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Monday, March 21, 2016

Is the falsifiability of Christian claims a conclusive argument for Christianity?

This article argues that it is, but I think the argument is pretty much bunk. Christians do indeed make specific historical claims, but that's only proof of Christianity if you start with the premise that religions should do that. It isn't true that Buddhism is non-falsifiable. Buddhism claims to be a means leading to peace of mind and freedom from the inner suffering that arises from selfish desire. If you practice the Buddhist way for a period of time and find yourself more and more miserable and torn apart by conflicting desires, then a good case can be made that Buddhism has been falsified, at least for you. He's assuming from the start that other religions should make the kinds of claims Christianity makes and then faulting them for not doing so, and that's just ridiculous. Furthermore, it isn't really true that Christianity is falsifiable, at least now. We don't have a time machine. We aren't in a position to check the New Testament's claims by direct observation. Yes, when first made the claims might have been falsifiable, but again, we don't know enough about the circumstances under which they were made to be too sure about this. And the fact that Christians put so much time and energy into apologetics isn't necessarily a point in favor of Christianity. A case can be made that these efforts are necessary because Christians insist on pinning their faith to very contingent historical claims, against which in many cases there is a good bit of prima facie evidence that has to be explained away. From a certain point of view, this is a massive waste of intellectual and spiritual energy. I myself find apologetics to be, in most cases, spiritually arid. In fact, Muslims do engage in a lot of apologetics as well--most of it even worse than standard Christian apologetics, in my limited experience. To be clear: I believe that the historical evidence on the whole supports the claim that Jesus rose again, and I believe that there are very good reasons why Christianity makes contingent historical claims. I glory in belonging to a religion that makes such claims. But I think it's silly to use the fact that other religions don't make such claims as an argument against them.

17 comments:

Sophia Montgomery said...

Hello.


Since I am someone with some background in Buddhism, I see a need to comment on something here:

"It isn't true that Buddhism is non-falsifiable. Buddhism claims to be a means leading to peace of mind and freedom from the inner suffering that arises from selfish desire. If you practice the Buddhist way for a period of time and find yourself more and more miserable and torn apart by conflicting desires, then a good case can be made that Buddhism has been falsified, at least for you."
This would hold if one could genuinely declare that one has properly and fully executed Buddhist practice.

Given how intricate Buddhist practice is, it's not clear how such a declaration could be genuinely made.
Similar applies to at least some other religions.



"This article argues that it is, but I think the argument is pretty much bunk. Christians do indeed make specific historical claims, but that's only proof of Christianity if you start with the premise that religions should do that."

In contrast, let me provide you with a couple of examples from a religion that doesn't do that:

"The Vedic process does not involve research work. In mundane scholarship, we have to show our academic learning by some research, but the Vedic process is different. In the Vedic process the research work is already done; it is complete, and it is simply handed down by disciplic succession from teacher to student. There is no question of research work because the instruments and the means with which one conducts such research work are blunt and imperfect."
http://www.vedabase.com/en/ek/1

"This is the Vedic process for receiving knowledge. One must approach the proper person, the guru, and submissively listen to him expound transcendental knowledge."
http://www.vedabase.com/en/tlk/4

In no uncertain terms, they make clear that one must approach a guru and believe as told ...


"I myself find apologetics to be, in most cases, spiritually arid."

I think that apologetics is, essentially, a power game, and that it has little or nothing to do with the uttered arguments that are being presented, but with the blatant or subtle efforts to gain the upper hand over the will and inner life of the other person.


"In fact, Muslims do engage in a lot of apologetics as well--most of it even worse than standard Christian apologetics, in my limited experience."
Same here. It seems some Muslims (and also Hindus) are more direct in stating their terms than Christians.


"To be clear: I believe that the historical evidence on the whole supports the claim that Jesus rose again, and I believe that there are very good reasons why Christianity makes contingent historical claims. I glory in belonging to a religion that makes such claims. But I think it's silly to use the fact that other religions don't make such claims as an argument against them."

Since you have invited me to become a Christian: What exactly is Christianity? Who is a Christian?
History shows that there is no agreement on that among those people who claim to be Christians.

Contarini said...

Sophia, you are no doubt right that a Buddhist could always claim that you haven't done it "properly." And as you say, that's true in other religions as well. That is basically my point--that Christianity is not unique in being "falsifiable" and thus Christians shouldn't use that as a stick to beat other religions with.

If falsifiability is understood to mean "proof beyond a doubt that the religion is false" then I doubt that any major religion is falsifiable. However, there are criteria by which a reasonable person may conclude that a particular religion's claims don't add up. We can argue over what those are, and they are certainly subjective in part, but the point is that in principle rational inquiry is possible.

I'm sure the Hare Krishnas (the Hindu website you cited turned out to be affiliated with them) are an example of a group not interested in critical thinking about their claims. And indeed there are many such expressions of many religions.

To your last statement: in fact, historically it's quite easy to identify a broad consensus about who Jesus is and what the basic tenets of Christianity are. The vast majority of people throughout the centuries who have claimed to be Christian have adhered to the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Sure, we have argued about lots of other stuff. But there is in fact a discernible "mere Christianity," to use C. S. Lewis' term. Of course one can argue that this consensus only triumphed early on because of Roman imperial support (I don't think this is true--I think that the "Great Church" in about 300 was already clearly the mainstream of Christianity, without any imperial support--but other educated people disagree with me on that so I won't press it here). But be that as it may, the consensus exists.

I don't think it's a legitimate objection to say "Christians disagree and hence there's no way to discern such a thing as Christianity." People are going to disagree. That doesn't mean that you can't, if you want to, sort through the disagreements and reach at least some broad, tentative conclusions. There is, again, a historic consensus on the basic questions of who Jesus was. You may find that unconvincing. But don't take the cop-out of saying that there's no way even to know what you are accepting or rejecting. There is.

And, of course, within that broad "mere Christian" consensus the Catholic tradition occupies a central place, with the Orthodox tradition as the major alternative (agreeing on most points anyway). Again, you appear to have reasons for finding Catholicism untenable. I'm not trying to force it--or anything--on you (not that I could, of course). But yes, I invite you to take the central truth claims of historic Christianity seriously instead of viewing everything through the assumption that it's just a "power play" and there's no truth there to be examined in the first place.

Sophia Montgomery said...

Only man-made constructs or systems can be falsifiable. A system brought about by a power bigger than man can not be falsified by man.

Those who argue that their religion is falsifiable are doing themselves a disservice because they are thereby implicitly degrading their religion into a mere man-made system.


"However, there are criteria by which a reasonable person may conclude that a particular religion's claims don't add up. We can argue over what those are, and they are certainly subjective in part, but the point is that in principle rational inquiry is possible."

These days, "rationality" or "rational" can mean pretty much anything. So does "critical thinking".

I have repeatedly seein in discussions with religious people of various denominations that some of the first terms they usurp are truth, rationality, logic, proof, critical thinking.


"To your last statement: in fact, historically it's quite easy to identify a broad consensus about who Jesus is and what the basic tenets of Christianity are."

We are looking at this from very different perspectives: you are speaking as a self-indentified Christian, an insider, whereas I am an outsider.
From where I stand, that consensus exists only in encyclopedias, but not in the real world.

I, as an outsider, cannot approach Christianity -- no, I can only approach a particular person or a particular Church or denomination. And each one of them claims to be the one and only right one, or at least the most right one.
This is what I, as an outsider have to deal with.


"I don't think it's a legitimate objection to say "Christians disagree and hence there's no way to discern such a thing as Christianity.""

It's not an objection, it's a statement of fact as experienced by someone like me -- an outsider to Christianity, and religion altogether.


"People are going to disagree. That doesn't mean that you can't, if you want to, sort through the disagreements and reach at least some broad, tentative conclusions."

I see no need to come to such conclusions. Although, it seems it is crucial to come to those if one is to formally become a Christian. In practice, formally becoming a Christian means choosing a particular deonimantion which claims to be Christian, and declaring that this particular denomination is the one and only right one, or at least the most right one.

One cannot simply become a Christian; no, one can only become a Catholic, or a Methodist, or a Mormon, etc. etc.


"There is, again, a historic consensus on the basic questions of who Jesus was. You may find that unconvincing. But don't take the cop-out of saying that there's no way even to know what you are accepting or rejecting. There is."

To me, there is no real difference between the religions altogether, and also no difference between the religions and science, or political movements:
because in all cases, I am expected to bow my head, at least psychologically kneel, keep my mouth shut, and believe everything I'm told.


"Again, you appear to have reasons for finding Catholicism untenable."

Not sure where you get that ...

Sophia Montgomery said...

cont.


"I'm not trying to force it--or anything--on you (not that I could, of course). But yes, I invite you to take the central truth claims of historic Christianity seriously instead of viewing everything through the assumption that it's just a "power play" and there's no truth there to be examined in the first place."

I said:
"I think that apologetics is, essentially, a power game, and that it has little or nothing to do with the uttered arguments that are being presented, but with the blatant or subtle efforts to gain the upper hand over the will and inner life of the other person."

Note: I said I think apologetics is a power play. Not that religion altogether is a power play.

I think apologetics is, essentially, untenable -- at least the sort of apologetics I have seen in the past 20 years or so.


Why not focus on the workings of the Holy Spirit? Why not praise God's greatness?

Why is it that apologists ever so rarely talk about the Holy Spirit?
Why is it that apologists ever so rarely praise God?

Why is that if I open the Bible (or some other religious text) on a random page, I will find plenty of talk about God's power and the Holy Spirit and how humans owe God and such -- but listening to an apologist is usually an exercise in pseudo-logic and pseudo-critical thinking with little or no reference to the Holy Spirit?

Why is it that not just a few people say that they have found God by "critically thinking about the claims of a religion", or by "examining the historical evidence" or some such -- but it is ever so hard to find a person who tells you that it was the Holy Spirit that showed them the way?

Last I checked, in the doctrines of many Christian denominations, it is the Holy Spirit who is in charge of converting people and leading them to see the way.
And yet so many people want to take the credit for this. Why is that?

Sophia Montgomery said...

"But yes, I invite you to take the central truth claims of historic Christianity seriously instead of viewing everything through the assumption that it's just a "power play" and there's no truth there to be examined in the first place."

And I do take offense at this projection of yours. It's so typical for religious people.
It is a power play.
You dismiss me from the onset.
You project onto me stances I don't hold, and judge me by them anyway.

So typical.

You don't actually talk to plebeans like me, right?
It's beneath your dignity.

Eh.

Contarini said...

Sophia, I'm very sorry for offending you. But I don't think my account of your attitude as expressed in your posts was an unreasonable one, and I don't accept that it was a "power play." Indeed, you're making my point--I simply say "yes, I'd love to see you talk about whether Christianity is true or false instead of simply dismissing all religion as a power play," and you immediately say, "see, your inviting me to do that is a power play." You aren't convincing me that I've misread you. Everything is a power play for you, even an invitation to talk about something other than power plays! There is no way out of that circle except to be open to the possibility that there is something in Christianity (or some other religion, or some other intellectual/spiritual/philosophical tradition) that isn't just a power play. Either you are open to that possibility or you aren't. It doesn't seem to me that you are.

I'm not "dismissing you from the onset." We've had a number of online exchanges, albeit intermittently because I don't post or check comments here terribly often. I was observing, in good faith, a pattern that I see quite consistently in what you write here, and I was doing so not to dismiss you but in order to engage what seems to be your overall concern directly. Now you say that you don't think religion as a whole is nothing but a power play. But in a comment right before that one you said: "To me, there is no real difference between the religions altogether, and also no difference between the religions and science, or political movements:
because in all cases, I am expected to bow my head, at least psychologically kneel, keep my mouth shut, and believe everything I'm told." That's exactly the sort of thing I was talking about--you say sweepingly that all religions (and secular movements as well) simply ask you to bow your head and believe everything you're told. I don't know how to interact with a claim like that except to say that it's not my experience at all. I'm sorry it's your experience. But if you don't dismiss all religions as power plays, then that means that underneath the bad behavior you've encountered there is something that is not a power play. Why not focus on finding that something, or finding out whether there it is there to be found?

Or don't. Reject organized religion and find your own path, and I wish you every happiness if you choose to do that.

As for the problem of which church to explore--if you don't, in fact, find Catholicism untenable, then that's an obvious first place to start. I would say that it should be the first place to start for anyone who didn't have a really good reason to start somewhere else. But from what you've said to me earlier I gather that you find it hard, in practice, to do this, because of the nature of Catholicism in your country.

Sophia Montgomery said...

"Indeed, you're making my point--I simply say "yes, I'd love to see you talk about whether Christianity is true or false instead of simply dismissing all religion as a power play," and you immediately say, "see, your inviting me to do that is a power play." You aren't convincing me that I've misread you."

My point is that it is meaningless to talk about whether this or that religion (or any other epistemic system) is true or false. To meaningfully talk about the truth or falsity of an epistemic system one would have to be above and beyond all epistemic systems; one would have to have the divine (ie. omniscient) perspective. Every other kind of talking about truth and falsity of this or that epistemic system is just based on favoring one system over another.

Why people talk about whether some epistemic system is true or false -- that I cannot relate to, other than that they are engaging in a power play.

Maybe Christianity is a power play, maybe it isn't -- but talking about Christianity certainly is a power play.


"Everything is a power play for you, even an invitation to talk about something other than power plays!"

But you're _not_ talking to me!
You've made yourself an image of me, and that is what you are talking to, not to me.


"There is no way out of that circle except to be open to the possibility that there is something in Christianity (or some other religion, or some other intellectual/spiritual/philosophical tradition) that isn't just a power play. Either you are open to that possibility or you aren't. It doesn't seem to me that you are."

I'd like to believe that there is something more to religion than just power plays. But, as an outsider, how am I to know that?
To become an insider, I would have to concede to the power plays.


"/.../"because in all cases, I am expected to bow my head, at least psychologically kneel, keep my mouth shut, and believe everything I'm told." That's exactly the sort of thing I was talking about--you say sweepingly that all religions (and secular movements as well) simply ask you to bow your head and believe everything you're told. I don't know how to interact with a claim like that except to say that it's not my experience at all."

Because as an insider, you do not experience religion that way.
It's simply impossible for insiders to experience religion the way an outsider does.

Sophia Montgomery said...

cont.

"I'm sorry it's your experience. But if you don't dismiss all religions as power plays, then that means that underneath the bad behavior you've encountered there is something that is not a power play. Why not focus on finding that something, or finding out whether there it is there to be found?"

Because I am an outsider. You insiders grant me no rights over understanding your religion(s).
You go to great lengths to make clear to me that I am not one of you and that I do not belong.

You say:
"But yes, I invite you to take the central truth claims of historic Christianity seriously" -- what makes you think I haven't done that??!


What I see, as an outsider, is that members of religions do not take seriously the claims of their own religions, and that there seems to be a method to this -- a method which I, as an outsider, cannot possibly grasp.

Almost daily, I read The Imitation of Christ and the Psalms (by the calendar method of reading all 150 in one month).

But from what I have seen of people who claim to be Christians, apparently, only a total loser would take The Imitation of Christ seriously.

This is what I don't understand.

Since Christians, or, specifically, Catholics, own the rights over interpreting The Imitation of Christ (and other religious texts), what are non-Christians supposed to do?
What is our place?
Should we just give up?
Should we dismiss our understanding of this book because we aren't Christians?
What?


"Or don't. Reject organized religion and find your own path, and I wish you every happiness if you choose to do that."

Rather than actually talk to me, you give me platitudes ...


"As for the problem of which church to explore--if you don't, in fact, find Catholicism untenable, then that's an obvious first place to start. I would say that it should be the first place to start for anyone who didn't have a really good reason to start somewhere else. But from what you've said to me earlier I gather that you find it hard, in practice, to do this, because of the nature of Catholicism in your country."

What I find hard -- hard to the point of impossible -- is to fit myself into the community of Christians (or any religious people).
All those interpersonal politics, power plays, projections, sense of entitlement over interpreting scriptures, sense of entitlement over other people ... I can't do that.
And as I have already seen -- if I don't get with this program, I get excluded.

Contarini said...

Sophia, I'm very sorry. I think I see now where I misunderstood and misjudged you, and from my interactions with you so far I should have known better. You're right--I went into "apologetics" mode and talked down to you, and you called me out on it.

Let me rephrase what I think you're saying and why my earlier statement was unfair, and tell me if I'm getting it or if I'm still off the mark.

You were offended when I assumed you didn't take the truth claims of Christianity seriously because, in fact, you take Christianity very seriously both intellectually and (even more) as a spiritual practice. It's not that you deny that there is "anything there" but that you have been told by Christians that your experience of that "something" is invalid because you are not formally a Christian. Furthermore, on an intellectual level you don't see any way to evaluate the truth claims of Christianity "from the outside," which creates a vicious circle: to believe rationally you must have reasons for belief, but you can't have reasons until you believe. And obviously these two things interact.

I'd have a lot more I'd like to say, but I need to go. Let me know if I have more or less understood you so far.

Sophia Montgomery said...

Thank you for your speedy reply.


"You were offended when I assumed you didn't take the truth claims of Christianity seriously because, in fact, you take Christianity very seriously both intellectually and (even more) as a spiritual practice."

No, that's not why I said I was offended. I feel offended only inasmuch as I am supposed to see myself as a child of God, and yet, somehow, other children of God are free to treat me like shit, but I nevertheless have to trust them and rely on them for my salvation.



"It's not that you deny that there is "anything there" but that you have been told by Christians that your experience of that "something" is invalid because you are not formally a Christian."

Exactly. As an outsider, one is routinely told by religious people (and proponents of other political, philosophical etc. movements) that all one does as practice and all the insights one might have in said religion don't really count until one becomes a member formally.

I probably know the Bible and some other Christians texts better than many of those who claim to be Christians do, and yet it keeps happening that those Christians by default assume about me that I have no clue about the Bible and have never read it.
I'm not offended by that, but I see no point in pursuing some kind of communication with people who don't listen to me.


"Furthermore, on an intellectual level you don't see any way to evaluate the truth claims of Christianity "from the outside,""

It's not about "evaluating truth claims." More below.


"which creates a vicious circle: to believe rationally you must have reasons for belief, but you can't have reasons until you believe. And obviously these two things interact."

No, you're interpreting this as an insider who believes he is talking to an outsider.

It's not about "having reasons for belief", or "evaluating truth claims". Especially in Christianity, at least in Catholicism, "reasons for belief" is a misleading proposition, given that, according to Catholic doctrine, only the Holy Spirit can bring about belief in a person.

According to Catholic doctrine, when a person "believes in God" they do so because the Holy Spirit led them to do so, not because they have found (by way of "rational inquiry," "philosophical contemplation" etc.) "reasons for believing in God."

Sophia Montgomery said...

cont.

You seem to start from the premise that when people believe something, they do so because they have "evaluated the truth claims" about said proposition. It's not clear how this is generally the case. In some instances, yes, this is how belief in something comes about, but not in all instances.

If we're talking about things such as "There are 300 million Americans" or "There are no red socks in my sock drawer", then establishing the truth or falsity of such claims is indeed a matter of "evaluating truth claims."

But "belief in God" is not in that category, especially when it is specified that belief in God comes about the workings of the Holy Spirit, not by one's own efforts.

The way I see it, the biggest problem with many religions, especially Christian ones, is that their conversion discourses (ie. the discourses the members engage in when they talk to potential new converts) are tailored to being born into those religions, but not to converting adults.

When a person is born into a religious family, that person internalizes that religion without having to expend any serious epistemic effort; in fact, children are typically expected to internalize the religion of their parents before they are even old enough for their capacities of critical thought to develop. Given that parents take care of their children, feed them, clothe them, clean them, protect them etc. etc., children really have no reason to doubt or not internalize whatever their parents tell them, including religious doctrines.

But the same does not apply to potential adult converts. We, as adult outsiders, unlike children, get nothing discernable, nothing tangible from religious people, and yet we are expected to trust religious people as much as children trust their parents.

We not rarely get treated as if we are imbeciles, we are given no religious or spiritual credit. We are expected to financially take care of ourselves, to fulfill all our worldly obligations and to do so prudently, wisely, carefully, but in religious matters, we are supposed to be as gullible as infants.

Do you see the problem with that?

On the grounds of what should we trust religious people?

Because it is trust that it all comes down to. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But what is bad is when religious people try to circumvent the need to be trustworthy, and instead shift the whole burden on the prospective convert, trying to present it all as a matter of "rational argument" or some such.

Sophia Montgomery said...

cont.

In my case, it's not about having or not having "reasons for belief". It's about the _difficulty_ of maintaining belief (and I mean here "believe" in the etymological meaning of the word, which is 'to hold dear'!) -- the difficulty of maintaining a proposition when one is not a member of a community that typically holds or espouses said proposition.

Imagine that you learn, say, French, but for some reason, after having basically mastered the language, you never speak to any French people nor anyone else who speaks French, and that the French even reject you, tell you that you're a foreigner and have no business speaking French. How would you feel about French? Would you feel confident about it? Would you want to speak it?


Religious belief is only meaningful and tenable when one is (at least initially) a member of a religious community that holds or espouses said belief.
But if one is not a member of said community, one cannot experience said belief as meaningful.

One thing is to depart from a community later on, either freely or if forced.
Something entirely different is to never belong to begin with.


When becoming a member of a religious community requires going against the very doctrines that said religious community claims to uphold, then only children and psychotic or traumatized adults can do it.

A normal average person as a prospective convert is unable to live with the sort of cognitive dissonance produced by the mutually exclusive claims and requirements in many religious communities.

When people are born into a religion, they also develop a sense of entitlement in religious and social matters, and so they aren't as disturbed by the mutually exclusive claims and requirements as potential new converts are.

An example: All the Catholics I know have no qualms about using contraceptives and having abortions, even though both are nominally against Catholic doctrine. If I were to become a Catholic, I would have to fit in with the Catholics, which means that, among other things, I would also have to have no qualms about using contraceptives and having abortions, but I would still have to believe those are against Catholic doctrine.
So how does one do that??



"I'd have a lot more I'd like to say, but I need to go. Let me know if I have more or less understood you so far."

I'd like to hear what more you have to say.

Contarini said...

Sophia, I apologize for not responding sooner. I won't be able to say everything I want to at the moment, but here's a start:

One of the reasons we are talking past each other, I think, is that we have such different experiences, and this isn't just about being "insider" vs. "outsider" as you put it. I grew up in a "Wesleyan Holiness" tradition where the experience of the Holy Spirit was very much emphasized (and, for what it's worth, Imitation of Christ was much praised!). In my experience, language about the Holy Spirit and experience of the divine was often used as a "power play." My grandmother was the religious authority in our family, and she directed all of our lives (sometimes in destructive ways) based on what she believed God was telling her. You couldn't challenge this, because after all she got up every morning to pray, she heard directly from God, and who were we (anyone else in the family) to question her? Catholicism has always been appealing to me in part because it doesn't seem to make the head-heart dichotomy that so much of Protestantism does. Catholicism values reason, while also teaching (as you say) that the Holy Spirit is needed and that ultimately faith transcends (not contradicts) reason. That was a lifeline to me.

So when I talk to someone about the faith, I tend to use very rational language, which I see as an expression of respect for the other person. That is to say, for me the language of reason is a relatively "neutral" language in which two people can meet and discuss without one assuming a special authority over the other. (And yes, there are problems with this view of reason I know, and we could talk about that, but I still think it's true as compared to the language of religious experience.)

So when I read your posts, I may think to myself, "the Holy Spirit seems to be drawing Sophia Montgomery," but I say something like, "I invite you to consider truth claims." I'm sorry that this has backfired, and I think I'm starting to understand why, but honestly I speak in this way in order to avoid sounding like I'm trying to coerce people by claiming some direct knowledge of the divine.

Apologists are mostly addressing people who think Christianity doesn't make rational sense and who are put off by an appeal to experience or to the supernatural. But I agree that apologetics is mostly rotten. A theologian of my acquaintance, Craig Keen of Azusa Pacific University, says that it's "of the devil." I do see some value to it, but it should only be incidental to a much fuller and richer presentation of the Faith. Apologists are trying to do something fairly narrow--show that basic Christian beliefs are not unreasonable.

Contarini said...

The fact that the Holy Spirit is needed for people to have faith doesn't mean that reason plays no role. According to Aquinas, and official Catholic teaching as I understand it (bear in mind that with regard to Catholicism I'm an "outsider" myself in a similar position to yours), some truths (like the existence of God) _can_ be proved by reason, while others, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, need faith. But even these can be shown not to be contrary to reason, and probable arguments from history and miracles and so on can be made--they just won't take you all the way.

One of Aquinas' ideas that has most influenced me is that intellect and will influence each other. The head/heart dichotomy is, I think, false to experience. So when I say things like "evaluate Christian truth claims" I don't mean them in as cold-blooded a way as they come across. This "evaluation" needs to be experiential as well as intellectual--they feed into each other.

I don't think it's true, as you seem to believe, that there's no way to evaluate Christianity "from the outside." But I do get (finally) that this isn't your problem. Your problem is that in many respects you feel and think and pray like a Christian, but you find it impossible formally to become one, and as long as you aren't one formally you feel as if Christians are telling you that your experience isn't real.

So just to be clear, before I wrap up this installment: I don't think that for a minute. I would only use the "outsider/insider" language when dealing with someone who makes cynical and sweeping claims about Christianity (or some other religion--Christians do this about Muslims) while ignoring what the people who actually practice the faith say they believe. (Non-Muslims who say, as a way of condemning Islam, that "peaceful Muslims are bad Muslims" are an extreme and very obnoxious example.)

Someone who engages in the spiritual practices you describe is no longer simply an "outsider." You're in a "liminal" position, to use jargon--on the threshold, not quite in and quite out. Or perhaps more accurately, very much "inside" in some ways, but not in others. And I think that's OK. I think that, in the immortal words of my wife, "God can deal." God isn't keeping score to see if you have jumped through the right hoops. I do hope you can find a way to be baptized and enter a Christian community (and while I'd love for that to be Catholic, just as I'd love to find a way to be Catholic myself, I honestly _don't_ think that's the most important concern). And I hope that you find a community of Christians who will welcome and nourish you rather than putting you down for the very qualities that make you most worthy of respect--your fierce intelligence, your courageous honesty, and your deep spiritual hunger (these, at least, are the qualities that come through in your posts). I wish I could do more to help you find such a community, but alas, I don't have the necessary local knowledge.

Sophia Montgomery said...

Thank you for your reply.


Here's something I'm concerned about: "Scrupulosity" is also called "the Catholic disease." Officially, even the Catholic Church relegates it into the category of OCD and that it is something that a person is not at fault for. Inofficially, scrupulosity is due to a lack of faith (that's the view a monk might give you).
I agree with the inofficial view: a lack of faith, if left unaddressed, eventually festers into what looks like OCD.
In my opinion, it is especially Catholicism (at least as it is generally practiced) that is conducive to such festering, to such leaving things unaddressed.

I'm skeptical about your being drawn to Catholicism. I think Catholicism has great potential to creating the kind of circumstances you had with your grandmother -- regardless of what Catholicism might otherwise teach.

But in your family of origin, it was at least a family member who had the say in religious matters. Once one approaches organized religion, it can be total strangers who will demand that one give them all power over one's life. Total strangers who don't even know or bother to know one's name and who don't care whether one lives or dies. I think being bossed around by total strangers is far worse.


"So when I read your posts, I may think to myself, "the Holy Spirit seems to be drawing Sophia Montgomery," but I say something like, "I invite you to consider truth claims." I'm sorry that this has backfired, and I think I'm starting to understand why, but honestly I speak in this way in order to avoid sounding like I'm trying to coerce people by claiming some direct knowledge of the divine."

Actually, I find it much easier to deal with people who directly, openly declare themselves as authorities in divine matters. Because then at least I know what kind of person I'm dealing with.

People who use "rational language" are sometimes just being passive aggressive, trying not to flaunt their conviction about their own superiority, even though they firmly believe in it.
I'm suspicious about everyone who uses "rational arguments" because 4 out of 5 times, that person is simply being passive aggressive.

"Apologists are trying to do something fairly narrow--show that basic Christian beliefs are not unreasonable."

It's not like anyone really believes that they are "unreasonable". Many people are simply distraught by the way things are in this world: notably, that it is precisely evil people who seem to get ahead in life. The real issue is why and how to hold on to a standard of morality when real life experience seems to show that doing so is to one's disadvantage. Moral behavior often comes with a discernable cost, so, naturally, when someone applauds moral behavior, it needs to be clarified why persist in a behavior that is bound to bring about bad consequences. And when even those apologists themselves don't behave morally, one has to wonder why on earth they preach it anyway.

I find that apologists tend to have a very low regard for humans and life in general; and it is this low regard that I think is so problematic.

Sophia Montgomery said...

"The fact that the Holy Spirit is needed for people to have faith doesn't mean that reason plays no role."
Since there are so many definitions and conceptions of what "faith" is and what "reason" is, I find it impossible to have a meaningful conversation about these before they key terms are clarified.

I don't see "faith", "reason", "will" and "intellect" as somehow neatly distinguishable from another. The distinctions between these are not even culturally universal. In Thai, for example, they have the word "citta" (from Pali) and it comprises the meanings of what Westerners call "head" and "heart" -- to the Thais, these two are one.

To me, "to prove something" always means "to prove something to a particular person for a particular purpose." I don't think proof can somehow exist on its own, regardless of the people involved.

I'm not sure you can relate to my criticism of "evaluating truth claims." This criticism of mine has nothing to with the head/heart dichotomy, intellectual vs. experiential. I don't operate within such dichotomies (I do realize many people do and many assume that everyone does, or should).
I've already explained where I think the problem is with "evaluating truth claims".


"But I do get (finally) that this isn't your problem. Your problem is that in many respects you feel and think and pray like a Christian, but you find it impossible formally to become one, and as long as you aren't one formally you feel as if Christians are telling you that your experience isn't real."
I don't just "feel" as if Christians are telling me that me experience isn't real or that it doesn't count. They in fact are telling me such things.
It's common enough that members of organized religions claim that it is only after one formally joins a religious group that one's spiritual journey begins.


"Someone who engages in the spiritual practices you describe is no longer simply an "outsider." You're in a "liminal" position, to use jargon--on the threshold, not quite in and quite out. Or perhaps more accurately, very much "inside" in some ways, but not in others. And I think that's OK. I think that, in the immortal words of my wife, "God can deal.""
If we go strictly by Catholic doctrine, then formal conversion and formal baptism aren't even a necessity for salvation.
Question is, which theistic doctrine to appeal to?

Sophia Montgomery said...


"God isn't keeping score to see if you have jumped through the right hoops."
Oh?


"I do hope you can find a way to be baptized and enter a Christian community (and while I'd love for that to be Catholic, just as I'd love to find a way to be Catholic myself, I honestly _don't_ think that's the most important concern)."
I have no desire to become a Christian, or a member of any religion, I have no desire to subscribe to any ism. I just want to do right by God. Of course, I don't know what that means and how to find out what that means -- hence my problem.


"And I hope that you find a community of Christians who will welcome and nourish you rather than putting you down for the very qualities that make you most worthy of respect--your fierce intelligence, your courageous honesty, and your deep spiritual hunger (these, at least, are the qualities that come through in your posts)."
I am sure you know that the Imitation talks a lot about the dangers of seeking external solaces.

While I would love to belong somewhere, I am also well aware that religious communities place certain material requirements on their members and prospective members. I'm just not in the socio-economic category from which religious communities prefer to draw their prospective members. I don't blame them for that; such is simply the reality of life on earth. No community, religious or otherwise, can afford to invest in people who are not likely to repay that investment.


Thank you for the conversation, I'll leave you to your blog now.