There hardly seems to be a correlation between intelligence and faith or intelligence and doubt. But, of course, intellectuals are tempted to justify their habits of mind and heart by making doubt into a virtue of sound intelligence. It nearly goes without saying, but those of us who live a life of doubtless faith also try to justify our existence. The Bible touts the centrality of faith. We read such passages and are tempted to pat ourselves on the back for our faith. We’re truly biblical Christians! We’re inclined to pity those who live with doubts, wondering if they are really as committed, as Christian, as we are. And our “pastoral” attitude is sometimes, “Why don’t they just snap out of it?” Such self-justification assumes that faith is a product of will power — that our doubtless faith is a virtue we’ve developed. An honest self-examination suggests otherwise. How is it that I can look at some of the most horrific things in history and current events and not question the goodness of God? All the evidence seems to point to a natural conclusion, to which I am clearly not led. This is either psychological denial or a gift. And if a gift, then it is hardly something I can take credit for, nor something I can expect others to adopt as if it were something completely under their control.
The other thing that I have become increasingly aware of is that there is not just a single version of events called the truth. Life is not nearly as simple as that. Each of us brings to the table our own beliefs, backgrounds and experiences and we all have the potential to interpret a single event differently. One person’s experience is a truth of sorts, but it is never the whole story. There is a separate truth for each one of us. The brain is such an incredible organ that if we repeat things often enough, we come to believe them. It can be the use of the phrase, ‘I’m not a good sleeper,’ that creates the insomniac, the repetition of prayers that creates faith. After almost thirty year of working in the legal profession, I have lost confidence in a system that looks for a single set of facts by relying on the evidence of others based on something as elastic as memory, and labels it as truth. The plain fact is that I wouldn’t want to be judged by twelve of my peers, let alone by a higher being. Let’s hope that if there is a God, he takes a greater interest in what is in our hearts than our actions, otherwise I fear we’re all for the high jump.
Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.
[I]s this posture in fact possible for a human being: can a person accept it, and accept it authentically, without bad faith or doublethink? I am to remain a Christian, to take part in Christian worship, to accept the splendid and powerful doctrines of traditional Christianity. However, I am also to take it that these doctrines are only mythologically true: they are literally false, although accepting them (i.e., accepting them as true, as literally true) puts or tends to put one into the right relation with the Real. And how can I possibly accept them, adopt that attitude toward them, if I think they are only mythologically true — that is, really false? I could, indeed, believe that they are mythologically true; believing that, however, doesn’t move one toward the right kind of life; it is only believing the teachings themselves that allegedly has that salutary effect. Once I am sufficiently enlightened, once I see that those doctrines are not true, I can no longer take the stance with respect to them that leads to the hoped-for practical result. I am left, instead, in the position of a sad and disillusioned Gnostic. I no longer hold Christian belief; I recognize, as I think, that it is in fact false. I also see, of course, that those who do accept it as true are mistaken, deluded; but at any rate they are in the fortunate position of enjoying the comfort and strength and consolation these false beliefs bring; they are also being moved closer to the right kind of life.
We all like to believe we are more rational than we really are. The painful truth is that we are naturally inclined to believe what we want to believe, and we may adopt some fashionable intellectual scheme because it allows us to feel superior to other people, especially those unenlightened masses who need the crutch or the discipline of religion. Of course people may also adopt a religious creed in order to justify themselves, especially in times or places where religion is fashionable. Everybody is subject to the temptation to rationalize. The temptation is probably greatest for those with the most intelligence because the more intelligent we are, the easier we will find it to invent convenient rationalizations for what we want to believe and to decorate them with high-sounding claptrap. Unless we take the greatest precautions, we will use our reasoning powers to convince ourselves to believe reassuring lies rather than the uncomfortable truths that reality may be trying to tell us.
Contemporary theologians who deny the rationality of Christian belief often quote Tertullian’s statement that the crucifixion should be believed because it is absurd. He also said the fact of the Resurrection is certain because it is impossible. But these statements must be understood from the context of Tertullian’s own life and work. He himself utilized elements of Greek philosophy and logic that he believed to be compatible with Christian belief. The major emphasis in his writings was to contrast the coherence of Christianity with the inconsistency of his heretical opponents. When he does speak of the absurdity of Christian belief, he is actually referring to the unlikelihood that any human mind could conceive of God’s redemptive plan. Like C. S. Lewis, he was convinced of the truth of the gospel by the very fact that no human being could possibly concoct such a story as is presented in Scripture. Certainly the Jews could not; the claim of Christ that He was God in the flesh was blasphemous to many of them. Nor could the Greeks create such a story; for them, the material world was inferior to the divine realm. God could not possibly assume human flesh in their philosophical reasoning. But for Tertullian, this was compelling evidence that the gospel is true! The religious and philosophical systems contemporary with the advent of Christianity would have prevented any human from simply making up such a fantastic tale. He concluded that the gospel had to originate in the mind of God himself.
It is the things for which there is no evidence that are believed with passion. “Nobody feels any passion about the multiplication table or about the existence of Cape Horn, because these matters are not doubtful. “But in matters of theology or political theory, where a rational man will hold that at best there is a slight balance of probability on one side or the other, people argue with passion and support their opinions by physical slavery imposed by armies and mental slavery imposed by schools.
On the other hand, there are those who disdain the apologetic task altogether, either because they believe that Christian faith is entirely a gift of God or because they advocate religious commitment as a “leap of faith”. Such thinkers would quote Pascal: “The heart has reasons that reason knows not of”. What those who take this approach overlook is that it proves too much. If Christian belief is justified by faith alone, then so is every other form of belief on the commitment market, since the devotees of each are equally convinced they are right. Besides, it is important to notice that Pascal still called the reasons which are not known by reason, “reasons”.
Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern theology is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there. Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward. In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed. So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history did upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time. This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.
“I do not ask for answers, I just believe.” This sounds spiritual, and it deceives many fine people. These are often young men and women who are not content only to repeat the phrases of the intellectual or spiritual status quo. They have become rightly dissatisfied with a dull, dusty, introverted orthodoxy given only to pounding out the well-known clichés. The new theology sound spiritual and vibrant, and they are trapped. But the price they pay for what seems to be spiritual is high, for to operate in the upper story using undefined religious terms is to fail to know and function on the level of the whole man. The answer is not to ask these people to return to the poorness of the status quo, but to a living orthodoxy which is concerned with the whole man, including the rational and the intellectual, in his relationship to God.
A man like Sir Julian Huxley has clarified the dilemma by acknowledging, though he is an atheist, that somehow or other, against all that one might expect, man functions better if he acts as though God is there. This sounds like a feasible solution for a moment, the kind of answer a computer might give if you fed the sociological data into it. God is dead, but act as if he were alive. However, a moment’s reflection will show what a terrible solution this is. Ibsen, the Norwegian, put it like this: if you take away a man’s lie, you take away his hope. These thinkers are saying in effect that man can function as man for an extended period of time only if he acts on the assumption that a lie (that the personal God of Christianity is there) is true. You cannot find any deeper despair than this for a sensitive person. This is not an optimistic, happy, reasonable or brilliant answer. It is darkness and death.
The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-sided sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow “rationalism.” Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless. The exception were certain people (whom I loved and believed to be real) and nature herself. That is, nature as she appeared to the senses. I chewed endlessly on the problem: “How can it be so beautiful and also so cruel, wasteful and futile?”… I was so far from wishful thinking that I hardly thought anything true unless it contradicted my wishes.
The two greatest enemies of religion are infidelity and blind zeal, the former attacks it like an open enemy, and the latter, like an indiscreet friend, does it more harm than good. The first gives rise to the free thinkers, the latter to our sectaries. A truly religious life has the same efficacy to the prevention of both.
[U]pon the whole, we may conclude that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one…. Whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.