Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Failure of Non-Fictive Reasoning to Eliminate Christianity

Non-fictive attempts to debunk Christianity cannot, in principle, succeed. This is because the Christian claim is that it is a true story, not a propositional truth that concludes a chain of deductive reasoning. "Logic" and "being rational" do not apply to "story," in the sense that stories are not imprisoned behind the steel bars of "literal" language. Here are some thoughts I have about this, not necessarily in any logical order.

- The Christian story qua story will never go away. It is deeply embedded in the ontological depths of humanity, surfacing and re-surfacing in film (e.g., "Gran Torino"; "The Matrix," "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Lord of the Rings," "Saving Private Ryan," "Braveheart," "Gladiator," etc. etc. etc.) and in real life (the stories of fire fighters who sacrificed their lives to save others during "911"; the man who dove under a NYC train to save a life; etc. etc. etc.). It resonates, like a single piano tone causes a tuning fork to vibrate, with the basic deep-ontological insight that there's something not right with us that needs to be fixed, combined with a growing realization that we can't do this ourselves and need to be rescued ("saved"). Look - one reason the Christian story dominates culture is because it speaks to us. Rather than being a mere epiphenomenon of our ontological condition God gave us a true story that we could understand because of our condition.(See C.S. Lewis and many others here.) (See here Francis Spufford's Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.)

- Because Christianity is a story that purportedly happened in history, one appropriately studies Christianity via historical method. Historical method is not constrained by cultural paradigms such as, e.g., philosophical naturalism. 

So - I study Christianity historically. The people I read here study Christianity historically. If I wanted to study brain surgery I think it would be helpful to read the works of brain surgeons. The same goes with the Christian texts and Christian history; viz., study those who devote their lives to the study of the Christian story. One wouldn't want a "brain surgeon" who's cut and pasted some things from the internet to operate on them; I don't want to deep-discuss my passion for the truth of the Christian story with internet cut-and-pasters either. A lifetime of study would help, which includes great periods of thought and pondering of the subject matter.

The Christian claim essentially has to do with history. That's precisely why the evangelical atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, you know who the other two or three are) have little to say to here, and why their "assault" does not affect the historical nature of what I choose to believe in. It's also why discussion of the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus is vitally important. (See, e.g., the works of Eugene Peterson, to include Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology; Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading; The Jesus Way: A Conversation On the Way That Jesus is the Way; and Tell It Slant: A Conversation On the Language of Jesus in His stories and Prayers. For examples (powerful ones!) of the use of story to express Christian truth read Annie Dillard, Frederich Buechner, and Flannery O'Connor for starters.)

Is Christianity "rational?" I believe so. There is a logic to it. For me that's good, since I teach logic and love doing it. But I don't believe that logic, for all its powers, gives the last word about truth. Logic is essentially non-empirical, and is amazingly non-effective in helping actual people (in marital relationships, e.g.; in spite of Albert Ellis's "rational-emotive therapy." But note: the "philosophical counseling" movement does interest me,). Logic is a tool. It's not the only tool. If the only tool one has is a hammer they tend to view every problem as a nail. People whose only tool is logic (no matter how learned their logic is) use it to develop a theory of everything. I hate to burst your bubble, but much of life is not logical and its truth cannot be exhausted via logic. But the multitude of non-logical experiential realities can be spoken of via fictive theories of truth. "Story" conveys truth in ways logic cannot. My doctoral dissertation years ago was an attempt to develop a metaphorical theory of truth (following Paul Ricoeur, Wolfhart Pannenberg, et. al.). Logical people beware - there's an entire universe of study out there in support of this.

- I think both logic and story are unavoidable and necessary in the quest for human truth. Perhaps philosophically it's like this, to use an analogy: we need both Hegel and Kierkegaard. But when it comes to life and love and suffering and struggle and existence, read Kierkegaard.