: always wrong. These evaluations are grounded in the existence and primacy of Goodness. Evil – what shouldn’t be – doesn’t have an independent existence, but is an often quite palpable negation of what is good – what should be. The question inevitably comes: why is there any negation of should-be? Isn’t that reason enough to doubt such a thing as a should-be?
Another attribute of the Ultimate that I did not mention is also responsible for my continuing faith: it is mystery, the consort of the Ultimate’s transcendence. It is that which does not allow me to declare with as much certainty as I would like that those ideals I place my hope in truly exist; it is what does not allow me to conclude that the existence of evil, ugliness, injustice, and chaos in this world is a defeater of my hope in goodness, beauty, justice, and meaning; worst of all, it necessitates the humility that we as humans resist to the bitter end. But unlike those other attributes, mystery is not eternal: my Christian hope is in the eventual resolution of this mystery/transcendence, the closing of the gap between heaven and earth, the eventual elimination of shouldn’t-be from the midst of should-be. And it is this hope that I lay down before the perfect object of my worship, the one of whom I have been fathered from a young age and who has given me peace and joy to spare, but more importantly, a deep-seated concern and empathy for others.
There are many who imagine that they are caught up somewhere above the mystery into the very certainty of God. Doubt, which may be thought of as an intentional filling of one’s lungs with the air of mystery, is thought by these to be a denial of the God whom they have experienced. This is how certainty is achieved for the Defenders.
There are also many who can no longer pretend that they are experiencing the certainties promised them beyond that yawning gap of mystery; these are often troubled, hurting, and angry by this revelation. It seems only natural that those in the painful throes of the transcendence of God, mistaking it for His absence, cling to the firm ground and renounce all else. This is how certainty is achieved for the Disillusioned.
And then there are some of us who seek to keep our feet planted in reality, unflinchingly seeking out truths that the Defenders disavow, but who, inhaling the mystery, strain to reach that transcendent-yet-imminent Goodness of which we catch vivid glimpses. We deny that certainty is anything but an illusion. Our faith is not about maintaining beliefs, but about fervently striving to bring the Goodness we have known closer to the waiting world. While valuing the insights into the human and divine natures the biblical authors have to offer us, and while humbly and thoroughly subjecting those insights to all of the reconstructions and deconstructions suggested by critical inquiry, we do not lean on either understanding. We trust instead in the God for whom our souls yearn and without whom all the truths on the earth would be nothing more than clanging cymbals. Our faith is realized in an ethic intended to make those virtues manifest in our own lives, for the sake of others: we demonstrate our hope for the victory of love by acting faithfully, seeking to embody goodness, beauty, justice, meaning, and above all, Love. This is what we call serving God. We are Christians because we were – and are – taught these things by Jesus.
I’m not trying to pigeon-hole every human into these few categories. There are many others: most people are happily oblivious to all these debates; others are well aware of the debates, but have become fatigued and battle-weary, wanting to hope but struggling to find the will to wade through the divide between the different dogmatic positions. I hope to have something useful to say to those in both of those categories without becoming an obnoxious crusader. Although at times my temper has no doubt flared against certain egregious examples of problematic thinking among the groups I’ve described, I do not want to demonize anyone. I write this blog to offer another way of dealing with doubts, one which has the potential to heal the often bitter and vitriolic gash separating the Defenders and the bitter Disillusioned, for the sake especially of those caught in the middle. My hope is that by sharing my search for truth on this blog, stripping away what is false and shoring up what is true, I will eventually help motivate all, whether Christian, heretic, or apostate, who share the ethic of an overcoming goodness that I call Christianity in action.