What is your best reason for being a Christian?
First, go read my answer to the third question, below.
Okay, that’s probably the single biggest reason why I’m a Christian, but I don’t expect that it will be the most convincing for everyone. For starters, some of you are probably less bloodthirsty or *ahem* more Christian than I.
So, for those of you who are boring and rational and stuff, here’s a condensed chain of arguments:
Materialism is obviously wrong: Derek Parfit, in his masterpiece Reasons and Persons, shows quite convincingly that if materialism is true, then continuous personal identity cannot be well defined. But continuous personal identity is obviously well defined (hello Descartes!), the question of whether or not I (the asker) am around in some future state of the universe is the best defined question there is, from my perspective. Therefore materialism is false. We mathematicians call that “Proof by Contradiction”.
Amaterialistic atheism is obviously wrong: Assume the Anthropic Principle. Go ahead! Doesn’t matter. Within the space of all possible worlds that can support intelligent life, the subset of worlds that exhibit order and predictable physical laws is vanishingly small.
Deism is obviously wrong: Within the set of all possible worlds that support intelligent life AND that have predictable physical laws, the subset that exhibit the sort of “epistemic fine-tuning” that allows for the possibility of physics is vanishingly small.
Great, now you’re a theist (or you should be if you’re a good Bayesian). I’m not even going to try to get you to Christianity through reason and stuff. Ain’t happening. Maybe someone else can do it, but I don’t think I can.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?
I actually dislike the language of “belief”. We don’t actually believe anything with complete certainty (except, possibly, for the reality of our own existence, or of the existence of something), so the frequent skeptical refrain: “convince me that God definitely exists!” sets the burden of proof far too high. I’m not sure this laptop definitely exists.
The standard that should actually matter, I think, is “believing enough to do X”. As in: “I believe that you have feelings enough that I’m going to refrain from punching you”, or “I believe in the tenets of Y religion enough that I’m going to abstain from Z hedonic activity”, or “I believe in Methodism enough that I’m going to go to church every Sunday,” or what have you.
So, getting back to the actual question, there isn’t anything that could convince me that God definitely didn’t exist, but I could think of a few things which, individually or in combination, would shake my faith a lot, or cause me to lower my probability estimate of theism significantly. Some of them enough, maybe, to get me to stop going to church, stop calling myself a Christian, or start looking for other options.
Just off the top of my head, examples include Christianity as a major world religion fading away into obscurity, convincing evidence of some sort that Jesus Christ never existed, or existed but said/did very different things than he is portrayed saying/doing in the Gospels.
More exotically, the Lovecraftian discovery that we live in a tiny bubble of order within an infinite sea of chaos where the rules of physics and mathematics don’t hold would certainly shake my faith in certain ways, or require a reworking of sorts. Certain kinds of successful transhumanism might prove problematic, but I’d have to think about that some more in order to get specific. Beauty no longer being a reliable guide to mathematical and scientific truth, or the correspondence between truth and beauty breaking down at some point, would be rough, and would cause me to reevaluate some priors in a way that would make me less theistic.
I could prattle on for some time about the theological neatness (and uniqueness) of the Incarnation, about the bridging of the spiritual and material realms that it effected, and about why that’s important. But that would be too bloodless. It would also be dishonest. Here’s the real reason why I’m a Christian:
“Why Jesus and not Socrates or Buddha or Confucius or Mohammed? None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him!’”
Much as I’d love to claim that line, it was originally Wystan Auden’s; but the fact remains that alone among the major world religions I have studied, Christianity provokes within me a deep, visceral revulsion.
“Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:28) Only the banalities of our passive-aggressive, partially-Christianized, hedonically sated/stunted age could rob a zinger like that of its teeth. The trouble with moderns, of course, is that we’re uniquely terrible at stepping outside of our own context – a consequence of our being one of the most historically illiterate generations in 800 years. Read that line from Luke again, but this time not in a world where it has grown stale and trite on the lips of schoolteachers and hypocrites, nor in a world where the psuedo-Christian ideal of the Golden Rule has become an uncontroversial secular nostrum. No, read it in the world in which it was uttered – a world of honor cultures and of gods who demanded the blood of their enemies rather than the meekness of their followers. A world where Nietzsche’s Festival of Cruelty and Girard’s Scapegoat were daily occurrences. Feel the anti-human, evolutionarily maladaptive, sheer, blinking CRAZY of that sentiment.
I’m running out of room here, but when I read the Analects of Confucius, I am impressed by the deep, human wisdom therein. When I read the Gospels, I see demands that are inhuman – either diabolical or divine. But of course, given how morally deformed we are, the fact that God sounds like a lunatic and that I hate what he has to say shouldn’t be too surprising. Put simply, given human nature: “God showed up, said things that made us angry, then we killed him.” is the most believable religious story I’ve ever heard.
The fact that killing him then exalts the status of all victims, and that this ties back into the whole point of what he said that made us kill him, thus sort of proving his point, is just icing on the cake.
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?
I have an eccentric great-uncle who once produced his own translation of the Bible, but no, his is not an example that ought be emulated. That way madness and folly lie. This is what tradition is for.
I know relatively little about the history of Biblical translation and hermeneutics, because this is why we have division of labor. The arrogant nouveau idea that we should all just figure out what the thing says ourselves or, that we should figure out what it means “to us” (*retch*) kind of ignores a couple of important facts, including: (i) translation is really hard, (ii) documents from alien cultures do not admit of a “neutral” interpretation in our culture (something that the postmoderns and the premoderns thankfully agree on).
So yeah, when it comes to matters Biblical, I take the word of the Church Fathers (the guys who knew the guys who knew the guys who wrote the thing), of theologians and historians who’ve spent years thinking about this stuff, and of the priests at my parish.
Ditto when it comes to figuring out what’s apocryphal. The operative words here are “trust” and “authority”.
Voting opens Friday afternoon