What is your best reason for being a Christian?
Well, it puts me in a more direct appreciation of truth than anything else, for a start, and I happen to think pursuit and acceptance of truth to be an essential thing– the only thing, in fact. But what about Christianity is true? I don’t mean to advocate Biblical literalism, though nor do I find it wholly “symbolic”. What I do mean is that Christianity best accounts for our nature, best steers us toward knowledge of ourselves and the universe– it does so perfectly, in fact, though you wouldn’t know it, talking to most Christians (myself most certainly included). The one thing that is true for all men at all times is that we yearn. There is a deep, gnawing anxiety within all of us, a grasping for something that some mistakenly diagnose as ambition, or mental illness, or simple loneliness. In truth I suppose it is all of these things, and many others besides, but to seek other than God will not silence the cries (not that accepting Him does, either, of course– but there sometimes arise moments of harmony, when for a second or two we feel a hand clasped against our reaching souls, bigger or warmer or stronger, depending, and at times all three and more, and fleetingly get the sense that we have stumbled into a new kind of striving).
It is, as CS Lewis says, a religion one would not have guessed. Now I know there are stories of sacrifice and even “redemption” that far predate Christianity, but that does not at all erode my confidence. Man did not change when Christ was born– man changes when he is baptized, when he accepts the Eucharist, when he actively seeks communion with God. But something in us always knew that we were insufficient, imperfect, and fractured, and so it doesn’t surprise me that we have in ignorant anticipation of His coming written down the dim and distorted echoes of the Word to come.
It does not make sense, to my mind, to acknowledge both that we are imperfect and eternally imperfectable. Very simply, why should there be an imperfect without a perfect? One could, I suppose, say that we are imperfect relative to the “perfect” version of ourselves. But how do we discern such a thing? I could go on for very much longer, but it seems to me we need a standard that is both within us and without– of us and also greater.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?
Much like the atheists who say a seemingly divine experience is probably a mere chemical imbalance (though I take issue with this argument for a variety of reasons, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment), whenever what little faith I have is yet further shaken I hope I have the strength to know it is devilry (which doesn’t mean I think red tailed demons are pulling my hair in my sleep, by the way). But what are the things that shake faith? More often than not, I find, it isn’t mass atrocities, or confusion or dispute over doctrine (though it certainly can be, and has for many). It’s usually some petty little thing, like wanting to skip church because you’re tired, or knowingly putting yourself into a situation where you’ll probably end up having sex while unmarried. Those too are denials of God, in a way. When I was an atheist I thought that no Christian could possibly actually believe what they said they did, because if they truly believed that the Christian life lead one to unity with God and heaven and all of that, why on earth would they sin? It’s a very simple cost-benefit analysis! But we are very stubborn, short sighted creatures, as it turns out, so readily accepting of what is presented to us as normal and acceptable, even in what some would like to call Christian societies, and we blind ourselves, and love ourselves for being blind. If in the face of all that, even when I don’t love God, when I ignore and neglect Him, and when I am ungrateful and cruel, I hope at the very least that I will never lose the knowledge of His existence, because in that moment I do die.
I will not lie and say that I have studied extensively Islam or Hinduism or anything else you care to name, but the unity of immanent and transcendent in Christ, the fact that our very God, even unto Himself, is a relationship and a dynamic, the sublime horror and madness and joy of it, this I do not think I would find elsewhere. If one looks, for example, at some modern therapeutic insights (of which I am, on the whole, very skeptical), one sometimes sees things Christians have known for aeons, because it is Christianity that best understands our nature. Look at Evagrius or John Cassian, or, of course, Christ Himself. Christianity responds to the brokenness that spawns all our griefs and pains and struggles. I do affirm the essentiality of apostolic succession and of the real body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, to name two things that divide Christians, because Christianity is not simply a way of thinking about things but is incredibly corporeal– why else would God have had to become Man? But overall I try not to get into dogmatic disputes with Christians of other stripes, though that is probably more due to laziness than charity. It is not a system but a relationship, albeit such an impossible one that by the grace of God we have authorities and institutions and traditions to help us. I find the idea of what some call apokatastasis endlessly compelling, which I understand to be the breakdown of barriers– between the created and the uncreated, final and perfect unity, healing of our fractures through joining with God. We have elements of this here now– between man and woman through marriage, between man and the Church and, in a way, with the Trinity, through baptism and communion (my theology is shoddy here, I hope I haven’t committed heresy…). These are the forebears. It is overpoweringly beautiful. Some atheists see desire and scoff, thinking that anything desired is necessarily of dubious validity. I find this to be very strange, as desire is the most fundamental thing about us. To reject desire as self-defeating seems to me to be the most inhuman of compulsions, but I suppose this makes sense coming from someone who thinks of truth as a Person and not a thing, or a fact, or a system.
How do you read the Bible? Do you study the history of its translations? How do you decide which translations/versions/books are the true Bible? How does it guide you if you have a moral or theological dilemma?
In truth I do not know it as well as I should. I interact with it most in context of the writings of Church fathers and services, which serve not only to expose me to the text but help me to understand it. It is entirely too artful and I am much too artless to approach it on my own. I trust the authority and traditions of my Church to guide me, and actually think that is, far from being a cop out, among the most rational things I do. I will not deny that it is very, very difficult for me to discern God’s will, and I have no easy answer. Prayer sometimes helps and sometimes confounds, and sometimes both at once. Anyone who has ever prayed must know that they themselves are never in one mind of anything– achieving unity of desire, or even focused attention, is at the very least a thing that has thus far eluded me. It is easy to say that Christians are to reject what is “of the world”, and a far harder one to know what, in ourselves, can be so called. To draw nearer to God is an unending trial, and over the course of our lives we approach and recede like the tides of an ocean, and many times with less order and predictability. When in doubt, I think the most important thing I have learned is to judge people charitably (though of course I am not very good at it). It is not for nothing that the Fathers spoke in such dark and foreboding tones of anger and its poison.
Voting opens Friday afternoon