To an Honest Treatment of Reality

This is what, I suppose, amounts to an honest disclosure of my struggles with my faith.

Friends that know me tend tend to joke about how I tend to post “deep comments” on life, love, and death. Yet, for me, I don’t find them deep, instead, I fund them indicative of what I constantly think about, worry about, and hope about. I hardly have it all together and behind all those posts is an individual that struggles with many of the things he holds or wants to hold to be true. How I act implicitly reflects an internal and constantly waging argument of the validity of what I believe, the consistency of what I believe and over the absurdity of life.

I have a strong belief in truth. That is to say that I have a strong conviction that there is a reality that exists and that there are objective statements that are invariably correct. Not only do I believe in truth, but I also have a deep conviction that you can know truth. These beliefs seem to be in many ways, I think, an odd thing to hold. It is an odd thing, not because I think they are wrong, but because this world today seems to be a world where our existence has given the utmost importance to the individual and that everything has then become relative. In this world of tolerance and individual freedom, objective truth is an increasingly foreign idea as the flood of cultures makes popularly holding to a dogmatic standard of truth seemingly untenable. I appreciate this, and a recognition of the issues present in my culture today have put me at wits end as I seek to elucidate and justify what I believe to myself.

I have chosen to reject the absurd, that life has no intrinsic meaning apart that from which we give it, and have taken as true the premodern notion of a supreme being capable of determining ultimate truth. I believe that there is something that is ipsum esse subsistens [1], the subsistent essence, upon whom all this world is contingent. I have also chosen to believe, for a variety of reasons, that this being of being is the Christian God.

It’s an odd thing really, because in one large sense I hate the church, I hate christianity, and yet I have chosen to be a part of that community of faith and in so doing I have chosen to love Christianity even though I may, in many respects dislike it. Religion might carry with it a sense of meaning, reality, and truth, but at the same time I find a right criticism in the writings of people such as Feuerbach, and even Christians of the liberal stream (Kant especially, Kirkegaard among them) in the failing of orthodox Christianity. I struggle (not as much an I once did) to believe in this God that is ipsum esse because I see so little of worth in this broken world [3]. Not only is that most fundamental of all theistic struggles something that I struggle with, but I also struggle with an honest attempt to deal with the church. I see exactly what outsiders see in the church: it’s too political, it’s homophobic [2], it’s judgmental. And, you know, that’s a struggle. It’s a continual struggle to look past the failings of a church that preaches sin yet grace, but instead acts in judgement and hypocrisy [3]. What does this world need? Jesus Christ. But then why is it then that those with grace cannot look past their own seeming holiness to love the broken, comfort the weary, and treat with seriousness the hard question of the faith (why does God exist?  Why is there suffering?). Christianity says we’re broken, but Christian culture rarely admits its brokenness and the broken struggle on alone [4].

I think that Christianity is a true humanism. It teaches that each and every person has worth and dignity because they are made in the image of God. In this society that values money and wealth and disparages the poor and homeless (among others) this is a powerful message, that when carried to it’s end causes people to go where no one else will — to the poor, the sick, the dying — because those people are worthy of help no matter their circumstances or functional worth from job or skill. I believe it teaches true freedom, because it teaches that we can go beyond selfishness to love the other (God first and the rest of humanity second) totally and completely as the object of our lives. And then it gives the crux: mere humans might become partakers of the divine nature, we might ascend to share in the glory of an omnipotent God by the renewal of our life and this world! And yet though Christianity speaks of one Church, it is divided and those therein continue to divide. And though this Christian humanism can end war, and eliminate poverty, the rich get richer and the poor, poorer because of an alignment of Christianity with conservative politics. The Church may be made of broken people, but it seems so often that the broken don’t even try to adhere to what is good and right theology, the logical ramifications of what they, what we believe. It’s also odd because I at times feel so alone and melancholy that it is so easy to remember that what I believe should also tell me that I have worth and dignity, that my failures as a person do not define me, and that though I am broken, I am yet complete.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Church, but I so often struggle with what I believe because of her members. Where is that rest that supposedly exists, where is that truth that I have so earnestly struggled to find and to hold?

Where, O Church is thy beauty, and where O Christ is thy peace and mercy.

References
[1] my life philosophy is quite odd
[2] While I, at this point, affirm a traditional interpretation of homosexuality, the treatment of homosexuals within evangelicalism leaves much to be desire
[3] I love this world, but like a person dies in syria every ten minutes, and the ever present question of fairness amidst a church that is apathetic about human suffering and proliferation of the gospel, two things I view as logical outcomes of a strong Christian theism.
[4] I think my most lasting memory will be the statement that “the reason people have to wear braces is because of all the interracial marriages. I mean people with a smaller mouth marry people with a larger mouth. Yes, God created only one race, but somethings are meant to be” Yes, in some places racism exists in the 21st century even if current theology has denied this for quite some time. It’s probably because I was wearing braces when I heard this . . . and I’m Asian, one of the small mouths people apparently.
[5] I heard a homosexual christian speak, and I think that the most important point was “if a homosexual comes out to you, thank them” because it reflects the “we are holy” attitude that permeates the church. In my case I refer to a certain anti-intellectualism, but the point is still the same.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “To an Honest Treatment of Reality

    1. I speak of the visible church within the protestant framework. I do indeed somewhat confound the invisible/visible distinction here but it should be able to worked out based on what I mean. I have yet to post my post on my ecclesiology xD

      Generally speaking almost everything I say here refers to the visible church in ideality or reality. The explicit references to the invisible Church, is indicated by a capital “C”

      Like

  1. hutima, you say a couple things I take great issue with but a full explanation would take far more space than a simple comment. I’ll try to keep this brief.

    The first issue I have is with the statement I have chosen to reject the absurd, that life has no intrinsic meaning apart that from which we give it, and have taken as true the premodern notion of a supreme being capable of determining ultimate truth.

    I do not understand why a life with no intrinsic meaning is considered ‘absurd’ in that we are surrounded by life that functions without any apparent or discernible meaning. You seem to feel humanity deserves a special exemption from this because you want to believe it does. But we know perfectly well that our beliefs do not determine reality, yet yous seem willing to empower your belief to do just that. I think the term ‘absurd’ is placed in exactly the wrong place here.

    The second is I think that Christianity is a true humanism. It teaches that each and every person has worth and dignity because they are made in the image of God.

    This is rather ironic based on your dislike of empowering individuals! (You say It is an odd thing, not because I think they are wrong, but because this world today seems to be a world where our existence has given the utmost importance to the individual and that everything has then become relative. (No, it doesn’t but this is a different disagreement.) In this world of tolerance and individual freedom, objective truth is an increasingly foreign idea as the flood of cultures makes popularly holding to a dogmatic standard of truth seemingly untenable. (Your belief does not seem untenable because it is a foreign idea; it is untenable because there really are different, and therefore multiple, standards of truth in play.)

    But to return to my point, if ‘true’ humanism doesn’t empower individuals and their well-being to be the central tenet of concern, then you’ve intentionally moved away from the ‘human’ part of humanism and shifted this attention to some numinous and nebulous notion (sorry for the alliteration). When you make this shift to the ‘image’ of god, then you have to first demonstrate what the proper noun is (in other words, reveal god independent of your beliefs and interpretations of what this ‘thing’ might be so that we may find agreement in its description) before addressing what constitutes an accurate ‘image’ of it. Lo and behold, we find all kinds of conflicting, contrary, and incompatible claims here… none of which are central to humanism but fully engulfed and engorged and pregnant on various theologies. Within this context, we find a rich history of little regard for the dignity of people qua people and much regard for pious treatment of them as believers distinct from the treatment of them as non believers. Scriptural authority from all kinds of religions lay out vastly different treatments of real people in real life based on a host of criteria – including gender, age, and sexual preference, as well as religious affiliation – demonstrating why allowing theology to dictate treatment of people always, always, always, leads to tyranny over people. That’s what religious belief does: it pays ultimate respect to some divine authority over and above and in place of the rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood established by humanism. This, clearly, is not ‘humanism’ in action worthy of the term, worthy of your claim to best represent it, but an excuse to impose religious tyranny on people under the banner (and thumb) of righteous piety.

    Like

    1. The absurd is an existential concept (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism). Your critique is valid, but then isn’t that what existentialism is — the idea that we give our own meaning to a life that is inherently absurd? As a traditional theist, I reject this also and where you can roughly divide philosophy into premodern/modern/postmodern (in a christian overview of philosophy) my view is decidedly premodern/scholastic rather than the modernism that has given us science and (arguably) arisen from scholastic inquiry.

      My idea of humanism is hardly mine. It’s elucidated in Packer / Howard’s “True humanism” (http://www.amazon.ca/Christianity-True-Humanism-Thomas-Howard/dp/1573830585). I recognize your objections, and they’re fairly common, because even though I accept this as true, the university library does have this specific work under the category “controversial literature” so it’s not a view without significant detractors. You say humanism is centered around the empowering of the individual, and I agree. My view of humanism, while clearly different from yours, understands empowering from a theistic framework. Christianity sees people as being unable to be entirely good on their own, Christianity also views that we might become the ultimate good by being elevated to becoming partakers of the divine. If you don’t see that as empowering, I can hardly fault you, but I question your definition of empowerment. I certainly know I fail at things, and if I, in the future, were to be able to do good all the time, I would find that empowering and this so fits a definition of humanism. In Christian humanism, empowering the individual is the central tenet of concern though it is easy to see how you see otherwise.

      Your criticism of religion as causing wars is true, but so has basically all ideology regardless of origin. The great atheistic nations of the world, china, USSR have caused some of the largest violation of human rights in the name of marxist humanism. Its not just religion, its any ideology taken to the extreme. Your use of absolute words in formulating your argument is antithetical to proper dialogue. to say all of anything causes something is somewhat fallacious.

      Like

      1. To be clear, I did not say religion always causes wars; I said treatment of people through a religious framework that empowers authority to come from god and not from the individual always results in a tyranny. There is quite a difference between this and the simplistic assertion that religion causes wars. I am disappointed you would bring out the age-old trope about brutal totalitarian regimes and associate that brutality with atheism as if this counter-balanced the claim I did not make that religion causes wars. There is no link between atheism and totalitarianism, but there is a link between religion and tyranny.

        Yes, Absurdism is an existential category, but I didn’t realize you were referring to that existential angst. Note the angst only appears when someone attempts to find some kind of objective meaning from the universe. By all accounts, it simply isn’t there… any more than a river has guided intention and purposeful agency. Believing in either doesn’t make it so.

        As for empowerment, why the shift to relating it to being and doing good? Empowerment is about the legal basis for law, which has nothing whatsoever to do with fitting into a theistic framework of what that entails; rather, empowerment comes from being legally recognized as an autonomous and independent individual. As soon as some version of god and its divine authority enters the discussion about empowerment, we’ve transferred that autonomy to be subject to it, dependent on it, subordinate and even submissive to that authority. This stands in direct conflict with the legal foundation of western secular liberal democracies that justify legal authority to come not from god, not from some royal lineage, not from clan membership, but from each individual who then gives consent (even if tacit) to be governed. Justifiable government in western secular liberal democracies depend on this consent (which is why revolutions that bring about democracy without legal autonomy for individuals are doomed to become nothing more than mob rule eventually headed up by a strongman.) When you shift that authority away from the individual and appoint it elsewhere, you undermine this legal justification not just for you but for all. This is what religious belief does when active in the public domain, when believers grant to their gods this supreme authority… and often attempt to impose it on others who may or may not share that belief.

        I think this personal abdication of responsible legal autonomy in the name of god is in no sense ‘good’ even if human well-being is sometimes enhanced. Too often, such religious belief produces and promotes a dependency on religious leadership that helps keep people forever immature, forever seeking approval and permission. This dependency then becomes a source of power for the religious institution and it is maintained in ways that harm real people in real life (and often kills) in the name of piety. The examples are too many to list but it should be obvious that the assignment of supreme authority to diametrically opposed sources is a central and ongoing incompatibility that yields a never-ending tension between the secular and religious. How ironic is it that believers who advocate for the authority of god to have effect in the public secular domain utilize the secular freedom of religion to try to undermine it!

        Like

    2. legal autonomy is hardly central to humanism and neither is empowerment necessarily a legal concept, nor religion necessarily something imposed on the masses by law. You conflate religious ideals with authoritarianism, and perhaps this may be, but contemporary Christian theology all says that there is a separation between church and state, anything else is a failure on the part of the believer to learn about their own belief (which is common). In a consistent life, the secular and religious life for the pious are the same, there should be no tension. If Christianity affirms the dignity and worth of all individuals, and it does, it should therefore also allow for free discourse in society. While this ideal is not often reached, it is still an ideal. You present a false dichotomy in that it is either religious or secular without allowing for the possibility of both.

      Do tell me, what is the purpose of this discourse? Is it merely an assertion of my errors without any openness to what ideas I present? This isn’t even a post on humanism, and it is merely about my struggles with religion and the appeal of agnosticism. You’re also clearly uninterested in what I have to say (since you don’t breach the main point of it all). So really . . . why should I even bother answering? I mean I have no problems with leaving this discourse up, because your criticisms are valid, but this argumentative tone on a forum that is not your own (as I do have control, even to edit your comments, though I wouldn’t do that) or even able to facilitate proper discussion (because comment threads aren’t really a discussion) is unconducive what I would call dialogue as opposed to mere argumentative debate which is something I have no interest in participating in. Dialogue is a give and take, what you’re posting are mere polemics on a forum that is not your own so really, why do you post?
      Edit: I enjoy dialogue and many of my friends are atheists and agnostics,I just find it hard to have actual discussion on the Internet. And much like YouTube comments, Internet debates aren’t something I actively seek out. Your criticisms are valid though, and to be honest I don’t know how to answer some of them, hardly well versed in either philosophy or theology or even fully the ramifications of what I believe. There is, however a significant lack of common ground on the anonymous Internet that I find makes it hard to discuss, in depth, anything of real significance.

      Like

  2. You title a post supposedly about wanting to have an honest treatment of reality. Wonderful. In your opening sentence you explain that means honest disclosure of struggles with your faith. Well and good. Faith of the monotheist variety (of an intervening divine agency that causes effect in reality) and the reality we share don’t go together if you’re concerned with justifying faith conclusions about what is true in reality. You recognize this when you say that how you act implicitly reflects an internal and constantly waging argument of the validity of what you believe.

    You have a couple of options here. You can shrug and say, So what?… in which case why post about it? You can write about as a form of self exploration, in which case why have comments? You can write about it and want input, which is what I assume.

    So now I have a couple of options. I can shrug and say, So what? Struggle away. I can put on a tone of sympathy and make soothing, friendly comments that add nothing substantive to understanding why the conflict you face is inherent in living your faith honestly with a reality it doesn’t support. And the best way to do this, I think, is to confront and challenge claims to show how and why faith-based beliefs distort reality.

    For example, you presume “(i)n a consistent life, the secular and religious life for the pious are the same, there should be no tension.” Reality shows us this is not honest, that there is a great and necessary tension always in play between secular values and antithetical religious values, but I would have to demonstrate how and why. Can I do this without a long-winded commentary? No, because the conflict is not so simple and obvious. But upon this misunderstanding comes the next: “If Christianity affirms the dignity and worth of all individuals, and it does, it should therefore also allow for free discourse in society.” But christianity in practice does not affirm the dignity and worth of all individuals because the individual is subordinate to god in all ways. You cannot present christianity as supporting the claim that people have dignity and worth (as independent values) that is then supported by a faith-based system when they are assumed by believers within that system to be derived from some other source (making them dependent values).

    Is this kind of exchange a dialogue? Sure it is. But it is also confrontational because faith-based ideas of the numinous are in practice closed systems to honest doubt and healthy skepticism. You cannot be both an honest skeptic and a faithful believer without experiencing great angst and I thought it might be useful to know why you find yourself in this uncomfortable straddling position between the two. An intellectual or emotional massage will not alleviate the cause of the discomfort but merely address a symptom; the discomfort is inherent in the incompatibility comporting faith-based beliefs and reality.

    If you don;t find this dialogue of any value, then you’ll simply stop responding to it. That’s when I’ll shrug and move on and leave you to your angst.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s