Several people have come out as Christians to me and wanted to tell me about their faith. So I feel the need to explain what makes “faith” in this religion absurd, as things are getting more and more absurd all the time now. I don’t stray far from “faith” when people want to share this with me. Like a Socratic critical theorist, I want to know why you think “believing” in any of this will change… the eternal “status” of your soul.
As a former philosophy student, I don’t even like logic. Sometimes even the preliminary “logical” points need to be pointed out, however. So these are simple arguments I make.
The act of faith, according to the most reformed theologians, is the one which determines your eternal standing in the universe, in short, determining whether you spend eternity in heaven or perish in hell. It is by “faith alone” (sola fide) and not “works” that people should be saved, as Martin Luther argued.
Perhaps no story in the Bible better captures this article of faith better than the story of the two thieves on the cross with dying Jesus.
If you recall the story, one thief rejects the spirituality of Jesus and is presumably eternally separated from God thereafter. The other thief “believes” in the Jesus story and asks him to “remember me” in the afterlife. Presumably the thief who believed is saved by grace. There are also countless examples of faith-determining scenarios in the Gospels and evidence from Paul’s writings it is what Christians believed Christ was teaching.
Whether or not the thieves could have eternal life rested on whether they held that proposition to be true. The only difference between them was, just that, a difference in faith — enough to mean a world of separation from a jealous and authoritarian God.
What is going on here?
Like an insane Descartes, who called into doubt even these “simple things” about the world, ones that are too often taken completely for granted, so too the dynamics of this false faith are taken completely for granted. The edifice of Christian epistemology would fall apart without it, so what is it all about? Unlike Descartes we won’t rely on the same God for whom our inquiry calls into question, to also then save us from our own skepticism and hot wax. Why beg the question if we’re going to recover jewels lost since the beginning of time?
Consider why faith is important at all, why it is the defining moment in a Christian life. Why does it rest on whether, as the Roman epistle (10: 9-10) is often quoted, you will “say out loud,” and “accept in your heart” … anything? Why does divine judgment rest on humanoid judgment at all? Why does God care that you “believe,” “accept,” or “say out loud” anything at all? And when everything comes from a divine source, how can there any room for non-divine judgment?
“I think such and such is true,” says a non-divine being.
Is this statement meaningful to an infinitely divine being? (Unless that infinite being is ourselves and we are affirming something about us.) That an infinite being (apart from us) would demand this statement in order to “save” our world, is not only problematic. It is much worse than that — it is incoherent. This is not a stumbling block. It is a brick wall, foolishness. This is what theology is set upon proving.
Some things are absurd because they are obvious. Other things are absurd because they are not obvious. Others still are absurd because they are meaningless. It is not obvious why (and also absurd to think) that God would put any effort into securing the propositional attitudes of humans, like billions of little votes of confidence. The Christian faith provides all the prerequisites, all the the premises of its own logical absurdity. Overly pious fideist sects say, “We believe because it is absurd.” They represent the more ridiculous tendencies of the Christian absurdity we are dealing with. But why believe because it is absurd? Is it because that, too, is absurd? And we’re going to go around believing everything that is absurd? Is this not so outrageous that even pursuing it or relying on other justifications to overcome skepticism is pushing the absurdity to ridiculous levels? Why should we believe in “absurd” things? And what exactly is meant by absurd, because Albert Camus who writes as an “absurdist” means something different than a fideist.
Standard theology explains that the act of faith is possible only by an act of grace first. The most developed of these, if you want to this activity development, is known as the reformed epistemology.
From the position that, “All things are sustained by the grace of God” (1 Corinthians 4:7 and The Book of Romans) it is deduced that faith, too, is possible only by the grace of god. Consider this for a moment, because in this moment God is also the creator and sustainer of everything, and any act of faith comes from that source too.
This is a clear example of absurdity:
(1) To whom should you be grateful for having faith?
(2) And to whom should you be grateful for not having faith?
(If this were formal logic, here I would be explaining why not having faith is incompatible with having faith, and that one is negative while the other is positive, and that both propositions coming from the same source would equal a contradiction.)
(3) When you can thank god for having faith, and simultaneously thank god for not having faith, in Boolean logic this is called a logical absurdity.
Both propositions, P and not-P, cannot coexist and be both true at the same time. So in logic it is absurd to propose that both are true at the same time.
I would state it another way: a being that puts forth false propositions about its own existence is unconcealing a form of self-denial. Something like this does not exist, or it would not have denied itself. Unless, as Descartes thought, god were some kind of “evil genius”. Many theologians have said an evil god is “not worth worshiping.”
You cannot deny yourself. Perhaps you have a kind of godlessness about you, which affirms that you are yourself a god. The historical belief, atheism, is a part of Western culture. It is a response to Christianity. It is not a global idea. I do not consider myself an atheist. Atheism is a “position” – it is not a practice. It is not a “philosophy” in the ancient sense of the word philosophy = love of wisdom. It is a reaction to Christianity and that is all – there are no other clouds that follow it. So of course theologians attack the proverbial “straw man” when they talk about atheism not having a “moral system.” Atheism has very few of its own ideas. It is easy to react against something you do not agree with and forget to develop yourself. I think of Christianity as an ongoing research project, a meme, one that is constantly researching new ways to untie itself from knots. But most of what it does is make itself look as though the “foundations” were stronger than any alternatives.
Philosophy courses are the way they are, today, because of Christianity’s influence too. Even areas of philosophy not in the so-called “philosophy of religion” category are influenced by the religionist development of philosophy. From the Christian “arguments” advanced against paganism, to the development of a Christian metaphysics, epistemology and hermeneutics, and then from the “Enlightenment” reaction to them, until now. It’s too bad. For people interested in philosophy – if they are past Socrates, and are not stuck in some “Enlightenment” thinker’s labyrinth, and have settled as far out as critical theory – they probably still have no idea what they think. They are post-everything. As much as atheism is a reaction to Christianity, so too contemporary philosophical thought is a reaction to the Christian theology. Thomas Aquinas once said philosophy is the handmaiden to theology, and even though plenty of philosophy can be done outside of theology, there is still a twisted sense of philosophy developing out of a second-hand slave morality which made itself rigorous because theology had become rigorous from thousands of years memorizing, sermonizing and scholasticizing.
Analytic philosophy would describe itself as the advancement of justified knowledge about the world, and its method is formal logic, and I think we can do better than that.