Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Faith vs. Mystery

Every week on the way to our parish, we drive by a tiny Episcopalian church with a large sign out front that says: "Where false certainty ends... There true mystery begins!"

Now, I try not to go in for a lot of inter-denominational mocking, because it doesn't tend to go anywhere productive, but ever since this sign showed up a year or two ago, it's struck me that it summarizes a lot of what's wrong with a certain brand of Christianity.

Certainly, there are elements of the faith which are beyond human understanding. The trinity. Transubstantiation. The human and divine natures of Christ. These are Mysteries of the faith in the sense that we know of them only through revelation and they cannot be fully understood in human terms. (Which is why they provide fodder for all the juiciest heresies.)

However, some Christians are enthusiastic about are about mystery for its own sake. I've known several very earnest Christians who assert that 'faith' is that set of things which cannot be known by reason. Thus, one gets statements like "You can't 'know' God exists, because then you wouldn't have faith." or "My problem with transubstantiation is that it's so intellectual. We shouldn't have to know how Christ is present in the Eucharist so long as we have faith that he is."

Certainly, we 'know' things by revelation in a different sense than we 'know' mathematical axioms, historical analysis, or scientific theories, but this does not necessarily mean that we 'know' them less. A belief must be a belief in something. We believe certain things to be true -- such as that Christ suffered and died for our sins and was raised up on the third day. I would say that I am more certain of that truth than that Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare or that it really isn't possible for anything to travel faster than 299,792,458 mi /sec -- though certainly these represent different types of certainty.

Perhaps I'm reading far too many of my frustrations with liberal Christianity into a single slogan, but I can't help thinking that whoever came up with that sign would have described Christianity as "one part of the history of the continuing dialogue between God and humanity", as if one day this dialogue will take a sudden turn and God will say, "You know what, fellas? I woke up this morning and realized I've been awfully old fashioned about some things. Let's see if we can move into the modern world on some of these moral issues."

If seems to me like the very purpose of Christianity (and religion in general) is to come into contact with eternity, with those things that are and always will be true, good and beautiful. And, thus, things that are 'certain' in a way that far exceeds the petty certainties of the everyday world. Further up and farther in.

5 comments:

Rick Lugari said...

You're a lot more positive minded than I am. The "There the true mystery begins" aspect of that slogan is what drew most of your attention. The "Where false certainty ends" is what got mine.

I read that and it tells me that the author is a relativist. The term "false certainty" screams "there is no immutable Truth and any claims to the contrary are false. And we can't be bound by dogma, therefore the mystery of having a belief of our own making validated by our sheer will is a most satisfying experience. Won't you come join us?"

Darwin said...

I always picture a half dozen people sitting around saying, "Anything could be. Wow. Anything. Wow..."

Fidei Defensor said...

Christian denominations that act like this shoot themselves in the foot. Most people I know here at college have actually had never even heard of the Episcopal Church, until posters started appearing for a gay/dress in drag or as a superhero "alternative" prom, to be held at the local Episcopal Cathedral.

Unknown said...

We believe certain things to be true -- such as that Christ suffered and died for our sins and was raised up on the third day. I would say that I am more certain of that truth than that Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare [...]
Beautifully put!

Anonymous said...

"one part of the history of the continuing dialogue between God and humanity", as if one day this dialogue will take a sudden turn

Isn't the description of one such "sudden turn" called the New Testament?