A Rational Faith? Part I

The following is a quote from a 9th century Egyptian (Coptic) monk:

I find the proof of the truth of Christianity in its contradictions and inconsistencies which are rejected by intelligence and repelled by the mind because of their difference and contrast. Analysis cannot help it, though the intelligence and perception enquire and search into it.  <Regarding wise men and kings>…they do not accept or practice it except for proofs which they have witnessed, signs which they have known, and miracles which they have recognized, which compelled them to submit to it and practice it. (Quoted in “The Lost History of Christianity” by Philip Jenkins, p. 76)

This quote brings up much that is relevant today. Consider the following;

1.  A number of Christian groups today (including but not-limited to the Signs and Wonders folk) place high importance on “the miraculous.” In missions circles, many consider power encounter an important (some even seem to place it as a necessary) part of evangelism.

2.  Many people, groups, entertainment outlets (check out a few episodes of “Family Guy” if you doubt) argue that Christianity is foolish, anti-intellectual nonsense.

3.  Many other groups, non-Christian, also seek similar anti-intellectual means to proselytize. This may range from the rather silly “burning in the bosom” of LDS to full-blown miracle crusades.

Rather than look at all of this, I would simply like to ask whether Christianity is rational? Is faith, as Mark Twain said, believing what you know ain’t so? Does being a Christian require turning off one’s brain.

Okay, this is still too big of a topic. Let me put down a few thoughts. If more come along, maybe I will add a follow-up post.

1.  Many aspects of Christian doctrine are not “Contextually Rational.” By this, I mean that our understanding of what is rational tends to be tied to our cultural context. For example, for centuries the idea of a god (or gods) who judges the hearts of man was considered a perfectly reasonable and rational thing. The further understanding that sacrifice (personal or vicarious) for sin was necessary to be “redeemed” in the eyes of God (or gods) made sense. The fact that these now challenge credulity doesn’t mean that rationality has changed, but our culture. In talking about rationality, we should separate between what is compatible with rational thought universally, and that which is merely rational contextually.

2.  Some aspects of Christian Faith may not be “Experientially Rational.” A classic example of this is the Trinity. The Trinity is often thought of by many as irrational. Yet, there is nothing inherently irrational about it (in its strictest form). The idea of a being that shares unity and society within itself is only difficult for us because we don’t share that character. We have no problem with having a conscious mind and an unconscious mind (that interact socially yet still somewhat independently) because we have that character ourselves. I recall a situation a time back where there were conjoined twins who shared parts of their two brains. It was thought that if they grew up they might be the first two people (that we know of) who could read each other’s thoughts. The idea of two people physically joined and joined in thought, yet having separation of person (intellect, emotion, will, sense of self) is something we struggle to understand because it is outside of our personal experience. Yet that situation is not inherently irrational. Since non-theists often charge theists with creating God in Man’s image, to embrace an image of God that is beyond our own experiential comprehension, is actually quite reasonable if their indeed is a God. Extrapolating human experience is not necessarily more rational. As another example, the concept of Islamic heaven (what we find pleasurable now, expanded) is no more rational than a heaven that defies our own experiential comprehension.

3.  Christians create our own problems in rationality. We take God’s revelation in the Bible and then try to expand upon it. We try to “explain” the Trinity, or the logic of the atonement, or the nature of eternal life, or process of election. In so doing we bounce between contradiction (rejecting mystery for the non-rational) and extrapolation (rejecting mystery for extrapolation of human experience). This tendency opens us up for (justifiable) ridicule from both ends.

But mystery is not irrational. To accept that some things defy our own cultural context, or our own experience is perfectly reasonable. It only makes sense.