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Monday, April 17, 2017

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Hi Dr. BV,

I'm very glad you have made this post because it is something I've been thinking a lot about recently. I'm not sure if you are familiar with Dr. Jordan Peterson's book 'Maps of Meaning' (Peterson is a psychology prof at the University of Toronto, and he has been taking a lot of heat lately regarding legislation here in Ontario mandating the use of gender neutral pronouns and his views on political correctness/free speech more generally. If you haven't heard about Peterson I would strongly suggest you do a quick youtube/google search on him, it would give you lots to blog about!). Anyway, Peterson approaches Christianity from a mythical/archetypal perspective and argues along similar lines as Jacques, that Christianity is not literally true, but that its stories, ideals, figures, narratives etc. embody certain archetypal truths that underly the very structure of Western civilization. Here is a quick video that gives a glance into his views. I'd love to see you post more on this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TXXeUGTfJQ

Sorry but this is simply not consistent with the hermeneutics. Two quotes below (my emphasis). The key thing is that the gospels are not prophecy, i.e. they are not authored by someone claiming to be in direct contact with God. Luke begins his narrative with a statement that it is a narrative, and an ‘orderly account’, based on the testimony of ‘eyewitnesses’, and that he himself has followed events ‘closely for some time’. So according to Luke, the author, it is an objective, evidentially based account.

The passage from John immediately follows the scene with doubting Thomas, who said “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Jesus shows him the marks, and Thomas believes. And then John says that these things, i.e. these miracles are recorded in order that we may believe.

There is also the passage from Paul which you quote in an earlier post (Cor. 15:14). So I disagree that ‘the Christian story is true whether or not it is historically true, and that its truth is therefore not the truth of an historical account’. For (1) the narrative itself claims that it is a historical account and (2) what we must believe, in order to have ‘life in his name’ is precisely the truth of that narrative.

Luke 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

John 20:30 ‘Now Jesus did many other signs [i.e miracles other than the miracle witnessed by doubting Thomas] in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

A Happy Easter to you and all your readers!

>> This world is not a product of ignorance or avidya, and the task is not to see through it.

What about seeing through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12)? And particularly 1 Cor. 15 onwards, about the nature of the resurrection, particularly 44: ‘it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.’ 51: ‘I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed

Has anyone read F.H. Bradley's "The Presuppositions of Critical History"? Therein he makes a compelling argument that historically-based claims to truth are quite flawed across the spectrum. I am inclined to accept this.

Paul also states, quite unequivocally, that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Just like debates about "eternal life" and "eternal damnation" have been definitively problematized by scholars such as Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan, the idea of resurrection has become more nuanced by scholars. I think conventional Christianity is very much guilty of forcing believers into bad faith by uncompromisingly holding to an untenably banal factual reading of Paul on this question. Paul himself encountered the "risen" Christ, but not as some zombie corpse.

And as to Judaism: it is equally dubious that anything in the OT is terribly "accurate" in the historical sense. Judaism and Christianity are "grammars of existence," not annals of facticity.

>>historically-based claims to truth are quite flawed across the spectrum

I think the evidence for Napoleon's existence is fairly compelling.

Happy Easter, Happy Ostrich

I agree completely with your first comment above. You do realize, I hope, that is Jacques' view, and not mine that you are criticizing.

But I see no merit in your second comment, and none of your citations tell against what I am saying.

Hi Bill,
Thanks for your very thoughtful comments. A few quick responses...

You're probably right that the view I'm suggesting is incompatible with orthodox Christianity. And maybe it's incompatible with any kind of Christianity (on any reasonable definition of 'Christianity').

But maybe that depends on a more precise characterization of the epistemic view I'm suggesting. Some commenters seem to be saying that canonical Christian texts imply that historical truth is necessary for the truth of Christianity--e.g., Happy Ostrich says that "the narrative itself claims that it is a historical account" and "we must believe ... precisely the truth of that account". Now these quotations do support the view that the NT writers offer a historical narrative as one important basis for Christian belief, i.e., belief in its historical truth is sufficient for belief or certainty regarding Christianity.

Do these quotations imply that Christian belief is impossible, improper, or false, when it doesn't have that kind of basis? Doesn't Jesus also have great respect for someone who _just believes_ without any real evidence (e.g., miracles)? (The story of the Centurion and the Servant?) This could be taken to mean that proper Christian belief is possible, at least, without any such basis in historical evidence, and maybe that it's even better that way--so that, extrapolating, the ideal post-modern Christian would be one who believed just as firmly despite having no idea whether there really was a historical Christ, etc.

I also wonder what it would mean to "believe" in this narrative? In this context it begs the question to equate belief or proper belief with belief that the narrative is historically true. On the view I'm suggesting, the merely historical falsity of the narrative wouldn't mean that it wasn't true, or that it wasn't something a rational person should believe. On that view, what happens in empirical history is more akin to "fiction" than what happens on some transcendental level. It's like a dream, and reality intrudes into this dream sometimes in ways that are "false" relative to the dream. For example, I imagine someone who believes that the "fictional" character of Jesus Christ is an avatar of some Real Person or Ultimate Being far more real than any merely empirical or historical entity. Such a person might, arguably, fully "believe in" Christ, and fully "believe" the narrative. He thinks it all really did happen--or something uniquely important happened--but it didn't happen in this irrelevant empirical sense.

But I'm probably out of my depth here, knowing nothing much about Christian theology or hermeneutics, etc.

Maybe I should add that, as a very (overly?) open-minded ignoramus on much of this, I have no problem with the idea that orthodox Christianity is a primitive and incorrect form of the religion. Maybe true and correct Christianity is far more Platonist or Gnostic or Hindu-ish than Christians (including authors of the NT) have traditionally thought. But maybe that suggestion puts me too far outside the usual frame of discussion for any interesting disagreement?

>>But I see no merit in your second comment, and none of your citations tell against what I am saying.

You mean from 1 Corinthians?

Some interpreters say that Paul got the metaphor of the mirror from Philo, who got it from the striking passage in Plato’s Republic.

Hi Bill,

My opinion is that the temptation to adapt a kind of philosophical "Christian" synthesis is at the heart of every heresy. Philosophy is the handmaiden to Christianity; when it takes the reins, it produces heresies and idols, like Origen notes in his Letter to Gregory, but if it is willing to be taught, then it can be valuable.

It is evident that the Christian faith about Jesus Christ who "suffered under Pontius Pilate," as the Creed says, makes a claim to reality, to historicity, and thus is either to be accepted or rejected as such. It doesn't need to be "saved" or "appropriated" in a way that doesn't even take seriously its own self-understanding. This would be similar to lifting some statements of mine out of context and constructing a philosophical position out of it, even though I meant something else entirely; you would not be doing me any favors in this, nor would you be adapting something of mine.

Here is another line of questioning I'd like to see you take on. Perhaps we can talk about it more when we next meet. You write that platonizing tendencies come with being a philosopher. But why should anyone think that it is more worthy to be a philosopher than a Christian? Why prefer philosophy to Christianity? Can you give a non-circular reason?

Jacques writes,

>>Doesn't Jesus also have great respect for someone who _just believes_ without any real evidence (e.g., miracles)? (The story of the Centurion and the Servant?) This could be taken to mean that proper Christian belief is possible, at least, without any such basis in historical evidence, and maybe that it's even better that way--so that, extrapolating, the ideal post-modern Christian would be one who believed just as firmly despite having no idea whether there really was a historical Christ, etc.<<

There are two questions here and you may be conflating them.

The first question concerns the mental state of the believer while the second concerns the content of the belief.

Q1. Is belief in Christ without evidence in some way superior to belief with evidence?

Q2. Do orthodox Christians believe that the Resurrection occurred as a matter of historical fact, and that if it didn't their hope for eternal life would be vain?

I'd say the answer to both questions is Yes. You seem to be saying that an affirmative answer to (Q1) entails a negative answer to (Q2).


Bill,

I know this is a bit of a tangent(but so are a few comments above!):

"Q1. Is belief in Christ without evidence in some way superior to belief with evidence?"

I'm not sure if you were affirming that you agree with your answer to Q1 or are offering what you take to be the Christian view, but with respect to the latter, I think that's been held by a small minority of Christians, and I don't think one will find much Biblical evidence for it. (If you yourself believe the answer is "yes," I'd love to hear why, perhaps in another post. Ignore what follows if you think that belief without evidence is the minority view).

Hebrews says faith is the evidence of unseen things. I take that to mean that faith has an evidential element, but it's of unseen things (rather than pie-in-the-sky belief about something seen or unseen). The limiting case for evidence perhaps being uninteresting "seemings."

Paul repeatedly appeals to evidence and never implores anyone to believe without evidence. Nowhere does he say to believe without evidence. He argues with Jews, philosophers, Romans, and Greeks. When John the Baptist's followers ask for evidence that Jesus is who they think he is, he tells his apostles to give them such and such evidence. Sometimes Jesus refuses to give evidence via miracles, but when he does, he typically says that they already have enough evidence. Some point to the story of Thomas wanting to see Jesus with his own eyes to count in favor of believing without evidence being superior. But I think this is another instance of a common theme in Jesus's teaching--"blessed also." What goes unsaid is, blessed are you Thomas (of course--you got to *see* Jesus--how could that not be a blessing?!);*but also* blessed are those who have not seen and believed. (Notice it does not say "more blessed" just "blessed"). Most people will believe without seeing, and Jesus wants to make it clear that they are not any worse off and perhaps sometimes better off. But of course one can have evidence without what is typically thought as the best evidence--sense perception, e.g. the testimony of others, the witness of the Holy Spirit (better than today's sense perception), inference from testimony plus other evidence, etc.

Jacques,

I'm not sure what you take as literal and true, literal and false, figurative and true (etc.) in the Biblical texts, what you take the various genres to be, what you take the genre of the Bible as a whole to be, and what you pull away as true if the whole grand narrative, let's call it, is a fiction (Jonah, e.g., seems to me to be Jewish satire (which conveys truths), but Paul's letter to the Corinthians is a letter of instruction to the Corinthians). So take this with a grain of salt. I think this might address part of what you're asking or getting at, but perhaps not. Here goes.

I think there's pretty good Biblical evidence--treating the N.T. texts as historical documents, their genres as that intended by the human authors, and their writers as speaking on behalf of Christianity--that one can be a Christian in the soteriological sense of "Christian" (have saving faith/love that Jesus talks about) without having much if any beliefs about historical propositions. In Romans, e.g., Paul talks about Abraham et al. having faith, and Abe didn't know about 1st century A.D. history. One of Paul's main points, I think, is that faith *in God* (involving certain cognitive and volitional relations toward God and others which are not clearly defined but often shown by example) is necessary for faith. And faith in Jesus is *sufficient* for having faith in God--a point the Jewish part of the audience was not getting.

But Jesus suggests that if you have certain beliefs about him and *reject him*, that counts as being rejected by God. It seems to me that if one has enough historical evidence of Jesus to have faith in him and one rejects him as Lord, then one isn't really having faith in God and thus not a Christian in the soteriological sense. Also, the historical beliefs are very Good News and not to be downplayed as ineffective. They are to be spread around and proclaimed from the hilltops. Again, I'm basing this belief on what I take to be historical evidence of what Jesus, Paul, etc. taught. (And of course I agree with Bill that Paul held that, regardless of anyone's belief, if Jesus literally wasn't resurrected, throw it all out the window).

The sociological sense of "Christian," though, is probably such that someone without the relevant historical beliefs is not a Christian. Probably most Christians and people who know a good deal about Christianity believe that. (They are just wrong if they mean it soteriologically).

Having said all that, I recommend the historical beliefs, in part because I think they are true!

Steven writes:

"This would be similar to lifting some statements of mine out of context and constructing a philosophical position out of it, even though I meant something else entirely; you would not be doing me any favors in this, nor would you be adapting something of mine."

It might be similar to that, but suppose someone did lift some statements of yours out of context and construct a philosophical position that wasn't at all what you had in mind. Sure, it follows that the position in question is not _your_ position, or an adaptation of something of _yours_. But does that matter? If the resulting philosophical position is true, or just interesting and illuminating, who cares whether it's a fair representation of what _you_ had in mind? Maybe what you said, and the 'misrepresentation' of what you said, all function together as a vehicle or vessel for some important truth that couldn't have been expressed any other way. (And, who knows, maybe the 'misrepresentation' _is_ what you had in mind, without knowing it at the time? I often find there is a strange synchronistic meaning or meaningfulness in things I say or do that isn't apparent to me until much later, or when someone else 'misunderstands' me.)

My point is that, if the view I'm suggesting is taken seriously, it might beg the question to assume that the 'correct' interpretation of the Christian texts or stories is the one that mainstream Christians or canonical authors consciously intended way back when.

Bill, you write:

"I'd say the answer to both questions is Yes. You seem to be saying that an affirmative answer to (Q1) entails a negative answer to (Q2)."

I don't think that's what I'm saying. I'm not saying that if Christian belief without evidence or indifferent to evidence is the superior kind, then orthodox Christians don't believe that the Christian story is historical fact, or that their hopes would be vain if it were not. Maybe they do believe that. But I'm suggesting that they don't _need_ to believe that in order to have a strong (coherent) religious faith in something strongly resembling Christianity, even if that kind of faith might not be orthodox Christian faith. Does that make sense?

"As I understand Buddhism, its truth does not require the actual existence of a prince Siddartha who long ago attained Enlightenment by intense seated meditation under the Bodhi Tree and in so doing became Buddha. This is because one's own enlightenment does not depend on what some other person accomplished or failed to accomplish."

This is actually a dangerous claim for a Buddhist to make. If the Buddha did not exist, then placing one's trust in the dharma is vain. The Buddha shows that nirvana, or freedom from dukkha, is possible. Moreover, in most schools of Buddhism, enlightenment does actually greatly depend on other people. If one wants to become enlightened, one must become ordained in Theravada Buddhism, for example, while in Zen there is the notion of mind-to-mind transmission of the dharma, which requires both master and student.

"There is no Savior in Buddhism"

There is in Pure Land Buddhism. His name is Amitabha. But Gautama Buddha is also a savior figure in that one cannot attain salvation without placing one's trust in him. He's one of the three jewels one takes refuge in when officially becoming a Buddhist, the other two being the dharma and the sangha.

"is in* vain..." (Apologies for the typo, as the meaning changes without that preposition.)

Tully says:

>>Hebrews says faith is the evidence of unseen things. I take that to mean that faith has an evidential element, but it's of unseen things (rather than pie-in-the-sky belief about something seen or unseen). The limiting case for evidence perhaps being uninteresting "seemings."<<

As I was watching *The Case for Christ* I had the thought that "faith is the evidence of things unseen" could be taken to mean that the very fact that many have faith in Christ (and are willing to suffer for it) is itself evidence of such unseen things as the deity of Christ and his being resurrected. (No mortal saw his being resurrected, although the accounts are that some saw him post-Resurrection.)

But I don't think that is what you mean. It's not clear to me exactly what you mean. In what sense does faith have an "evidential element"?

You parenthetical remark is also not clear to me. You are a thing unseen to me. I have never seen you. But Paul is not talking about things unseen in this sense, is he?

Jacques,

What you say @ 8:09 makes sense. But I think the proper way to proceed is by starting with Christianity's own self-understanding. (A good intro to this would be C S Lewis, *Mere Christianity.*) For Xians, God's becoming man in Jesus of Nazareth is an actual historical event. Likewise with the Resurrection of Jesus. Paul is right: If those events did not occur, then the faith of Christians is "vain." Why? Because the promise of Christianity is that we are not the screwed-up miserable animals we appear to be, slated for death in a few years, but are called to a higher destiny: eternal life with the Father. But we cannot achieve this higher destiny by our own efforts, which is why we need the Mediator, Christ, who is fully divine, but also fully human. We need salvation, but we cannot save ourselves, pace Buddhism.

Now I have left a lot out, but all of that is essential to the Xian message. Now there might be good reason to alter, reform, revise this message to, say, get rid of incoherencies and whatnot, but the starting point has to be the actual doctrine.

Steven says:

>>My opinion is that the temptation to adapt a kind of philosophical "Christian" synthesis is at the heart of every heresy. Philosophy is the handmaiden to Christianity; when it takes the reins, it produces heresies and idols, like Origen notes in his Letter to Gregory, but if it is willing to be taught, then it can be valuable.<<

The famous line is *philosophia ancilla theologiae.* Philosophy is the handmaiden of theology, not of Christianity. Would you agree that Christian theology is applied philosophy, i.e., philosophy applied to the Christian revelation in Scripture (including the OT) and in the person of Christ?

There could be Christianity without philosophy, but no Christian theology without philosophy. We will agree that for a Christian, philosophy must submit itself to the data of revelation. Still, if Christianity is to understand itself, it must do so in philosophical terms. That's how we get dogmas and creedal formulations.

You could say that philosophy generates heresies, but it also generates the dogmas that heresies oppose. The dogmas are not just laying there in the Scriptures. The tough question is: what makes a teaching a dogma as opposed to a heresy? Might we say that heresies are simply those dogmas that did not get the nod at the councils?

That's not quite right, but perhaps you catch my drift.

I have to go and attend to the needs of Fratre Asino.

Bill,

The popular way to describe faith today is in terms of lack of evidence. Faith is basically opinion or belief without evidence. In contrast there is knowledge. If you have faith that p (just to focus on the element of Xian faith w/respect to propositions) you cannot have knowledge that p and vice versa. I think there's little if any Biblical support for such a view. In fact 1 John explicitly says that some items of faith are known--certain moral truths for instance. And presumably the 500 or so people who thought they had seen the risen Lord were certain about this and would have claimed to know this particular item of faith.

In contrast it seems to me that Hebrews--and Biblical texts more generally--understand faith more in terms of the *object* of belief than the evidence (or lack thereof), where the primary object is God and the secondary objects are things standing in certain relations to God. I suppose beliefs about souls would be included under faith, but probably not simply because they are unseen (like electrons). Unseen things=spiritual things (can't give a better characterization at the moment). Believing that Christ was risen is an item of Christian faith even though he's seen, but it would've been reasonable to claim one knows this item of faith on the basis of seeing him.

"In what sense does faith have an evidential element?"

I do not know that there *has* to be an evidential element. Perhaps some people have faith and the cognitive part of that faith consists of an innate belief based on no evidence. Some are just born with that belief and find themselves with it. Or perhaps they acquire it causally by being in the right circumstances (e.g. beautiful mountains) but it's not based on any evidence, as some Reformed epistemologists hold.

But that's not how the Bible portrays things. People either believe p (focusing again on the cognitive element of Christian faith) on the basis of human testimony, miracles, God actually speaking, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, or inference from other propositions. They might "choose this day whom they will serve" but I don't think you ever find anyone hauling off and choosing to believe that (e.g.) God exists, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, that gay sex is immoral, etc. but with no evidence. Perhaps there's a volitional component to belief (I know you think there is) and so the evidence itself isn't always compelling, but I think the Bible portrays things such that there's always or usually enough (however much that is) when people actually do have faith.

Hi Bill,
About your 5:26 post... I think you're right about what is "essential to the Xian message". But it's not clear to me why "those events" have to occurred historically in order for faith in the Xian message (or Christ, or the Christian God) not to be "vain". For example, why could it not be that (a) the Christian story is not historically true, but also (b) "we are not the screwed-up miserable animals we appear to be, slated for death in a few years, but are called to a higher destiny: eternal life with the Father"? Clearly (a) and (b) are logically compatible, and someone might correctly and even rationally believe both of them. To me it seems that the historical narrative is traditionally presented as _evidence_ for (b) and similar claims "essential to the Xian message". But there could be other kinds of evidence for the same message, or it could be rational or proper to believe the message without having any evidence. Why would the historical truth of the narrative be necessary or even important with respect to the _truth_ of the Xian message?

(Maybe I should add that I don't think the historical narrative is (historically) false. I'm not sure what to think about it, partly because I don't think I know enough about the relevant evidence.)

If the essence of the message is what you say it is, then it seems like history and other empirical facts are not essential to it--even if such facts have traditionally been regarded as important evidence for believing the message.

Good discussion, Jacques.

Everything depends on exactly what the Xian message is, what it includes, and what it excludes. I said above that is is essential to the Christian message that we are not animals like other animals but have a higher vocation: we are called to eternal life in the divine milieu. But while that is essential to the message, there is more to the message than that. If I specify one or more essential features of a thing, it does not follow that I have defined the thing.

So I agree with what you say about the compatibility of (a) and (b): we could have the higher vocation even if Jesus was not raised from the dead. But if we add the rest of the claims that are constitutive of Christianity, then Christian faith is vain "if Christ be not risen" to put it in a King James sort of way.

I don't think we should disagree about this.

Your concern is different. Apparently you have read the NT and you have been impressed. You sense that there is truth in those passages, deep truth. Those pages speak to you. And so you ask yourself: do the truths I discern in these pages require that there really was in man born of a virgin in a miserable outpost of the Roman empire, a man identical to the second person of the Trinity -- before Abraham was, I AM -- who died the death of criminal, rose from the dead, and in so doing redeemed mankind from the weight of Adam's and our sin?

Of course, I am putting words in your mouth. But this is the sort of question I put to myself. I receive a whiff of the divine from the NT pages. But then I ask: how could this be true? A man who is identical to God? It makes no bloody sense; it involves a logical contradiction, and all the fancy footwork that is done to avoid the contradiction -- explored in many, many posts on this blog -- is unavailing.

My problem is that Christianity seems logically impossible but also morally and spiritually true. So I toy with the idea, as I think you are, that the NT discloses a type of truth not tied to (logically impossible) historical facts.

Have I properly understood your concern?

And I toy with other possibilities: it is impossible to understand but true nonetheless.

Hi Bill,
I was reading your comments loosely--took you to be saying what the (whole) essence of the message is. Certainly we shouldn't disagree that if we add some further content to it, the message depends logically for its truth on historical truth (e.g., trivially, add the claim that the stories recorded in NT are historical truths). But is it so obvious that any such content really is essential to (or constitutive of) the message? I assume that most Christians have traditionally believed that it was. Presumably the NT authors believed that too. Does that settle the question? I'm not sure. Maybe NT should be regarded as a very garbled human transmission of some ultimate truths that weren't properly understood by the NT authors. Actually one line of thought that appeals to me here comes from an old post of yours--maybe God 'spoke' to us simply through the life of Jesus, whatever exactly the details of that life -- and I'd add, regardless of whether it happened historically -- and a true Christian is simply someone who 'gets it' from knowing about that life. (Calling this heresy or ersatz Christianity begs the question here.)

You've expressed well one concern that I have, for sure. I also feel that NT has 'a whiff of the divine', but that it makes no sense. So I look for some way to make sense of it, and trying to accept the historical truth or even realistic possibility of a logical impossibility (or something that just seems absurdly improbable) doesn't seem like a way to make sense of it. One thing that motivates me, apart from this specific issue, is just that I have independent reasons (or intuitions) for thinking that empirical truth might be unimportant, or not real or literal truth.

Steven writes,

>>It is evident that the Christian faith about Jesus Christ who "suffered under Pontius Pilate," as the Creed says, makes a claim to reality, to historicity, and thus is either to be accepted or rejected as such. It doesn't need to be "saved" or "appropriated" in a way that doesn't even take seriously its own self-understanding.<<

Yes, it makes a claim to being historically true. And one ought to take seriously its own self-understanding to the extent that that is possible. But here's the problem: if one finds the Incarnation to be logically impossible, and yet finds something very valuable in the NT, then appropriating it in some other way makes good sense.

>>Here is another line of questioning I'd like to see you take on. Perhaps we can talk about it more when we next meet. You write that platonizing tendencies come with being a philosopher. But why should anyone think that it is more worthy to be a philosopher than a Christian? Why prefer philosophy to Christianity? Can you give a non-circular reason?<<

Excellent questions and excellent challenge.

Although it is not obvious that Christianity demands the crucifixion of the intellect, it is powerfully arguable that it does in the end: one has to accept what must appear to our intellect as absurdities. Thus we are being asked to deny our supposedly God-given capacity to reason in pursuit of truth and in avoidance of falsehood.

If so, the choice between being a philosopher and a Christian is a terrible and wrenching one.

And so a philosopher can argue like this: nothing can be accepted by us as true, or even meaningful, if its involves logical contradictions. Athens wins. Jerusalem must submit and accommodate itself to Athens.

I'll leave it to you to argue the other side.

Hello, Bill.

In what sense does faith have an "evidential element"?

It is interesting that, in Hebrews 11:1, the Greek words for “substance” and “evidence” are ‘hupostasis’ and ‘elenchos.’ These are philosophically-rich terms used by a writer operating in a world shaped by Plato and other Greek philosophers. Christian faith is the hupostasis of things hoped for and the elenchos of that which is (physically) unseen.

‘Elenchos’ can refer to the inquiring, examining, dialectical method by which one comes to deepen his understanding of what is not easily understood, and/or by which one comes to appreciate the limits of his understanding. The Socratic Method is also called the Elenchos. If we apply this sense of ‘elenchos’ to the verse, then faith is not a piece of evidence to support the unseen. Rather, faith is a method of examination by which one comes to understand the unseen, or by which he comes to know his limits of understanding such matters.

‘Hupostasis’ refers to that which stands under or possesses something (e.g., a property). What stands under a genuine hope? Suppose someone plays the lottery and hopes to win. Arguably, this is not a genuine hope. Or suppose a negligent parent hopes his child will turn out to be a virtuous person, and that this will happen on the basis of his parenting. Again, a false hope. But suppose a wise and attentive parent hopes for the good of his child, or a careful and expert investor hopes to build his wealth. These hopes are based on reasonable belief and responsible, adept, persevering method.

On this interpretation of Hebrews 11:1, a mature and robust Christian faith involves rational inquiry, responsible living, and reasonable hope over the long haul. It is a faith that seeks understanding.

So many interesting thoughts getting chewed on here. I want to make some comments that kind of intersect with multiple trains of thought.

1) A plausible case can be made that the resurrection was originally a spiritual event (perhaps instigated by some kind of vision) that happened to the disciples that made them believe that Jesus was the reigning Lord, if not physically alive again. The resurrection narratives in this way could be seen as "as if" stories - as in "You should see the ministry of Jesus as if he left the tomb behind as a eating and talking person".

This view, spelled out by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, is tremendously insightful to me. Growing up a protestant Christian, you can get the feeling that the point of the resurrection is primarily about immortality or some such thing. Because of this, the spiritual view can seem more robust than the one that emphasizes that Jesus emerged bodily from the tomb but leaves it open what that really means.

A key story for this view is the Emmaus road story, where Jesus vanishes once the disciples' minds are opened to understand the scriptures. Dom Crossan puts it this way: Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.

The point of the story is that the life of Jesus lives on in his followers through his "resurrection".

2) Suppose, though, that's too much (or too little?) to swallow. Perhaps a person thinks the resurrection had to be a physical event just like the incarnation not only to get Christianity going, but to mean something real for the world.

If you want to conclude that Christianity necessarily includes the historical in it, you have to also explain that God wanted for there to be a paucity of historical evidence for it. In the very earliest account of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) there is the nebulous phrase "according to the scriptures", there is no account of the details of the ministry Jesus was leaving behind, there is no mention of any women finding an empty tomb, there is no mention of anything Jesus said (such as a great commission), and the nature of the appearances becomes nebulous based on Paul's ensuing account of the resurrection body. Of course, all of that can be harmonized with a physical, historical resurrection. But my intellect would certainly have an easier time thinking that what Paul is referring to is roughly the same as what the Gospels are referring to if he had mentioned these kinds of details. As his letters stand, it's not quite clear what Paul thought happened during Jesus' life, besides that he was killed and rose again.

3) So Christianity, if based on historical events, can't find the majority of its mileage based on them, otherwise God did a poor a job of instantiating what he needed to in the world. Perhaps instead of wanting us to see the spiritual through the historical, he intended for us more to see the historical through the spiritual; i.e. he intended, a la Jacques, that we notice the deep meaning that the story has for us weary and suffering humans, and accept it based on that. In the context of this discussion, this point is about emphasis: if Christianity relies on the historical, that is its sine qua non, but not its raison d'etre.

4) Bill, I'm intrigued that the incarnation seems to be the main obstacle between you and Christian belief. Perhaps it is because of your self-declared inclinations toward Platonism, the philosophy which was no doubt heavily in play during the 4th century formulations of the doctrine of the incarnation. The reason I'm not so bristled by the talk of incarnation is that it's pretty clearly a Platonic retrodiction into Jewish stories that themselves thought in the language of prophets, covenant, messiah, and kingdom of god. It makes sense to me, based on the synoptic vision of Jesus, that Jesus was a person who taught the in-breaking of the kingdom of god, and then undertook the messianic vocation of suffering and dying on behalf of it. That doesn't seem to require me to take on any specific notion of him conceiving of himself as a member of a triune godhead during his earthly life; perhaps his living as a human being was a becoming-moment for god himself, one determined through Jesus' own sensibility to the meaning of the Jewish scriptures (especially the Psalms) during his lifetime. That might seem messy and disorganized to you as a philosopher, but what if the tension is not so much between Athens and Jerusalem as it is between Athens and the messy world of story?


I know you focus mainly on philosophical texts, but a life-changing book for me has been Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. If that book is too big, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright is a good short-sized look at Jesus more through the Jewish world where he lived and breathed.

I have also long wrestled between Jerusalem and Athens; but reading about the historical Jesus has made me think the wrestling has often done because I had an Athenian version of Jerusalem in the first place. I am still working on patching them together through the middle-ground of story.

Elliot,

Thoughtful comment. So many different translations of that verse! https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Hebrews%2011:1

Philip M,

Outstanding comments. I just now ordered *The Meaning of Jesus.* For a paltry $10. Thanks for the pointer.

>>Bill, I'm intrigued that the incarnation seems to be the main obstacle between you and Christian belief. Perhaps it is because of your self-declared inclinations toward Platonism,<<

'Christian belief' can refer to all sorts of different things. My problem is with the Chalcedonian definition, and my problem does not come from Platonism, but from logic, or rather from the notion that reality must conform to the law of noncontradiction.

>>Suppose, though, that's too much (or too little?) to swallow. Perhaps a person thinks the resurrection had to be a physical event just like the incarnation not only to get Christianity going, but to mean something real for the world.<<

Too little, I would say. What we want is a solution to the problem of death, and unless one is a Platonist who holds that a man = his soul, as opposed to a composite of body and soul, then what we need is assurance that something like the resurrection of the body is possible. So it seems crucial that Christ literally rise from the dead. That historical fact, if it is fact, is the support of genuine Christian faith.

If the view you are limning is that the Resurrection of Christ is the living on of his teaching in his disciples and the church they found, then that is pretty weak and watered-down stuff, too weak and watered-down to provide any real spiritual sustenance.

Philip M's comments resonate very deeply with me and more eloquently reflect the ideas I note in my first comment above on Bradley and such. Crossan's method is, to me, one of the most imaginative. As he and others have noted, even the so-called Gnostics (a narrow term to encapsulate a very capacious cultural movement) represent the speculative framework for refining believers' conceptions of resurrection and eternal life. The Gospel of Philip, for examples, notes: "Those who say the master first died and then arose are wrong, for he first arose and then died. If someone is not first resurrected, wouldn't that person die? As God lives, that one would die." We need a more refined conceptions of symbol and myth to navigate the complex admixture of cultic religious piety, speculation, and reform that early Christianity represents. I've never understood why so many Christians are allergic to this mode of reflection. I think we can note those more speculative Christians (e.g. Eriugena, Meister Eckhart, Jakob Böhme, William Blake, and Charles Williams) who present a far more robust faith than the conventional (and banal) "orthodox" commitments. I'm not saying that orthodox thinkers are always wrong; rather just too narrow.

The problem with all this "Christianity as mythological but practically and spiritually efficacious" theorising is that it claims to affirm Christian principles and biblical themes but directly contradicts the specific fundamental principles and biblical statements. E.g., the principles that God acts concretely in history, that humanity needs redemption as an integral unity of body and soul, that God employs the scandal of particularity and the humility of faith to quash human pride and the undermine the self-satisfied illusion that philosohising is salvific. And the biblical statements to the effect that if the Resurrection is false then Christians are pitiable and that the miracles of our Lord and St Paul are verifications of their message.

Of course, one can always reply, "but I don't have to take any of those parts literally", but then one has become intellectually worthless, having entered a hermetically sealed bubble of unfalsifiable special pleading. In other words, you would be constantly begging the question by filtering out or wilfully redefining a priori all inconvenient orthodox statements.

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