Last week we examined the Introductory portion of ex-pastor Ryan Bell's year-end recap of his year without God. Here is where I continue it.Read More
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.” -CS LewisRead More
I am incredibly far behind in my posting schedule, something which I could promise will be made up to you with bi-weekly posts or a string of witty aphorisms or free ice cream for everybody who didn't complain about it, but I honestly cannot make any guarantees. I graduate from College in a month and it feels as though the entirety of my existence is caught in a whirlwind and I have not even a trace of ruby red slippers with magical heels to tap together. I am not going to chronicle out the happenings of the past three weeks during which I exercised a bit of blog-silence, for such a journal would be incredibly lengthy and speculative and far more narcissistic an endeavour than I care to admit that I am capable of. So let it suffice that there are times, I feel, where it is necessary to take your brain out of the ten-thousand different vats you've placed it in, regroup, and redistribute it in those vats that need the most immediate attention.
I have posted a version of a paper I turned in a week or so ago pertaining to this subject, and though it is far from perfect, I plan on revisiting it, replacing things that I had to cut to fit it within the word restriction, and adding to it to form a more formal critique. You can read a draft of it at this link.
What I want to get out there today is something of a more heavy nature than the quaint little aphorisms I attempted to produce when last we talked. Something of a struggle I am undergoing, for which criticism, advice, and general opinion would be appreciated.
I do not attempt to hide my admiration for Frederich Nietzsche, even though there is a strikingly small area of material on which we agree. On the one hand he is the self-proclaimed champion against the rise of Christianity, a vehement and angry opponent of all things humble or Divine. He roars in defiance of anything which dares threaten a living being's climb to the height of its species potential, mocks the rampant herd mentality of modern religion, and cheers with a fuming pen the constant, infinite re-consideration and questioning and throwing out of value. Indeed, it seems as though the famous nihilist, in his own little ironic way, places extraordinary value on re-valuing everything people hold dear.
But I said before that I admire him, and that hasn't changed. All that he opposes is all that I hold dear, and the monumental force of his unparalleled thinking power and rough polemic stand in gritty contradiction to a Christ-follower's frame of mind, so what is it that I can learn from him? After all, it is a tidal wave like Nietzsche which often causes those on the fence about the Big, Important things to be tossed into the realm of radical skepticism and pure, unabashed nihilism. But for me, he seems to do the complete opposite. Though I am at this point no match for his towering intellect or his hurricane-force rhetoric, he has demonstrated to me a height to aim for - not to rise up beside him, but to rise up in opposition against him. Chesterton I am not. Lewis I am not. I do not presume to be on par with any of these men, nor do I pretend to be capable of their respective feats of enormous intelligent significance, but it fills my heart with the drive to overcome, to firmly establish where I stand and to defend it against those who wish to see it destroyed.
It sometimes takes the heavy fabric of the darkness to understand the beauty of a candle.
Apologetics is a field with a longstanding tradition in any platform of belief. The idea is simple: you believe something, so you must be able to defend your point of view against issues that may prove problematic if you are unable to deal with them. While I am an advocate that a Believer is, necessarily, an Apologist ("provide a defense for the hope that is in you" and whatnot), I think that each person's defense must be suited to that person's field of specialty. The premise is, after all, a simple one: know where you stand and know how to defend it.
And Heaven forbid we should live and not just speak our convictions.
Hence my qualm with the enormous amount of people, especially in this Bible-saturated Southern culture, who claim the same Christ that I do. Because a lot of the time that I spend (as sometimes the only non-professing Atheist in certain situations) defending a Christian worldview is wasted dealing with the mess Christians have made of it, which people like Nietzsche are entirely too giddy to point out. It is time used attempting to override the errant belief that there remain no intellectual Christ-followers, that the only Christian defense to tough questions is "Faith, brother," that the correct response to those struggling with things of the world from one who has been delivered from it is judgment and hatred. It is arguing that the Christ who inhabits me does not encourage cardboard signs outside of music festivals condemning the goers to Hell, but rather the man beside them holding an arrow pointing at their signs saying "Jesus is much more beautiful than this." He would not advocate the bombing of an abortion clinic but rather the holding of a shaking, scared teenage girl and saying "I'll love you no matter what." It is asserting that "standing for God" is not merely posting inflammatory, ill-formed "religious" drivel and retorts on Facebook statuses and YouTube videos that not only prove you an incompetent wielder of rhetorical power but a bumbling imbecile waving a plastic cross around. It is proving that the Prince of Peace cannot reside in a heart of one harboring bitter animosity towards someone who believes differently from them.
I often wonder if we began living as the One who lets us bear His name did how necessary Christian Apologetics would be... but alas, the supposed attempted emulation of perfection is imperfect, so Apologetics unfortunately must exist. A tiring, taxing thing it is, for it finds formidable enemies in those like Nietzsche as well as in prosperity gospels and in portions of the Church itself. But take heart in adversaries such as these! For only through struggle comes strength; sound footing perhaps from the knowledge of where not to stand.
Though I do not believe I am fit to do such a thing (at this point in time, at least), creating a body of work in response to one like Nietzsche's would bring me enormous joy. There is a dialogue that has gone largely untouched between the Nietzschians and who I will call the Chestertonians which would be an honor one day to contribute to, but until then I will hover just behind the line of "publication," whetting my sword for the day I am called into battle. Perhaps I can at least try to rally the troops, no?
What if we could escape the culture of Christianity, embrace the person of Christ, and meet the beast of Doubt, of Apathy, of Lies, on his own ground together? What if we were so rooted as a group that no "Hurricane Nietzsche" stood a chance at dismantling the anchor tethering us to Truth? What if, as the Prince of the Power of the Air rose each morning to breathe the despair of empty, infinite rhetoric into our ears, we were ready to meet him and conquer his darkness with light? What if those who were called by Christ's name realized what sort of responsibility such a claim entails, and began acting like representatives to the King?
What if we rid ourselves of this rampant spiritual apathy, the cuddly images we grew up with plastered on flannel graphs in Sunday School, the nonsense of self-help spirituality and the battle between denominations and instead tuned our wits towards oncoming attacks, loved even those not deserving of love and recognized that we children of imperfection all need complete Perfection equally? Our fight is not of life and death, it is of creeping doubt and insecurity and of that tiny twist of Truth into lies. So anchor yourself to Truth once you find Him, friends, and soon your Nietzsche will fall.
*This took a very long time to write. And it is around 1000 words shorter than it started out as. Lucky you. I apologize for some big words and long sentences and complex, difficult thoughts, but that is the nature of this subject matter for me. It isn't meant to be overly complicated and if it doesn't help you get to a more applicable state of belief, (to basically rip off CS Lewis) disregard it. Maybe you'll at least just get a new word out of it. And I didn't even get it published before Christmas like I wanted to. Pity.*
So it's Christmas Eve and, here on the East Coast, a mere hour and a half from the descent of Santa Clause down the collective chimneys of those children lucky enough to believe in him. I don't mean this with any manner of bah-humbuggery or from a spirit of Grinchness or something of the sort, because I must confess a certain degree of envy at those fortunate children (a declining number nowadays) who take the jolly old man without so much as a grain of salt.
I sat today through a viewing of Les Miserables, a beautiful New Year's Eve service, precious family time, Elf, and again in the dark of my room A) Feeling incredibly guilty for not one single post since Thanksgiving and B) Not being able to shake the little urge inside of me like a twitch to talk about Belief.
I have probably begun and scrapped at least 9 entries devoted to the topic, but have felt somewhat unqualified to string together adequate words about it. So tonight, on the brink of the day containing the last remnant of real magic in this world, I have decided that there is not a better time for such an endeavour. So I beg of you, please bear with me. This may contain somewhat nonlinear (like normal) and possibly wanting utterances of what might some of the most important things I could ever have to say.
There are so many places to begin.
I spend a grand amount of my time during the semester around those who have an extraordinarily difficult time with belief. Honestly, these are the people that I intentionally seek out, because they are the ones that I both identify with and feel the need to talk to, because of that identification with them that I feel. (I've written about things like doubt and reason here and here, if you care to do some backreading). And although it could be considered, I suppose, like a recovering alcoholic preaching in a bar, there is something about that sameness of mindset that fills me with compassion and drags me towards them if anything to simply engage them in conversation. And the thing I try to get around to asking, since the majority of the most dubious are fellow students of Philosophy or Religion, is about God.
Now, a post for an entirely different day are my thoughts on religion, so I make it a point to assure the person with whom I will be speaking that I am at first not referring to God from the standpoint of a particular religious tradition. We need to discuss first the possibility of something bigger, separate, incomprehensible, outside of the human condition. At this point, I'm not talking about Yahweh, I'm talking about the idea that something like who the Jews call Yahweh could be "real." Baby steps. I have seen the other side and I think that this is among the more difficult steps to take in this little "God Journey." Here are a few of the reasons I have heard:
1) Can't see Him 2) A lot of the people who talk about this idea of God are imbeciles 3) It feels like something of a cop out or a scapegoat for blaming bad stuff on or for explaining things we can't necessarily understand with magnifying glasses and telescopes 4) Things that are "real" are testable, observable, and provable by empirical devices. 5) If God really is all-powerful why can't He create something more powerful than himself. OhSnapParadoxI'mRight
Honestly, the reasons for disbelief are about as varied as the people who defend the idea of Him - and descend diminutively from completely logical complaints to the infinity of the ridiculous. So we start at the beginning.
I say: "Let's pretend that there are two separate things we're talking about here: the first is the physical world that we occupy, with physical, observable things to deal with and interact with and talk to and touch and measure; and the second is the spiritual world that we cannot see, but rather feel and sense and spend time pontificating about." They say: "I accept your view of the first world - but because I accept that notion, I see no need for a second world, plane, existence, or whatever you want to call it. There is the physical and nothing else." I say: "Valid. And part of me wishes incredibly hard that that were true. But if that is so, I have a very hard time explaining the feeling that I get when I am betrayed or the sickly stomach that engulfs me at the thought of cold-blooded, pointless murder, or the rage that I experience towards people who rape children. Do you think that these things are wrong?" They can answer this one of two ways (the other being a conversation for a different day - because otherwise this will get even longer than it should be). I will assume that they say: "Yes, I think that betrayal, murder, and rape are wrong." I will say: "And there's a flip side as well, right? There is a sort of untouchable, indescribably 'good' quality surrounding non-empirical things like Love, honesty, charity, and things of the like, am I right?" They might (and, for the point of this discussion, will) say: "Yes." And then I might ask them to posit for me a hypothesis, in their empirical world, as to where these sorts of things come from.
Most likely they will tell me that it is a sort of Evolutionary conditioning. That feelings like love are nothing but chemical reactions to encourage sex, which enables procreation, and that anger towards rapists and murderers came about over time because of the many, many years Homo Sapiens spent depending on one another in bands and clans and whatnot. Then I point out that even though 'Love' may be a chemical reaction designed to enable the furthering of the human race, that doesn't answer the question of the mechanism or the force that made the necessity of procreation possible (and the last time I checked, the system which I attribute as being true comes out and describes the origin of this sort of thing - that living things are to "be fruitful and multiply"); and that "because it's always been that way" is the sort of argument people like them get mad at Christians for making. As you can see, those of us in this community are used to somewhat circular, oftentimes "unproductive" trains of conversation - but the point is not a full out conversion on the first go around. Belief is something that must develop within the individual like a seed. It is not a tap that can be turned on and off.
So often in these conversations, you will hear the "Santa Clause" references, the Unicorn jokes, the Wizard refutes (example: "Hey Christian, do you believe in Unicorns?" Christian: "Of course not." Atheist/Agnostic/Troll: "Why not?" Christian: "Because you can't see them/because they're just fairy tales from a book/Because they're not real." Athiest/Agnostic/Troll: "I rest my case.") but the application of such arguments is purely rhetorical, as this is as far as the refutation can go. My source for the definition of the nature of God says that He is Love and Eternal and Living and the root of all Good - which are the things that we should talk about when discussing Him, not banal, pedantic diatribes against the nature of belief in something that is fictional. I mean, Descartes can make his way with this sort of thinking into reasoning how unnecessary the body is. Rhetorical reasoning serves a purpose, but only to a certain point.
And look at how off track I have gotten from what I was trying to say. Christmas. I may try to write out a sort of process later on for getting to this point (even though I would be borrowing extensively from CS Lewis and Ravi Zacharias and GK Chesterton and Gordon Lewis and Alister McGrath - so I probably won't... if you have questions, go read some of what they have to say and get back to me - for they say what needs to be said far more eloquently than I could), but what I wanted to get at is this:
I see Christmas now not as a way to get what I want, even though sometimes I make myself think that I do, nor as a reason to get the family together, which it is, nor as a time to get mad at people who say "Happy Holidays" rather than something about Christmas (who I am fairly sure even some who say Christmas don't care about), but as a time to remind myself to be thankful to God for existing, and for making it possible through Christ to get to Him. THAT is what we mean when we say "thank you for Jesus" - of course we are thankful that He took what punishment was coming to us, but on a separate level, we are thankful that we were given a vehicle to get to the Creator.
It is a time to be refreshed in our amazement that we transcend the physical by means of something less demanding than what E-Meters and Orthopraxic doctrines and endless cycles of Samsara to suffer through have tried (incorrectly) to make it out to be. We are thankful for a Man who came straight from God so that man could get straight to God. For those of us who are fortunate enough to believe, we are thankful for the opportunity TO believe, and I can't help but value that as the most important gift to share.