This morning I read an article by Michael Gungor, a musician, who is offended that a friend would consider him no longer a Christian “because of my lack of ability to nail down all the words and concepts of what I exactly BELIEVE “. His premise is a philosophical acrobatic which has been around for centuries: how do we know we can believe or know anything? Philosophers have questioned everything from knowledge and learning to the simple question, “how do I know I exist?” And it is from this degradation of the understanding of reality that Renes Descartes concluded his famous thought, “I think, therefore I am” in 1637.
But Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was 2100 years behind the more well known thinker who wrestled with existence, the Buddha. Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha) lived five hundred years before Jesus walked the Earth, and built an entire philosophy and religion on the presupposition that nothing truly exists, and to attain freedom from the cycle of suffering (exemplified by the cycle of reincarnation), is to become freed from passions and enslavement to the physical realm. Enlightenment, then, is realizing that nothing is real and ultimately ceasing to exist.
Gungor is flirting with this fundamental issue in his post. While never quite settling on the Buddhist end that nothing truly exists, he questions if we can ever truly know something and argues that we only believe what our environment/culture teaches us, and all that we think we know is fundamentally a belief. Using gravity as an example, he argues that there is a possibility that our understanding of gravity is errant and someday another source may be discovered (like a computer simulation).
He then attempts to apply his logic that all knowledge is assumption to God: since the Earth is constantly rotating, and it is spherical in nature, looking physically up towards the sky is not necessarily looking towards Heaven, if such a place even exists. He does not disprove the existence of Heaven, but simply attempts to define a spiritual place physically and implies that since we never know if we truly are looking towards it with our eyes, we can never truly address it.
Our environment and culture shape what we believe. But we never can really know anything because it might be disproven, and thus everything is an assumption. And since everything is an assumption that is molded by our experiences, we only believe what we experience.
Are you confused yet? If so, it is because this circular logic essentially says nothing. He ultimately argues that nothing really matters, except how you act based on what you believe. You may not judge another’s beliefs because his beliefs are simply the result of his environment, and while he admits it sounds fatalistic, he still tries to apply morality to an existence without absolute truth.
And therein lies the key.
This man is so preoccupied with assumptions that he misses the primary assumption he is holding, and that is that his logic has the final say. There is no absolute truth and he will use his logic to determine his god and his own morality, a lifestyle of love, how he defines it based on the environment in which he grew up, however to which he is not allowed to hold another accountable. Because my experience might shape my morality differently than yours.
Live and let live. Except, don’t judge me because you don’t really know anything, and I won’t judge you because I don’t really know anything either. However, I reserve the right to be angry because a serial killer affirms Jesus and impending judgment but still murders.
His conclusion, in regards to Christianity, is simply that he finds the Bible to be allegorical. No, friends, this is not a new statement. Have you ever heard of St. Augustine? He argued that the Bible should be read allegorically 1400 years ago.
But the problem here is that in arguing such, we take God’s authority away and place it squarely in our own hands. It is now my interpretation of this story, the moral that I see present in it, that is of importance. So Gungor says he is incapable of believing that Adam and Eve were the first humans, because of “what he has seen”. He is now the authority, his environment has shown him something that he believes to disprove this (even though he admits his experience might be disproven further), and so he will find a moral in the story to affect his actions. But it will be only his moral, because it might say something different to you.
His conclusion is this:
So, for me, I’ve decided to think about my ‘beliefs’ in terms of how I live rather than what my unconscious assumptions are. Because there are lots of people that have all sorts of beautiful ‘beliefs’ that live really awful lives. If I’m on the side of a road bleeding, I don’t care if the priest or the Levite have beautiful ‘beliefs’ about the poor and the hurting.. Give me the samaritan. The heretic. The outsider who may have the ‘wrong’ ‘beliefs’ in words and concepts but actually lives out the right beliefs by stopping and helping me. That’s the kind of belief I’m interested in at this point.
And after telling his constituency not to try to label him and say that he is not a Christian, he says,
So you believe in God? So what. You believe Jesus was the Son of God that will someday come again to reconcile all things? Big deal. So do most serial killers.
He attempts to apply James’ teaching of faith through works to himself, stating that all that matters is what you do. “The right beliefs” he defines, as someone who stops to help him.
Now. That was all a recap of what he said. And my response is simply this: You are not the authority. Nor am I. Nor Gungor or anyone wrapped up in vain philosophy. It sounds to me as though this man is upset that serial killers believe in the facts presented in the Bible but continue to live heinous lives. The Bible and the facts claimed therein, therefore, are the culprit and consequently untrustworthy. Instead of attacking the issue of sinfulness within Christians, and instead of trying to submit to God and His statutes, he throws the baby out with the bathwater. Since a demon can academically assert the truth and reality of God, then God is not a truth and reality. Implied, however, on a deeper level, is that he is at an impasse with God because he loves something that God defines as sin, and therefore is trying to justify himself by reinterpreting God.
Every one knows that there is a problem with humanity and that is evil. This man wants to encourage you to live by love, but he will not dare tell you how to love because your environment alone can dictate what you consider love to be, and what actions are morally acceptable and even good. However, he is offended that someone might try to categorize him based on his belief system. What is loving for you is your decision, as long as it does not offend me. But then he strangely interjects his caveat, that the right belief is to stop and help him when he is hurt. So, I guess he can define for you what is loving. And right. Because of his assumptions and environment.
Everyone is trying to deal with the problem of evil. Even if you philosophically argue that everything is personal preference and disposition (there is no absolute truth), if someone steals your car, murders your mom or punches you in the face, you are going to expect justice, if not seek retribution yourself. Why? Because it is evil. And you know it.
All religions in the world are attempts at dealing with this problem. The major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, Catholicism) know that the evil is within us and are trying to work off a debt of sin. Muslims, through the five pillars, Jews through sacrifices and Catholics through prayer and penance. Most polytheistic religions consider the gods to be, at least in part, a source of the evil and attempt to appease the gods of their anger (which can be a result of any stimuli), through sacrifice, ritual and offerings. Eastern religions suggest that suffering is the result of desire and thus freedom from the cycle is the goal. Nothingness. Suffering is merely perceived, so get over it.
It is Christianity alone that says, “I am incapable”. Christianity acknowledges that my logic is limited, my strength flawed and my nature wicked. But God. These are two of the most beautiful words which are repeated throughout Scripture. God took it upon Himself to reveal Himself to us, to give us His Word, to offer us forgiveness and salvation through the literal death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to then instruct us how to live in a righteous way.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
– Eph 2.1-7
God defines morality. God defines good. God defines love. My pastor likes to say this, “Is it more loving for God to give us His Word, tell us His heart and show us the way to salvation? To warn us the way of death and to make one, easy to understand path? Or would it be more loving to place us in a world of evil, with multiple paths and say, ‘You figure it out’?”
Just because you have never seen the laws of gravity broken does not mean that God did not write the physical laws of the universe. Just because you have seen fossils in the ground and listened to humans say that the placement of fossils in the sedimentary record proves evolution, and argue that they completely understand the half life of carbon and thus can tell all of history by their scientific method does not mean that God did not create the ground, perhaps some of it complete with fossils, and that the Bible is not true.
You are not god. I am not god. My logic or skills of science or perception do not change reality, morality, judgment or eternity. And my feelings or desires do not affect what God defines as sin. Nor does the culture at large. God created all of humanity, all of the world, and cultural shifts and quirks that we see exhibited in our society today are not new. There is nothing new under the sun. And when these sinful tendencies were exemplified in previous generations, God did not change his mind. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Sodomy: sexual intercourse through the anus, attained it’s name because of the homosexual cultural of the city of Sodom. God judged it some four thousand years ago. So are we suddenly more enlightened than those people? Or the ancient Romans, two thousand years ago?
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
– Joshua 24.15
I will serve the Lord. And I consider it the most loving this possible to plead with you to serve Him too, because I believe His Word, the Bible, to be true and accurate and the only hope. So if you want to let me define my own love, then let me love you by sharing with you the hope that I have found in forgiveness and redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ and not of my own logic or effort. And please do not try to change God’s words or speak for Him. Because He has clearly outlined sin, the penalty for it, the offer of forgiveness for it, redemption from it, and eternity with Him.