[Turing] Christian Answer #5

[Turing] Christian Answer #5 July 12, 2011

This post is part of the Ideological Turing Test Challenge. Go to the tab above for an overview and remind yourself of the voting and commenting guidelines.

What is your best reason for being a Christian?

Most kids I know (me included) experiences a certainty at some point in childhood that we were somehow extraordinary and eldritch. It could be an expectation that our ‘real’ parents would one day show up or a fixed attention on the mail around our eleventh birthday. No matter how it manifested, there was a clear idea that the world we lived in had an extra, necessary dimension that kept our existence from being flat.

I guess I’ve never lost that idea, and it’s what led me to the Church.

The idea that humans are somehow falling short of what we ought to be has always seemed intuitive to me (and if it isn’t to you, I suggest the first few chapters of Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Christianity fit the story; it explained what that insufficiency was and provided a source for the metric I couldn’t meet.
That’s not enough to be convincing on its own, though. It only takes imagination, not truth, to explain all known data points. The fact that Christianity recognized the problem was a point in its favor, but what clinched my conversion was the fact that only Christianity helped me fail a little less often than I had before. It didn’t just mesh with the knowledge I had; it surpassed what I knew and offered lessons that were validated by the fruit they bore.

There’s more I could add about how the Incarnation makes a bridge between humans and the Divine conceivable, personal experiences of God giving me strength or healing my heart, etc, but what it all comes down to is that Christianity matched the truths I knew and taught me additional, indispensable ones.

What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?

Technically, evidence that Jesus was not resurrected is a no-brainer answer to this question (cf if he be not raised… etc), but I doubt anyone will be able to muster definitive historical evidence on that point. We’re too removed from the event to prove the question to anyone’s satisfaction. It wasn’t historical proofs that converted me.

Other events/experiences that could convince me to lose my faith would include:

  • The Christian religion dying out – I believe God would not cut people off from the opportunity to learn about His salvation and the gift of His Son.
  • Finding out we’re all in a simulation universe – Definitely a big enough shake-up that my old framework of thinking about, well, nearly everything, would be seriously in doubt.

I would give up certain expectations if evidence emerged that disproved them, as Christians have done through time (heliocentrism, the idea that sperm contained tiny homunculi that needed a womb to grow, but were entirely sourced from the male, etc) but none of these ideas have been central to the Christian faith. I can give them up in the same way and on the same kind of evidence that marks any shift in our beliefs about the physical world (the Big Bang beating Fred Hoyle’s Steady State, etc).

Holding up Christianity for disproof is more like asking for a way to test that vengeance is wrong (though if you debunk that principle, my belief in God and commitment to Christianity would certainly take a hit).

Why do you believe Christianity has a stronger claim to truth than other religions/On what basis do you reject the truth claims of other traditions and denominations but accept your own?

Let Q1 cover the Christianity vs everyone else point and I’ll focus on sectarianism here.

The Catholicism/Orthodoxy vs Protestantism question is easy enough for me to answer (even at scales bigger than the nine-person sects ordaining anti-popes). I don’t believe that schisms that divorce the Church of God can be the will of God. The Church is a divinely-ordained institution, but it’s staffed by fallen people like you and me, and it does go wrong sometimes. But reform has to come from within and be accessible to everyone. Clergy and laypeople who secede from the Body of Christ are robbing their brethren of the wisdom they think they’ve received and abandoning them to what they denounce as apostasy.

We don’t think much of people who check out of the political system and wall themselves up in compounds. It doesn’t say much for the strength of your arguments if you isolate yourself from your compatriots, robbing them of an opportunity to persuade you and casting off the chance to convince them. When you storm off in a huff, you’re disavowing your responsibility for your fellow citizens. If the people who are bound together by geographical accident of birth have obligations to each other, how much more do we who have been blessed to follow Christ have to each other and to those not yet awakened?

Catholics are a fractious, in-fighting group at the best of times (at the worst, we’ve had dueling Popes!) but we remain committed to working for the good of each other and leaving ourselves open for others to work for our good, even when we can’t recognize it.

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?

As a Catholic, I don’t read the Bible in isolation (i.e. not as an isolated source of God’s revelation and not as a text I need to figure out all by myself).

Sometimes, reflecting on a Biblical parable or story helps me focus my thinking or opens up my eyes to a perspective I was ignoring. This can help me settle a moral question or figure out what vices I should be rooting out of my character, but Shakespeare and other authors can serve this purpose, too.

The Bible is unique in that the story it is telling us isn’t just a study of human behavior, it’s one of our points of access to the Divine. The message has to be passed down in parables for the same reason that most physicists explaining gravity talk about rubber sheets. There are levels of abstraction we can’t all get immediately (or in the space of a lifetime). And it’s essential that these truths be accessible enough to everyone. The existence of human translators and curators does create a signal-to-noise problem, but we can get a grasp of the essential points. I’ll leave the nitpicky details (think homoousios vs homoiousios) to the scholars; I have enough on my plate just trying to keep up with the demands of the Sermon on the Mount.

Voting opens Friday afternoon

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