The Post-Enlightenment Faith

Three articles that hit a similar note. From our neighbor Peter Enns, as a response to the challenges of being Christian in the modern world:

I don’t think the life of Christian faith is fundamentally “rational,” by which I mean it cannot be captured fully by our rational faculties. I have long felt that a God who can be comfortably captured in our minds is no God at all. I see our sense of what is rational as often more the problem than the solution. I am not for one minute saying “reason doesn’t matter.” I am using reason as I write this. I read and write books. I mean only that the life of the mind has its place as an aspect of the life of faith, not its dominant component.

In other words, I belief that faith in a true God is necessarily trans-rational (not anti-rational) and mystical. I try to remember that as I work through intellectual challenges–and I mean “work through,” not avoid.

From Religion in American History, Michael Altman considers Tanya Luhrmann’s book on evangelical Christians at prayer, When God Talks Back. He quotes from her interview with Terry Gross:

To be clear, I am not arguing that belief is not important to Christians. It is obviously important. But secular Americans often think that the most important thing to understand about religion is why people believe in God, because we think that belief precedes action and explains choice. That’s part of our folk model of the mind: that belief comes first.

And that was not really what I saw after my years spending time in evangelical churches. I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. These days I find that it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.

If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place.

Meanwhile, out neighbor Kevin Miller at Hellbound, muses a bit on the meaning of the word fundamentalist. He hits on way of looking at the issue of atheist fundamentalism and goes all post-modern on us:

However, I think fundamentalist atheism differs from other forms of fundamentalism in one key regard: rather than a reaction against modernity, it seems to be more of a reaction against post-modernity–the idea that there could be more than one plausible explanation for reality, and that perhaps even our perception of reality is itself a social construction, always in need of revision. (Of course, many Christians resist this idea as well.)

People like Dawkins talk about moving people toward an evidence-based view of the world. But what qualifies as evidence? That determination can only be made by referencing your worldview. For example, a Christian may accept a personal revelation gained through prayer as evidence of God’s existence. Someone of Dawkins’ ilk will dismiss such “evidence” as nothing more than a psychological projection. Same phenomena, different explanation, because according to each worldview, certain lines of inquiry or explanation are necessarily excluded.

I’ve tried mixing and matching these article in different ways, and none seem any better than any other. I put them forward as large blocks of text. I hope the connection is obvious.

My first reaction is to chortle. Since antiquity one of the major Christian goals is to make Christianity “rational,” whether that meant bringing into accord with greek philosophy or with evidence and reason. It’s amusing to see so many Christians say, “Well, that didn’t work …”

While I think there is a shrewd recognition of exactly how human belief is actually formed in Luhrmann’s thesis, I’m a bit skeptical as to how far it goes. Despite people like Miller and Enns, I’ve never heard an argument between Christians that ends, “If that’s your inner witness then we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

Christians argue amongst themselves about the nature of God, which is supposedly trans-rational. They use evidence from scripture and reason from established theological principles. They are happy to use rational arguments to convince people, including atheists and each other. This claim that the nature and existence of God is somehow walled off because it is beyond reason looks like a strategic retreat to subjectivity rather than a principled stand for post-modernism.

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