The Problem of Irrational, Unteachable Christians
Years ago I attended a church and heard the pastor end his Sunday morning sermon with “The Christian’s attitude toward the secular world should be ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up’.” I grew up in a home and church where the song by evangelist Gypsy Smith was occasionally sung: “If I Am Dreaming, Let Me Dream On.” The song, summed up by the title, was Smith’s response to a skeptic who told him his Christian faith was just “dreaming.”
Anti-intellectual obscurantism is a persistent problem among Christians. The ideal of the “holy fool” endures among us. Here, on this blog, it pops up whenever I push against Calvinism using logic. Eventually some Calvinist appeals not only to mystery but to irrationality. I am not saying all Calvinists do that, but some do—especially when I expose the inner inconsistencies, what I call the conundrums, inherent in Calvinism.
People who appeal to belief against logic, who revel in irrationality, are unteachable. Nothing anyone says to them about their belief can cause them to ponder, to reflect, to think again—which is what being teachable means. People who appeal to belief against logic, who revel in irrationality, also give Christianity a bad name—making it appear unintelligible to inquiring minds. “Check your mind at the door” (of the church or Christian school) is the message. To be a Christian you must sacrifice your intellect is the message.
Even among Calvinists this is a debate: Does Calvinism require sacrificing logic? Calvinist pastor-theologian Edwin H. Palmer, author of The Five Points of Calvinism (Baker, 1972) thought so. About Calvinist doctrines he wrote “The Calvinist freely admits that his position is illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and foolish. … The Calvinist holds two apparently contradictory positions. … He cannot reconcile the two; but seeing that the Bible clearly teaches both, he accepts both.” (85-86) R. C. Sproul and Paul Helm, on the other and, argue that Calvinism is not illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical or foolish. They admit it requires embrace of mysteries, but they adamantly deny it requires irrationality.
What that means is that a non-Calvinist can have reasonable dialogue with Sproul and Helm but not with Palmer and his ilk. The reasonable dialogue assumes the Bible does not communicate and require embrace of sheer irrationality. Early church father Tertullian wrongly said “I believe because it is absurd.” Embrace of mystery is one thing; all theologies do it somewhere (at some points in exposition of their doctrines). But there’s a difference between “mystery” (what cannot be fully explained) and contradiction (two more propositions that are logically incompatible). Mystery is a sign of transcendence; contradiction is a sign of error.
A person who admits his life and worldview, his philosophy or theology, contains logical contradictions cannot expect others to take his life and worldview, his philosophy or theology, seriously. Some may, but that just demonstrates they are not thinking people. They, too, are unteachable. Being teachable requires being open to correction. Being open to correction requires commitment to logic. Refusing to bow to logic is retreat from all understanding into sheer obscurantism. I would go further and agree with Karl Barth who said “Fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet.” Whatever Barth may have meant by “scholasticism” in that quote, it surely included logical thinking about revelation and faith.
Anyone who says “Believe what I say even though it is illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and foolish!” is a demagogue (at that moment) and people within hearing range should run away as fast as possible.
Anyone who claims his or her belief system, worldview, theology, philosophy is not illogical must remain open to correction and if it can be shown that two or more of his or her beliefs are contradictory he or she must make adjustments or risk being ignored.
This blog is about teaching and dialogue. Let it be known to all that anyone who comes here and admits believing absurd (logically contradictory) things as defense will be ignored—unless they are open to being shown that those allegedly contradictory things (beliefs) are not really contradictory. Attempting to defend one’s beliefs by admitting they are logically contradictory, whatever authority is appealed to, is demonstrating an unteachable spirit, a closed mind—at least about that subject. Such defenses cannot be taken seriously in an intellectually inclined conversation about truth.
Note: Comments that distort or misrepresent what I said above will simply be deleted. For example, I have not said all Calvinists are obscurantists or that appeal to mystery (as opposed to logical contradiction) is wrong. If you choose to comment, stick to what I actually said.