Jesus is Weird
Have you ever thought about how utterly weird the Christian message about Jesus is?
The hope of the world, Christians claim, is a crucified Jew who was born of a virgin over two thousand years ago, lived a very peculiar and provocative life, taught and modeled a bizarre mixture of love, compassion, and peace alongside jarring and bewildering words of judgment and warning, was executed by a predictable combination of religious and imperial power while simultaneously paying the price for human sin and absorbing the evil of the whole world, cheated death (so his followers say) by rising from the dead, and claimed, in this whole package, to be the fulfillment of the very old, strange story about a very strange group of people whose mode of relating to God scarcely resembles anything we would recognize or welcome today.
On top of all this, his rag-tag band of followers subsequently tramped all over the known world proclaiming that this Jesus was (presently) alive and well, thank you very much, that his kingdom was at hand, that his church was called to invite all people to follow him, and that he would one day return to as the judge and Lord of history with the keys to eternal life.
Each year, a church in our city hosts a series of lectures called the “C.S. Lewis Christian Thought Series.” This year’s lecturer was philosopher C. Stephen Evans of Baylor University. Evans has done a lot of work on Søren Kierkegaard, but his topic a few weeks ago was more apologetic in nature (how do we respond to the new atheists, what is the role of natural theology, etc). For a variety of reasons, I was unable to attend the lectures this year, but I listened to them on CD during my travels last week. It was kind of nice to spend a bit of time back in philosophy-land (it’s been a while since I visited!) and his lectures certainly gave some good handles on how to respond to the challenge of atheism and provoked some stimulating questions.
As a philosopher, of course, Evans is very interested in arguing for the reasonableness of Christianity. At various points, he referred to the familiar arguments for God’s existence, appealing to the wonder of creation, the objectivity of morality, the human propensity for teleology, and other “signs” as pointing, if not directly to the existence of God, then at least to the limits of naturalism. It was, as I said, interesting and all well and good. I have spent a lot of time in my own life studying philosophy and arguing for the rationality of faith, after all (not least on this blog!) and I can certainly appreciate Evans’ passion for integrating faith and philosophy, reason and revelation, etc.
As I listened to these lectures though, it struck me how these categories don’t seem to be instinctive to me the way they once were. To put it bluntly, I’m not as excited about philosophy as I once was. At least not this week. Philosophy certainly has its merits, of course, and I am very glad for Christian philosophers who can wrestle with deep issues of truth and meaning and consistency and coherence—often in contexts that are overwhelmingly hostile to faith (an academic philosophy department can be a pretty lonely place for a Christian!). But philosophy only gets you so far.
During his last lecture, Evans used the analogy of a key fitting into a lock to describe how the Christian worldview “fits” with human desire and hope and intuition. I wonder about this way of framing things, about the idea of the Christian message as a good “fit.” Is Christianity the option at the worldview smorgasbord that meets all (or at least most) of our needs and wants and desires and intellectual holes that require filling? Do we bring our worldview demands to the table and simply select the option that fits best? To be sure, Evans didn’t frame things nearly this simplistically and he talked a bit about how part of coming to Jesus is having our needs modified and recalibrated, but the metaphor still struck me as an odd choice given, well, the weirdness of Jesus and the Christian message.
Jesus was, to put it bluntly, a confrontational irritant to many in the first century world. To others, he was just plain confusing. Of course, he was also compassionate and kind and loving and a brilliant teacher and a miracle-worker and all that, but on the whole, Jesus’ message was a very strange, unexpected, and, often, unwelcome one—to the Jewish worldview, the Roman worldview, and everything in between. Far from being the key that magically fit the lock, he often seemed like the anvil upon which expectations and hopes were shattered and recalibrated. Or like a stumbling block. Or a stone the builders rejected. Or something like that.
And yet… We really do want to claim that Jesus is the answer to the deepest questions we can ask, right? We really do want to claim that Jesus represents the fulfillment of our deepest hopes and longings… Don’t we? Somehow, we have to hold together these two apparently contradictory truths about the message of Christ: 1) Jesus is the answer to the questions that we are already asking (like a key and a lock); and, 2) There is a radical strangeness to the claim that the career of Jesus of Nazareth is God’s way of reconciling all things to himself. Jesus makes us squirm, and leads us into a new, often unnatural ways of looking at and living in the world. To borrow a phrase from Canadian author Mark Buchanan, Jesus “mends us in places we didn’t know we were broken and breaks us in places where, before his advent, we were utterly content.”
It is a weird hope that we are called to, after all… A strange Saviour who beckons us, and a strange salvation that we need and are offered.
Such a great bit of writing, Ryan!
Did you ever here the joke about the kids in Sunday School? The teacher asked “What is small, has a long fluffy tail, climbs trees and eats nuts?” One kid leans over to the other and says, “Sounds like a squirrel, but this is church so you better say it’s Jesus.”
It’s often the way I feel about the conversations I have with people, Christian or not, when “Jesus” is the answer I feel I’m supposed to give in response to their pain, longings, etc, but somehow it doesn’t seem like the right ‘key’ for what needs to be unlocked. He is, of course, but not in the pat, contrite “Jesus will make it all better” kind of way. I like Mark Buchanan’s quote. As I get older I am figuring that out more (hindsight really is a wonderful thing!) – that Christ’s way is not my way, but it is the better way.
Thank you, Kara. Yes, I have heard that joke—it’s so true, and extends far beyond the domain of children! I am learning the same lessons as you, the older I get. Everything is so much more complicated than I once assumed—and Jesus is the answer, but in deeper, truer, and better ways than I imagined at earlier parts of the journey.
“Everything is so much more complicated”…. 30 something was the most complicated time of my life. 50 something is simpler. In my thirty’s, “rubber met the road” so to speak, hypothesis gives way to the reality of your life, the reality formed by choices. Reconciling belief with practice sounds easy….hasn’t been for me is really all I can be sure of…so you can complicate things, looking for reconciliation through many activities, relationships, experiences, new hypothesis even… “paint my face, cut my hair, tell a lie, so what, so what”… (Simple Minds shout out )….my sense of you, Ryan is that you will navigate this time well. That your talk and walk match up better than most. Integrity isn’t particularly reflective, it just is or isn’t.
Jesus is my answer. My reconciler. So I wake up, wash go to my quiet, holy place, spend time in prayer with Jesus. Sometimes a few minutes, sometimes a few minutes more…then comes a day met with hope and optimism. I smile a lot, sing constantly, hug at every opportunity, catch myself bitching and stop way sooner than I used to….. and I love porridge in the morning.
On the contrary, Paul, I don’t think reconciling belief with practice sounds easy at all (whether you’re in your 30’s or your 50’s!). I think it is one of the hardest things in the world. Just this morning I had to apologize to my son for failing to act in a way consistent with my professed beliefs. This was over a relatively trivial matter—how much harder when it comes to some of our deepest convictions about what we are here for and how we are to live! I think integrity requires reflection. It certainly doesn’t come instinctively or naturally (at least not for me!).
Love your last paragraph. Especially the part about the porridge in the morning :).
Yes, I suspect you are right, the acquiring of integrity as with all good traits, requires reflection as well as discipline and commitment.
Still at a certain point don’t you feel a sense of being, that just is? A decision made that, for you at least, is now incontrovertible. Even here I understand some reflection as to the state of the condition, is healthy but there is an absence of reflection ( perhaps the better way to explain myself) that leads to doubt or seeks to refute.
Something becomes intrinsic to us and if it is a good thing there is a peace about us, a joy about us, a righteous pride that affirms us as good. We just know, that by God’s grace and our commitment to His grace, we have become something honorable and worthy. Our focus need no longer be on ourselves so much as it focuses on another; on otherness.
We can respond to the age old question, “How are you?” with, “I am very
well thank you” without guile or further reflection. We can say without deceit and with the fullness of intention, “How are you?, How may I help you?”
Deeper reflection, as I understand it, is essential “to getting somewhere good”. On arrival, I think, the burdens of reflection lessen.
Yes, this is the idea that I want to share with you, my friend.
My dearest friend, Safa and I have determined that “porridge people” are people you can trust. People who see beyond the glamour, to what is just solid and good. She is a traditionalist, she takes it with honey and brown sugar. Though she has a daughter (Mariam) who has a secret porridge recipe she refers to as “Chocolate Thunder” (TM)
No fruits are safe around me or my porridge! Lately diced blueberries, apples and bananas has been my preferred choice. What can I say, the 70’s were kinda crazy! 🙂
Yes, well said, Paul. Thank you for sharing this. This feeling of “settledness” has always been a bit elusive for me. There are moments when my feelings are just as you describe. Other times? Not so much. I am looking forward to the “burdens of reflection lessening.”
I have been eating more porridge lately, incidentally. Sometimes even with fruit! Perhaps this is the next step on my journey to the land of “just is-ness” :).
“To put it bluntly, I’m not as excited about philosophy as I once was.”
Why do you think this so? It is very apparent in your posts over the last half of year and I have wondered why you have made this shift? To put it bluntly myself, and I by no means mean it as an insult, but you seem to be emphasizing reasonable arguments less and faith more. Would you agree? If so and if you don’t mind sharing, why the change?
Hmm, well I’m not sure about the last half year bit. Who knows, maybe something changed for me in Colombia? But I haven’t noticed any dramatic shift or event in this time period that would change my writing. If anything, it would probably be more of a gradual process. I remember thinking about many of these issues during my time studying philosophy and even earlier, when I was sitting in the tractor on the farm :).
First of all I don’t really accept the dichotomy between “reason” and “faith” as it is commonly construed (reason = things you can prove; faith = irrational belief). Reason has always been and continues to be very important to me. Even the post above is a kind of rational argument for embracing a worldview that acknowledges the limits of reason and the necessity of being open to the possibility that we are not autonomous knowers who bring a set of unchallengeable demands to the table that must be answered. Reason is always at work in everyone’s worldview, even if it is being pressed into the service of arguing for a more chastened conception of the scope of reason and its proper ends. I think much popular discourse does us an enormous disservice in presenting “reason” and “faith” as little more than the two extreme poles on a continuum from greater to lesser rationality.
Having said that, I do think that the Christian message (as well as Islam and Judaism, at least) does present the question of where truth is to be found quite acutely. Is it in the abstract, “self-evident,” necessary truths of reason or philosophy or in the contingencies of history? I think we are at a place in history where we can safely say that there is no such thing as “pure reason.” Postmodernism has laid this illusion to rest. The exercise of reason always takes place from a particular perspective at a particular time and place and is animated by particular interests. In a sense, postmodernism could be read as history trumping reason. For historical faiths like Christianity, this should not be much of a surprise. Central to the claim of Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) is that God acts in history and must be dealt with in history. That is not to say that abstract reflection cannot play a role—even an important one—in one’s worldview. But my conviction is that every worldview, whether it claims to be “religious” or not, relies on the exercise of faith in the context of human “situatedness” and limitation.
Finally, I would simply say that I find much academic philosophy today to be interminably dull and irrelevant. It is a bunch of academics arguing about language games as opposed to honestly and personally engaging questions of meaning and truth and virtue. It was not always thus, as you well know. But with the increasing prominence and esteem given to neuroscience and the social “sciences,” it seems like academic philosophy has concerned itself with protecting some field of discourse for itself that nobody else can touch, which justifies its ongoing existence, and which, quite frankly, not many people understand or care about. I’m speaking in broad terms, I know, and there are always exceptions (thankfully!), but I think that something like this general trend is discernible.
Maybe, at the end of the day, it is simply because the older I get the more I realize that nothing that really matters in life—value, goodness, purpose, suffering, salvation, etc—can be proven anyway. The deepest and most existentially relevant questions human beings can ask or answer seem necessarily to lie outside the realm of incontrovertible evidence. Almost as if we were intended to rely on things like personal conviction and trust… :).
(Probably a much longer answer than you were looking for, but there you go :).)
Thanks for the response in both places! However, I find the comment written more in language I am comfortable with so I will respond here rather than there and will make no references to the blog entry.
I agree with you that “reason” and “faith” need not be mutually exclusive. However, it all comes down to application and when we choose to use them. Moreover, reason and faith, in my opinion, are only appropriate in a certain context. Should I have faith that the Sun is the centre of the galaxy? Yes, most likely so. Should I have faith that humanity is unfolding towards goodness inspired by God? I wouldn’t feel comfortable having faith there. They are qualitatively different questions and faith and reason do not, or should not, share the same role in each. The former question is one of physics and chemistry. The later is one of ethics and a human conception of a future. The first is teleological. The later, for the sake of this conversation, MIGHT not be (sorry for the caps I don’t know how to do the fancy italics in word press posts :)).
“But my conviction is that every worldview, whether it claims to be “religious” or not, relies on the exercise of faith in the context of human “situatedness” and limitation.”
This is true and as you suggest we follow in the path of Nietzsche who ripped the firm ground we stand on right out from under us. We are falling and most likely well never hit ground. But, reason does allow us to communicate with each other. We understand reasonable arguments even if we argue over the finer points. Yes, we are burdened by situatedness but is this such a problem? It just merely suggests we should adopts ethics that change with context. This is the opposite of a limitation, it means we are free to grow, to examine the past and create a world view with a teles in mind, “a better world is possible,” and so on.
Building off that last line i’d answer this;
“Finally, I would simply say that I find much academic philosophy today to be interminably dull and irrelevant. It is a bunch of academics arguing about language games as opposed to honestly and personally engaging questions of meaning and truth and virtue.”
with that. Let us free philosophy from corrupt academia. Let’s make “philosophical speculation responsible to reality,” (Neil Smith). The philosophy we need to employ is one that helps the poor, the sick and the hungry (we still haven’t got this one right :)). Let’s choose a philosophical inquiry that seeks to end the inequalities created through the capitalist mode of production. We can use reason to communicate and faith in each to bring about such a change. Philosophy has become jaded but we can create truths by just calling it choice in a universe that either has meaning or does not – it makes no difference. If the philosophy you are reading is jaded or impractical well then your simply reading the wrong philosophy. I know I was and it was nothing short than another “opiate for the masses.”
Lots of interesting things to respond to here, Tyler. Can’t promise I’ll get to them all, but I’ll give it a shot…
I agree, faith and reason operate differently (and to different degrees) in different contexts. I think this simply reflects the fact that we are the sort of creatures that ask different kinds of questions which admit of different kinds of evidence. Some of the questions that interest us will rely more on empirical, testable evidence from “within the system.” Other questions—questions about the meaning (if any) of the system itself, for example—will, by definition, have different criteria. You can arrive at certain conclusions about the nature and role of the sun by observation and analysis (and a lot of expensive equipment!). The same is not true of questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” To say that reason alone cannot answer this question is not to disparage reason, nor is it to say that questions like these are illegitimate. Too often, one of those two paths is taken in conversations like this. Far better, in my view, to admit that faith and reason are always operating, to varying degrees and with differing ends in view.
No, I don’t think it’s a problem at all. I am quite thankful for this, actually, because it levels the playing field and, as you say, it opens up all kinds of interesting and fruitful possibilities.
So, if “it makes no difference” if the universe has any meaning or not, why bother being “responsible to reality?” How could reality be the kind of thing that demanded responsibility—on our part or anyone else’s—if it was inherently meaningless? Why bother with the poor, the sick, the hungry, etc.? It seems to me that your argument presupposes that there is meaning to be found in the world and in how we respond to it (kind of like faith). As I said above, nothing that really matters to us as human beings can be proved through reason alone. When it comes to things like meaning and purpose and teleology, we are all operating in the realm of faith.
I am not saying there is meaning to be found at all. I am saying there is meaning to be created. We can decide the course we wish to take as a species; evolution on the cultural and sociological level. Teleology does not belong only to the realm of faith. Human plans have a teleology, which may see proper outcomes or be interrupted by unforeseen circumstance.
I can hear your criticism now though, why is one route more preferential than another. The short answer is simply because I choose it to be. If there is no meaning the only value is choice. When it comes to choosing well this is where reason is helpful and Socrates (Book 1-3 Plato’s Republic). If we are all takers, looking to get more of something, we will face limits. Moreover, there is some things you simply cannot get more of. Alternative to that viewpoint is that there is items you can give with no lose to yourself; the non-material (I use this term strictly here to differentiate between though and material goods). The most important of these? Love. Our life can still have teleology if we plan to be a species that cultivates these things and therefore I think we find a meeting of Aristotle and Nietzsche, among others.
Yes, you’re right about my criticism of this :). If meaning/teleology is created (not discovered), then it seems to me that we will have a very difficult time in arguing for anything resembling normative understandings of these things. Who determines what “proper” outcomes are? “Proper” according to what standard? Who decides?
If it really is all about choice—”simply because I choose it to be”—then we are back to Nietzsche and the rock bottom reality of will and power. There is no reason to assume that reason would be granted preferential status in this context. Some might prefer to grant reason a central role (yourself, for example), but others might not. Some might like love, some might not. Some might prefer to “cultivate” meaning and purpose and teleology, but some might prefer pure anarchy and Hobbes’ “war of all against all.” No option is better than any other because there is no standard (moral or otherwise) by which to analyze/evaluate them.
There is no such thing as being “responsible to reality” on this view. There’s not even really any such thing as responsibility at all (unless a weird kind of responsibility to oneself?), only the exercise of pure will.
I am comfortable with this because it has a war that has been going on for a very long time now. It may be that the side I do not agree with wins out and I am ruthlessly expelled from existence. However, that approach to life only ends in destruction and eventually there is nothing left to destroy except one’s self. This is the logical extension and if someone still wishes to follow that path then so it must be. I make no claims of pacifism because I will not weep if someone feels the need to kill a ruthless tyrant or another who refuses to stop dominating others.
Responsibility is greater than just one’s self for there are biological and physical phenomena that will just wipe us out, especially as we pollute at ever increasing rates. Again, if we die out as a species, I am comfortable with this – I just hope we choose a better teleological outcome for ourselves.
I think it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to live consistently as a nihilist. Not many are prepared to go as far as Nietzsche and reject the entire framework of value and ethics provided by the Judeo-Christian tradition. In my view, even those who claim that life has no meaning still live as if it does and, in almost all cases, the meaning they implicitly live by is (selectively) borrowed from the religious traditions they reject.
(Incidentally, isn’t the “ruthless tyrant who refuses to stop dominating others” just living according to his choice? Exercising his will? Who are we to say that he is wrong?)
Hmm I don’t think our readings of Nietzsche are similar. First of all you have to live as if it does because there is no other way to. To avoid ‘bad’ faith’ one must make choices which limit the amount of self delusion. Secondly, he does not flat-out throw away the Judeo-Christian framework, only those which he deems impeding to human greatness. He actually expressed a lot of admiration for components of Judeo-Christian ethics (he names himself the Anti-Chirst after all, which in my reading is a sign of respect rather than an insult for things will never be same after both their lives). I’d even argue it is unfair to suggest this framework is really provided by the Judeo-Christian framework. Yes, it helped refine a lot of the teachings but it heavily borrows from elsewhere. The same criticism, borrowing from what they reject, is equally applicable to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
What Nietzsche does, and I find it useful, is his attempt to trace the genealogy of ethics with the end goal of creating human greatness. This, I believe, is much more powerful than servitude, slavery and obedience – which he detests.
The ruthless tyrant makes his choice. So does the one who puts the bullet in his head. So does the one who holds his ground in peaceful protest and so does the one who sits on the couch and does nothing. The question is not whether what is done is right or wrong, the question is what type of person and people we wish to be? Reason, is a great tool and yes there are those who reject its rough conclusions and that is their choice.
I don’t know, Tyler. When I read passages like this one from the mouth of the madman in The Gay Science, I get the sense that Nietzsche is fully aware of the magnitude of rejecting God and all of the cultural achievements, values, ethics, etc bound up with God:
For me, this is the language of someone who understands just how much goes when God goes. We cut ourselves off from the language of meaning, purpose, right, wrong, teleology. Everything. We don’t get to keep the bits that we like. All we are left with is will—to greatness, maybe, or to something else. Whatever we will.
Re: having to live as if there is meaning, you said:
Interesting, isn’t it? A creature who cannot but live as if there is meaning doesn’t strike me as the most logical expectation in a world inherently devoid of meaning.
Yes, I know that we all make our choice. The question is, by what standard do we judge between these choices (as nations, as communities, as individuals)? By what standard is the behaviour of the one who puts the bullet in the tyrant’s head judged differently than the tyrant who oppresses the innocent? How do we determine whose expression of will trumps the other’s?
I don’t dispute the ‘nothingness’ we are left with from Nietzsche. It doesn’t disregard the admiration for the ‘power play’ by slave-morality. These are two separate issues.
I also don’t see a problem in valuing certain choices over another while not being sure that there is no sure ground to stand on. What we value appears to be a complex relationship between instinct, self reflection and our culture. I see no contradiction other than one between scales.
I don’t know how many times I an say reason is the answer and if someone doesn’t wish to use reason then we are stuck in a hard spot where violence or drastic action erupts.
It looks like our conversation will hit a stand still her because will just regurgitate the same sentences slightly rearrange.
Well, I hope we haven’t just been “regurgitating the same sentences” here… I’d like to think that there has been at least some attempt to understand each other’s perspective a bit better in the process. That’s how I try to approach every conversation, whether on this blog or anywhere else.
I guess for me, there are certain issues that are just foundational to conversations such as this so I naturally return to them. Questions like, How can reason be “the answer” when, as (I think) we’ve agreed, reason is always exercised in the broader context of one’s faith commitments (whether to God or to materialism or to anything in between)? How can reason be “the answer” when, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, none of the things that ultimately matter to us as human beings are matters of logical proof?
Again, I hasten to add that I think that reason is hugely important! I am often accused of being too rationalistic in some circles! I think that reason is crucial if we are to communicate across worldviews and assumptions. I’m just arguing here for an appreciation of reason’s limits.
Wow, Ryan, thanks for your reply here to, Tyler. This one get’s “clipped and copied” and goes to the “bank” …Son of a….every time I confront some version of faith vs. reason, I get to just smile, cut, paste and say, “yeah, that’s all you got! Well listen to this…. “My boy” said this!!… You been served!!”
Game, set, point, match.
Not that I ever think about winning an argument, of course…wouldn’t be very Christian of me…I suppose…
Testify to porridge, brother! Testify!!
P.S. Tyler,clearly yours was an objective inquiry, I in no way intend to infer that you’ve been, “serviced”. 🙂
Tyler, forgive me for interjecting, I know this conversation is between you and Ryan but I am thoroughly engaged by and appreciative of your last response here. Much to consider. There is influence in what you write.
Tyler, if there is a place for religious faith and reason in worldview, where do you think this faith fits? Where is it applicable? Where is it necessary?
Forgive me if I read you incorrectly but am I right to understand in your worldview that religious faith has no application, isn’t necessary.
Are you just tolerating me, my “opiate”?
If this was a personal conversation I would have e-mailed! So by all means join in.
Your question is a good one and I’ll do my best to offer my perspective. I believe different “world views” employ reason much more than others. It is fairly obvious how I feel about religious faith, in that I find it can be very hurtful, harmful and harsh. Moreover, I find it hard to communicate with because it is a language that I do not believe. My world view, a more anarchist and scientific one, does have things that I place faith in to; such as humans have the potential to achieve some great things such us avoiding war and death, living with a certain level of comfort so we can enjoy leisure and providing a living environment where woman and men can be physical and mentally healthy. Surprise! these aren’t to different than the Christian world view.
The difference I believe is that at the end of the day the bible and rituals is there to cast doubt on knew ethical changes. Moreover, the over emphasis on faith, that the world will end all jolly, is only good if it is right! We can faith in our different avenues as long as we realize that reason is where can meet, talk and discuss. Reason is only tool in this manner. Even when we temp to convey our emotions and mystical experiences we cannot help but employ reason. I think as we drift more towards faith we seal ourselves into a smaller and smaller world because we limit our ability to communicate outside the population that shares our belief. As result, and not blaming religion here but political dogma, paganism etc., we are left with wars, death and famine.
We all have our opiates and we are all waiting for a Jesus whether we know it or now. They just take different forms. I do believe that religious faith can teach humanity a lot still. The message of Christ has been a powerful one with many great lessons. The community of the church has been wonderful in teaching us to come together and work towards something more. I highlight the positive application here. We can still learn more from both these things but at the end of the day I will never have faith in there being a God and that the world will end well. For me, this is much to complex of a theory and statistical improbability. Without reason your faith will never be able to communicate with mine and that would be a damn shame if we spent the next 2000 years killing each more….
I do have a belief that I think religion has served most of its purpose and that the divine aspect of it should disappear. But, that is a different argument for a different day 🙂
Thanks for a generous and thoughtful reply.
I must apologize for the time it has taken me to respond but I have been busy with life, working a lot and trying to build something beautiful and lasting, together, with a good friend of mine who has become very dear to me.
For the most part I think it is better for me to leave the nuance of philosophy and worldviews to you and to Ryan. You are both much better educated on these matters than I am and in spite of my good intentions, I would likely only “muddy the waters” of that type of dialogue.
So I will leave you with a message I think I once left you with in times gone by. The difference being that I hope this time my words are understood as fraternal and not the dismissive, judgmental sort I spoke to you in the past.
Please accept my sincere apology in that regard. I am sorry for my past unkindness.
Ryan says in above comments, “none of the things that ultimately matter to us as human beings are matters of logical proof?” For me this understanding is a foundational truth. One that needs to be pondered and absorbed into the fabric of my being.
I was read an interesting story this morning as part of our advent prayers for today. In it a professor of philosophy admitted that when he was a younger man he always complained about the interruptions of life interfering with his thoughts and work. It was somewhat later in life when he began to realize that it was the “interruptions” that gave his life character, gave his life meaning. Made his life “true” to him, became the “work” that he most valued.
So I wish for you much “interruption”. People to love and be loved by. Vocation that you value and can invest the best of yourself in. Good memories and stories that will last you a lifetime.
Whatever our worldview, I am convinced that we live to be loved and to be loving.
…im very impressed with you just now Paul Johnston.
I was talking to a guy last night bemoaning the fact that living philosophical discourse seems to be rare. I hope he will read this exchange.
My two bits is that the attempt to place faith and reason on the same table leads to needless confusion. It is like trying to describe love or beauty in mathematical language. One can do it if one chooses but they describe different parts of human reality. From that point of view it is meaningless talk about faith with reference to science just as it is meaningless to define love or beauty in a syllogism. That said it happens all the time and Tyler will not be surprised that I cast the blame for this on Plato and his Christian interpreters 🙂
With reference to the material world I go to the temple of science. With reference to love, beauty, justice et al I go to the temple of faith. In a different but analogous context Jesus said “give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s”.
This simple formula might look like it discounts Tyler’s challenge “without reason your faith will never be able to communicate with mine” but I don’t think it does because I believe the challenge of language is to transcend the gap. Put another way neither faith or reason are actually captured in the constraint of words and yet we need to use words on both counts.
I really like the analogy of trying to describe beauty in the language of mathematics. I agree that there are different orders of explanation at work here. Part of me resonates with the “two temples” language—it reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) where religion and science operate in two totally different, unconnected spheres.
But I still wonder… It seems to me that Christianity is rooted in the reality that the two spheres are vitally connected. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”… in the material world where science and history and reason operate. Perhaps NOMA would fit better with something like a Buddhist worldview which is not tied to history and the material world and the events of history. But I’m not sure it works—at least not as cleanly—with Christianity. I’m not suggesting that the truth of Christianity hangs on the outcome of the latest archaeological dig or “proof” that Jesus was married or whatever. But Christianity makes historical claims and historical claims are, in theory, subject to analysis of reason. I don’t know…. NOMA makes me uneasy somehow. It seems to give too much away. It seems like an accommodation to secularist assumptions that faith belongs in the “private beliefs that don’t really matter to the real world” box and reason is for everything else.
Maybe this is just a way of saying that I think there is at least a bit of overlap between reason and faith. Ideally, reason ought to inform faith and faith can provide an overarching narrative of meaning within which to locate reason. Ideally :).
Much agreed with the curse of Plato! It has started on a path to reduce all in life to a single cause. I reference it below, but Logocentrism might not be the best way to deal with reality. It may be how our minds operate, a wish to categorize the world in order to find that one driving force but I am firmly in-line with you that it is incorrect to do so.
However, in reference to your closing sentences and to carry on with Derrida, “there is nothing outside the text.” How can language transcend this problem? Language is a series of signifiers that never reach a signified. Even the terms ‘reason’ and ‘faith’ fit into this category.
I agree that NOMA is not Biblical nor is it an adequate metaphor to describe the “reality” that love/beauty/justice directly impact the material world. I remember a diagram that shows overlapping circles. I’d be more happy with interesting points. Maybe I’m picky but I feel that the overlapping “areas” leave too much room for things that don’t overlap. I’m more than happy to grant an infinite number of points of intersection. I will also grant that I may be making a distinction that could seem excessive to some people 🙂
I like the idea of intersecting points much better too. Life is quite a bit more complicated (and interesting!) than a Venn diagram :).
Sorry I have not responded to the many interesting comments! This last week has been an extremely busy one. Much of what Gould writes is appealing but I believe Dawkins criticism is warranted… but I digress. If you can find the time I suggest reading the following article. It was written many decades ago but I feel it is informative to the conversation that is going on here.
For some reason every time I reread the article Derrida’s logocentrism comes to mind. I’d be curios to read your thoughts on the article.
Interesting article, even for a non-biologist 🙂
I liked the statement “The different levels of matter, while distinct are not completely delimited from each other. No boundary in nature is fixed and no category is airtight.” If this applies within “nature” and even within a discipline, how much more is that the case with things that go beyond the materialistic boundaries of nature, things like love/justice/beauty. That is especially true when syllogisms which are so powerful in materialistic contexts, try to define these.
The point that language is a blunt instrument is easy to make but having made it I think it can also be overstated. Language does allow us to achieve incredible things. Human language is an amazing gift- one I believe comes from God. Interestingly the Bible has a story about how the power of language had to be contained but that is another topic 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it James! What I enjoyed about the article and it is what I enjoy a lot about Dawkins is his criticism of other scientific approaches which lead to unfair social or ethical opinions.
“If this applies within “nature” and even within a discipline, how much more is that the case with things that go beyond the materialistic boundaries of nature, things like love/justice/beauty.”
I think this is the point that he was trying to get at. These are topics that ‘transcend’ the material slightly in terms of their transmission through culture. He suggests we study these on their own level without trying to reduce them down to small parts or attempting to fit them into a grand theory of the cosmos.
I totally agree that language is amazing. I believe it is reason’s tool that has built every human creation. I’d even argue that it takes our emotions and communicates them to others, through conversing, through writing and most amazingly, art.
My only real quibble is with the word “slightly” in the phrase “these are topics that ‘transcend’ the material slightly . . . ” The concept “transcend” is something I like. The word “slightly” feels out of place. I don’t think one can “slightly” transcend.
IMO the contrast between faith and reason fits the Stoic “on the one hand- on the other hand” paradigm. This is why it collides with the Platonic tradition. The former allows 2 separate paradigms to co-exist- allowing for intersection but not demanding integration. In my view the Dawkins paradigm still tries to “integrate” the most important aspects of human life within a materialistic model. That’s where I think he fails.
I love the whimsicality in this post! Great writing!
Jesus was truly the world’s first social activist.
It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.
Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs
Which, it has a point.
Thanks, Mike. AA guys rule! The sooner everybody else get’s the fact that life is just one big rehab, the better off we’re all gonna be! 🙂
hahahaha….truer words were never spoken,Paul