Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shields of Faith: It's supposed to sound foolish

As part of my reflections on why I remained a Christian for so long, I’ve decided to try to think about some of the things that shielded my faith from internal critique. I'm calling this segment, "Shields of faith." Yeah, that sounds pretty cheesy, but what did you expect from a blog with a lame pun for a name?

So one thing that popped up from time to time when I was a Christian was just how nuts Christianity sounded. The fact that many of the claims and especially the central narrative of Christianity seemed completely absurd was not something that was lost on me. I knew it sounded crazy and that's probably why I was so often embarrassed about being more open about my faith. I didn't mind telling people that I was a Christian, but I have to admit that the thought of explaining the whys and hows of the story of Christianity did make me cringe at times. I saw someone on a discussion board put it this way:
[Christianity is a story] about the creator of reality sacrificing himself to himself to appease himself by atoning for the sins of creatures he predestined to [or at least knew would] fail to live up to the impossible standards that he devised, so that in his appeasement he does not have to force himself to eternally punish those creatures, provided that they believe that he sacrificed himself to himself in the manner recorded in four contradictory accounts of his sacrifice of himself to himself written [decades] after the event by people who weren't there at the time, and whose original writings have been lost or destroyed, and which survive only as copies of copies of copies.
Now, I would’ve taken issue with the notion that the accounts were contradictory and I would’ve argued that at least two were probably written by eyewitnesses, but overall I would’ve recognized that much of the above is not a straw man. When you express it that way it really does sound rather absurd, but not to worry…

In 1 Corintians 1:18-29 the apostle Paul has provided Christianity with some great protection against criticism and self-doubt about the craziness. It's a trump card to pull out when non-believers point out just how ridiculous sounding the claims of Christianity are and when you start to wonder if maybe what they're saying has some merit. What's Paul's excuse for why a tale about a dying and rising god-man who’s going to save the universe should be taken seriously even though it has all the markings of a poorly-constructed myth? God meant to do that.

See, it's all part of his plan to confound the worldly wise. It's supposed to sound stupid. It’s supposed to look like foolishness to those who are perishing. That's the beauty of it, right? God wanted his plan to condemn all of humanity and then save some of humanity from his own wrath to sound so utterly foolish that smart people would reject it and then he would get all the glory. The problem is that this explanation still makes God look kind of like a mad scientist or a Bond villain or something. It’s not just that the solution of sacrificing himself to himself sounds absurd. It’s that the way he went about creating the problem to begin with sounds completely insane.

Still, for years I was able to seek refuge in believing that the whole thing was supposed to sound stupid and that, as a Christian, people were supposed to think I was crazy for believing it. At times, my craziness was a badge of honor. I was thankful that God had given me the grace to be able to look past the absurdities and see the beauty and love shown in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was thankful that I was not "crazy" enough to throw away the prospect of eternity. Never mind that existence in this world was the only thing I had ever known and had ever seen and had any tangible evidence of being real. Looking back on it now, it just sounds dumb. I can’t believe I wasted years believing such nonsense. The clues were all there, but mental tricks like this one were always there to steer me back on to the path of delusion.

"Isn't that crazy?"

Why, yes. Yes, it is. Absolutely, completely and utterly insane.

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