Thursday 12 July 2012

How to become a Christian - a path for intellectuals working alone


It is easy to become a theist (a believer in the reality of 'god' - not specifically nor necessarily the Christian God). Indeed, to be a theist is the only coherent system of belief - as has been clear since ancient Greek times. 

1. Recognize the reality of transcendental values - any one from the list of truth, beauty and virtue. Recognize that these are not only a matter of opinion. 

2. Recognize that there must be a god/s, or else transcendental values could not be real and we could not know about them.

3. You are now a theist.

4.  Recognize that there must logically be one god above all gods.


To become a Christian involves another set of steps:

1. You need to make a decision about revelation.

You need to decide if it is possible that god communicate with humans (divine revelation) or not. This is something to do with whether god is a 'personal god' - who is concerned with humans in general, and in particular.

If revelation is impossible, then knowledge of god must be inferred from the world using reason and instinct - this is the pagan position, natural religion, spontaneous religion in its various specific manifestations.

2. If you regard revelation as possible then presumably it has happened, and you need to evaluate human history on the basis of sorting-out which of the claimed revelations of god are real; and how accurate are these reported revelations.

3. There are not many, three or a few more, major religions based on monotheism and revelation - how to choose?

Find out about Christianity - which is not easy because of the vast amount of disinformation, misunderstanding, and corruption. Then decide whether Christian revelation is supported by, is consistent with, the evidence - prophecies and their fulfillment, miracles etc. 

4. If you find that you want to be a Christian, then you should decisively acknowledge this fact to yourself (and others whom you trust) - don't conceal it, don't lie about it.  

At this point you have crossed the line.

By clearly acknowledging that you want to be a Christian (that you are a 'seeker') then you essentially are a Christian.

(Because of the promise that he who seeks will find: will find. A promise from God will absolutely certainly come true - because nothing can stop it.)

5. What follows is a lifelong search to understand and know and practice Christianity.

People naturally focus on this final step, step 5 - with all its worldliness, its inter-denominational struggles, failures and compromises and corruptions; but really it is step 4 that is crucial to salvation.


If you sincerely want to be a Christian, you should regard yourself (in private and in public) as a Christian: because in fact you are a Christian.


Gyan said...

Pagans are in fact full of revelation.
Their gods talk with humans no less, or perhaps even more than Christian god does now.

Right now, in high Himalayan valleys, e.g. Kinnaur or Kullu, there are villages each with a resident god that speaks through his spokesman. These gods are continuously on move, visiting each other, or going to take bath in Ganges, influencing local politics as opposing building of new dams etc.

"Recognize that there must logically be one god above all gods."

This logic has not been generally recognized and it escapes me. Why can't there be a friendly communion
of gods?.
And why gods be friendly to man?. Eg in CS Lewis' Till There are Faces, the protagonists in a pagan culture feel victimized by arbitrariness of gods even though they feel that the gods are related
to life, goodness and beauty.

It is ultimately the words of Jesus that either attract us or not.
No other religion depends so much on Words. Sayings of Krishna are not burned into hearts of men as the sayings of Jesus are.

Gyan said...

"which of the claimed revelations of god are real"

Perhaps all are or at least many are. CS Lewis in Pilgrim's Regress says that God sends messages to pagans in form of dreams which they work up as mythology.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - yes, but revelations are not necessary to paganism.

The category of 'gods' include fallen angels/ the devil/ demons - which Christians believe are real and powerful in this world (perhaps dominant in this world) - and presumably these account for (some of) the hostile gods of paganism.

Of course not all relevations are real!

Some supposedly-divine revelations are demonic deceptions, others are human error or garbled, others are human deceptions and so on.

I would have thought that the vast majority of 'revelations' are non-divine for one reason or another.

Wm Jas said...

If you have the time and inclination, I'd really appreciate a post spelling out step 2 -- that transcendental values imply the existence of gods -- because I just don't get it and never have.

Theists treat it as obvious and self-evident and therefore never bother to explain the logical bridge from A (some things really are true) to B (there exists at least one immortal superhuman intelligence).

Bruce Charlton said...

@WMJas - Put it another way - if there is/are no god/s, then where do transcendental values come from, what makes them transcendental, how do we know about them, how can we trust our 'knowing' (why should we believe what we suppose to be 'reason', or indeed our senses?), why should the existence of TVs imply that they are binding, why should we regard TVs as good rather than (as with political correctness) evil.

I mean, why should we not simply invert transcendental values and call evil good, ugly beautiful, lies truth and sin virtue - after all that is what happens in mainstream public discourse - why is this wrong?


It is not obvious, nothing is obvious - since most people spout nonsense and lies 24/7 from the moment they can speak until they die. But *if* you keep pushing back, that's where you are led.

Wm Jas said...

Well, suppose there are gods and that they endorse the good, the true, and the beautiful. Why should we accept that? Why should we regard the gods as right rather than wrong? Accepting the gods seems just as arbitrary as accepting the transcendental values themselves. I don't see how their existence would do anything to solve the problem.

And anyway, if we come to theism by this route, then the gods are essentially just a hypothesis we make up to justify what we already believe. I think good things really are good and true things really are true, so I try to justify that conviction by postulating the existence of a god who agrees with me. -- But why not call good evil and evil good and postulate the existence of a god who agrees with that?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - As you know, in the end - and necessarily and rightly so, for reasons that Pascal makes clear - nobody is compelled to believe, but ultimately chooses to believe.

If you believe in Christianity everything hangs-together. You make a few explicit and linked assumptions from which everything important flows and makes sense.

But if you try to be an atheist who yet believes in transcendental Goods, then it does *not* hang-together - but one is compelled to make all sorts of detached and ad hoc assumptions, or not even assumptions but simply assertions.

I know all about this because I was in exactly this situation for several decades, squirming this way and that. For example I believed that truth was real and important and we had a duty to seek and speak it - but the only ground I had for this was either utilitarian, or that this was my firm conviction from which I would not be shaken. My belief was not embedded in a system but was a subjective assertion.

What you are doing is taking each theist assumption in detachment and saying you are not compelled to believe this, or that, or that - and if this is what you do with anything (including, perhaps especially, science) you will find that nothing at all is conclusive and everything falls to pieces in your hands.

That is an inevitable consequence of that particular system of skepticism - skepticism by rotation - assuming a-y is true but skeptical about z - then assuming a-w plus z is true and being skeptical about y.

This feels like skeptical rigour, because anything *can* be challenged - but since every skeptical challenge is made on the basis of assumptions which are later challenged the whole thing is nonsense.