Faith, Logic, and Myth April 20, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: absolute truth, faith, logic, myth, narrative, reason, The Bible, The Flood
Is there a line to be drawn between faith and logic?
Yesterday morning we were running very late for Sunday school, so I sat in the lobby for the final 10 minutes or so of class and listened to the session taking place in the auditorium (or “sanctuary” for the non-CoCers in the crowd). The lesson that morning was about Noah and the story of the flood from the book of Genesis, a subject which I generally find both interesting and incredibly frustrating to discuss. The speaker, who is somebody I love and respect a great deal, made it abundantly clear time and time again that he believes that the story is absolutely factual, perfectly correct and true in every detail. The teacher then said something that stuck in my mind and brought about the idea for this blog post. It was something along the lines of, “I have faith that the flood actually did occur and that it was global and that only Noah’s family and all of the animals on board the ark survived.”
Now, perhaps it shows an over-reliance on knowledge and reason, maybe it shows a lack of faith, but it makes me very uneasy to hear others refer to stories like this as absolute truth. The evidential grounds of a worldwide flood a few thousand years ago are shaky at best and, maybe I’m a heretic, but I have trouble buying into the idea that God would asphyxiate every man, woman, baby, and even animal as part of a grand plan.
Instead, maybe we should look at the story as what it is, a story (pdx will love this). Perhaps it is an attempt by a regional, primitive people to make sense of a natural disaster while still pointing to God as the ultimate divine reality.
So, rather than worrying about whether or not the flood (or creation, or the Tower of Babel, or any other number of stories) actually happened, maybe we should be more concerned with the overarching narrative of the story and the truths of the ideas therein.
In Defense of Dissent February 3, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: absolute truth, bad theology, Christianity, church of christ, context, dissent, Paul
Is dissent truly the enemy of the church?
Throughout my three+ decades on this earth, I have heard countless sermons emanating from pulpits stating with the utmost certainty that there are few things worse than divisions among Christians. Perhaps none in Christian circles cling to this mythological idea with more fervor than those in the context in which I was raised and still reside, the Church of Christ. Over and over I have heard the words of Paul ring out in defense of this idea:
9But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies [Note: Did anybody tell that to Matthew and Luke?] and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
I Corinthians 1:10-17
10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[a]“; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into[b] the name of Paul? 14I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16(Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom [Except, I guess, for Plato who Paul borrows from profusely], lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
And of course, there are his comparisons of those with different ideas to idolaters, witches, murderers, and orgy participants.
Galatians 5: 19-20
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Again and again these passages and others have been misused and abused to put down honest debate over the issues affecting our churches, from the most mundane to those of the utmost importance. In today’s postmodern world, where the idea of absolute truth has taken a much-needed beating, perhaps statements like these made by Paul should be looked at a bit differently and more critically.
First and foremost, Paul’s words against dissent invoke the existence of a sort of absolute truth, a singularly correct way, along which all should be “perfectly united in mind and thought.” This, of course, echoes decades of teachings within the Christian context I am from which teaches that it alone preaches this mythological way and all others are mistaken and doomed to a fiery, tortuous, eternal damnation. It should be mentioned that many other denominational groups believe similarly, just probably with a bit less vehemence. Though almost all groups found under the umbrella of Christianity would correctly point to Jesus as the ultimate one, their methods of experiencing the Divine radically diverge. Traditionally, the CoC has then set themselves up (in their minds, at least) as the sole arbiters of truth, quashing all resistance within their ranks and isolating themselves from the rest of the Christian world. Those holding to these arcane ideas thrust these words of Paul upon those who dare disagree in an ultimately vain attempt to prove that they are correct.
Today, though, most (well, hopefully most) of us realize that this is not the case. We do not believe that there is some celestial true-false test and we are the only ones who understand the study material. We understand that there are intelligent people endowed with great spiritual wisdom along more than one contextual path within the Christian metanarrative and that their way is no less correct than ours.
Secondly, when looking at the issues that affect congregations, it is important that we realize that singularity of mind among a large group of individuals is impossible. Because of our diverse backgrounds, education and worldviews, it is not feasible that all would be in perfect agreement on every spiritual issue. Therefore, there will always be those who dissent and I would venture to say that is a good thing.
It is the dissenters that get things done. It is those who object to the status quo that keep churches from sliding into the pit of irrelevance. Without those who clamor for change, the church will do nothing more than wallow in the self-righteousness of its dwindling adherents.