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July 31, 2007



The problem is not what to believe but how to live what one believes.

In other words, faith by itself is nothing.

As St. Paul argues faith without love is just a sound or as James argued, faith without works, without living it, is nothing.

The real question is...can the Church lead believers to sanctity, to an experience of the Ultimate, ( called God)?

To merely believe but not strive for sanctity is ultimately empty.

The crisis facing the Church is the nihilism surrounding not God but humanity.
Is humanity capable of being holy?


Good point, evagrius, and I am very sympathetic to what you say. I do believe there are two fundamental weaknesses in our defences of the faith. First, we don't spend the intellectual energy necessary to provide a basic defense of the rationality of the faith. In the absence of that, we give the impression faith is indefensible and must be protected by appeals to authority.
Second, we talk the talk in such a way as to nullify the need to walk the walk that Jesus walked. We re-invent a new gospel without the teeth, or even more sadly, with teeth in the wrong place.

Philip Koplin

What might be worth considering is why the God of the traditional Christian faiths is less and less appealing to more and more people in the West. Is it really that the message isn't getting through, or that the message--or rather, the conflicting mix of messages-- is being heard but is being greeted with a shrug of indifference? Is the danger to Christianity outright atheism or the appeal of alternative forms of "spiritualism" that for some reason seem more relevant or at least accessible? Is Christian dogma too convoluted for a generation increasingly secularized and with a shorter and shorter attention span, and is the supposed Christian way of life too muddled by too many disparate voices and too many well-publicized hypocrites?


Hi Chuck...

I think your post risks overstating Horvath's case a bit; I don't think he's saying that the church is the root cause, or an only cause, of atheism. I'm guessing he would agree that atheism can be come to in other ways as well. The larger culture certainly contributes in ways many might not think much about. E.g., the "miracles" of modern technology set a fairly high bar, if one's perspective is that God is about miracles and such (I found the comments interesting in that regard, especially since I don't think about that sort of thing very much).

Evagrius; I find your point very interesting, and quite valid, but not complete. Maybe I'll comment more on that some other time. The hypocrisy one might see in others failing to live up to their stated beliefs is one thing; belief itself - which is what atheism is about - is mostly another thing, I think.

I think your response to Evagrius makes good points, too, Chuck. Especially the second - I think it's the closest to the truth, insofar as the church's part of the problem is concerned.

A bit off the subject, maybe... Michael Moore was on MSNBC's Hardball recently, and in response to a question about the public perpective on "socialized medicine," he responded that he now calls it "Christianized medicine." I like that... 8^)

Here's how it's maybe not off subject: to an atheist, it's not just that Christians don't live up to their stated beliefs; it's that the world itself doesn't seem to reflect what one might imagine to be God. E.g., questions like "what kind of God would allow X to happen?"

I have conversations with God; I've had them since I first became a Christian. No, they're not the normal human-to-human conversations, but they're conversations nonetheless, and they're quite interactive. Anyway, in one of the early ones that I still remember, I voiced my concern about what kinds of questions I could ask, and what kinds of answers I might get. We kind of made a deal that I could ask anything and expect an answer, and it would turn out at the end of my days that no answer would shake my faith, as small and weak as my faith might have been in those days; the answers would only build upon my faith, like stone upon stone.

It's been amazing what kinds of questions I've asked, and what answers I've gotten. I couldn't make some of them up if I wanted to. In the early days, I could imagine lots of potential questions that I'd not yet asked that might have answers that might shake my faith. But I can't imagine such a question and answer anymore, and I've had time by now (close to 40 years) to ask lots of questions and get lots of answers. And I've asked lots of "hardball" questions; not just the softball questions that one might ask in a church context.

But God is, well..., God. If anyone can stand up to tough questions, it's Him. At least that's been my experience. So that's not the problem. I think the problem is more that we've constructed a lesser god and it's that lesser god a lot of us worship, as if we belief in it, but it's not up to the challenge.

I recall a phone conversation I had with a former college classmate just a few years ago (he was a pastor then, now an administrator at a Christian college), and I pointed out in that conversation that the first century church lived according to what we now call communism - i.e., a practical if not a principled rejection of ownership of private property. This is made clear in several places in Acts. His response was frankly shocking, though I don't know why, by that time in my life: he said that there's no way that what the early church did could work now. Well, if not, then why did they do it? Is that kind of response simply modern pragmatism, or evidence of a lack of faith? I can respect differing opinions, but I believe they were acting out of principle that was implicit in Jesus's own words, and I think there can be a lot of excuses for what might otherwise be concluded is a lack of faith, were such excuses not so readily available as they happen to be.

If pastors and others in positions of church leadership don't find it convenient to believe the writings that are the basis of Christianity, then how can they expect anyone else to believe them?

So yes, I think, there's been a reinvention. Unfortunately, it hasn't been the most "faithful" reinvention, at least in the sense of "accuracy."

But can any one person "know" enough about God to support a committed lifelong belief in God? I think that depends on the person, I don't think it depends on God; I agree with Evagrius about that. And that comes back to Evagrius' last question, I think, though I might ask it differently, in fact, in several different ways.

From my early days as an ex-atheist Christian, a verse that still comes to mind to describe my mindset is Mark 9:24: "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." It's not just about rationality, or apologetics more broadly (I'm not a fan of apologetics, generally). It's about deeper truth. Truth is bigger than reason, and it was to my surprise to find that the scriptures say as much, in various places and in various ways.

Miracles are little more than truth beyond reason. Reason is limited, even by mathematical definition (ask Kurt Godel and others). There's so much in normal human experience that's miraculous but that isn't salient, unless we're particularly keen at seeing, thinking about, and/or stating the obvious.

If we can't see the miraculous in the obvious, then we'll have nothing to say to one who thinks the obvious is anything but miraculous. But one thing is likely, in my opinion, and that is that discussions with those who are or would be atheists will be not about those things that are subtle points of theology, but about those things that are obvious points of everything else, theology or not.

Back to what I was doing (been absorbed in something akin to real work lately)...

Philip Koplin

john: on what grounds should i believe your claim that "truth is bigger than reason"?


Ah... truth is always bigger than reason. Just fall in love with someone your reason states should not be in your life.

What I was arguing was not so much the hypocrisy of the Church as much as its lack of celebration of sainthood.

One of the biggest preoblems, ( in at least the Catholic-Orthodox circle), is the lack of the recognition of saints "in the world".
By this I mean the unexceptional, humdrum, everyday saints that are married, go through the typical problems of married life, raise children and grow old together.
There's a few "married saints", but not many...but they are there, icons for all of us who are married, not monks or nuns or priests,who struggle through.
It's the celebration of holiness that is lacking now...the possibility that one can become holy, can touch God or at least "see" or "hear" God, that is lacking in the great Church.
I've just recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It's a good read, a good story, with much Christian symbology and echoes of evangelical truth. I recommend the entire series for a good meditation.
I also recommend Philip Pullman's novels the Great Compass etc; While they portray God as a feeble old worn man they do have some very deep questions to confront.
And...the death of Bergman should not go unnoticed. He was able to ask questions...he didn't have the answers, he just asked the questions.
No....reaon has its place but as Pascal stated, the heart has its reason too.

Philip Koplin

Poor Pascal, trotted out every time someone wants to trumpet "the heart" over reason. Of course, why I or anyone else should heed your "heart" or Pascal's "heart" over someone else's is never spelled out, I suppose because it's self-evident that whomever is appealing to the "heart" has possession of a truth that surpasses anyone else's reason--or anyone else's "heart," for that matter. Of course, if everyone is appealing to his or her "heart" for a truth beyond the grasp of reason, there isn't much left for the tradition to stand on, which is one explanation for why people are abandoning traditional Christian theism.


You obviously don't know the meaning of "heart". It's not an emotional, "feeling", organ.
In other parlance, it was known as the "nous", the intellect- but not that of discursive reason, ( dianoia), but that intuitive, ( a bad term really but the closest in English), supra-rational part of the human being.
In sports, it's often called the "zone".

So...Pascal was not describing emotion but something far deeper.

Unfortunately, our culture doesn't pay too much attention to that aspect of human being- which is why we're caught in so much confusion.

Philip Koplin

Call it by whatever concoction of terminology you wish, your supposed suprarational "intellect" is grounded in nothing more than your private feelings. And it's the exhaltation of such a solipsistic view of "truthiness" that has contributed to what you consider so much human confusion. Obviously.


"private feelings"?

You need to reflect more on what you argue.

Read about apophatic theology before making such arguments. And read more about asceticism, both the physical and emotional types. It's not just Christian, but actually a practice in all major religions.

Apatheia was the goal of early Christian monastics. It meant the balance of emotions, feelings in your terminology, so that they no longer held sway and no longer distorted perception and reason, ( dianoia), nor clouded the intellect, ( nous).

In Buddhist terms, the emotions were seen as "empty" and in their true nature.

In order for you to understand it, you have to practice it.

Read some instructions on how to "sit" quietly and pay attention to your mind, its nature, origin, and destination.

The practices are quite similar all over the world.

And they don't reduce to feelings.

Philip Koplin

Not too impressed by athletes of the spirit who are no less fallible than the rest of us, just more self-blindedly insistent in their claims to emotional equipose, humility, and access to the truth. That such claims are found all over the world only testifies to the human eagerness to ensare oneself in a web of one's own devising and call it freedom.


Well, be as cynical as you want to be. Stay immersed in your own lack of freedom.

It's your choice.


Well, well, well, go have a little oral surgery and every body gets into the fun but me:>)

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