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

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