I’m the type of person that has to ask why about things. I can’t just do things in a half-hearted manner. It’s either all or nothing for me. And, if I am going to be serious about my faith, then I need to understand and articulate my faith in a way that makes sense. It’s not enough for me to just say, “because” as an answer to the question, “Why do you believe what you believe?” And, I can’t be a lightweight: I need to be able to defend and articulate my faith in the face of skepticism and disbelief.
So, what better place to increase my understanding and to stretch my faith than philosophy and religious studies at university? With courses like “Modern Atheism”, “The Rationalists”, “Sociology of Religion” and “Issues in the Philosophy of Religion”, I can honestly say that I put myself right in the middle of some serious debate pertaining to the existence of God and the adequacy of faithful living.
After wrestling with the likes of Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Kant, Darwin, Daley, Paley, Dennet, Weber, Schmitt and many others, I think that I’ve put myself sufficiently in the line of fire to challenge my faith. And, after reading the best that classical philosophy can offer. And, I’ve also examined some writing from the more “popular philosophists” of our modern time – Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great” are among these.
The two greatest faith lessons that I learned from my studies at U of T are the following:
1. Faith and reason speak different languages – this doesn’t mean that they are mutually exclusive.
Faith and reason use different methods of understanding the world around us and our existence within it. Where reason requires tangible empirical evidence to support its claims, faith based arguments rely upon belief based on feelings and historical reminders of God’s intervention. Where reason may provide practical applications to living within the natural world, religious belief is much better at articulating a worldview wrapped in purpose and ethical understanding. Neither worldview claims to provide all of the answers, but both can coexist on top off one another to greatly benefit an individual or community.
2. History does support the claims made in the Bible.
The Bible is under constant attack from those that question the validity of its claims. Most prominent in the eyes of Christians is the truth claims of our Messiah, Jesus Christ. The 20th century has been rife with “religious studies scholars” who have attempted to repackage Jesus as a magician, a charlatan or even a cynic philosopher. Although the Jesus Seminar and other similar groups appear to be sincere in their intentions, they are disappointing in their conclusions. Like Tom Harpur in his book, “The Pagan Christ”, they attempt to dismiss the Jesus of the gospels as an impostor or a straw man that they build up and then quickly knock down. But they don’t consider the full scope of documentation in support of Jesus (look at the earliest gospel sources and the historical writing of Josephus and others for mention of Jesus during the first century AD) or the trials and tribulations endured by the earliest followers of Jesus. I find it hard to believe that the original apostles would die for Jesus in such horrible ways if they were not convinced of Jesus’ position as savior. I could go on, but I’ll save this discussion for another time.
My most enjoyable debates are always with those that favour an existential view of the world. For Heidegger or Husserl, we could gain a worldview that there is nothing outside of our immediate understanding. Time and space are figments of our imagination. “The Nothing” is the real state of our existence. My response: wow, that sure is something! Funny how we can make something out of nothing just by talking about it. There are parallels to this existential understanding when we look at time and space in our universe and beyond. I don’t claim to understand the external world around us, but I do think it’s a bit egocentric to think that we exist strictly within our minds. And really… doesn’t that just take us back to Leibniz and his first draft of “The Matrix” in some crazy way?
So… this is my personal “40 days in the desert” story. I did my best to challenge my faith and to be tempted in the wilderness. I deliberately searched out alternate worldviews that might convince me against following Christianity. But, I wasn’t convinced. And I’m here to share my story with you.
Regardless of the source of criticism to religious debate, I remain unflinching in my belief in a God who is good, in his son who died and rose again for my sins and salvation and for the message of peace, love and forgiveness that I should live by. The Bible is a living, breathing document that retains a voice of the past while offering a roadmap for the future.
That’s it for today. Next time, we’ll discuss, My Pastoral Experiences Thus Far.