No more blind faith

In my previous post, TG(oodness)IF, I mentioned that I met a couple of people from RatioChristi when I spoke at ReAsonCon in North Carolina. It hadn’t occurred to me that there were Christians in the audience, even though the organizers made it clear that a diversity of people were invited, including Christians. Thankfully, I took a gracious approach to Christianity and the church. It would have been easy to pander to the crowd and take a cheap shot or two. (After 20 years working for churches I do have a few cheap shots).

Who Knows?
After my talk, a small group of people gathered around to ask questions and talk further. I love this part of speaking at events because it’s when I get to hear people’s stories and backgrounds. I was a couple minutes into a amazing conversation with a woman who sat on the second row, visibly responding to everything I said, when a young man joined the conversation. In my talk I said that agnosticism should be our default epistemological setting. From there we are open to learning things within a general sense that there is so much we cannot know. Epistemological humility is the greatest intellectual virtue besides curiosity itself.

It’s usually at this point that a freshman philosophy student will point out that this claim—attributed to postmodern thinkers—is auto-deconstructing. The statement, “You cannot know Truth” is itself a proposition that the claimant cannot know. When this young man made this argument I smiled politely, said, “I see your point,” and went on with the conversation previously underway. It is true that that statement must also be questioned. And having questioned it, I must still question my ability to access the truth of things “as they really are.” And after all that questioning, I have to live my life based on the best information I have available, which entails making some judgments.

The young man pressed on (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) claiming that truth could be known—even the truth of God’s existence. One thing led to another and then I said, “The trouble with Christianity is that it claims to be public truth.”

Public Truth
In a world where truth is increasingly understood to be relative (what’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for you), it is very difficult to sustain a claim that something is public truth—that is, truth for everyone, everywhere. Gravity is that kind of truth. It’s true for everyone and it’s true everywhere on earth. If I claim that gravity is private truth, I will discover the hard way how wrong I am.

Usually at this point, Christian apologists say, “Yes, this is true, but the Christian public truth claims are not empirical truth, they are experiential truth. In other words, it is a truth you know from personal experience, not from empirical measurement. But that’s not where this young man went. Neither did his mentor who attended the event with him, both wearing T-shirts that read, “No More Blind Faith.”

I admire the sentiment. Too many Christians embrace and promote blind faith. When challenged to demonstrate the truth of the Bible, they resort to saying, “you just need to have faith.” But these representatives from RatioChristi were different. They claimed that their beliefs are verifiable and are willing to stand by Christianity as public truth.

According to the Bible, Christianity does lay claim to public truth. The New Testament teaches that God became flesh in the person of Jesus, who then died a sacrificial death on behalf of the entire human race, to redeem us from sin. He then rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. This is not a regional or ethnic narrative, much less a personal narrative. This is global. It is truth for the whole world. So I think the conservatives are right when they point out that Christianity as “truth for me” is less than Biblical Christianity. A more pluralistic view of the universal claims of Christianity suggests that Jesus’s death and resurrection is salvific whether the person being saved knows it or not. This, of course, strikes most people as a colonizing ideology. “My savior will save you in spite of the fact you don’t know you’re being saved and even if you don’t want to be saved.” But if you say, faith in Jesus is just one of many ways to salvation, you really have departed from the core of Christianity, according to the Bible. Even granting a range of views on what exactly salvation entails, Jesus is the one way to whatever salvation is.

My throat was so dry I didn’t stick around to find out how they felt they could make that type of truth claim for Christianity, but I think it had something to do with the resurrection. I have to admit, if there was evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, that would carry weight. It wouldn’t solve all the problems by any means, but that would be significant. Even Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).

I’m not sure how you can say “no more” to blind faith and still be a Christian. I know the slogan is meant to say, faith must be based on evidence. But still the actual step of faith is a step into the dark—a leap—or else it’s not faith. It’s sight. And the Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). What is “seeing faith?” Especially when the author of Hebrews defines faith as “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). You either present evidence for your beliefs, which qualifies them as public truth, or you claim that faith is the evidence. Say no to blind faith long enough and you will likely say no to faith altogether.

 

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About Ryan Bell

For 19 years Ryan Bell was a pastor, most recently the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In March 2013 he resigned his position due to theological and practical differences. As an adjunct professor he has taught subjects ranging from intercultural communication to bioethics.
Currently he is a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States and blogs about that experience here at Year Without God.


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