Tuesday 30 April 2019

Embracing Christianity is a positive choice, rejecting it is not irrational

The fact that Christianity is chosen, and an opt-in religion, based upon love that cannot be coerced; is something which most Christians find it tempting to ignore.

It is tempting to make arguments that Christianity is a rational/ logical necessity, that 'show' it is irrational Not to become a Christian. To try and state that anyone who understands the situation ought to realise that Christianity is necessary. And so on.

I associate this style of evangelism with Roman Catholics, especially; and particularly with the Thomistic/ Scholastic tradition. But this is a mistake. Christianity always must be chosen.  

This fact also entails that nobody can choose to be a Christian unless they have consciously done so, have actually made this choice - so a child whose upbringing was unconsciously, immersively Christian, and who simply accepted this without conscious choice, would Not be a Christian. 

This fact is captured by the Protestant Evangelical requirement that all Christians must be 'born again' (although I regard that phrase as based on a wrong interpretation of John Chapter 3); and that following doctrines, rituals and rules - behaving like a Christian - is never sufficient (is, indeed, in a deep sense, irrelevant).

Christianity is probably the only religion truly based upon freedom; because love can only be free else it is not love (not in the sense intended, at any rate).

Of course, Christianity also depends upon the conviction that a choice may be permanent and final - the idea that freedom includes the freedom to make commitments; and modern people have fallen into the error that the only freedom is one where every choice is contingent and can be revoked.

Because if freedom is to be a part of eternal life, and if eternal life is to be cumulative, creative, purposive, then it must be possible that some choices are also eternal in their effect.

Christianity is essentially about choosing to join that eternal world of permanent love, in which eternal life is to be cumulative, creative, purposive.

This happens because we love that world, and the people in it. According to my understanding of the Fourth Gospel; Lazarus was the first Man to be resurrected, and this happened because he was the first Man to die in a condition of loving Jesus. It was his love of Jesus (and his love of Jesus as the divine Son of God, knowing that Jesus was this) which enabled Lazarus to be resurrected.  

We should notice that Lazarus and Jesus loved each other in a way that was personal. In the Fourth Gospel; Jesus is never described as loving everybody in an indiscriminate or universal fashion - he is described as loving specific people (the disciple who wrote the gospel, Mary, Martha etc). This is how the Kingdom of Heaven is, apparently, to be built - as a network of specific and personal loves.  

The Gift of Jesus is that he made it possible for us to love him, specifically, in many ways and in many aspects - via the Holy Ghost who is knowable by everyone. So long as we are linked to Jesus by love, and so long as we choose to join the family of Heaven; anyone who wants the Heavenly life may have it (in that way, on those 'terms').

But the flipside is that there will presumably people who do not want to join this. Espeically those who do not love anybody. Such people will not be Christians, will not want to be Christians, will Choose Not to be Christians.

This negative choice will have consequences, many of these consequences will be adverse; and not to be a Christian is - relatively - a miserable state. But misery does not make it irrational.

Paradoxically, I think it is better for people to know that they do not 'have to' become Christians, that people should feel the weight of choice - rather than us trying (and usually failing) to convince people that they 'must' become Christians...

Because there is no 'must' about it - except in terms of achieving certain goals, which goals must be wanted.


Theandrocles said...

While I might somewhat despair of convincing those of my inner circle of the Truth, my faith still leads me on

ted said...

I concur freedom and love must go hand in hand to have a life fulfilled, but one without the other is incomplete but as you point out not necessarily irrational. If I freely choose to love (as a Christian), then I am free to receive Christ's love.

James Higham said...

Agape love.

Lucinda said...

I agree mostly, but I do think Christian behavior plays a vital role in not making unnecessary roadblocks for our children (and their children, etc.) Best years for fertility happen before best years for sorting out our deepest desires. A good set of earthly parents is the best witness of loving Eternal Parents to a child. And parenthood well-done is a primary way for adults of understanding God's relationship to us.

Good marriage and parenting customs are not uniquely Christian, but there is something about a Christian parent modeling a virtuous life path that is often quite powerful and meaningful to those in his family who do eventually make the positive choice of Christianity.

It does make me feel bad that so much evangelizing is wasted and/or counter-productive. But I also feel so grateful for the those who have reasoned me through some difficult points on my continuing path in learning to love God.

David said...

Following your reasoning, Is it possible that Jesus will reject the love of some people who want to be Christians?

EDFree said...

Amen...now that everyone in the West knows the Gospel story by rote, this is why I think at this point in time, witnessing "passively" by conduct, or simply talking to friends about Christianity in a natural way (that is, not "preaching") is more effective than the direct and aggressive style of evangelism. Listening to an apologetic sermon would only convert someone who sincerely wanted the truth in the first place. Becoming a (real) Christian always involves more than accepting a rational argument...especially now that we've all been brainwashed by materialistic lies since childhood, so Christianity appears to contradict what we've been told is the "rational" worldview.

(Great point about Lazarus...I never noticed that!)

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - I can't really understand even the concept of love without freedom.

@James - Yes, however, I regard love as undivided:


@Lucinda - Yes, On the other hand, there must come a time when the child/ adolescent, adult stands *outside* of everything Christian, and freely, consciously chooses it. This time is a risk, but not a weakness. Because otherwise it is not truly chosen. An ananlogy is actively choosing a spouse rather than passively accepting a wholly-arranged marriage.

(To avoid misunderstanding, I regard a social system of arranged marriage as a natural, normal, effective way of spouse-fnding - compared with the fragile, shallow, evil-tending disaster of modern methods; but both husband and wife *must* actively-choose that which has been arranged.)

@David - No.

@EDF - I think it would be helpful if everyone recognised that all their knowledge relies upon intuition unless it has been passively and unconsciously absorbed. In other words, we ought to replace that all that has been passively and unconsciously absorbed with that which is consciously, intuitively known.