Yes, My Faith is Foolish

It has been an incredible and fascinating week.  I started this blog and my twitter account on a whim and both will most likely be ended some day on a similar whim. I don’t know exactly where I will go with this blog and the twitter account, but after my first week of talking with various atheists on a variety of subjects (albeit mostly on the creation stories) I have reached a few conclusions:

  1. This is really time consuming
  2. This is really fun
  3. If we get past the typical “I believe this”, “I don’t believe that”, “Well you’re stupid and going to hell”, “Well, you’re the one that believes in fairy tales” track that most atheist/theist conversations tend to take, there is interesting and fascinating conversation to be had
  4. Although it can be scary to do, it is good to challenge what we believe (or say that we do not believe). Challenging it can only serve two purposes: either our belief or non-belief is sharpened, or we realize we were wrong.
  5. It is necessary to laugh at our own blunders and mistakes. It makes honest conversation much easier to have

As I said, this week has been fascinating and incredible. I have a handful of hat tips to give out (at the end of this post), but I thought I would give my first “Question of the Week” award out. It goes to @moritzkooistra:

We can get so caught up in the X’s and O’s of theism and atheism. I’ve thought about this question all week and I came back to a conclusion I reached a long time ago:

Yes, My Faith is Foolish

Reason, logic, evidence aside, my faith is foolish and I have no problem admitting it. I worship a man who was abused, destroyed, crucified as a common criminal.  I have crucifixes hanging in my house portraying this man:

crucifixionNo, not Jim Caviezel, but the man he represented. This bloodied and humiliated man is my king of kings, the greatest human to ever walk the face of the earth.

Yes, my faith is foolish.

I believe that Eucharist is Christ. Not just figuratively, but literally. Every week I spend time adoring Christ in the Eucharist.

On the surface, I should be considered a mad man.

And I’m not alone in realizing my faith is foolish. St. Paul recognized this as well in 1 Cor 15:14 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

As with any conclusion that we reach, however, my foolishness is not based on mere wishful thinking, pure hope, and hopeful speculation. It is based on the foundation of tenets that I believe and accept wholeheartedly. With a firm belief in these tenets I have no choice by the bounds of logic except to reach the conclusions of my faith that I have reached. These tenets are where atheists and I differ and where both an atheist and I are able to be in the same (virtual) room and claim reasonable conclusions.

It is not that my faith is without evidence. I challenge my faith. I challenge my beliefs. I challenge the evidence that I see. I am subject to the same doubts and considerations as any other human. These challenges have helped me to understand what I believe and why I believe. And that is why I want to continue to challenge my beliefs.

It is for this reason that I thank those who have taken the time to challenge my faith this week. To engage in sometimes drifting conversation and winding debates.

So with that:

@moritzkooistra – you still need to explain to me how saying “all truth is relative” isn’t making an objective statement of truth, and thus nullifying the statement itself. Let’s keep talking.

@kevinjsteward – thanks for inviting me over to Atheist Debate forum. I have a few topics started there, hopefully others will pick up the conversation.

@prophetatheist – you win the award for the longest conversation of the week. I still owe you an answer on this tweet:

although as I said on Twitter this may be one that we punt on until we discuss other more foundational items

@moinedeisme – Sorry for punting on that question. I owe you a response as well.

theirishatheist – I didn’t know you lived in Minnesota for a time! I tip my hat to you for the best comment of the week. I hope we can have conversations in the future…

There are others as well, but I don’t want this to become ridiculous (too late?)…

Why Can’t Atheists Read Genesis Like Other Historical Texts?

I firmly believe that if the Bible were not the Bible, and if atheists did not have so much contact with fundamentalist Christians who take a literalist view of the bible (or, conversely, liberal Christians who take a far more allegorical view of the bible), that the books of the Bible would be read with much more care and study. But as it is, many atheists seem to fall into the camp of treating the bible only through a modern lens.

Pope Pius XII discussed reading and understanding the early texts of the Bible:

What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36).

I tried to make this point in this post here, although my attempt was admittedly feeble and lacked depth. I added on a video from Fr. Baron who does a much better job describing the “ham handed approach” atheists often take towards these ancient texts. That video is below (and highly recommended):

It is in light of this that I easily get pulled into discussions on the Bible when I see tweets like this:

https://twitter.com/Mattwaggy14/status/374975820693258240

Ok, so let’s ignore the obvious fact that the Genesis account never says that Adam and Eve had just 2 sons (poor Seth, always the forgotten one).  Let’s also ignore the fact that Gen 5:4 explicitly says that Adam had “sons and daughters”@prophetAtheist, a person who I consider to be one of the good guys on Twitter (and who has shown me just how clumsy I can be in debate), more explicitly pointed out what @mattwaggy14 was trying to say:

What baffled me here was why the assumption was that Adam and Eve didn’t have any daughters.

This reply actually made me stop for a minute: was he actually advocating for more than a literalist reading of Genesis? It is one thing to argue that Genesis should be read in a literalist fashion (although that is, as Fr. Baron states, “a ham-handed approach”), but to imply that if Genesis omitted something that therefore we should believe it didn’t occur?

The possibilities of a reductio ad absurdum argument here are just too plentiful. Do we believe that Adam and Eve went to the bathroom? Never says so in Genesis. We don’t have an account of Eve dying – is she supposedly immortal according to Genesis?

I have a certain affinity for atheists. I respect their call to logic and reason and using the human intellect, but, on the whole, their approach to ancient texts like Genesis is thoroughly clumsy and not thought out. In discussing these early texts with a few different atheists, and in viewing countless other conversations and opinions, most atheists seem to approach these texts through the prism of modern expectations. There is little to no effort whatsoever to understand the context, the philology, common literary forms of the day, culture, etc.

Atheists seem to want to put Genesis, and those who believe it to be the word of God, into two buckets: “literalist reading” and “allegorical” reading (akin to legend). What they dismiss is the literal (not literalist) reading that accounts for the style of historical writing. From Catholic.com:

It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.

This doesn’t seem so hard to accept and understand. In academics we frequently cite the period, the civilization, the culture, the philology and cultural norms to understand texts, especially when those texts are more foreign to our modern way of writing and doing things. Why can’t we do these with the ancient texts of Genesis?  Keep in mind that Pope Pius XII advocates for more than just context and philology. Why can’t we use that reason, logic, and critical thinking to understand that the texts deserve, at a minimum, a fair reading before they are dismissed as pure fraud?

And just in case you didn’t click on that link above, I would recommend reading this on Catholic.com. Much better stated than I could ever hope to say.

Why Atheists Should Love This Tweet from the Pope

This tweet from Pope Francis had several people taking pot-shots a the pope.

I love the pope’s tweets. I love the fact that the pope tweets. And yes, I enjoy reading all of the responses, both positive and negative that pope’s tweets generate. Normally the negative responses are your boring, run-of-the-mill cheap potshots about peadophile priests or child abuse. But this tweet brought about a different response:

and…

File these shots under #missingthepoint. Not that they aren’t predictable responses – the church’s wealth, grandeur, ceremony, and so on are all issues that many atheists take issue with (and something which would make good material for future posts).  But as with many of the twitter argument points atheists push, they are arguing the wrong point.

Why Atheists Should Love This Tweet

I really think atheists should love this tweet. While a misread of it may sound hypocritical, at its core it exposes one of the great faults of modern day Christianity: for many, Christianity has become a social code, a mere rule of life which supposedly promises happiness and contentment. This is not Christianity and in my opinion anyone who exposes this for the falsity that it is, atheist or otherwise, is doing those Christians a favor.

You can see this modern day Christianity wrapped up in a neat little package in any of the Alex Kendrick Affirm Films releases (Fireproof, Couragous, Flywheel, etc). You may be more familiar with these films as the Kirk Cameron films. These films all follow the same arc. The protagonist is a lost individual (read ‘non-Christian’) whose life begins to fall apart. The protagonist starts to look for answers, either through the prompting of friends and family or through their own questioning. Finally the protagonist finds Christ, has their conversion moment, and suddenly their life turns around for the better. Everything is fine. While I am comfortable tipping my hat to Alex Kendrick & co for attempting to put out a movie that would help people, this is not the promise of Christianity.

Christianity is not just a social code or a even just a moral code that leads to a WASP’y life. And it certainly does not work like these movies: despite giving ones self to Christ, suffering in life will continue. Christianity should not be taken on because a person believes it will make their lives easy. In many of the conversations I follow on Twitter between atheists and Christians, I see this frustration come out on the side of the atheist which inevitably leads to tweets like this:

Many atheists see Christianity as portrayed in the mainstream and call it out for the shallow moral code that it is. It is for that reason that I believe that much of mainstream Christianity has the potential to do more harm than good for our society. It allows people to accept Christ without fully committing themselves to the life that this acceptance requires.

So What Did The Pope Actually Say?

Faith is not something decorative or for show…

Faith in Christ is not just something to wear for social acceptance to belong to a club.  It isn’t something we take on for a false sense of security that, because we accepted Christ, we are now suddenly saved. Often times people claim themselves as Christian because it gives them a certain social acceptance among friends. This is not faith, this is decorative and for show.

To have faith means to put Christ truly at the centre of our lives.

Faith in Christ requires that we strive every day, every minute, to literally transform our lives, not just to wear our faith on the surface for social acceptance.  Faith in Christ requires a genuine spirit, honest intentions, humility, perseverance,  and dedication to a life that will not, by any means, be easy. Christ himself told us this in Matthew 16:24:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Following Christ is much more than just going to Church on Sundays, more than telling people you are a Christian. Following Christ is a full commitment to a relationship that requires allowing oneself to be entirely transformed. As Christians we should commit ourselves to this faith because we believe Him to be the fullness of truth, the primary life source, and out of a response to His invitation to a close and intimate relationship that can only be, at best, mirrored among humans.  Faith is not about making life easy, but it is about making life full and delving into the depths and grandeur that is the source of Truth.

So Why Should Atheists Like This?

I’m sure many atheists would disagree with me that this is a tweet they should like. But it is my opinion that much of what many atheists find illogical about theism in general is the hypocritical nature and the surface treatment many Christians give their faith.

The pope’s tweet was not a comment on liturgy or style of prayer as many took it to be, it was an encouragement to make our faith more than just a social status. This encouragement is a struggle and a lifelong journey. It is a struggle that every Christian, myself included, works on in an imperfect way. But the pope’s tweet was an invitation to become more personal, more genuine, and more honest with what our faith is really calling us towards.

And regardless of whether you believe in God or not, a call to being more honest to what you claim is a call that we should all respect and follow.

Are the Creation Stories Allegorical or Factual?

Yesterday I posted on some atheists seemingly endless obsession with creationism and how they seemed to be falling into problems of scope as well as missing the point of the text. This uncovered, as with so many topics like this, a wealth of sub-topics that deserve attention.

The conversation that resulted from that post has been very good. Over at Atheism Debate, two of my new atheist friends offered fantastic insight and nuance to the discussion and others have provided some very useful feedback. This is one of the reasons I love talking about religion – it can only serve to sharpen what we truly believe!

One comment that came up in multiple discussions was the idea that because I am not reading the creation stories as a literal factual account of creation that I must be reading them allegorically.  When I try to test myself with these terms, neither fits quite right. I believe the literal truth that the creation stories are teaching, and I believe that the story uses allegorical elements to convey some of those greater truths.

Literal, Allegorical, Literalistic, and Figurative

1054521658_1372794139Looking for more information on this, I found a nice quick distinction from someone who made a distinction between “literal” and “literalistic”. He used the following sentence as an example:

“It’s raining cats and dogs outside.”
Literal meaning: its raining hard
Literalistic meaning: cats and dogs are falling from the sky!

I believe the creation stories are literal, not purely allegorical as some would cast them.  I believe that mankind started with a man and a woman and that God created man and woman. I believe that we were created to walk with God in a paradise. And I believe that man violated this through original sin after speaking with the devil.  I don’t believe that these beliefs are incompatible with the theory of evolution.

Furthermore, I believe the story of creation uses a lot of figurative language to tell this story.  The story is somewhat allegorical, but it is not purely an allegory. And I believe this came from both creation stories origins.

The Genesis of Genesis

I’m not a biblical scholar, and I don’t intend to play one on the Internet. But the church has recognized that the creation stories told in Genesis are most probably written from popular narratives that existed at the time of its writing.  We see similar creation stories in non-biblical sources to help collaborate this theory.

Whenever we read a source material it is essential to consider the audience.  The creation stories and Genesis were not being written to be submitted for peer review. In reading Genesis the theme throughout the entire book is God’s relationship with man, man’s repeated betrayal of this relationship, and God’s promise to renew this relationship through ever deepening covenants.  This theme is told through recounting the history of mankind, often telling these stories using figurative language.

My Simplistic Way of Understanding

IMG_4563

One of my favorite movies growing up was Braveheart. The story of William Wallace and his love and struggle for freedom is a story that easily resonates. The story of William Wallace is true, but the move Braveheart is not entirely true.

The writers of Braveheart and Mel Gibson wanted to tell a story based on real events that exemplified the themes of man’s struggle against tyranny, a struggle for freedom. We give writers creative license to convey essential truths in a more esoteric manner.

And this is OK. It is not dishonest.  Just because the movie doesn’t hold up as a historically accurate narrative of William Wallace’s life doesn’t mean that he didn’t exist, and it doesn’t negate the themes of freedom and liberty that run throughout the movie.

Quick Disclaimer: analogies are imperfect and limited by their very nature. This analogy obviously breaks down by virtue of the fact that as a Catholic I believe the Bible to be the word of God and flawless (Braveheart is not inspired). However, even though the analogy breaks down there, it does not negate the fact that each book of the bible was written by someone who was writing for their contemporaries in a unique voice and style. Ignoring this is simply narrow and simple-minded.

But How Can We Tell the Difference?

One of the complaints I often hear from atheists is the disagreement on scripture among Christians. Non-sola scriptura adherents talk about how one verse uses figurative language while another should be interpreted in a literalistic sense. How is anyone supposed to know the difference?

It is a valid complaint. There is a reason that we have had nearly 2,000 years of scriptural scholars. The scriptures are incredibly rich with symbolism that is borrowed and referenced between books that were written centuries apart. Dissecting this in light of the history of Judeo-Christianity is no small task.

The first is obvious: look at who the book is being written for. Song of Songs is poetic in its nature. Psalms are canticles. Acts of the Apostles is a historical narrative.

Secondly, realize that these are books that were written in different languages over the course of several centuries to various audiences with differing styles of being written.  The bible isn’t a book – it is a collection of books. The study of these collections can consume a lifetime. Reading these books should be done with the goal of studying the texts.

This is one of the many reasons I love my Catholic faith. I don’t believe God would have given us the Bible and then say “have at it!”. The Catholic church teaches that the Bible is a written portion of the deposit of faith which goes along hand in hand with Tradition (notice the capitalization which is important). While the church does not interpret every verse of the Bible, it does hold that deposit of faith upon which individual interpretations can be tested.

I know it is not much of an answer for someone who is starting with the viewpoint that there is no God, and I don’t expect it to get much traction. It probably opens up far more discussion as well, but I’ve already let it known that I enjoy these discussions…

Update

Why try to rewrite what someone like Fr. Baron has already addressed. I would highly recommend watching this:

Atheists’ Fascination with Creationism

Atheists seem to have a fascination with creationists. They seem to look at creationists as some strange creatures – kind of like those cave insects that never see the light of day – and wonder how they could ever wake up in the morning without being completely shame faced for their beliefs.

I guess I can’t blame them for picking on creationists as it is really quite low hanging fruit. But I fear atheists are making two mistakes by attacking creationists: 1) atheists tend to lump all theists into the creationist camp (not true), and 2), they are missing the entire bloody point of the creation story.

I am a theist and I believe evolution is a sound theory. I also believe that the creation story is entirely compatible with evolution. The two are not mutually exclusive. Why? Because the creation story isn’t trying to make a statement as to the scientific origins of the earth or the chronological events that lead up to the existence of man.

Anyone who reads the creation stories will hopefully see that there is a problem if you are trying to get an order of events accounting of the creation of man.  (In Genesis 1:24-27 God makes animals and then man while in Genesis 2:5-7 we see that God makes man “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth…”). From my understanding, most biblical scholars will explain that there are two biblical creation stories. In fact, it is highly likely that the stories came from other traditions as there are ample examples of similar creation stories (Epic of Gilgamesh and so on).

Despite this obvious fact, atheists love to pick on creationists to point out that creation didn’t happen in the way the Bible describes it. It’s as if they want to say

Ha! The world was not created in 7 days! The bible is wrong!!!

…therefore atheism.

But ultimately atheists, you look a bit silly when you do this. In fact, you look as silly as the creationists! While you are busy disproving creationism in order to debunk Christianity, why don’t we point out how Huck Finn never actually lived and therefore all of Mark Twain’s books are pure bunk? Or that Rodka never actually killed the woman in “Crime and Punishment” because he wasn’t a real person, and therefore the book is pure “fairytales and fantasy”?

The reason creationists look silly, in my opinion, is that it should be obvious that the creation accounts are not intended to be read in that manner. Sure, there’s the science too – that’s also quite convincing.

The creation stories are one part of an entire book – an entire tradition – that tell us of the love story of God for humans. The creation stories are fundamental building blocks to answer the questions of “what does it mean to be human”, and “why did God create us”, as well as any of the “why does God allow…permit…etc”.

So let’s end the fascination with creationism. It doesn’t make anyone look good.