Erik and Ebonmuse together made the best critical responses to the question I asked on Monday: What should I conclude from the fact that Christianity’s metaphysics is a good predictor of my ethics?
You mentioned the numbers thing, that Christian philosophers have had the numerical majority just as they’ve had in larger civilization, and there’s probably some truth to that. But I’d take this point a little further: I’d say that there are so many different threads of tradition within Christian thought itself that it’s pretty easy for just about anyone to find one that appeals to them. This is probably an inevitable development in any belief system that’s been around for as long and spanned as many cultures as Christianity has.
Totally true. And it’s also true that plenty of strains of Christianity don’t appeal to me in the slightest. Even if I focus on only one tradition, there are plenty of conflicting voices such that I could always find someone on my side, so is it possible to make any conclusions about a religion or sect as a whole?
I say yes, to an extent, though it requires that I impose divisions both sides may not accept. For example, I’m all right with labeling Deists and people who believe that Christ was non-divine as not-Christian even though they might object to this schema. As a general rule, when I talk about Christianity on this blog, I am talking about the very, very basic creed of C.S. Lewis. About that kind of Christianity, I can still make some general statements, especially to contrast it with other religions. For instance, I find the idea of the Incarnation interesting because it provides a link between God and creation. Without this link, I have a harder time imagining a god that actually felt love for creatures so far removed or people that felt love for an abstracted god.
But when it comes down to distinguishing between sects, I’m sure that for any laundry list of provisions I could find a sect of Christianity that supported them. Some of these are self-refuting or inconsistent, and easily rejected but plenty appear solid. The trouble is that the human capacity for rationalization is near infinite, so it’s hard to figure out whether the apparent unity and truth is just a massive kludge, tweaked to fit specifications. (Think the epicycles of the Ptolemaic solar system).Two competing philosophies could give me equally compelling systems, since they’ve had years of argument to pare off everything contradictory or to add in elaborate workarounds. How would I choose?
That brings me to Erik’s question. He wrote:
Why assume that because Christians have promoted the Core assumptions you make about the world that all of the add-ons (there is a god, Jesus was god, etc) to the philosophy are also correct without proof? This would be like accepting the word of an astronomer that there is life on mars simply because your experience is that when astronomy tells you the time of sunrise and set and phase of the moon has always been right. Each truth claim must stand or fall on its own merits. Anything less becomes an argument from authority.
Why not instead assume that Christians (and other religions)’have simply co-opted the best arguments from humanism? If the religious really believe these core values perhaps they should consider “converting” to humanism.
Maybe? I’ve certainly made that pitch to my Catholic boyfriend – that the ethics we share are compatible with atheism. He maintains that if he were an atheist he would be a nihilist materialist and I’ve been unsuccessful in convincing him otherwise.
If the basic premises of Catholicism are true, a lot of my ethics flows naturally from that fact. Thus far, I haven’t found an atheistic philosophy that necessarily supports almost anything I believe, so I haven’t any helpful humanistic metaphysics to convert him to. The most I can do is to convince other people to believe as I do – cling to the moral truths you’re most sure of in the absence of a metaphysical scaffolding until the truths are debunked or you find a system that explains them.
Unless any of you have metaphysical undergirdings to propose?