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9/09/2017 11:15 pm  #1


Why is Christianity true?

To begin, I know not everyone on this forum is Christian, and I realize some are of no religion at all. This question is aimed at those who are Christian (orthodox, protestant, what have you): Why is Christianity true? I have struggled with this my whole life. I was raised Catholic and I became increasingly devout in my high school years. I have since then gone through bouts of agnosticism and, at least once, a dreadful nihilism. However, at the end of each of these bouts I would always return to my faith--to the reading of the gospels, the contemplative moments of Adoration, the Mass, my discernment of the priesthood. 

My faith has always been more intellectual than spiritual--my bookshelf can testify. I have tomes on the historicity of the Resurrection, the authenticity of the gospels, the Church fathers, scholastic philosophy, etc. In the past year or so I garnered a particular interest in classical theism. I spent my whole summer reading Aquinas, Aristotle, Oderberg, Hart, Feser, Leibniz, Pruss, Garrigou-Lagrange, Clarke, etc. My notion of God has, consequently, become increasingly abstract. I originally was a big fan of Dr. Craig's work and, naturally, had a theistic personalist view of God. When I began rereading Feser's work I realized for the first time that in order to arrive at the God of classical theism--the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover, the Divinely Simple One--I needed to expunge all prior conceptions (or perhaps misconceptions) of who I thought God was. This has kindled in me a sort of rampant skepticism. I have begun to question my faith again. Not just the Church but Christianity in general. Was I merely trying to justify a presumed faith? Have all my studies, all my attempts to defend my faith, to make it rational, been in vain? Have I ever been truly convinced? I have never had a true instance of conversion, I have never transitioned from a truly neutral atheism to a sober-minded Christianity.

So here is my issue: I have never found true conviction in Christianity. The evidence for Christianity, in some respects, seems strong. I have read through thousands of pages on the historicity of the Resurrection, and it seems like a strong case can be made for the Resurrection as a real historical event. I have also surveyed the early Christian literature on Christ's divinity, and, once again, there is a strong case to be made for early Christians seeing Christ as divine, as otherworldly. The evidence is on the table, I just fear that perhaps all my studies have been worthless because I have started from a Christian foundation--my bias has informed my research. So I return to the same question: Have I truly been convinced, or am I merely trying to justify a bias?

I have been reading David Bentley Hart's book on the history of Christianity and I have started to ponder the thought of arriving at a strong conviction in the Christian faith through an alternate route: Beauty. I find beauty in the idea of God becoming a slave to die for mankind, I find beauty in Peter's absolution, in the Eucharist, in the parables, the saints, etc. I remember Hart saying once (perhaps in an interview) that Christianity is the narrative he inhabits--it's what makes sense of the cosmos. I think this is absolutely beautiful, to see Christianity as a source of cosmic-ordering, as the epicenter of reality, as the telos of mankind's eschatological journey. My only issue is that I am skeptical of beauty. The Christian who is a Christian because he finds beauty in the Sacrifice of the Cross is akin to the Muslim who is a Muslim because he finds beauty in Allah's eagerness to restore his faith to purity through the Quran. 

I am at a crossroads: Do I follow the path of skepticism, do I settle for a type of deism, do I seek beauty, do I return to the historical arguments for the faith?

Why is Christianity true? 

Last edited by RomanJoe (9/10/2017 3:33 am)

 

9/10/2017 12:54 pm  #2


Re: Why is Christianity true?

RomanJoe wrote:

To begin, I know not everyone on this forum is Christian, and I realize some are of no religion at all. This question is aimed at those who are Christian (orthodox, protestant, what have you): Why is Christianity true?
[...]
I am at a crossroads: Do I follow the path of skepticism, do I settle for a type of deism, do I seek beauty, do I return to the historical arguments for the faith?

Why is Christianity true? 

First, I understand you are asking that question in an epistemic sense, i.e. "How can I know with certainty that Christianity is true?" and not in an ontic sense, i.e. "What are the intrinsic reasons why Christianity is true?". I.e., you are dealing with the order of knowing and not with the order of being.

That said, I think it may be useful to address your question using as context a framework I developed on the four logical steps to explicit propositional faith, which I list below followed by their respective results after "=", because you have recently focused on step 1 and are now focusing on step 3:

1. Believe in God as Absolute Being and therefore Absolute Good, specifically OUR Absolute Good = foundational knowledge on God and the immortality of the soul (as stated in Heb 11:6), based on rationally apprehensible praembula fidei.

2. Adhere personally to God, which includes the disposition to believe whatever God has revealed and/or (in principle) will reveal = personal faith, including implicit propositional faith.

3. Identify the medium of divine Revelation = foundational knowledge on the medium of Revelation, based on rationally apprehensible motives of credibility.

4. Believe in all the truths that God has revealed through the medium identified in step 3 = explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation, based on the authority of God who reveals.

The result of the last step, explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation, is what theologians and the Catholic Magisterium traditionally refer to when speaking of "faith", and it could be called the "strict" definition of faith, thus stated by the Ecumenical Council Vatican I in its Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Filius", ch. 3 "On faith":

Vatican I Council in Constitution Dei Filius wrote:

The Catholic Church professes that this faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, is a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the inspiration and assistance of the grace of God, we believe that the things revealed by Him are true, not because the intrinsic truth of the things has been perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Clearly this "strict" definition of faith cannot apply to the identification of the medium of divine Revelation, lest the epistemic situation be circular, as a person should have to identify M as the medium through which God reveals by an assent to the truth that "God reveals through M" based on the authority of God who revealed (through M) said truth (i.e. that He reveals through M)!  Thus, the medium of divine Revelation must be rationally identified, based on its motives of credibility. Which Constitution "Dei Filius" teaches right after the quoted passage and then sanctions with two canons anathematizing contradictory propositions:

Vatican I Council in Constitution Dei Filius wrote:

Nevertheless, in order that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, God willed that, to the interior help of the Holy Spirit, there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation; to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain proofs of His Divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all men. Therefore, both Moses and the Prophets, and most especially, Christ our Lord Himself, showed forth many and most evident miracles and prophecies; and about the Apostles we read: "But they, going forth, preached everywhere, with the Lord cooperating and confirming the word with the signs that followed" (Mark 16:20). And again, it is written: "We have the more firm prophetic word, to which you would do well to attend, as to a light shining within a dark place." (2 Peter 1:19).

[...]

3. If anyone shall say that Divine revelation cannot be made credible by outward signs, and therefore that men ought to be moved to faith solely by the internal experience of each, or by private inspiration; let him be anathema.

4. If anyone shall say that miracles are impossible, and therefore that all the accounts regarding them, even those contained in Holy Scripture, are to be dismissed as fables or myths; or that miracles can never be known with certainty, and that the divine origin of Christianity cannot be proved by them; let him be anathema.

To note, Jesus Himself had said as much:

"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if I do, even if you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and may understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." (Jn 10:37-38)

So, you are right in being skeptical of beauty, because it is not a primary motive of credibility for a medium of divine Revelation, neither for the original nor for the proximate medium.

I am aware of two good presentations of the motives of credibility for Christianity, and within it for Catholicism: a classic book byFr. Joseph Clifford Fenton and a lecture by Lawrence Feingold, summarized in this pdf.
 

 

9/10/2017 7:37 pm  #3


Re: Why is Christianity true?

I'm not sure what you mean by scepticism? Do you mean scepticism of Christianity or all theism? I would say that the arguments for a divine being or principle, something like that as understood by classical theism, are very strong. 

I think the arguments for a particular faith are always going to be less coercive than those for the existence of the divine. As Alexander says, it is often a matter of comparing it with alternatives. I would make an argument that the universe reflects God's wisdom, and that includes human culture and society. And God wishes us to know him. I think this rules out deism. Deism simply has the wrong conception of the divine and his relationship to the world. Even if one is a follower of Advaita or Neoplatonism, and sees the divine essence as transpersonal (not impersonal), one still sees creation as a reflection of God, and therefore there is a profoundly intimate, everpresent relationship between God and creation. God will provide some means of knowing him and experiencing him. Whether that is through Christianity is another question.

Have you ever read the works of authors like Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, and Rene Guenon? I think they make show some profound insights into the nature of myth, ritual, imagination, symbols, and sacraments, which goes some way to showing why God would show himself to us partly through religion. 

 

9/11/2017 1:09 am  #4


Re: Why is Christianity true?

Alexander wrote:

If I can help at all, I would go back to what the Church herself says about faith - it is necessarily a grace, a means by which God unites us to himself, and like all grace it builds on yet transcends our natural (let alone fallen) human abilities. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (142-175) gives the basis for understanding the nature of faith. While the Church teaches we can know some things contained in the Scriptures and Tradition by reason, it is not possible for us to follow "the Way" by trusting only in reason. Reason can take us very far in all sorts of areas, but a Christian can't see human reason as the be-all and end-all of credibility. I would say that the right place of reason comes in evaluating Christianity compared with real alternatives, not trying to build the whole of Christianity from first principles (which would be a fool's errand even if it were possible). Only through grace are we wholly united to God in our lives, and that includes the life of the intellect. So absent any serious reason to think Christianity false, my advice is: ask God for faith and other graces, attend Mass, try to live well and respond in some way to the presence of God in the world.

Thanks for the advice. I suppose this is very much what I'm doing right now--I'm attending Mass, I'm reading scripture, I'm praying daily. My issue is that I don't know what I'm waiting for if I just restrain myself to actions of piety. Am I waiting for some feeling, a self-induced experiential witness, a burning in the bosom? There are some moments when I think being an atheist (not to say I think such a worldview tenable--I am a classical theist through and through) would have been a much better epistemic starting point with regards to faith. That is, if I went from a burning atheism to a faithful Christianity I would have more assurance in my belief that Christianity is true. Because, for the most part, I have always been more or less Catholic/Christian, I fear that my epistemic vantage point, with regards to my conviction in the faith, has always been unclear, biased, slanted. 
 

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9/11/2017 1:27 am  #5


Re: Why is Christianity true?

@ Johannes

Thank you for this post, it's very helpful. I started listening to the lecture and I'm considering the book. I think your assessment is right, my issue is mostly epistemic. I'm wondering, though, why assume that #3 is even an option? Could it not be the case that God exists, that he sustains the world in being, but he just never reveals himself to mankind in the stark way most religions claim he does? 

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9/11/2017 1:37 am  #6


Re: Why is Christianity true?

@JeremyTaylor

I suppose skepticism is the wrong word. Perhaps resigned classical theism is more fitting--that is, the belief that there is a divinely simple First Cause of the universe but that this First Cause hasn't explicitly revealed himself in any particular religion. My primary issue is that, regardless of the evidence, I haven't come to true conviction in Christianity because I have, for most of my life, been Christian and have, perhaps, engaged in confirmation bias, slanted research. How can I trust my own justification for the credibility of Christianity when I have, from the beginning, calIed myself one? Have I not presumed my faith? My second issue is revelation in general--why should I suppose God has revealed himself in the clear and distinct ways most religions claim  he has?

Also, I haven't read any of those authors, but they sound interesting and it's perhaps what I need to read right now. 

Last edited by RomanJoe (9/11/2017 1:38 am)

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9/11/2017 11:23 am  #7


Re: Why is Christianity true?

Here's what I'm convinced of: there is one divinely simple First Cause who sustains the universe in existence, miracles are possible, and the mind is immaterial.

I'm uncertain of whether or not this First Cause has acted in history, whether any religion accurately channels his revelations, whether or not God became man.

I would say currently, to preserve some stability in my life, I accept Christian tenets on a superficial level--I believe in Christ as God, Christ as Eucharist, Christ as Savior, but with a lingering uncertainty in the background, an unsettle agnosticism.

I'm an unconvinced Catholic who believes, right now, on fideistic grounds.

Last edited by RomanJoe (9/11/2017 11:25 am)

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9/11/2017 3:53 pm  #8


Re: Why is Christianity true?

What triggered your skepticism of the resurrection? I feel like remembering you were convinced it was at least probable.

 

9/11/2017 4:43 pm  #9


Re: Why is Christianity true?

RomanJoe wrote:

@ Johannes
[...]
I'm wondering, though, why assume that #3 is even an option? Could it not be the case that God exists, that he sustains the world in being, but he just never reveals himself to mankind in the stark way most religions claim he does? 

I understand that you are wondering whether #3 is a historical fact, not whether it is an option. Because God clearly did have an option not to reveal Himself directly to mankind, if He had decided not to raise men to participation in the divine life. Moreover, from the viewpoint of a hypothetical classical theist living e.g. in 1000 BC without awareness of the existence of the people of Israel, there had not been any direct revelation by God to mankind that he was aware of.

Now in 2017 AD, there are four possible instances of past divine Revelation that are compatible with classical theism: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Bahá'í. In addition, there is the hypothetical possibility that all four are just human inventions.

In order to evaluate the options, the main criteria are, first of all, the presence of miracles and the reliability of the historical and documentary testimony thereof, and secondly the fulfillment of prophecies, which is part of a broader feature that I call "logical consistency with accepted previous Revelation". Let's apply these criteria to the above options.

Starting with Judaism, there is no historical evidence for the miracles narrated in the Old Testament. To note, I am not a biblical minimalist, based on a most-plausible interpretation of historical evidence, starting with the inscription "the land of the Shasu of Yhw" at the temple at Soleb, Nubia, built by Amenhotep III (1391–1353 BC), where Shasu refers to Semitic-speaking cattle nomads on the Sinai Peninsula, the Negev and southern Transjordan, and which supports a faith-driven Exodus event before 1400 BC, and following with the inscription "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not" on the Merneptah Stele at Karnak, Thebes, referring to the campaigns of Merneptah (1213-1203 BC), which implies a seminomadic or rural status for 'Israel' at that time. Also, recent excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the first early Judean city (per the absence of pig bones) to be dated by 14C, support the factual existence of the kingdom of David in late XI-early X centuries BC. Of course, none of the above is evidence of divine intervention or of divine inspiration of the Old Testament, so that, in the absence of Christianity, I do not see enough motives of credibility in Judaism alone.

Moving on to Islam, and referring to a possible motive of credibility mentioned in a recent thread, the literary quality of a book, no matter how outstanding, is no evidence of divine Revelation. Moreover, even if that quality were unachievable by a human intellect lacking literary studies, it could have been the result of assistance by a non-divine above-human intellect with the purpose of preventing people from believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ, which the Quran explicitely denies in several passages. Adding to this the absence of miracles, I do not see any evidence of divine Revelation. This also discards Bahá'í, which claims no miracles of its own and presupposes Islam.

In contrast to the above, IMV the motives of credibility for Christianity are solid, so that the remaining choice is between Christianity and no divine Revelation in history at all.

Last edited by Johannes (9/11/2017 4:48 pm)

 

9/11/2017 4:47 pm  #10


Re: Why is Christianity true?

Camoden wrote:

What triggered your skepticism of the resurrection? I feel like remembering you were convinced it was at least probable.

My epistemic bias. I have, for the most part, always been Christian. I fear that the only reason I find the arguments for the Resurrection convincing is, in part, due to the particular lense I'm viewing them through. Plus, I've been toying with idea of cognitive dissonance and whether or not it could explain the Resurrection appearances.

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