Thursday 12 May 2016

Pay careful attention to the *specific* claims of religions and individuals because they are probably true (at least, claims made in the era of faith) - further notes on the primacy of John's Gospel

I have said before, and believe, that up until the past few hundred years (in The West) religious claims can nearly always be taken as true - so long as we pay careful attention to the specifics of those claims.

This is because in the past the great mass of people would not make any religious claims that they did not believe to be true; because for them religion was real, and it was existentially and permanently valuable to tell the truth and hazardous deliberately to lie about the core aspects of religion.

So, no religion except Christianity offers its adherents anything as good as, or better than, an eternal, perfected, bodily resurrection dwelling with the deity after death; and so far as I know, none ever have done in the past 2000 years.


We moderns might imagine it would be easy to offer something better than Christianity, or make the same offer on 'easier terms' - but that hasn't happened among - and indeed most religions offer a great deal less, and often enough offer something pretty horrible.


This is evidence of their sincerity, and I would say truth - in the sense that they are saying 'If you follow this religion, then this is what will happen to you' (within limits of mortal expression and comprehension - so nothing stated in public discourse can be taken absolutely literally as the whole truth) - and I think this is broadly correct. Do this, and this will happen.


Clearly this does not apply to modern times, because many people so profoundly disbelieve in religion that they regard themselves as free to say anything - including whatever lies and misleading comments are expedient in the short term. We live in an era when - for many self-identified Christians - Christianity, for such people, is 'just words'; and they will say and write whatever they regard as most necessary or useful to advance the - usually socio-political - cause which is their real belief.


When it comes to the Bible it is interesting to notice that of all the authors and sources in the various books of the Bible - only John in his Gospel claims (not explicitly, but clearly communicated) to have a full understanding of the reality of Christ and his teachings.

And it is also noticeable that John explicitly states (towards the close) that he has not been able to express this full understanding in the Gospel itself.

None of the other Gospel writers claim this (I don't think) - nor does the Apostle Paul. Nor does John himself in the Book of Revelation (which is presented mostly as a vision - indeed a glimpse, hence to be taken symbolically).

I regard this as a confirmation of the primacy of the Gospel of John in the Bible - and support for using this Gospel as a key to understanding the rest of that large and complex book.


Joseph A. said...

There is good reason that we Orthodox read the first seventeen verses from the Gospel of Saint John on Pascha -- the feast of feasts. For it is the Gospel of Gospels in the Book of Books, and its public reading could not be more emphasized in the life of an Orthodox Christian.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Joseph - very wise.

My reason for emphasizing the point is no doubt significantly different than for the Orthodox - it is mainly that when somebody wants to know 'What is Christianity and how can I find out more?' in a world where there is seldom any accessible person or church to answer that question; 'Read John's Gospel' would seem to be perhaps the best advice.

Joseph A. said...

"My reason for emphasizing the point is no doubt significantly different . . ." While your intention for emphasizing John's gospel might be different, I think that we both affirm the same the quality of the Gospel of John for the same reason -- because it expresses the essence of Christianity so well.

Consider this unworthy analogy. I happen to think that the album Rumours is one of the best pop music albums ever -- by anyone, and people generally think that it's the best work by Fleetwood Mac. So, let's consider the following two imaginary scenarios.

1) Let's say that we're guests at Mick Fleetwood's home, where he displays the album prominently as a life trophy. I mention that I love the album, and Fleetwood's eyes light up. He says that the album represents to him the core of the band. Various bandmembers may favor other albums, and he can point to tracks from other releases that may be superior to the songs on Rumours in certain ways, but the album reflects the vital energy of the band's qualities, achievements, struggles, and genius better than any other work that they have done.

2) Let's imagine a record store owner in Camden, who is naturally an aficionado of popular music since the 1950s. One day, a young man enters the shop and says that he heard this one song on a friend's phone, and it was by Fleetwood Mac. He really liked the tune and wanted to get some more music by the band. The record store owner pulls out a CD of Rumours and says that it's a great introduction to the band because it reflects who they were and what they did throughout their career.

Both the founder of the band and the record store owner hold Rumours in high esteem and use it in these two scenarios for very different purposes. The first uses it as a capstone to represent his lifetime experience and work, while the second uses it as an introduction for a curious newcomer. However, the album works well for both for the exact same reason.