Monday, February 25, 2013

Why only Catholicism and Mormonism: Pt. II- Why Christianity?

A disclaimer going into this post: My belief in Christianity is the sum of 5 + years of study, prayer, and struggle. During this time I have read dozens of books, articles, blogs, and had countless discussions with both my believing and non-believing friends and colleagues, in the end concluding that what I believe is true. In light of these realities it is inevitable that the reader may find my account too brief or otherwise inadequate. If anyone reads this and has questions or objections to a specific aspect of this or any post, feel free to raise them in the comments section.

In my post titled "On what should one base their religious faith?" I discussed, from my perspective, what are good foundations for faith and what are not. If one wishes to make a case for their supposed truth, it must be done, at least in part, with appeal to evidences available to all parties. Once again, I wish to express that I do not belittle or disregard mysticism or spirituality, but maintain that these should not be the sole basis of faith and cannot be used in dialogue because of their subjective nature.

I believe in Christianity not because of any burning sensation or the like, but because I believe that there are moral, scientific, historical, and philosophical evidences available for those with an open mind and an open heart to see. I do not believe that any of these evidences are proofs, but I do believe that when the myriad of these factors are considered as a whole one is presented with a persuasive picture. Because I would largely be re-stating ideas that have been said before, and better said, much of this post will consist of statements from such figures.

I. I was first attracted to Christianity for its ability to explain, in a moral sense, the world in which we as agents operate. There are moral obligations that people (outside of academic philosophy departments at least) recognize as binding not because the agent arbitrarily chooses to obey such standards, but because she legitimately believes there are certain things one ought to do and certain things one should avoid doing because these rules are true. C.S. Lewis explains this view on the first page of Mere Christianity:

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they you?"-"That's my seat, I was there first"-"Leave him alone, he isn't doing say. They say things like this: "How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you any harm"- "Why should you shove in first?"-"Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine"-"Come on, you promised." People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him. He is apealing to some kind of standard of very seldom replies: "To hell with your standard." Nearly always he tries to behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.
When pressed, most people I have encountered will concede that an act such as murder is not bad simply because the consensus says so, and they will also not settle to say "murder is wrong to me, but it doesn't have to be wrong to you," and once it is acknowledged that there are certain things that are wrong regardless of human opinion, that is, acknowledgement that there exists objective morality, the question that necessarily follows is what exactly is it that binds me to follow such rules, or what makes it wrong? Imagine a man with a gun is alone in a deserted location with another individual. He desires to shoot the individual, and if he chooses to do so nobody will ever find out about his action and he will experience no emotional or psychological harm. If you believe it would be wrong for the man to shoot the individual, ask yourself upon what basis it would be wrong. You might hold that it is wrong to cause others unnecessary pain or loss, but the question still follows: Why ought you to care about others? Present in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov is posited the argument that without God all things are permissible, and secular philosophers, the most notable of which is Nietzsche, will acknowledge as much. Without an objective source of morality and justice present, the choice to follow any standard of law becomes an arbitrary preference. I believe that of all ideologies traditional Christianity offers the best account of why we ought to live moral lives and offers the best narrative as for how the objective moral standard is fulfilled. Put simply: 1. There exist objective moral rules humans ought to follow. 3. Rules are only binding if there are cause and effect consequences (for example, it would make no sense to claim there is a law of gravity if objects could contradict its principles without consequence) 2. Humans don't follow these moral rules. 3. Therefore human beings are subject to the cause and effect consequences of disobeying these moral principles. -but- 1. Human beings are incapable of themselves healing the sickness of sin. 2. Therefore God must present a way in which we can be healed and reconciled to Him, who is perfect goodness and justice. If one acknowledges that there do exist acts that are morally evil or sinful I believe Christianity is the logical conclusion of such a position. Other religions I have encountered either affirm sin without presenting an answer to how this problem is reconciled, or diminish the importance of sin altogether. II. A secondary, yet still somewhat compelling reason I am a Christian is because of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. Put simply, given the historical accounts of this man and the effect he had on progressively on more and more civilizations, I believe that Jesus speaks the truth when he claims to be "... the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) and the only way by which men come to God the Father. N.T. Wright states:
Several first-century Jews other than Jesus held and acted upon remarkable and subversive views. Why should Jesus be any more than one of the most remarkable of them? The answer must hinge upon the resurrection. If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his implicit or explicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and regard him as its messiah. There were several other messianic or quasi-messianic movements within a hundred years on either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by the authorities or by a rival group. If your messiah is killed, naturally you conclude that he was not the messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family. (Note, however, that nobody ever said James, the brother of Jesus, was the messiah.) Such groups did not suffer from that blessed twentieth-century disease of cognitive dissonance. In particular, they did not go around saying that their messiah had been raised from the dead. I agree with Paula Fredriksen: the early Christians really did believe that Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless I say that they were right.
The entire essay can be read here. The moral and historical arguments I have presented here go beyond a subjective, personal testimony. The tradition of virtue ethics upon which Christianity bases its moral theology are available to anyone wishing to study them, as is the history. For further reading on "Why Christianity?" I recommend the following resources: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, available online here. The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, available here and here, respectively. Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed, available online here. The Last Superstition by Edward Feser Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy I also recommend the following websites: Edward Feser's philosophy blog. Peter Kreeft's philosophical and Christian apologetics. Third Millenial Templar

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why only Mormonism and Catholicism? Pt. I: Introduction.

Given that there are several major religious movements in the world and many more sub-movements within these movements, it may be asked why I have decided to consider only these two faith traditions. A similar question is often posited by skeptics who rightly observe that one's religion is often no more than the result of where one happens to be born. This applies not only to those born into a specific faith, but converts as well. An American, for instance, may be more likely to become a Christian than Muslim due to prevalence, and additionally because of the less favorable view of Islam  present in the West. My reason for considering both faiths seems to fit the skeptic's observation. I was born into a Mormon family and Culture, and the Catholic faith is the largest single Christian denomination in the world. Unlike some seek only reasons to further reinforce what they already believe, I have attempted to maintain as much impartiality as possible so that I may answer the question "Which faith tradition, if any, is true?"

The faith of my upbringing (Mormonism) remains part of my consideration because I was born into it, and I believe one should not part with the faith of their family, which is often of utmost importance, without very good reason for doing so. I believe such reasons can only be of two sorts: 1) A conviction that another faith tradition is true, or 2) A conviction that one's own faith tradition is false. Even in the case of the second, there are many individuals who, after losing faith, continue to participate in the practices and rituals of their respective tradition for  social and familial reasons. In both cases, I believe leaving one's former faith should be a long and thoughtful process. There have been many who have reverted to the faith of their upbringing upon discovering that they never really gave it a thorough consideration. Thus I consider the Mormon faith to determine whether I have good reason for staying or parting.

The answer to "Why Catholicism?" requires a much longer answer which I am not sure how to begin. Partially underlying this question is the foundational query of this blog, being "How can one determine which faith is true?" I believe the best an individual can do is seek the faith that offers the best explanatory power to the universe and the human condition and all these things entail. To begin I will offer an outline of how I will go about answering the question, which is subject to change:
  • Pt. II is inspired by C.S. Lewis, who after becoming a Theist considered Judaism and Hinduism from which stem the other major world religions, ultimately concluding that Christianity is true. I too will provide my reasons for why I believe Christianity is true.

  • Pt. III will be an account of why if Christianity is true I believe Apostolic Christianity must be true. Apostolic Christianity will include all faith traditions who see apostolic authority tracing back to the original apostles as necessary. These include the Anglican communion, the Assyrian Church of the East, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Mormon movement (including the RLDS), Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Catholic Church (East and West). 

  • Pt. IV will begin a consideration of why I believe the Catholic Church has a superior claim to truth over the other apostolic Christian churches (excluding the LDS faith) and will introduce my consideration of whether it has a superior claim to being the fullness of truth over the LDS faith.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On what should one base religious faith?

It seems that there are three possbile foundations upon which religious belief can be founded: reason, spiritual experience, or a combination of the two.

By 'reason' I mean those things that are demonstrable, or are based upon credible scientific, historical, experiential, or philosophical foundations. I imagine one who gains belief through reason as an individual who, through observation and/ or study of credible sources, concludes that a certain religious world view offers the best explanation of the human condition. For example, an individual may become a Roman Catholic because the moral theology and ethical view presented by the faith seems to best explain morality and the world as he or she has experienced it (i.e. the solution to improving society's condition is to promote traditional marriage and family values). This seems to have been the case with converts such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Leah Libresco.

While I have encountered many that believe, at least in part, on the basis of reason, most with whom I have interacted base their faith primarily on subjecive sensory or emotive experiences. As one who has never had an experience that would compel me to belief, it is difficult to opine about this topic. Perhaps if I too experienced such feelings I would believe. That being said, there is an obvious problem with the subjective spiritual experience. If a Christian claims to know their faith is true because of a spiritual experience, and a Muslim claims that their faith is true for the same reason, and we have no higher standard by which to judge the validity of a faith, neither can make claim over the other. In assessing the opposing religious truth claims of two parties there exist only two logical possibilities: one is right over the other, or both are wrong. If a person of faith wishes to argue the truth of their faith over others, they must base this claim on evidences available to third parties.

There are some who claim that whether or not their faith is true isn't important. Such is the basis of the modern, relativistic claim that "what is true for you isn't true for me." I would wager that most religious and spiritual people, if pressed, do not actually believe this idea. If I claim that my Buddhism is true for me, but your Islam that claims to be the only truth is also true, I am speaking an obvious contradiction. What people likely mean when they say "my truth isn't your truth" is "one of us is indeed right, and the other is indeed wrong, but what difference does it make?"

This is a good question. Why should one be concerned with truth? There are obvious cases where it is important to know the correct option due to consequences (Is it better to play dead or run if you encounter a bear?), but then there are truths that are of no consequence. (How many galaxies are there in the universe? Did the apostle Paul have a beard or not?) I may take up this question in more detail later, but for now I will simply state that it seems obvious that one's religious beliefs can have a profound effect on how they view and live life, and thus we cannot pretend that all faith traditions are equally valid.

While I recognize the importance of spiritual/ mystical experiences, I maintain a firm conviction that faith should not be based primarily in the subjective experience, especially if one wishes to make public claims to being the fullness of truth over other faith traditions. From here on out the claims of both the LDS and Catholic faiths will be assessed through this lens.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The purpose of this blog

It is said that C.S. Lewis' "Space Trilogy" resulted from the dissatisfaction he and J.R.R. Tolkein had with the contemporary fiction. Unable to find any works they desired to read, they took it upon themselves to write such stories. My reason for writing does not stem from a desire for quality science fiction, but it does arise from an absence of the sort of resource I have sought in my religious journey. I aim to provide a thoughtful and impartial comparison of the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Roman Catholic Church (including Eastern churches in communion with the bishop of Rome) from the perspective of someone in the process of discerning between the two faiths.

Given that there are relatively few Mormons, or individuals of any faith for that matter, who ever seriously consider the truth claims of other religious groups, it is no surprise that such a project is rare, if not absent altogether. The internet has available many blogs and documents where individuals explain and/ or defend their own faith, and where individuals critique the truth claims of other faiths, but I have found that where these sources claim to take seriously the claims of other faiths, their arguments are often founded upon a priori assumptions that immediately set up the opponent for failure, or even worse still, many of the arguments I have encountered, whether they have been against Catholics or Mormons, have failed to confront the best apologists and arguments each respective faith has at its disposal.    

In this blog I will compare the answers each faith offers to theological and ethical questions such as "On what basis should religious faith be founded?," "Does God exist within or apart from time?" and especially "Which Church has the best case for being the fullness of truth?"

I welcome input from anyone willing to contribute in a thoughtful and respectful fashion.