Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence, explores important parts of Christian faith through the historical example of Japanese Catholics and European missionaries during the Tokugawa Shogunate. I consider the film’s lesson to be essentially contrary to orthodox Christianty (I believe conservative Catholics generally disapprove of this film).
Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.
–Jesus speaking at John 17:17
For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse
God defies definition. This is not to say that the concept GOD is incoherent (although humans are capable of misunderstanding, mischaracterising, and misrepresenting God). God is other; He is distinct from His creation, and yet – so Christianity teaches – God invites mankind to interact with Him. Such interaction requires some element of commonality; without it, there can be no communication. Christians understand God’s interaction with us to be through condescension; to understand Him fully is beyond us. The greatest act of condescension, as taught by the Gospel, is that God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
If God exists, the Incarnation is paradoxically both surprising and logical. God is by definition supremely benevolent. If this characteristic is removed, the concept of God becomes incoherent and God cannot exist: for anything that is incoherent is not real. (Note, incoherence itself has categories: humans can hold incoherent views in the realm of imagination; but this does not entail that such views correspond to anything in reality).
Such benevolence would lead to creation of a world. When that world went wrong (through free will), benevolence would lead to its redemption. The nature of human sin and is such that the path of redemption leads through the Incarnation of God Himself (although mankind did not clearly foresee or understand this; wisdom on this matter has come through revelation and hindsight).
Benevolence is a personal characteristic. Benevolence apart from personhood is incoherent. Feuerbach, an atheist, posited the idea that the concept GOD was a projection. He held that mankind, troubled by the hostility of the physical world and their own capacity for evil, created the concept GOD and chose to believe in God’s existence as a coping mechanism. It is more comforting to believe that the universe was created and created by a supreme Benevolence, than to accept that it simply exists and that there is no objective meaning to our existence.
Have we followed the route that Feuerbach described? Or have we believed in God because there is a God and because His nature and existence can – and must be – inferred from reality?
Can an eternal being exist without personhood? Is that a coherent concept? What is the substrate of existence? What is the ultimate Reality? It cannot be less than the glory of mankind – indeed it must be more.
The philosophy of emergent properties is a complex sub-discipline, much of which must lie beyond the scope of this post. However, it is sufficient to observe that our contingent minds cannot come from something that is not mind at all. Therefore, there must be a necessary Mind and that Mind must be co-extensive with Ultimate Reality.
(Intermediate great minds between humanity and God are also possible – thus thrones, principalities, powers, angels, demons, etc. However, God is logically necessary, which is why Greco-Roman paganism cannot be true, since its pantheon does not conform with the coherent definition of GOD.)
This post has served to introduce the main part of the argument. A following post will round off the series by unpacking that part in more detail.
In the previous post we concluded that there must be an ultimate, objective Reality. Plato, the Rationalists, Empiricists, and Transcendentalists all realised the problem of knowing what the reality is actually like. Descartes attempted to argue that our senses do tell us truths about the world because, having proved to his own satisfaction that God exists, God is not a deceiver. Berkeley denied the existence of mind-independent objects. Hume argued that the concept MIND-INDEPENDENT OBJECT is actually the result of confusion. Kant explicated the principle that certain concepts cannot be derived from experience, but are in fact necessary presuppositions in order to interpret experience.
Accepting the existence of the ultimate Reality is one thing. Showing that the Reality is God is another. Even if one shows the existence of God, further work is necessary to demonstrate that God corresponds to the figure found in the Bible, as opposed to that articulated by other religions. It certainly is true that the different religions are mutually exclusive. They cannot all be true. Either one is right or they are all wrong.
The Reality must be coherent. What is coherence? Coherence is the absence of contradiction. It must also be non-contingent. If it is ultimate, it depends on nothing else for its own existence.
However, reality is more than these things. Humans attach, for want of a better word, meaning to reality, which is bound up with the problem of Truth. The struggle between the Rationalists and Empiricists revealed the difficulty that arises when one tries to say what reality actually is, independent of our senses. And so, Kant elaborated transcendentalism. This epistemological wall that hinders penetration of the garden of ontology is the reason why metaphysicists sound like mystics.
Atheism is not a common metaphysical commitment among humans. It is very natural for humans to attribute personal qualities to the Reality. In attributing personal qualities, humans turn that Reality into God. The naturalness of such attribution, if accepted, is not an argument that the Reality actually is God. Since humans are capable of mistakes, this could be a mistake.
However, “attribution” is a misleading word. It assumes that humans are fashioning God, whereas they may in fact be discerning His qualities through legitimate reasoning. The argument from coherence seeks to show that the nature of the Reality can be sufficiently explored to demonstrate that the Reality is God.
The key to the problem is personality. Hume thought that an impersonal Reality was no less reasonable a proposition than God. Such being the case, with no side in Hume’s estimation having a conclusive power, the agnostic was perfectly entitled to withhold his assent. (The atheist, having an assertive position, would need further material before he could claim legitimacy).
Was Hume’s assessment correct? He stood in opposition to St Paul, who declared in the opening of the Epistle to the Romans that:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…
Although the context of this passage concerns other matters, the use of it in this post is appropriate. In order for Paul to address his view that humans are rebelling against God, he must presuppose that:
- God exists;
- Humans are capable of knowing that God exists;
- Humans are capable of knowing God’s will; and
- Humans are capable of freely choosing to disobey God’s will.
The following posts will tackle the problem of inferring personhood from the existence and nature of the Reality, and from that inference accepting that there is a God.
The debate between the rationalists and empiricists concerned the rationalists’ claim that there is a class of synthetic propositions that can be known a priori. Kant agreed with the rationalists on the existence of this class, claiming that various mathematical propositions were synthetic, but could be known a priori. To the best of my knowledge, he did not put the proposition, “God exists”, in this class.
The claim, “God exists”, seems to defy categorisation. It seems to be both analytic and synthetic – and more. Aquinas rightly perceived, as seen in his arguments, that our world of experience must be dependent on something beyond it. In other words, our experience is contingent, but the Great Reality is necessary. He wanted to say that the Great Reality is God. Hume held that this was a leap too far, that the inference of the Necessary Being could not, in and of itself, tell us whether that Being is God or simply an eternal universe.
This Necessary Being sits at the conjunction of the analytic and synthetic, of the a priori and a posteriori. The reasoning that leads our minds towards the inference of this Being’s existence tells us about both the structure of our conceptual world and objective reality. In other words, thoughts concerning the Necessary Being put us in touch with reality; this line of thought crosses from the phenomenal to the noumenal.
It should be noted, however, that humans cannot grasp God in His fullness. To enter the noumenal is not to know all or to know God in perfect exactitude. In this instance, it is to know that our thoughts have connected with the Great Reality.
Without the Objective, there is nothing at all. Nothing at all. Subjective existence, alone in the void, is a contradiction. This is because the subjective is contingent; it must depend on something else, ultimately upon the Great Reality.
This reasoning is not new. Long before Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant, Descartes explored the conjunction of the analytic and synthetic. He realised that our world of experience could be a lie (the Evil Genius Hypothesis). He may not have had the language of analytic and synthetic, of a priori and a posteriori (these appear to have been codified by Kant), but he was able to work through the reasoning in his own language.
He wanted to show that God existed and that we could, in essence, trust our experiences and reasoning. While subsequent philosophers have found problems in his reasoning, and in the leap from the Great Reality to a personal God (on to which Christians must add further reasoning to show that God is Yahweh), his basic instincts are correct.
The next post will continue on the journey to the Argument from Coherence.
Note: Although Brexit is topical at the moment, and I enjoy reading posts about it on this and other blogs (when time allows), today I would prefer to direct readers elsewhere on that topic and encourage them to spend time in prayer on the matter.
Parliament will be prorogued, which means a short break between the sessions of its (normally) five-year term. This article at The Conservative Woman, is worth reading on this topic.
I have written in the past about Mystery Babylon here and here. Chalcedon has also exploded the false teachings of Alexander Hislop on this subject here, with which I concur, having seen them refuted in Joel Richardson’s Mystery Babylon. I have recently been watching ministry videos from Paul Keith Davis, who believes that Mystery Babylon represents (among other things?) a kind of religious system, from which Christians are to exit (“Come out of her my people!”).
Mystery Babylon in Revelation is one of the most difficult and controversial passages in Scripture. I do not propose to offer a definitive interpretation here. However, the recent videos have caused me to return to a topic which I had left alone and, in particular, they have made me think about the topic of Christian unity, whether or not that is the point of the passage.
It is evident that many of the traditional churches have been corrupted. I am conscious that as a sinner myself (as all humans who have conscience are), it is awkward for me to find fault. Nevertheless, I feel I must make some observations because the situation is grave. There are many members of the clergy who cannot be called orthodox: for they deny (or do not assent to) fundamental tenets of the faith. These people, in positions of power and authority, are extremely problematic.
It seems unlikely that they will be forced out of the Church. Furthermore, they are making it harder and harder for orthodox, conservative enclaves within the Church to continue unmolested. Therefore, many Christians, even if they do not explicitly confess it to others, find themselves asking if the cry “Come out of her, My people!” is applicable today. This does not mean that such questioning Christians believe that the final time of the end is upon us; rather, they wonder if the underlying principle of that cry has come into effect once more, just as it did in times past.
Such thoughts are more characteristic of Protestant Christians (and the churches lineally descended from the Protestant groups) than of Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Ecclesiology plays a role in how one interprets the data. Herein lies the problem: to hear the voice of God, one must remove preconceptions that hinder that audition. How does one determine whether a preconception is of God or not? It is by the Word and by the Spirit (and some would say the Spirit acting through Tradition (the Apostolic Deposit of the Faith)).
How do we discern the difference between the voice of the Spirit and the voices of other spirits or the voice of our own hearts? The Spirit’s word will be in concordance with Scripture. The work of God can surprise us sometimes. The Disciples were scandalised by people who did the work of Christ but did not travel as part of Jesus’ entourage. He told His Disciples not to hinder them, because they were doing His work. Such people belonged to Him, even though they did not travel in the entourage.
Do we need to learn this lesson again today? How do we overcome the Great Schism and the Reformation? How do we as followers of Christ overcome the corruption of the clergy and laity? How do we come together? Christ told us to love one another.
Perhaps God will take us through this by internal promptings and external circumstances. Perhaps we do not need to formally come together: it may be sufficient that we are one in Spirit, that we support one another. If an exodus from the traditional churches is necessary to achieve complete oneness, perhaps there will be a coming of the Spirit, like at Pentecost, that will achieve this result. Perhaps persecution will compel us to flee the old institutions and supernatural revelation from the Spirit will guide us into new house churches that will restore what has been divided.
Prayer seems to be necessary whatever route God wants us to pursue. For my part, I am conscious that I must devote more time to prayer, that I must seek the Lord on these matters, that I must repent where appropriate, that I must give God space to impart revelation, to guide me in the attitudes of the heart and the strategies to be pursued.
The scene is grim. Although we in the West do not face the kind of martyrdom our brothers and sisters are suffering in the East, we are not without opposition. It is easy to feel alone, especially if one is zealous about the Gospel and reform. My prayer for my friends here at AATW, NEO, and Richard’s Watch is for the following things.
- Christians in your area with whom you can share the deep things of your heart, be they priests, members of the congregation, family members, or co-workers
- Fresh revelation from God about the times in which we live and how you as an individual can play your part for the Kingdom
- Healing and blessing for your body, soul, and spirit – may you be empowered to do God’s work
- Endurance, to run the race until the end
- Protection, against all kinds of evil
- Courage of your convictions – to make the difficult choices when you must
May God grant you all this and more, through Jesus Christ your Saviour.
Gloria Deo omnipotenti, Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Amen.
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
-2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Moreover king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people, and every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king. Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath.
-1 Maccabees 1:41-43
People leave Christianity for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they come back. The Bible tells us that Christ goes looking for the lost and that no-one can separate us from the love of God. How, then, do we understand the case of a person who, so far as we know, never came back? Some argue that the person was never a true Christian in the first place. Others say that it is possible, through a free choice, to renounce one’s salvation.
In any event, the Bible teaches that there is such a thing as apostasy. Those who formerly were identified as Christians, whatever that means metaphysically and epistemologically, have ceased to be Christians. Spiritual death is the final result of apostasy: those who do not belong to the Lord will be cast into the fire at the final resurrection, like weeds gathered in the harvest of a farmer’s field.
Ministering and holding one’s own faith in the midst of apostasy are challenges. Life has a way of testing people. The Bible tells us that God does not permit testing beyond what we are able to bear, but this does not entail that everyone passes the test.
Although each one is ultimately responsible for his own choices, humans live in societies. As John Donne once observed, “No man is an island”. The Bible teaches that Christians are part of God’s family; we are brothers and sisters to one another. This means we have a duty of care towards each other, qualified by our awareness and ability to help.
The problem of evil is something that ostensibly has caused apostasy in the Church. The subjective nature of our experience makes it difficult to be certain in this matter, as apostates may give this answer for why they left as a cover to hide deeper feelings and choices.
Nevertheless, it may play a part. This is why it is important for Christians to have an answer to this problem, both intellectually and practically. We must understand that our suffering takes place in a bigger context of free will and love. We must be willing to share in one another’s suffering. We must stoke the fires of faith, admonishing one another to hold on to Christ, to the hope of the Age to Come.
Lastly, we must not set up stumbling blocks: we must not indulge in false teachings that promise comfort of a worldly kind in this life. Such is not guaranteed. Indeed, some of the holiest of God’s people have suffered the most horrifying of experiences. Christ Himself, the Son of God, suffered the Passion.
Apostasy, of course, has other causes and effects, which the reader is welcome to write in the comments below. It is a phenomenon that is happening now and is expected to worsen as the end of the age approaches.
This short video is well worth watching. A few years ago I read Paul Copan’s book mentioned in the video, and agreed with much in it. As I recall he was a Calvinist at the time of writing (though I could be mistaken). Nevertheless, the book is a product of a sharp mind, reflecting his excellent philosophical skills. I would recommend reading it, if at all possible.
–True for you, but not for me?, by Paul Copan