8/22/2011 | Share this article:By Jake Rhodes ~
This serene and somewhat uneventful evening finds me listening to commentary on various theological debates while gazing upon the few empty beer bottles laid waste in front of me. My not quite “drunk”, but ever so slightly unreserved, state emboldens me so that I am convinced it is advisable to pen my musings on a topic I have been contemplating for the past few months. Fairly recently it appears it has become fashionable for religion, Christianity in particular, to append the adjective “reasonable” to a selected form of faith. In fact, William Lane Craig has actually authored a book with a title that conjoins the opposing concepts of reason and faith to form the epitome of an oxymoron. I must admit that I have not read the aforementioned book; this article is not intended to refute any of the points contained within Dr. Craig’s book. I have gleaned enough of Dr. Craig’s philosophy from his public debates to conclude that I have no interest in reading any of his writings. My goal in writing this article is simply to examine a few basic doctrines of Christianity to determine if they can in fact be deemed reasonable. As I stand perplexed by apologists’ claims that belief in Christianity is entirely reasonable, a few simple questions that I would like to posit come to mind. My intention is for each question I propose for every specific dogma to serve as a sort of litmus test in order to see if the belief holds up under scrutiny. Let us take a few moments to ponder some core beliefs of Christianity and determine for ourselves if they are reasonable or irrational.
In order to establish the criteria for determining what dogmas can be declared reasonable, we should first define reason. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines reason as follows:
reason - a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense; especially : something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact
From the above definition, we can justifiably conclude that any reasonable doctrine must be logically coherent. As such, no doctrine that is defined as reasonable should require the employment of absolute blind faith in order to establish its validity. For argument’s sake, I will grant that a proposition without directly contradicting evidence or arguments can be tentatively accepted as somewhat reasonable, although it must be accepted in some sense on faith. However, any dogma that is demonstrably fallacious must be discarded as wholly unreasonable.
Countless times I have been subjected to a sweating, riled up, Pentecostal preacher shouting with enthusiasm his profession of faith in mid sermon. This declaration of belief often contained the statement that Jesus Christ was “both fully God and fully man”. Although I suspect that many pastors I have heard make this profession were unaware of its origin, it is perfectly supported by the Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD). However, consensus among church leaders does not necessarily prove a doctrine to be perfectly reasonable. I contend that the characteristics of fully God and fully man are actually mutually exclusive by their very nature. In order to solidify my position, I would like to ask a very simple question. Was Jesus CAPABLE of sin? The answers “yes” and “no” are entirely comprehensive, therefore the Law of Excluded Middle prohibits any cleverly construed middle ground. If the reader asserts that Jesus was not capable of sin, then I say it is impossible that he was fully human. By biblical definition, human nature is inherently sinful (Gensis 6:5, Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 3:23). If Jesus was actually incapable of sin, then he could not have been fully human because he did not share the curse of original sin and sinful nature alongside the rest of humanity. Suppose the believer argues that Jesus was in fact capable of sin, but that he abstained from it. I would then argue that it is entirely impossible that he was fully God. The defining line between humans and God is supposedly that God is incapable of sin (James 1:13, Hebrews 6:18). The notion of being fully human and fully divine is a paradox. On the basis of logic, the belief in the simultaneous humanity and deity of Jesus must be disregarded because it is completely nonsensical.
The second doctrine I would like to challenge is that concerning the eternal destination of the souls of those ignorant of the gospel, through no fault of their own. According to fundamentalist Protestant beliefs, every soul will spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell (for this article, I will neglect to consider the Catholic belief in Purgatory). One must be completely foolish or willfully deluded in order to deny that countless people have lived and died without ever hearing even the name Jesus. So I ask, are the souls of these people sent to Heaven or Hell? Again, I perceive my question to only allow for two entirely comprehensive possibilities. One must concede that those ignorant of the gospel are either sent to Heaven or Hell. If the believer affirms that these poor souls are indeed condemned to the tortures of Hell, then I argue that God has to be a sadist. Although I’m sure this belief poses no real difficulty for the Calvinists, most reasonable people could never conceive of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god that would predestine anyone for the tortures of Hell without AT LEAST presenting them with the chance for salvation. If God allowed people to live and die without providing them with the opportunity for salvation, one would be forced to conclude that he created those people solely for the purpose of sentencing them to Hell. All of human history has failed to produce a better example of sadism. If, on the contrary, the believer asserts that those ignorant of the gospel are admitted into Heaven by default, I would argue that he/she has unwittingly negated the foundation of the entire Christian belief system. The idea that God grants salvation to those ignorant of Jesus insinuates that Jesus’ coming and death were entirely unnecessary! If God is indeed capable of granting salvation to those who have not heard of Jesus, then the need for redemption and reconciliation is negated. What purpose could the coming of Jesus have served? The only logical conclusion I can draw is that Jesus must have come simply so God could punish those who knowingly reject him. However, this would directly contradict John 3:17. Clearly, either answer to my question seems to require the employment of fatally flawed logic. So once more, another dogma must be disregarded because it is absolutely unreasonable.
The next issue I would like to scrutinize deals with the relationship between the Christian God and objective morality. Believers often make the claim that objective morality only exists if God exists. Debate centered on the existence of objective morality has been carried out to great lengths amongst philosophers and theologians for centuries. It seems that the issue has become obfuscated such that both sides of the debate can easily become frustrated. I assert that Christianity is challenged with the dilemma of determining whether behaviors are good because God commands them, or if God commands behaviors because they are good. If the believer affirms the latter, then the argument could be made that objective morality does exist. However, if the believer asserts that the former is true, then there would be no objective basis for morality. Morality would be entirely contingent upon the whims of God, therefore it would be subjective. I think the debate over the relationship between God and morality can be laid to rest quite easily. Simply ask the believer if he/she could brutally murder at the behest of God. If the believer responds by claiming that God would never give such a command, I would argue that they cleverly side stepped my question. What he/she actually answered was “Do you believe God would ever command you to kill?” and my original question still stands unanswered. The logic of that answer would be completely unfounded anyway since God did in fact order countless murders in the Bible. If the believer is bold enough to respond that they would rebel against such a command, then it is clear that the basis for morality exists independently of God. If the believer confirms that he/she would follow God’s order, then it is clear to any unbiased observer that God is grossly insufficient as a basis for objective morality. (As a side note, I would advise that any believer who answers in the latter manner be subjected to psychiatric evaluation.)
The final dogma that I will examine deals with the nature and authority of the Bible. The foundation of fundamentalist Christianity is grounded in the belief that the Bible is God’s holy word to man. The skeptic usually inquires as to how the determination that the Bible is actually God’s word can be made with such confidence. Most commonly, believers reply by appealing to the Bible’s supposed inerrancy. As one who has read a considerable amount of the Bible, I stand puzzled by this claim. It appears that once again a paradox has been imposed by a fundamentalist claim. The argument for scriptural authority seems to be presented from both perspectives: The Bible is God’s word because it is inerrant. There are no errors in the Bible because God does not err. Anyone even remotely acquainted with biblical criticism can see that the Bible contains a myriad of biological, historical, cosmological, and internally contradictory errors. Apologists’ attempts to rationalize most of these errors through unfathomable mental gymnastics gives testament to the fact that inerrancy is only based on the presumption that the Bible is God’s word. The claims for the Bible’s inerrancy and divine inspiration are entirely codependent. Neither of the claims can be proven independently of the other. The argument for scriptural authority commits the ultimate intellectual sin of employing circular reasoning. Although the term does contain the word “reasoning”, circular reasoning cannot be employed in order to assert that a belief is reasonable. Belief in the divine authority of the Bible is entirely based on blind faith, therefore it is not reasonable.
In a free society, everyone should be allowed to have whatever measure of faith they so choose. However, a certain degree of indignation from skeptics should be expected when Christians make the assertion that their faith is reasonable. What is implied is that rejection of Christian dogma is done so on unreasonable grounds. This is not the case. Reason refutes Christianity at every turn. If Christians (or followers of any religion) choose to have faith, that is their prerogative. I would simply advise that they have the courage to admit that their belief system is based on faith and divorce themselves from the masquerade of reason. In closing, I would like to recall some of Martin Luther’s words on reason:
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”