(warning: long piece about a very deep and thorough form of existential doubt and extreme skepticism! It might be highly unsettling to some people)
Sometimes in discussions with people who don’t share my Christian faith people seem to assume that without my current faith the most logical thing in the world would be to join their own particular religion or worldview, as if there would be polarized world in which there are 2 equally important opposing things my Christianity, and their scientist atheism, Islam, new age worldview, whatever it is…
This surely is nonsense. Even if someone would be able to prove my faith nonsense, all he would do is undo my faith in certain things. That would not mean at all that it would give me faith in anything else. And whatever their worldview is, there’s nothing ‘default’ about any of the ones I named or any other one.
I even think there’s a lot of chance I would be just losing my faith in believing anything at all, including human reason and logic, things I am quite skeptical about anyway. So the thing is; if the skeptic in me (who’s really compelling sometimes) would somehow take over and destroy my faith in God and Christ, the last thing I could be is an ‘atheist’ as a lot of people use the word.
I just wouldn’t have enough faith left for that.
I just wouldn’t!
And I’m not even speaking here about the old evangelical cliché that it takes as much faith to not believe in God as it takes to believe in God. That might be the case for me as a person who probably has ‘the god gene’ that according to some makes people religious. I do indeed find the existence of ‘God’ as logical as the existence of the world, but
Most people preaching ‘atheism’ might say that atheism is the absence of faith in God/gods, but I’ve never met an atheist who found it enough to just stick to that definition when defending or preaching his atheism. What they are talking about is never just the absence of faith in a supreme being, but about science and logic and humanism and a whole system of thought which does assume a lot of things that are not self-evident for my skeptical side. Disproving the existence of any God would never give me enough faith to believe in scientism or liberal humanism. Nor would I be able to agree with all of the dogma of the tradition of people that arose out the modern enlightenment of people that call themselves ‘freethinkers’ while they actually have a very rigid worldview.
I do actually think that undoing my faith in a Creator God who created man in their image might make it impossible for me to believe in human reason or science. Yes, You read that right:
All humanism and trust in reason I have in flows out of my faith in a Creator God! I doubt it could exist if I wouldn’t be a Christian!
I see no reason to trust human logic and faith, and any of our belief systems as human beings, or in the goodness or value of man, if we are just accidentally here, evolving from animals on a tiny planet in a universe that by accident came out of whatever catastrophe in another dimension of the multiverse brought on the ‘big bang’.
I don’t have the faith to trust humanity then. I don’t have the faith to trust human reason or human logic then. It’s just speciesist hubris. And most probably it’s wishful thinking that the universe is ‘rational’ in a way we can build our theories about it and then have everything explained. Where do we even get that desilusional idea?
We are nothing but an ‘intelligent’ ‘civilisation-forming’ carbon based life-form that is slowly destructing its own planet and bringing on the biggest mass extinction since we lost the dinosaurs, and the fruit of our ‘progress’ isn’t over yet, it has just begun. Modernity and progress aren’t so great after all, after discovering most of our planet we killed a lot of it’s inhabitants or at least their cultures, and destroyed the ecosystems. Nothing great about ir, and only the kind of progress that one finds in an egg that’s going bad… All of our science does not keep us from being the most efficient factor of destruction after the comet that ended the era of big reptiles, or from letting live a lot of our fellow humans live and die in misery…
So I can’t be a ‘humanist’ that believes in modern progress, or that man is basically ‘good’. Nor could I believe that our current ‘consensus of science’ is as closer to a valid description of the universe (if such a thing is even possible in our language or the abstract sumbolic systems we use as humans) than what they believed in the middle ages.
And probably the closest we’ll even get will be like using 22/7 for pi without even knowing what we’re doing and why.
So, if I’d lose my faith, I’d really lose it. And not just in God or Christianity, but in more structural humanity, reason, and langua. And sometimes I’m close to that. I never had much faith in humanity, I don’t know why I should believe in our ‘cathedrals of certainty’*.
Yes, I do have my reasons to believe that a lot of our science and logic is valid enough to use as a ‘working theory’ in our lives. My theology and fallible thought about God are enough to live as a Christian. Even though a lot of all of this will be wrong. Maybe most of it can not even be expressed in any of our current languages. Nevermind.
What there is is enough to live by…. even if I fail all the time…
I know some things are real, or I choose to believe so. I believe the universe is real, and not Mayah. I believe reason and logic can be trusted enough to believe certain things. I believe that because I believe God (which I know intuitively to exist) has put that rationality in us and in the universe . To a certain degree.
(I also believe in more than what is commonly called the ‘natural’, due to some of my own experiences and things I heard from people I trust. I’m not going to argue it, but naturalism or materialism just seems like a modern wishful thinking to me. Even though it might be completely possible that any theory about the ivisible world makes no sense at all, and is further away from what it tries to describe than use a value of 4 for pi… But not being able to describe something says nothing about that something, only about the fallibleness of our perceptions…)
So take away my faith. What would be left? Some kind of skeptical non-naturalist agnostic mayve, not able to believe in the claims of any religion, ‘science as the source of all Truth’, nor the new-agers or anyone, not even the possibility that our languages can indeed communicate some truth. Forever suspicious about any truth people preach or any of my own thoughts.
I know a human being can’t live like that. And I intuitively know there’s more than that, there is a universe, a God behind it who gave it enough structure and us enough reason to know some things, even if it’s just in part. Even if all of our expressions of it are completely off. So I have to believe, and live according to the Light I have received.
Nothing makes more sense to me than Christ here. I never seen anything that was more ‘real’, even though all I have seems just a ghost of something more substantial than anything we know. The sermon on the mount, the life or love for others and even sell-sacrifice (which He exampled in his live, death and ressurrection) and the stopping of the endlees cycle of violence do seem to eclipse any human thought system. Even if I suck in living like that, nothing else makes sense… So I cling to Christ in a world where nothing makes sense.
I want to close with the words of Puddleglum of Narnia, the existential marshwiggle, spoken to the witch of the underworld who tried to bewitch him so he would disbelieve everything about the world above where he came from and wanted to return to:
“ All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.
That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.”
What do you people think? (I hope I didn’t unsettle any of my readers with this rant…)
* translation of a term in dutch (kathedralen van zeker weten) coined by Boele Ytsma, a guy who had a prominent role in the Dutch ‘emerging church’ discussions a few years ago, but who since then has moved on from all things religious to preach about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet only…