The argument underlying Christian doctrine is inherently circular in that it assumes before substantiating the truth of what it is only attempting to prove — and also assumes that everyone else holds the same assumption.
In other words, God exists because everyone intuitively and irrefutably “knows” he exists, regardless of a profound lack of any physical evidence for such a supernatural deity.
I ran into this wispy reasoning again recently in a book by Bishop Robert Barron titled Advent: Gospel Reflections, it’s latest edition published in 2001 by Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. The ministry website’s landing-page slogan is, “Proclaiming Christ in the Culture.”
My interest is focused here on page 9 of Reflections, where Matthew 8:5-11 is reprinted:
When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion [a Roman military commander] approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Barron notes that what the centurion is asking — for Jesus to cure his servant remotely, without going to his house — would to any “objective observer” be viewed as “ridiculous!” As it certainly would today.
“[The centurion] is asking that [his servant] be cured at a distance, with simply a word,” Barron writes. “He’s at the limit of what he could possibly know or control or measure. And yet he trusts; he has faith.”
Here again emerges what is considered the cardinal virtue in Christian believers: faith over even compelling evidence to the contrary.
Barron then quotes Danish theologian and philosoper Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), whom he said “defined faith as ‘a passion for the impossible.’”
“The centurion had a passion for the impossible,” Barron writes in Reflections. “And that’s why Jesus says to him, in some of the highest praise you’ll find in the Gospel: ‘In no one in Israel have I found such faith.’”
Barron curiously concludes that this biblical passage does not imply that God has no use for evidentiary rationality.
“Is God opposed to reason? Absolutely not,” Barron argues. “God gave us the gift of reason. Does God want us to be unrealistic? No; he wants us to use all of our powers of imagination and analysis. But faith goes beyond reason; it is a passion for what reason can’t see.”
If you desconstruct his “reasoning,” what Barron is really saying is that God bestowed mankind with reason for everything but religious faith, which somehow “goes beyond reason.” So we just can’t use this God-given skill when things seem exceptionally unbelievable.So, Barron advises his flock to have a passion for the wholly unsubstantiated doctrines of Christianity, whose irrefutable truths he insists “reason can’t see.”
In fact, reason properly applied should be applied to everything and especially to those underlying realities of reality that are not obviously manifest, like the globally widespread but unverified idea that invisible deities exist.
That’s exactly the kind of assumption that formal reason was invented to investigate, and what the ancient Greeks were all about. “Whither Zeus?” they would ask. “Where is Hades?”
Therefore, just because a story in an ancient book deemed holy by a particular religion tells the tale of a prophet who said he would cure someone from afar, doesn’t mean he did or was even capable of such a thing.
Reason demands, without tangible proof to the contrary, that we be profoundly skeptical of such stories about alleged human capabilities that have never been irrefutably proven. Unfortunately, all these stories are linked to ancient times, where indisputable corroborating evidence, if any were indeed available, is now nonexistent.
In the end, this Reflections gospel is only a captivating story for believers but one without verifiable substance in reality.
Note that the Catholic season of Advent is a preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ, which of itself is not a proven historical fact, and anticipation of Judgment Day and the end of the world (also highly speculative), which has long been prophesied to occur on various dates but never has.
There’s a reason Christian faith is so glorified, in and of itself. It’s because material evidence for its doctrines remains literally paper thin.
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