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why i am a christian – part iv November 19, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in personal, religion.
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continued from part iii

During my time in Alberta I had developed relatively radical political views. Since this is not the topic of this article, I will only state that they were socialist-libertarian in nature. This, however, would have a deep impact on my religious views and the way I perceived mainstream religions (especially Christianity). As I may or may not have mentioned previously, the Sermon on the Mount several years earlier had already convinced me of the inconsistency of conservatism with the Scripture. Yet as I continued to look deeper into all things spiritual and religious, it became apparent that most of my critiques against any religion were reactions to institutionalization of religious or philosophical movements. The larger the institution became, the more corrupt and perverse so did the teachings. Hopeless attempts to correct this, such as the Protestant Reformation in Christianity during the 16th century simply became dead institutions in themselves. Radicals such as the Anabaptists became de-radicalized and joined mainstream Protestantism as they gained acceptance and their views became watered-down. New movements such as Pentecostalism relied on heavily charasmatic teachers and sensationalism with practices that would make most early 20th-century occultist jealous. Each of these attempts, at least initially, were not “wrong” or fallacious – they were examples of anarchist Christianity – tearing down the walls of stonelike institutions that deadened the theology or spirituality. Yet as time went on, they became re-institutionalized: the Protestant Reformation created a million Popes rather than rejecting one.

As you probably have perceived by now, this series was written piece by piece. The story may not have been completely coherent, but I hoped the discontent with my spirituality was obvious. It started with my own judgmentalism against Christians which led to a catastrophic questioning of my own faith. What was morality? How does politics play a part in Christianity? What does it mean to search for truth? Can a finite being know an infinite being? Is Scripture reliable? What about the billions of people who, according to my soteriology, are going to hell? These questions would come and go, reformulate and slowly be answered. Descartes took an afternoon, I took five years… and counting. Stripped of all presuppositions and conditioned cliches, I was able to genuinely search for truth. In the “end” my God was a small God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of the Hebrews and Israelites – the God of the Bible was a small God. So after much moral, philosophical, and political discontent, there would be three items that would come to define my faith: the problem of science, the problem of the Trinity, and the problem of Scripture.

The Problem of Science: Genesis and Damned Knowledge

I am sure that you have heard of the Theory of Evolution. I am sure you have heard of “Intelligent Design” (ID) and “Young Earth Creationism” (YEC). Problem: the Bible says God created the Heavens, Earth, and all of its inhabitants in six days, and took a breather on the seventh. Scientists say there was a New Years party in space around 13.7 billion years ago resulting in the creation of the universe – Earth of created around 4.6 billion years by who knows what and mankind evolved from a primordial goo. Evidence: traditional YEC supporters use the Bible as their source of evidence. Realizing this does not satisfy most people, a reformulation has arisen in the last fifteen years: Intelligent Design uses statistical probabilities to support its claims. Either way, both use negative-value evidence, hoping to show the inconsistencies or improbabilities of Evolution without positively enforcing their own claims – trust me, I have done the research, the majority of YEC claims to not attempt to show how science can support Creationism, but how Evolution comes up short. Evolution, on the other hand, uses something called the Scientific Method. The whole point of the method is to set out to disprove your hypothesis. If a scientist cannot disprove his hypothesis, he can publish it (more or less) – but if he or she did not test it rigorously enough another scientist will come along and disprove it (and is often rewarded for doing so). Science, unlike religion, celebrates those who disprove fallacies within its own sphere of research. Science, much to the dismay of YEC, is not a secular conspiracy to destroy the faith. It is an attempt to truthfully understand the world in which we live. This is not to say science is perfect and does not make mistakes, but the underlying principle of its method is an attempt to search for observable truths. Thus, science, much to Mr. Dawkin’s dismay, cannot disprove God no matter how hard he may try. God cannot be observed and thus cannot be scientifically disproven.

The fact is, YEC supporters do not target educated non-Christians. I have a problem with that. My problem is not that they are not targeting, but it is the reason they are not targeting anyone but their own people. YEC and ID are doing what they can to justify their religious beliefs – this is fair. What is not fair is the outcome this will have on believers. In 1992 the Roman Catholic Church finally apologized to Galileo Galilei – the only problem is that he had been dead for 350 years and his writings had been firmly accepted for several hundred years. Martin Luther had condemned Galileo as had the majority of the Protestants for quite some time. In the meantime, science had flourished and religion had waned. History had absolved the project of science time and time again, and every time religion dug its heels in it lost ground. The Church’s refusal to endorse science based on Biblical justification would do more to dismantle Christianity more than science ever would.

You will not find many evangelical, born-again, and/or conservative Christians studying Evolution. You may think, well, duh. Yet what this does is create a whole sector of people who refuse to even consider the possibility that God can work in whatever way God choses. Read Genesis again. Does Scripture itself negate the possibility of Evolution? If you have time, go pick up Francis S. Collins’ “The Language of God“. It takes less than a couple of days to read. Collins was the head of Human Genome Project and is a born-again Christian. Although the book is advertised as case for belief, his case for faith or belief in God is extremely weak – his case for acceptance of Evolution within Christianity is quite strong even with his fairly conservative theological views. If you do not have time, do not fret, I will have a comprehensive review of his on this blog at a later date (I will aim for December).

The Problem of the Trinity: A Herculean Tale

Ask any born-again Christian if he or she believes that Jesus the Nazarene was/is God. The average believer will immediately answer yes without a thought. A more perceptive believer might wonder why you said “Jesus the Nazarene” but would definitely answer yes. This problem of the Trinity will crossover with my next topic of the problem of Scripture, but will be dealt with assuming that you have not read ahead. For those of you who are not totally sure of the theology of the Trinity, do not worry, most believers are not totally sure how it works (technically, no one really knows – some think they do). Basically the Trinitarian model states that there is one God that exists simultaneously as three persons: Father (the Creator God), Son (the Saviour), and the Holy Spirit (the Mediator). Do not ask how this works. You cannot even begin to comprehend. What you need to know is that this “Three Persons in One God” model has been universally accepted by mainstream Christianity for the last 1700 years or so (although it was strongly supported by the end of the 2nd century). The history of Trinitarianism is an interesting subject, as are most early Christian doctrines. The doctrine was solidified in the Council of Nicea in 325 CE after a long are passionate theological battle between two schools of thought, one represented by Arius and another by Athanasius. The Council of Nicea, convoked by Emperor Constantine, became the judiaciary charged with deciding which was correct: Athanasius won and from then on Trinitarianism was the only acceptable form of Christianity. The Scriptural basis for this decision was relatively weak compared to the opposing ideas.

The Scriptural evidence for Jesus as God rests almost entirely in the Gospel of John (or those writings attributed to a John, ie. 1 John and Revelation) with one reference in the Pauline letters. Evidence against the Trinitarian model are numerous and found in many different canonical books: Psalms, Daniel, Matthew, Mark, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy (respond if you would like some specific verses to think about). Some of these, of course, are stronger than others. However, in the pantheistic culture of early Christianity, any formulation which appeared as though there was more than one God would have been unpalpable to its Judaic roots and detrimental to the uniqueness of Christianity itself. Of course those of us who are the most skeptical would say that the Nicene Creed was playing politics in hopes of pleasing Constantine who found that a monotheistic God would work well for holding his empire together (I personally am not convinced of this, but I doubt very much that Constantine ever really did convert from his worship of Sol). What I find disturbing is that this discussion raved on for two hundred years, ended at the Council of Nicea and continues to this day without any form of opposition (apart from various small sects). At one time you could be considered a genuine Christian whether you believed that Jesus was God, the Son of God (without being God), or something akin to a “Son” of God. This discussion has been closed and its losers ridiculed and condemned.

The Problem of Scripture: Written by Man, Directed by God

The Bible has become an idol unto itself: perceived as the only and ultimate lens into the Creator – written by humans, but directed by God. When I was a teenager and believed the Bible as a literal truth, the most common expression I heard was, “What about all the contradictions in the Bible?” To which I answered, knowing that the person probably had never opened a Bible, “What contradictions?” This, more often than not, was enough. The problem with Biblical infallibility is that if one thing can be shown to be fallible, then so goes the whole concept – the Bible cannot be “almost infallible”. I could sit here all day, however, writing about the blatant contradictions within differing books, but I do not find such a project significant. Those predisposed to agree with me will do so, those predisposed to disagree will continue to do so. The fact is, the Bible was written by men – no one debates this. However, many Christians believe that the Bible is a result of divinely-inspired men who, at the time of the writing, could do no wrong – until they let down the pen. This may be true – a problem presents itself, however, when you try reading the Bible as it was written – seperately, but differing people with differing view on who Jesus was and what he taught. Endless works of apologetics have been written in attempts to reconcile the theologies presented in books of Romans and James, of Matthew and Mark, and Luke and John. Christian scholars often brush these views off as simply differing perceptions of Jesus, yet they do not take care to explain vastly different explanations of major concepts: faith, grace, work, etc.

The Bible was not written as a homogenuos entity. It is a collection of attempts by flawed, imperfect men to explain their faith, further their views, and spread the faith. Paul did not sit down and write to Ephesus thinking that what he wrote would be idolized as one of the few books in which God can be understood. No, it is how Paul understood God. And this is only for those books that are actually authentic. Books such as 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (the Pastoral Epistles) have been successfully shown that there is no way they could have been written by Paul. Yet many of the Church’s views continue to come from these books (All Scripture is God Breathed… Women should be silent… etc.). Some of the New Testament was written in the early 2nd century (pseudo-Pauline writings, John, Revelations, Luke, Acts, etc.) – a hundred years after Jesus. Early manuscripts have shown corruptions, additions and subtractions to our current Bible. Don’t take it from me, do some research.

The point of this “why i am a christian – iv” is not to convince anyone of anything. I do not present a case to deter you from your beliefs. It is simply to present a spiritual biography to show that I, like many people, was (and still am to a point) ticked off and questioning their Christianity or any other religion for that matter. And that I, to this day, reject the pseudo-science of Creationism and ‘Intelligent Design’, the classical Trinitarian model, and the infallibility of Scripture. Yet somehow I have faith. But in what? What is there left to have faith in?

…to be continued…

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Comments»

1. Jason April - November 24, 2006

“The Bible has become an idol unto itself”

Excellently put.

I agree with nearly everything you’ve written so far. And I admire such a thorough consideration of religious and related claims. It seems you’ve left nothing unexamined. How all this results in your Christian faith is a suspenseful interest!

2. brad richert - November 24, 2006

Thank you for the comment Jason. These mini spiritual-autobios are probably the hardest posts to write. It is amazing how much our own memories are like shoddy prints – and furthermore how hard it is to put past thoughts and pseudo-rationalizations into words. Specific past self-introspections are often replaced with simplfied and ambiguous feelings such as ‘hate’, ‘frustration’, ‘dissapointment’, ‘anxiety’, and the like (I mention negative ones because it is so much easier and lazier to remember such feelings).

To be frank, I am not looking forward to writing the fifth (and hopefully final – I initially planned for three parts) part. This is not because I do not enjoy this textual therapy, but because of the extremely difficult nature of what I want to write about. Much of what you will find in the finale will involve spiritual subtleties that could easily be horrendously misinterpreted or, even worse, be inadequately written 🙂

I am glad that you are enjoying the series and do hope that the last part will successfully and accurately portray my current thoughts in a coherent manner.

3. khalidmir - November 25, 2006

I haven’t read your previous “why i am..” but this was really well written and very interesting. I find it hard to understand why you are a christian if you don’t accept the trinty or the other things biut I guess I will have to wait.

As for billions going to hell i much prefer the take of Islam and the eastern religions in this (see in particular 2:100-115 in M.Asad’s online translation). And rejection of a particular understanding of trinity is , as you know, also a key feature. How odd! you almost sound like a muslim:)

4. brad richert - November 25, 2006

khalidmir, do you have a link for that online translation?

Rejection of the the contemporary Trinitarian model is not as odd as you might think. Historically speaking it was a major discussion in the early church, of which there were many advocates and adherents of different models. Even to this day there are many, albeit non-orthodox, groups that do not adhere to the orthodox Trinitarian model.

For myself, however, I am not aware if my “conclusions” are in sync with any other specific group – although I am sure there are others that think similarly to myself. But alas, you must wait and see.

5. khalidmir - November 26, 2006

I eagerly await the next part.
the link is:
http://www.geocities.com/masad02/

I didn’t know that such views were still may groups that adhere to such non-orthodox views. I had heard about the unitarians and the jehovas but not much else. Yes, I have read a bit about early christianity and am aware of some of the early groups Ebionites etc and just how hotly disputed the doctrine was. also, recent jewish scholarship that tries to show the closeness of Jesus (pbuh) with Jewsih traditions and the difference of John from the others.

Yeah, I don’t know what you’re conclusions are but it will be interesting to see what they are and how you got to them.

6. khalidmir - November 26, 2006

Gosh, that was written so poorly that I simply have to correct it. Meant to say that I didn’t know such views were so prevalent or that there were many groups that adhere to…

And ‘your’ , of course, not you’re…

7. brad richert - November 26, 2006

Thank you for the link, I look forward to reading it once I have a break from papers.

Oh, I would not say that such views are ‘prevalent’ nowadays (they were in early christian history), but they are definitely around. Like I said, I do not really follow any denomination or group doctrine so I am unsure to whether I hold the same views. Most groups, past or present, I do not agree with: Ebionites, Monarchians, Sabellians, or many Mormons. I agree with some of the ideas of the Christadelphians, Unitarian Universalists and even some Bahai thought, but I find all quite wanting for various reasons. Perhaps it is my affinity for [St.] Arius that keeps me from agreeing with most sects – we just do not have any of his writings left to actually know what he thought, we can only know him through the writings of his theological counterparts.

Anyway, maybe after I write the 5th part I can do a comparison with some of these other groups.

8. TheHindu - November 30, 2006

Dear Brat,

It is a pleasure reading you. I am a Hindu by birth and choice, but I was educated in a Protestant convent school and grew up reciting the Psalms at school. I had a number of muslim friends and we never felt, err, different (that is the closest word i could come up with). When I read this, I was struck by the fact that I am in the same situation or maybe a little ahead of you. Removing the chaff from “religion” and understanding the spiritual significance of the holy texts must be our goal.

Granted, we may think that ours is the perfect religion and others are going to be damned. its ok as long as we respect the others and their religion. I feel, ultimately, God is not going to see by what name we called him, but whether we called him. Morality and spirituality are more important thatn religion and ritual.

As one of the tru advocates of spirituality, Swami vivekananda, said, “You are closer to God through football than through endless pedantic discussions on the nature of God.”

9. Rolf - January 14, 2007

“Martin Luther had condemned Galileo”

FYI

Luther died idn 1546.

Galileo was born in 1564.

Both were visionaries, however.

10. Rolf - January 14, 2007

oops, you probably meant; “Martin Luther had condemned Copernicus”

11. brad richert - January 14, 2007

Time is an illusion… jk.

You caught my brain fart. Brain said Copernicus but the fingers kept typing about Galileo, thanks.
See correction on the updated blog:
http://bradleyrichert.com/2006/11/19/why-i-am-a-christian-part-iv/


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