In my last post I referenced a recent interview with Bart Ehrman. I then asked readers to consider following questions:
- Is there really no place for the Ehrmans of the world within the church?
- Is it inherently impossible to be both an agnostic and a Christian?
I think these are two very important questions because of two opinions I hold:
- I suspect that most American Christians, if not Christians around the world, are functional agnostics.
- I suspect that most people who take the time to truly study the history of the formation of the organized Christianity will conclude that organized Christianity has taken a path that bears little resemblance to the compelling story of the poor Jewish carpenter described in the Gospels.
You may want to argue with my opinions, but let me unpack my thoughts a bit more before you write me off….
Consider one indisputable “fact” from the world of neuroscience: Human perception is inherently untrustworthy. Those who’ve heard me speak on this subject have heard me quote the respected etymologist/philosopher E.O. Wilson:
The brain is a machine designed not for understanding, but for survival. Consilience (1998), p. 96
Research on the human brain has more than adequately demonstrated that this amazing organ is capable of absolutely convincing human-beings that false is true. I think E.O. Wilson, along with about 4 billion neuroscientists (give or take a billion) would agree with this statement:
If your brain believes you must perceive the presence of a loving God in order to get you up in the morning, then your brain is more than capable of creating that illusion.
Now, to me, this conclusion is as obvious as gravity or the inherent superiority of Texas over Oklahoma. What puzzles me is how troubled Christians are by this statement. I should be more specific. I understand why Christians who have never been offered a thoughtful study of how science and faith can enrich each other would be agitated by this assertion. What puzzles me most is how vexing this statement is for very well-informed and scientifically astute Christians.
It seems that Christians think I’m saying something like, “Because the brain is capable of creating the illusion of God, there must not be a God.” Nothing could be farther from my position.
Consider this dilemma. Christianity is built upon thousands of years of Jewish and Christian perceptions. All of scripture is ultimately the story of experiences that individuals and groups perceived as the work of God. Science has demonstrated that human perception is faulty, and so there is no possible way to “prove” that any perception provides evidence for Truth.
One way of summarizing the message of Jesus would be this:
There is a loving God who is redeeming a very broken creation. I’m telling you and showing you that God’s method of redemption is sacrificial love. If you want to live a meaningful life in God’s Kingdom, then you will follow me by committing yourself to overcoming your inherent selfishness and living a life of sacrificial love.
It’s simply not possible to “prove” that this is true, which is why we Christians say a person must make this commitment “in faith.”
Now, tell me if my thinking is muddled at this point, but follow this logic:
- An agnostic someone who is simply saying, “I don’t know” when it comes to the existence of God.
- Christianity is built upon a story that cannot possibly be “proven” to be true.
- Therefore, Christians, by definition, must also be agnostics.
On this important weekend in the life of our Church, I’m especially interested in hearing from my minister-friends on this. As much as I’m guilty of just tipping sacred cows to listen to them moo, I actually think this line of thinking is crucial for the Church. I’ve sat in my office with hundreds of people who have dropped out of organized religion because they “perceived” that there’s no place for someone who declares, “I don’t know if any of it is ‘true,’ but I’m seeking to follow anyway.”
So, I suppose I would frame the question like this:
What are you afraid would happen to Christianity if preachers declared, “Of course you don’t have to believe the story is true. It’s more than enough to live as if it is true.”
He is risen. (Yep, I faith it.)