Why Faith?

A few weeks ago, John Loftus (the esteemed founder and moderator of this blogsite) and I had a disagreement about my use of the concept of “belief.” John challenged my understanding of belief, and after some study and reflection, I came to agree that he was right....

We all experience “belief” – it certainly is not unique to Christianity. Indeed, even after careful, reasonable consideration, “belief” is about the best most of us can muster when it comes to just about anything, including scientific theory or postulate.

What I came to understand is that my problem was – and is – with “faith.” Faith is what is unique to Christianity - even more so than in other religious systems, for Christianity boldly declares “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and “we are saved by grace, through faith…and that not of ourselves, lest any one should boast”. Faith is the willing suspension of disbelief, or the willing choice to believe in the face of either a lack of supporting evidence or contrary evidence.

After spending a few months at this and other sites that challenge Christian faith, I have concluded (or at least arrived at a “soft” conclusion) that faith is not the end result of reason, or philosophical consideration, or logical process. I am amused and somewhat mystified by some of the cold, analytical arguments made here – by both atheists and Christians – about issues like chemical origins of species, cosmological and quantum theory applications to origins, yada yada. As intellectually stimulating and informative as these debates are, they don’t seem to go very far in dislodging or debunking Christians, or disguising the passion that most atheists/agnostics feel about challenging the faithful and the faith.

Why is that? Because (and admittedly it has been dealt with by other posters on this site) faith is not about reason. Reason may inform faith, or challenge it. But faith is something other. Christians claim that faith itself is a “gift of God”, which, for those Christians who tend towards the theory of election, puts the lie to the concept of free will. In other words, you can only be saved by faith, and faith is a gift of God given to the elect or chosen…therefore, you are screwed if you are not elect and free will is not a concept that applies to you. You may have chosen to sin but you cannot choose to be saved. The Wesleyan Christians believe in “prevenient grace”, which basically claims that when Jesus died, a gift of grace was given to the human race, so that all would be able to have a faith that could lead to salvation and enabling all to choose it if they want.

But ultimately, why faith? (Calvinists probably don’t have much to say to this, but…) Why choose to willingly suspend disbelief, or choose to believe in the face of lack of supporting evidence or contrary evidence? I do not accept that most Christians choose faith because they have studied all the philosophical, historical, and scientific data and dispassionately conclude that this is the best reality offered. In fact, reading the vehemence and passion of their response on this site, I can conclude that they choose faith for some other reason, one much closer to the heart, to the sense of self and significance.

In 25 years of Christian faith and service (which was in the evangelical tradition), I saw that most people got “saved” because of an emotional need that drove them to choose faith. I experienced that in my own life. Once that experience occurred, reason was subject to faith and served faith. Faith was my defining border. I see that in today’s so-called Christian scholars…they use science, history, philosophy, etc., to support definitions and beliefs and postulations that are either formed by or controlled by faith. But faith represents a border beyond which most of them dare not go.

Again, why? Because – I postulate – they have experienced “salvation.” In other words, “I once was lost and now am found.” They have experienced a subjective phenomenon that cannot be measured except by their own loyalty to the experience and the claimed results. How do you define “lost”? Unhappy? Confused? Suicidal? Addicted? Faith is chosen as a way out of lostness, and then one is “found” – happy, clarity of thought, glad to be alive, free from addiction, whatever. Of course, those results aren’t exclusive to salvation…they can occur as the result of psychotherapy, or your favorite team winning the World Series. But Christians claim it is “faith”, and the promise of God given as a reward for faith. They have pleased God, and now they experience the promise of God to those who believe in Him and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Again, why faith? Why make that choice? What are the reasons? I don’t accept that faith is the result of a deliberate reasoning process. In fact, for most who begin a deliberate reasoning process, the end result is loss of faith…i.e., a lack of willingness to suspend disbelief, and choosing not to believe in the face of lack of or contrary evidence.

There may be Christians out there who are Christian without choice (??? – can such a thing really exist?). But I will say that all who are Christian (certainly in the evangelical tradition, which is the target of our debunking activity) made a choice to be. They chose faith, even in the face of overwhelming arguments and evidence against it. Why did you do it?

26 comments:

Karl Betts said...

Brother Crow - interesting discusssion!

Calvinist concepts of faith are essentially Augustinian. They look back and say - "there but for the grace of God go I" and continue on, choosing, if you will to live in a state of gratitude for a work of regeneration. So you rightly identify a difference, except it is an ordo salutis issue, not really a "faith" issue. Calvinists wake up everyday and make a choice to persevere in the faith even with their fire insurance!!!

Anselm had a great insight when he stated that "faith seeks understanding." Belief and faith are similar verbs and almost indistinguishable.

However, faith functions differently as I see it. Faith inductively investigates religious phenomena, experience and the like and asks for more understanding.

If faith were a kind of apatite, then belief would describe the food that met the need for that appetite, if you will. Faith rolls out the red carpet for belief and there's no problem in integrating the two without a dualism or bifrucation.

However, faith is the avenue for making any kind of foray into a better understanding of my encounters with the divine. After I describe these encounters, I then have a system of belief. The act of buying into what my faith discovers is believing.

James F. McGrath said...

Since at the moment there is a more specific focus on debunking me (which I'm OK with, in case you were wondering), let me share a recent blog entry of mine in which I argue that the meaning of faith discussed in Brother Crow's post is certainly typical of modern religious views, but is not what 'faith' and 'believe' mean historically, including in the Bible, for the most part.

For educated Christians, as presumably for educated people generally, a question about what happened in the past has to be answered through historical criticism and cannot be settled simply by choosing to believe something or reading a story and deciding to try to believe all that it says.

John W. Loftus said...

I think all I said to Brother Crow is that we all believe things--all of us. It has been said that 90% of the beliefs we have are based upon what other people tell us. Since we might never have experienced a visit to China we believe it exists because others tell us they did, for example. I may have also said there are things we believe that are evidence translucent in so far as there is no evidence for them one way or another, like believing we've existed for more than 24 hours, or we're not dreaming, or we're not more than brains in a mad scientists vat. [I do claim that belief in God is not in the catergory of evidence translucent beliefs].

Beyond this Brother Crow has worked out his own understanding of faith, which is a difficult subject and fraught with many problems. I wish him well. Maybe I'll learn something.

Kyle said...

Brother Crow:
Your definition of faith is crafted so that you can use it to poke Christians in the eye. Hey, "Why do you believe all this bologna without ANY evidence or with CONTRARY evidence?" Puhlease.

You do realize that Jesus is a historical figure right?

Faith is not required to 'believe' Jesus was a real guy. Faith is required to believe what he said and did. How do you decide to believe someone's word? The facts we have about Jesus are based on testimony of the disciples, and some 1st century non-Christian historians. My faith is not in a 'hope so' story but in the historical figure, Jesus Christ, who happened to fulfill some ancient prophesies and rose from the dead. Your atheist readers may enjoy a question phrased the way you did, but for someone who cares about the truth, you just look like a mean sprited atheist.

Kyle said...

That should have been 'mean SPIRITED atheist' but it is kind of fun to think of you as a mean little atheist sprite too!

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Kyle;

To believe that a historical Jesus existed requires faith. There is no evidence that he did; the few textual sources were written long after his supposed life, follow rather closely stories about other mythical characters of the time, do not agree among themselves, and are not backed up by dozens of who should have at least noticed his activities.

I believed -- had faith -- for decades. But it was based only on my will to put off looking at the discrepancies in the Biblical text until later, when "God would reveal the solution" to me. In other words, on allowing faith to inform my reason.

Brother Crow said...

Sticks and stones, kyle. You have not soaked up much of the Gentle Shepherd's stuff. But I like the "sprite" thing...a wicked spirit am I!!

Jesus a historical figure? Dude, what home school academy have you been attending? Even biblical scholars in conservative institutions will not agree on that one!

You don't like my definition of faith...give me one of your own. But it can't be "the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" from Hebrews.

Here's a simple definition of faith (without religious prejudice) from the dictionary - "1. confidence or trust in a person or thing.
2. belief that is not based on proof." Your accusation of me building a straw man does not work here. It is a simple question, but it seems that you cannot answer it because you don't know the answer.

Your vitriolic response kind of synchs with point...Christians become angry and rude when their faith foundation is challenged...usually end up insulting the challenger rather than answering the questions. That is because their FAITH is not the consequence of a reasoned approach...but the manifestation of a deeper, emotional need they have. And when their faith is challenged, their very self is threatened. So they get angry. And insult. And avoid the question. Or try.

We atheists are horrible people, aren't we?

Kyle said...

Brother Crow,

My definition of faith was implicit in the question, "How do you decide to believe someone's word?" but I will lay out the bibilical definition and show how my view comports.

I will use the Hebrews example and Abraham.

In Hebrews faith is defined as:
11:1 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
and
11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."

The things unseen in verse 11:1 are the character of God and the rewards which come in the next life from verse 11:6. Jesus was the earthly manifestation of God, so that if we see him, we 'see' God. But we can't see the afterlife to test Jesus' teaching. We have to base our decision on the character of Jesus and the corroborating evidences to his trustworthiness, namely, prophecy, eyewitness accounts of resurrection, the practical insight into human nature in the Gospels indicating the Divine powers of Jesus, etc. Trusting more than we see is faith but not blind faith or faith absent evidence. For example, I trust my wife not to commit adultery. I do so on faith in her character not because I have exhaustive knowledge of future events and can rule out through experiential knowledge that she will never cheat. Thus, having faith in Jesus' character and truthfulness is the faith in what is not seen in 11:1. It is not as you assert, faith absent fact or faith contrary to evidence. Until the after life we won't know experientially that God rewarded all who had faith in Jesus. Note that in verse 11:6 the two things one must have faith in are 1) God's existence and 2) He rewards those who seek him.

According to Romans 1:18-20 knowledge of the existence of God is a product of God's self revelation in nature and nobody has an excuse for disbelieving 1).

People don't believe 2) unless they experience the revelation of the Gospel through Jesus and come to trust his character and words. It is historically false to deny that Jesus existed and that the scriptural information about his teaching is inaccurate. You can deny that Jesus was right to teach what he taught, but you can't credibly deny the historicity of the early Christian witness to his teaching by an unsubstantiated comparison to myths. More could be said but I'm trying to be concise.

Abraham is a favorite example in scripture of faith. Gen 15:6"Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" What did Abraham do? He heard God speak to him directly (unlike us who 'hear' through the ancient writings but similar in application). Abraham believed God. He believed God was real because he received the revelation but he could have done two things. He could have disbelieved God by being suspicious of his intent or ability to carry out his promise. But instead he believed God by trusting that God could do what God said. That is faith. Trusting God for being who and what he says.

So Brother Crow, I hope you will take into account that faith in scripture is always called to be placed in the object of God throughout and more specifically in the NT, Jesus Christ. Thus, faith, biblically speaking is not blind or irrational, but rooted in a real person. You can accept or deny Jesus, but you cannot say we believe in the absence of evidence. You could say 'Your evidence is not compelling to me' but you can't say 'You have no evidence at all' or 'the evidence denies your conclusion'.

To deny Christian conclusions you have to prove that the historical accounts are false or that God's existence is impossible. You will have a hard time doing either. Take your best shot, but Christians like myself will challenge you and test you for consistency.

"Dude, what home school academy have you been attending?"
Now who is throwing sticks and stones? Hey, I only know what I read at Debunking Christianty. :)Ha ha!

"Even biblical scholars in conservative institutions will not agree on that one!"
Ah yes, the 'scholars'. Do you mean coservative scholars in conservative institutions or liberal scholars in conservative institutions?
Even Wikipedia notes that Jesus is historical.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#_ref-nonexist_0

"Most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee who was regarded as a healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, was accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was sentenced to death by crucifixion.[1] A very small minority[2] [3] argue that Jesus never existed as a historical figure, but was a purely symbolic or mythical figure syncretized from various non-Abrahamic deities and heroes.[4]"

Dillie-O said...

Brother Crow...

I believe you ascribe definition 2 of faith to most Christians when the proper definition is definition 1...

1. confidence or trust in a person or thing.

Now let's break down confidence and trust really quick, since we're using the dictionary:

Confidence: full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing (dictionary.com, definition 1)

Trust: reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence (dictionary.com, definition 1)

When confidence and trust are concerned, does that imply the rashness, or blindness that I believe you are ascribing to here in faith? I don't believe it does. I believe trust is earned and confidence is a result of that.

I've used my analogy of chairs before. It's not the greatest, but I think it helps reinforce things.

Do you have faith that when you see a chair and sit down in it that it will support you? Of course you do. Do you have faith blindly? No. You've seen plenty of chairs before, and waaaay back in the day I'm sure you studied a few chairs too. Shook them a bit, inspected the legs to make sure they were sure. You probably even sat in one haphazardly, ready to jump out of it the second it appeared like it would no longer support your weight.

After a while, you learned to trust chairs. That way when you saw a chair, you could walk up to it and sit in it, having faith that it would support you.

Faith in Christianity is the same way. Looking at the evidence brought forth, the experiences shared by me and others, the hard thinking done, shows that I can have faith in the claims of Jesus.

This is far different that simply accepting the whole package. Now debating about the evidence that provides this trust and confidence is definitely up for debate (as many threads have talked about), but that isn't this topic.

Brother Crow said...

But what motivates faith? Or - in your words, trust or confidence? Not personal knowledge, because you have never seen, felt, touched or known Jesus (except, you might argue, in a spiritual sense). Is it in the testimony of others? What of Islam, or Judaism, or wicca for that matter?
You place your confidence and trust in a person who is not proven historically, whose teachings are in question at best, and flat out rejected as false at worst, whose followers have created a world of havoc in his name, and whose source document for the religion (the bible) has been demonstrated to be questionable at best -even by its own adherents (re: blogs about liberal theology).

So what motivates you to trust and have confidence? My argument has been it is personal experience...that's it. A subjectivism that is beyond challenge (almost) and maybe even beyond debunking (almost - got to try).

As seriously and respectfully as I know how to do it (admittedly, not much :)), what motivates faith? That simple question has not been answered.

To kyle - sorry about tossing back stones. I am such an arsehole.

Dillie-O said...

What motivates my faith?

I'm not sure I quite follow. Are you talking about the evidence, thinking, reasoning, etc. that I use as the basis of my faith, or are you talking about the act of placing faith in something?

If the latter, you could say that we all are making a personal choice. I have faith that Jesus is the messiah just as much as you have faith that it is all a lie. What motivates your trust and confidence (faith) that it is all a lie?

We all make our own choices, or put our faith in what we want, but there is an ultimate truth out there that we are subject to. I can ponder and think and put my faith in the idea that gravity doesn't exist, but next time I jump out of that tree, I'm going to hit the ground.

Chris said...

"whose followers have created a world of havoc in his name, "

World of havoc in his name? A bit of proportion, please?

Are you referring to the Reformation, Counter Reformation and the Salem Witch trials? A world of havoc?

When you were homeschooled were you not taught that the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, precipitated by the most cold blooded murderous dictators in human history? Are you comparing the whimsical bloodletting of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and others, athiests one and all, with the relatively minor blood letting of Christendom?

I hope not.

Brother Crow said...

dillie-o...yes, of course, choices. I have chosen to not place my faith in Jesus because there is evidence - both experiential (subjective) and objective - that validates that choice. And there are what I would call emotional reasons, as well. Ultimate truth? Your example is based on scientific observation, the very thing that, for me, caused me to reject the Christianity as "ultimate truth."

chris, world of havoc? yep. And I was not referring to blood-letting...but since you brought it up...:) I am talking about the judgement, racial intolerance, homophobia, abuse of resources, psychological torment and the like from, get this, a religion that claims to be the manifestation of perfect truth. I don't have an axe to grind or defend the atheist schtick...but the christian thing has got to be exposed for what it is. Ted Haggard would agree, as would hundreds of pedophilic catholic priests. Chaos theory in persona.

Chris said...

"claims to be the manifestation of perfect truth."

The religion makes no such claim. We are imperfect men doing our best, who said that we are the manifestation of perfect truth?

You seem awfully eager to indict 2 billion people, a third of the worlds population, on the actions of a relatively few people. I don't have the numbers but I'd say the crime rate in Christianity is a drop of water in the ocean as compared to the crime rate of any large American city.

Chris said...

No evidence for the historical Jesus is funny.

Do you think 2 billion people in churches worldwide are the practical result of no evidence?

If Jesus never existed, how do you explain the growth of Christendom over 2 millennium?

If it were nothing, explain Constantine's miraculous conversion? You do admit to Constantine's existence, one that was admittedly closer to the time of Christ than your own.

How do you explain Tacitus' reference to the Christian problems occuring in Judea. The fact that there were Christians in 120 CE should give us some clue that the sect had a beginning; perhaps with someone named Christ.

How do you explain the existence of the early churches of Phillipi, Corinth, Antioch, Galatia, and all the rest? Fully attested to in the historical and geological record, and of course, the bible?

If it all were based on nothing, the forces at work to see to its demise (Romanism, Judiasm, Secularism)certainly would have prevailed in stamping it out. Something as seemingly insignificant and based on nothing could never have mustered the intrinsic muscle to overcome such forces. The fact that it survived, and today flourishes 2,000 years later, is its own evidence.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Chris;

"No evidence for the historical Jesus is funny."
Sad, really. To think that I, like so many others, wasted most of my life serving a fictional character. Not funny at all.

"Do you think 2 billion people in churches worldwide are the practical result of no evidence?"

They are the result of something. But not of evidence; there is none.

"If Jesus never existed, how do you explain the growth of Christendom over 2 millennium?"

If Buddha never existed, how do you explain the growth of Buddhism? Or try the growth of Mormonism without the angel Moroni, or Hinduism without their gods, or ...

"If it were nothing, explain Constantine's miraculous conversion? You do admit to Constantine's existence, one that was admittedly closer to the time of Christ than your own."

Definitely, Constantine existed, and did much of what is ascribed to him; we have plenty of evidence. We have none of the nature of his conversion experience, other than a story publicised after his death. And conversion experiences are a dime a dozen, in any one of the world's religions. They are not evidence of the truth of the postulates of those religions.

"How do you explain Tacitus' reference to the Christian problems occuring in Judea. The fact that there were Christians in 120 CE should give us some clue that the sect had a beginning; perhaps with someone named Christ."

Perhaps. Except that Jesus was not named "Christ". That is a title, and there were many Christs. So there were "Christians". Who believed ... something, we are not sure what. Or what evidence they might have had for that belief. People do believe some strange things.

"How do you explain the existence of the early churches of Phillipi, Corinth, Antioch, Galatia, and all the rest? Fully attested to in the historical and geological record, and of course, the bible?"

"Geological"? That is a new one. And the fact that there were gatherings of believers does not mean that their beliefs were true; there were just as many "churches" of Mithraism or of umpteen other religions.

"If it all were based on nothing, the forces at work to see to its demise (Romanism, Judiasm, Secularism)certainly would have prevailed in stamping it out."

Judaism was a small, fading religion. Still small, in numbers, today. Romanism was Christianity; for most of the history of the religion, it was the only Christianity. Secularism is modern; wait a century or so before you weigh its impact.

"Something as seemingly insignificant and based on nothing could never have mustered the intrinsic muscle to overcome such forces. The fact that it survived, and today flourishes 2,000 years later, is its own evidence."

The fact that Buddhism survived and today flourishes 4,000 years later, is its own evidence.

You see how popularity does not prove the truth of the idea?

You need actual evidence. Contemporary to the event, real, attested by several valid sources. A few copy-cat works of fiction do not make for valid sources. Second- and third-hand reports do not count for eye-witness impressions.

Brother Crow said...

Well, good point, Chris, about ultimate truth. I guess I spoke in far too general terms. "I am the Way, The Truth, The Life...no man comes to the Father but by Me." Jesus said he was Ultimate Truth.
And if Christianity is not the ultimate truth it does so claim to be...then why defend all the conversions, all the followers, all the history of Christianity? Every question you ask, every notary cited, can be duplicated through other religions, traditions, even civic clubs. So, if there is not inherent somewhere that Jesus and/or Christianity is the manifestation of ultimate truth, why follow? Why believe? Why faith? Is it just a good tradition?

Chris said...

Weeta,
Romanism was Christianity after Constantine. That was my point. Christianity flourished after being embraced by the Roman Empire.

Jesus was the Christ. If not for his existence, there would be no Christians and no need for Tacitus to mention them in his Annals.

This is what they call in the legal profession a circumstantial case. But to say there is no evidence is just plain not paying attention.

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Brother Crow,

Thank you for what is clearly a candid and frank post. I appreciate that you so openly share your doubts. However, I won't hide the fact that I am disappointed with your position as presented in the comments that follow your original post: you seem to lose control both of your thesis and your self. The shotgun bursts of retort, e.g., Christianity is full of scumbags, is the bane of human existence, Jesus is not historical, etc.; and your ad hominem barb about home-schooling are, frankly, unbecoming. They make you sound weak.

Ignoring your comments, I would like to address a couple of things from your fine and original post. First, you write that

'I have concluded (or at least arrived at a “soft” conclusion) that faith is not the end result of reason, or philosophical consideration, or logical process.'

Permit me, a Christian to the core, to agree with you. Faith is indeed not the final end of reason; it is not what one leaps to when reason has reached its limits. The faithful have not followed some long course of syllogisms and proofs and then, when all reasons are exhausted, are compelled to faith as a last ditch; nor are they compelled solely by reason's force to simply and finally believe. I would contend that instead of the end of reason, faith is the beginning of reason.

Second, I think it fair to say that you (in your essay) are placing "faith" against something else. I would conclude from the evidence - scant as it may be - that you are discussing faith vis-รก-vis knowledge. Am I right about this? If so, I think that any decent interlocutor must first ask you not for a definition of faith, but what you mean by knowledge.

So I ask you, what is knowledge? (Or, if this is confusing, faith in contradistinction to what?)

Peace to you,

Bill Gnade

Brother Crow said...

Bill, thanks for your comments and the spirit offered. (I refer also to comments on another post as well). Yeh, I can blow occassionally - especially when Christians push first. Having been one for a number of years, I resent the offhand way some of those commentators attack the messenger rather than the message. But, why should be surprised?

Anyway, you make some interesting comments. You sound like you are strongly influenced by catholic mysticism, or perhaps the broader mystical tradition.

I recognize that faith is an experience that cannot be fully defined. It is action, it is feeling, it is philosophical, and it is something other. I do not think that faith is the end of reason. It can't be. If it could be, then most people would never experience faith because reason would not support it.

Maybe a third paradigm - faith instead of reason! Like Niebuhr's "Christ Above Culture" - an experience that blatantly ignores or transcends the consequences of reason.

But again, why? In most major movements in life, reason precedes action. Not to say that reason does not follow action as well (like - "why the hell did I do that?", but - I certainly reason through whether or not I will get on the plane, or buy the car, or whatever.

Again, why does faith fly in the face of reason?

Maybe this question is relevant only for someone on this side of belief...someone who, like Peter, stepped out on the water cause Jesus told him to, and ended up knee deep in mud at the bottom with a millstone around his neck.

Peace to you, Bill.

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Brother Crow,

I hope this comment finds you well.

I am not sure I made myself particularly clear, which is a failure I loathe as a writer. My position is that faith precedes reason, that reason is based on faith. I do not believe faith follows reason. Does that make sense?

I added a link (in a separate comment here) to my essay, "A Letter To Christopher Hitchens." It is there where I more fully present my case about faith and reason. You don't need to go there, of course. But if you would like explore your "temptation" to have faith, then I think you will find it both fun and engaging.

As for the Catholic mystics, I would say no, they do not influence me. I am probably a Catholic on most things theological (if not all); I describe myself right now as an Episcopalian-in-exile. And if I were to describe my religious life in any way I might use the word "integrated" or "comprehensive," meaning, I try to integrate my whole being -- my head, heart, intuition, gut, senses, and aesthetic sensibilities -- in my pursuit of wisdom; I try to be comprehensive in understanding the nature of what is, both religiously and not. Mystical? Maybe, but only in a very private and simple way. (I THINK I believe that language is symbolic and imperfect, even religious language, and is therefore unable to fully express either certainty or doubt. Every poet and lover given to the heart's deepest expressions knows the limits of language. Hence, if language is limited, then so too is logic. If this makes me a mystic -- and not a mere mistake -- then I admit that I am an unmistakable mystic.)

Blessings!

Bill Gnade

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Brother Crow!

Oiks! I now understand why you thought I was influenced by Catholic mystics. You must've spotted on my Blogger profile that I am listed as a contributor to a Catholic blog. But that is something of an accident. I've never posted an essay there; a cyber-friend of mine who believes I SHOULD post essays there has included my name as a sort of incentive. She is full of hope, while I am, in this case, full of self-doubt. I appreciate her confidence and kindness, but my diffidence prevents me from venturing too far from what I believe I do best.

Sorry for the confusion!

Bill Gnade

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Chris;

Sorry for the delay in answering your comment specifically directed to me. I have been away from the computer for a couple of days.

"Weeta,
Romanism was Christianity after Constantine. That was my point. Christianity flourished after being embraced by the Roman Empire."

And before it was declared the state religion (for the usual political reasons, probably, since states do not "believe"), many sects of "Christianity", as well as many alternate religions, flourished. This says nothing about the truth of anything, other than the power of the state.

"Jesus was the Christ."

Unsupported assertion.

There were many "Christs" (Greek translation of "Messiah". The term refers to anointed saviours, priests, kings. It does not designate a super-human being, nor a "spiritual" redeemer, nor even one specific person; it is the name of an office,not of a person. The OT designates Cyrus the Persian as a Messiah; Josephus calls the emperor Vespasian a Messiah.

"If not for his existence, there would be no Christians and no need for Tacitus to mention them in his Annals."

Why? It would be equally proper to say that if not for the existence of many cults that claim to follow a Messiah or Christ, there would be no impetus to write a hagiography of such a "Christ".

"This is what they call in the legal profession a circumstantial case. But to say there is no evidence is just plain not paying attention."

All you have is much later hearsay; urban legends, if you will. An urban legend is not evidence, not even circumstantial evidence. It may be reason to investigate further. No more than that.

Kyle said...

Brother Crow:
Firstly, my comments about you being an atheist sprite were meant lightheartedly. I hope you did not take offense, I was playing with words.

I don't know what you think I said that was 'throwing stones'. Other than the 'sprite' comment I can only guess you meant "Your definition of faith is crafted so that you can use it to poke Christians in the eye."

I did not call you a name here, but I did suggest your definition is a loaded one that is inherently insulting to me as a Christian. It suggests that Christians are stupid unlike our more brilliant atheist counterparts who use reason, not faith. It smacks of pride and I was pointing that out. I said it the way I did to minimize offense while exposing it for what it is.

Later you asked-
"But what motivates faith? Or - in your words, trust or confidence? Not personal knowledge, because you have never seen, felt, touched or known Jesus (except, you might argue, in a spiritual sense)."

My journey from early childhood doubts to full on atheism/agnosticism in my early twenties to finally faith at 22 was not a result of clear logical choices. I leaned toward disbelieving early in life and built a cumulative case against faith to insulate myself from concerns that Christianity or another religion might be true. I lived by my conscience and had to overcome my hesitancy to violate the "Ten Commandments" in areas that appealed to me such as sex, and pride. I decided to follow what I wanted regardless of what "God" thought, since I decided he didn't exist.

My conversion was tumultuous but my turning to Christ was a result of me recognizing that my life of unbelief was spent running from belief. I came to realize I always knew God was real, but I did not want to live with the consequences of his existence.

I can only attribute my conversion to the drawing of God, because I did experience Him calling me through life experiences and forcing me to recognize the truth about myself, that I was a sinner, and I was inconsistent and held others to standards of behavior that I did not maintain.

So there were several components to my conversion:
1) Self realization that I was a sinner
2) Seeing Jesus in the Gospels as a powerful figure who claimed to be God and who could back it up by miraculous powers done publicly. The only people in the Gospels to reject him were people who were self righteous sinners like I was.
3) I submitted to the authority that I recognized in Jesus. He had power, he revealed mysteries, and he did miracles witnessed by his disciples whose voices are recorded in scripture.
4) My assessement of the character of Jesus and his disciples led me to trust Jesus as one who told the truth, and so I accepted the position of disciple with him as Lord.
5) I used powers of reason to evaluate the claims of Christ and made a decision to trust him. My decision was fallible, but the combination of all the above factors gives me confidence that Jesus is all he claimed to be.

Later, I studied the transmission of the new testament (The New Testament, It's Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, By Bruce Metzger) and found that historically, you can put together the original first century texts by comparing the thousands of extant manuscripts and eliminating errors/omission/additions through cross reference.

So now I am even more sure that Jesus is God, after seeing that wealth of information that attests to the early accounts (manuscript traditions, non-christian first century historians, archaeology), though I believe my initial experience of faith was reliable because it was superintended by God to result in true faith.

So based on the above, I reject your label that it was 'without evidence' because God attests to scripture through his Spirit via personal experience(subjectively), and factual information (missing body of Jesus best explained by resurrection, manuscript tradition highly reliable, archaelogy supports Biblical events). You discount the subjective elements though without warrent, but the objective elements are available for your examination.

Peace to you and your readers,
Kyle (Former atheist sprite, :) )

Iceage said...

Why Faith? Because you simply can't propagate a counterfactual theory of God without it!

Faith is subjective and results in divergent views of God, science results in convergent theories of God (or at least what is revealed to us in God's creation).

Worship God not man, I like to say.

Iceage said...

Why Faith?

Without faith you can't propagate a counterfactual theory of God! The necessity of faith as a doctrinal component in false religions is obvious.

Further Christianity elevates faith as the sine qua non of salvation - making faith (believing in the unseen) the most important quality in all the universe!

The way I see it, faith is a failure in the pursuit of finding God. Faith results in *divergent* views of the divine as is evidenced by the myriad religions and denominations - started and practiced by very sincere people.

However, science - faith's perceived enemy - results in *convergent* theories about God - or at least the parts that God has allowed us to explore. Scientific theories are ever closer approximations of divine truth.