Thursday 24 May 2012

I'm *not* going to believe it - and *you* can't make me


The phrase above pretty much sums up my own attitude to Christianity through most of my life. All I knew for sure was that I didn't want to be a Christian (I wanted to be and do, what *I* wanted to be and do); and I defended this rather specific unbelief by a fluid mixture of reason and emotion.

In general, I thought of myself as far more intelligent and rational than Christians, far more honest and tough-minded.

Yet I always knew and sometimes said that if a Roman Catholic apologist (I always assumed that this would be a Jesuit, for some reason) could ever pin me down, then I could be defeated by logic - because these guys had memorized and practiced all the answers to every possible objection.

But I still knew that I was right because Christian rationality was, I believed, a facile achievement of post hoc reasoning - reasoning from the result to the premises. So I would reject all this scholasticism, without even meeting it, because I knew in my guts that they were wrong.

It was a heady feeling to know that nobody could persuade me of Christianity, that I could always find reasons not to believe, whether reason or gut feeling, and that therefore I would remain un-defeatable as the master of my own private destiny.

I was, in fact, a case history of the overmastering power of pride: pride revelling in pride; and this not just by accident but as a matter of highest principle and core conviction.

Pride as the primary Good, the highest value.



dearieme said...

Do you believe in Odin or Zeus? If not, why believe in Jehovah?

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - Paganism has partial reference to somethings real (spiritual beings, angels and demons) - so in a sense I do (like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien) 'believe in' Odin and Zeus etc.

Fake Herzog said...


This is a remarkable post because it so closely mirrors my own experience. The difference with me is that I was a Catholic for a brief period as a young man, but then entered the phase of my life that can best be characterized as "unbelief" supported by "a fluid mixture of reason and emotion". When I did come back to Christ and the Church, one of the first things I did was go to confession. Many people who knew me well joked that I must have spent all week with the priest; I told them not really as I basically needed to confess one major sin -- breaking the First Commandment and putting pretending that, as you say, I was "master of my own private destiny". There is a reason Catholics think of pride as one of the deadly sins.

Keep up the good work.

P.S. It was the brilliant Protestant apologist, Tim McGrew and his wife Lydia, who patiently led me back to Christ -- they helped me understand that the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus was quite good and going by the historical record, it is clear that Christ is who He said He was.

Proph said...

Speaking of Roman Catholics mastering every possible atheist comeback, Edward Feser long dealt with the "one God further" objection, which usually boils down to "I don't know what you believe or why but somehow I know it's all stupid" pride of which all us ex-atheists were guilty:

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - the references given by Proph are a different way of answering your point than the one I used.

My angle is that paganism was a partial truth, based on inferences from natural law.

So paganism is 'natural religion' - i.e. a systematization of intellectual inferences from natural law - Judaism was paganism plus revelation - Christianity added to Judaism the incarnation (plus some more revelations).

I should also clarify that although Christ is necessary for salvation - that does NOT imply that 'being a practicing Christian, a member of a Christian church' is *necessary* for salvation.

Pagans and Jews (for example) can be saved - but when this happens they are being saved by Christ.

(And since with salvation we are talking about eternity, this works at any point in history, including BC).

josh said...

Fake Herzog,

Can you recommend something specific on the historical reality of Jesus?

Bruce Charlton said...

@josh - How about the consensus of the first 1800 years of Christianity, especially the Holy Fathers and Saints?

Unless you think that modern specialist professional secular academics know better?...

The Crow said...

Your old gut feeling was right.
Ignore it at your peril.
Christ was not a Christian: he was Christ.

"In the beginning..." the Holy Book begins.
Then goes on to speak, at enormous length, of things infinite and eternal.
Beginnings apply to finite things. Not to the infinite.

The Bible was written by men, as was Christianity.
Yet those men had much to offer.
The truth is there, if one can see past the human compulsion to add glitz to what needs no adding to.

The first three chapters of Genesis are the only things really necessary, in the whole Bible.
It may have gone better, if its writers had left it at that.

How's your eternal soul coming along, Bruce?
Are you ensuring it will outlast 'you'?

Bruce Charlton said...

@crow - Christ was God (much to everyone's surprise).

Finite things in times are real, so are infinite things out of time - the first depends on the second.

The Bible was written by men - but divinely inspired men.

Everybody's soul will outlast earthly life, as souls always have done - the question is whether the soul is then perfected and resurrected, or not.

The Crow said...

Do you think, Bruce, that what is commonly known as a 'soul' might be more like a seed, than something that starts out immortal?
That perhaps it requires caring-for, and developing, before it becomes immortal?
That everyone may have one, to make of what they will?
That, perhaps, this is what is meant by The Garden of Eden?
I see 'soul' in this light.
That thing created in God's image.
Not the paltry human, itself, but the potential to become Godlike, through its potentially immortal soul. And to join with God through this endeavour...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - it sounds like you are a 'Platonist' in the sense that you regard the soul as the whole person, and the body as irrelevant. Christians regard the soul absent the body as maimed and incomplete, and that therefore the body must be reunited with the soul for eternal life.