Theological Reflections of a
Californian in Scotland
Monday, November 30, 2009
International Hot Tub: Round 3
(For an introduction to the intent and explanation of the name of this series, please see the introduction. Though this is presented as a two party debate on one level, comments and responses are still fully welcomed to all posts in the comments section as a way to help extend the debate and bring other voices into it.)
Guest Post by Andy Snyder:
Sorry this is so late; life happened. I’ll try to get the following responses up within a week of Adam’s posts.
My first issue here is why my complaint should be expressed “openly” at all. You said, “By ‘expressed openly’ I mean within the limits of human finitude but without excluding the possibility of the objectivity and freedom of God beyond those limits.” I understand you to mean the argument for Christianity can proceed if one is open to the possibility of the supernatural. I see no argument presented here which would make me open to the supernatural or any concept of God. The argument that I need to consider Jesus’ claims on his own terms is anachronistic and doesn’t take seriously the modern scientific world view. Jesus presented himself to a culture that assumed theism of one sort or another. This gave an inherent shape to the presentation of his message, as the majority of the ancient world believed in the divine. Back then the question was not, “Do you believe in God?” but was instead “What God do you believe in?” My problem of struggling with the existence of God was not something Jesus addressed in his message; therefore his gospel cannot be considered meaningfully until the bigger abstract issue of the existence of God is dealt with first.
Second, even if I’m open to the supernatural, I see no reason why Christianity should be given special consideration above all other claims of the supernatural. Couldn’t your second paragraph just as easily ended with “Enter the prophet Muhammad” “Enter Buddha” “Enter Apollo” etc? All religions are realities presented as both sensible and intelligible; I don’t understand why we should skip straight to Christianity and ignore other major claims to the supernatural.
Third, even if I consider Christianity on its own terms, I would argue its subjects (God/Yahweh/Jesus/The Holy Spirit) have been suspiciously absent for quite some time. Simply put, theophanies have a shelf life and the resurrection of Jesus has long past its expiration date. There is biblical president for this: In John it is written,
“ ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ ” (John 20:24-29)
Here Jesus reveals two things: the need for humans to experience tangible proof of his divine claims and the difficulty to marshal belief when humans don’t have that first hand experience. Most scholars date this gospel only 60 years after the time of Jesus. That the author included this saying of Jesus implies his audience, only two or three generations removed from the life of Jesus, was struggling with his claim to be God. It is infinitely harder to believe now, as we are thousands of years and generations removed from the last significant theophany Christianity attests to. Experiencing the story, the gospel, and Christ’s ethics expressed through his church 2000 years later is not a meaningful substitute for an unequivocal biblical theophany of God. You won’t apologize for this tension and that’s fine, but neither will I for claiming a victory here.
“Of course there are other ostensibly plausible interpretations of these events. You've offered a common and compelling one, the one of the linear evolution of human understanding where we go from mythology, to religion, to naturalistic science. This story is forceful and persuasive, except for the fact that it offers no proof of itself. It is just as liable to the charge of total fabrication as is any meta-narrative of human or cosmic history.” So what do you make of the microwave background, Hubble’s constant, the fossil record (the Neanderthal, Lucy), spontaneous mutation, etc? These things certainly seem to be proof or at least evidence that the development of the universe proposed through the modern scientific worldview is valid.
On the final issue of worldviews being neutral, I propose there is a common underpinning in all cultural perspectives. Although it’s not neutral, it’s at the foundation of the human experience and is therefore a universal beginning point to evaluate any and all worldviews we might hold: humans are pattern-seeking. Whether it is Native Americans noticing the migration routes of the buffalo, ancient Athenian astrologers noticing the same shapes in the heavens reoccur year after year, or even a modern theologian looking for patterns in TF Torrance’s thought, our species universally takes notice of phenomena reoccurring and gives explanations for them. I propose that a worldview should be judged on how internally consistent its patterns to understand the world are. I not going to post my criticisms on the Christian perspective, but only want to offer this as a beginning point for comparative discussion of worldviews.