Friday, November 22, 2013

THE RATIONALE FOR CHRISTIANITY

I need some help.  I attended Christian schools from first grade through college and was immersed in Christian beliefs throughout my early life.  Even so, at this point in my personal journey I am embarrassed to say that I simply do not understand the rationale, the logic behind the very fundamentals of the Christian message.  None of it, really.  As a child I never questioned it, but now it no longer makes sense to me.

Here, in a nutshell, is my understanding of the Christian message:  God created humans without sin but with the freedom to choose.  The very first humans disobeyed God and sinned.  As a result all subsequent humans were born with a sinful nature and were, for that reason, undeserving of salvation and entry into eternal life in God’s presence.  However, God determined to make a new covenant with humankind.  He sent another member of the Godhead, Christ, to earth in the form of a man born of a virgin.  During his brief stay on earth, Christ preached a message of love, both a love of God and a love for fellow humans, and promised to establish a divine kingdom.  Ultimately, he was arrested by the Jewish and Roman authorities and following a sham trial was convicted and crucified.  A few days later he rose from the dead and after a brief additional period on earth ascended into heaven.  During his time on earth Christ promised that he would return to establish God’s kingdom for the righteous faithful.  By reason of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, all who accept his divinity and live a righteous life are assured of a life everlasting in God's kingdom.  


I’m afraid I may have left out some elements of this message or gotten some of the details wrong.  Moreover, not all Christian faiths tell the story in precisely the same way.  Even so, I feel I have laid out a basic outline of the general Christian message.

So here are some of the questions that I simply cannot figure out the answers to:

  • When the first humans sinned, why didn’t God simply start over?  In fact he did threaten to do that a number of times.  Was he waiting to see if humans could make a turnaround?  Being omniscient, God must have known that that wasn’t going to happen.
  • Why were all subsequent humans born with a sinful nature--the notion of Original Sin?  What caused this change?  Wasn’t it unfair that, by reason of the sinful acts of the first humans, we don’t really stand a chance to live lives fully obedient to God?  So how are we individually to blame for that?
  • And why did God wait several thousand years (or however long it was between the first human sin and the life of Christ) before establishing this new covenant?  After all, the damage had already been done by the very first humans.  So why wait and force all humans during the intervening period to live sinful lives and suffer the consequences?
  • Assuming God decided to establish a new covenant with humankind, why didn’t he just declare such a new covenant?  In his omnipotence, why didn’t God simply reverse whatever process led to humankind’s inherent sinfulness and give us a second chance?  Or why didn’t he simply declare that we could enjoy salvation by believing in him and living good lives?  
  • Instead, as the story goes, God the Father sent Christ down to earth.  But since God knew that Christ would be crucified and then resurrected, what point did that serve?  This is really the heart of what I don’t understand about the whole thing.  Why did Christ’s life, death, and resurrection serve to establish a new covenant?  What necessary element did it serve to provide?
  • Assuming that Christ was actually God, wasn’t his resurrection a foregone conclusion?
  • And why did Christ have to come to earth and be crucified in order to enable mankind’s salvation?  Did that have to happen to somehow convince God that mankind was worthy of salvation?  And why would that act lead God to change his mind?  What is the logic behind that change?
  • Did God actually change his mind?  If so, does that mean he was wrong the first time?  How could God be wrong?
  • It has been suggested to me that part of the reason for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to prove to the rest of the universe that God’s handling of the creation of mankind was done properly, that this served to prove God’s justness.  But how, from the point of logic, could Christ’s life serve that purpose?  After all, Christ was divine and ultimately immortal in any event.  So what was the point?

From as long ago as I can remember, I was taught the story of Christ’s life and ultimate sacrifice as the reason that we have the opportunity for salvation and eternal life.  But I really cannot follow the logic.  How did sending a member of the Godhead down to earth to live as a human, to suffer death at the hands of the Jewish leadership and Roman government, and to rise from the tomb a few days later serve to enable us to enjoy salvation and eternal life?  Why would God use that scenario as the framework of his new covenant with mankind?  How did Christ’s sacrifice serve to convince God to give us another chance?

Rather than accepting this complicated account at face value, is it not more reasonable to assume that Jesus was really just a man, albeit a very charismatic man, who, like many others before him, thought that he was destined to usher in a new religious kingdom and who was crucified by the authorities for his actions?

One of the limitations of my thinking is that I have difficulty accepting something that lacks a logical basis, particularly when there’s a more prosaic explanation that better fits the facts and without having to invoke anything supernatural.  It is not helpful to me to say that the gospel story demonstrates God’s love, because, for the reasons stated above, I don’t see how that is true.  Neither is it helpful to say that Christ’s having paid the ultimate sacrifice proves his divinity or the reality of salvation.  The former simply doesn’t establish the latter, any more than anyone else’s martyrdom would establish their divinity or their message.  Nor is it helpful to say that it is a “mystery” and that we simply need to embrace it.  I’m just not capable of doing that.  I’m driven by rationality.  I can’t help it.  

On the other hand, hundreds of millions of people embrace Christianity.  What am I missing?



© 2013 John M. Phillips

10 comments:

  1. John, I guess what you are missing is simply faith that God exists and lives in our lives. It makes no sense until you trust in Him and believe that He is working in your life. I can talk to Him as I am talking to you, even though I don't see you, I know you exist. God does not love. He is love. We will never realize this kind of love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wanda, I agree that I am lacking in faith, which I have defined as belief despite a lack of evidence. It’s part of my nature that what I believe is driven by evidence, as you well know. That is the very essence of skepticism. I am not asked to accept on faith other beliefs that I have--that, for example, the earth is round and not flat. There is overwhelming evidence to support that belief. It just seems unfair that, as a creature of reason, I am required to accept God on faith.

      And perhaps you are agreeing with me that the Christian narrative--that Christ needed to become a man, be crucified, and rise from the tomb in order to qualify us for salvation--simply ”makes no sense” from a rational point of view. Consider the religious beliefs of faiths different from mainstream Christianity. For example, members of the LDS (Mormon) church believe that in the 1820s an angel named Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, who was then a teenager with little formal education. The angel informed Smith of the existence of books written on golden plates that Smith was able to locate, dig up, and then translate into English. The translation is known as the Book of Mormon. Among other things, the book describes Christ’s appearance to North American natives during a period following his crucifixion and ascension. Smith did his translating without allowing anyone else to see what he was viewing. The Mormons believe that at one point Smith did allow a few believers to look briefly at the plates, but then the plates were returned to the angel Moroni and are no longer available. Others may smile at this account and ask why one should believe Smith’s story when there is clearly a more prosaic explanation for how the Book of Mormon came into existence. If someone asked you to accept belief in the LDS church, how easy would it be for you to do that? Well, as an outsider to the Christian faith, that is how I view the Christian story generally.

      You know that I exist because you have ample objective evidence of my existence--we speak on the phone; I respond to your comments on my blog. Do you have the same sort of objective (as opposed to subjective) evidence of God's existence?

      Delete
    2. The only way I can answer is that I have put God to the test so many times and He has never failed me yet. I just believe I guess and have no evidence to prove God exists, I simply know He does. Have no idea how I would get through some days without Him beside me. It might even be a crutch, but it works for me. As Gideon in the Bible, ask God for a sign to you for your belief. He just might provide it to you.

      Delete
    3. Years ago--45-50 years--I used to ask for a sign. Never got one.

      Delete
    4. Give it another try. It might work for you. Pray for something unusal and see what happens.

      Delete
    5. I was wondering what is a specific example of how you put God to the test Wanda.

      Delete
    6. So many times I prayed for ,my husband to live a little while longer. The last time he asked me not to pray because he was ready to meet the Lord. God always answers prayers with sometime a yes,and sometimes a no and sometimes just wait.

      Delete
    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    8. Wanda, I know that prayer has been important to you. However, as a rational person, I would need to have evidence that was objective and unequivocal. To be told that the answer to a prayer might be yes or no or just wait would, unfortunately, do nothing to dispel my skepticism.

      Delete
    9. I just hope that someday God will reveal Himself to you with something you can not call an accident or a coincidence. I am just aware that the more you seek Him, the more He will reveal Himself to you.

      Delete