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Questions of Faith and Devotion

December 1, 2006

I’ve been reading The Jesus Papers recently, and its gotten me thinking about topics like faith, religion, rationality, and history. I’ve been mulling over this subject for the last week or so, and I think I’m at the point now where I’m ready to get some others’ opinions on the idea.

Faith, Blind Faith and Rational Thought

“Faith” is a concept that I find alternately awe-inspiring and frightening. Faith implies strength in a belief. It is a willful thing, an active choice to hold a belief. You don’t have faith as a default position.

Faith, to me, is the belief in a thing without having proof of it. Proof of a thing negates faith – perhaps not absolutely, but significantly. Faith and rational thought may not be fully compatible, but they’re also not contradictory.

Simple faith is not, however, belief in a thing in the face of contradictory evidence – that starts to get into what I think of as “blind faith”. Blind faith is an irrational thing – you acknowledge that there is “proof” of a thing, but you choose to believe something else. Blind faith comes into play when someone says the earth is flat, or that the moon landings were faked.

As you might guess from my examples, I don’t have much respect for the idea of blind faith.

History of the Canon

When I was in high school, I read a good chunk of the Bible, and I had faith in its words. I wavered on the question of whether it was literal or allegory, but I felt that it was divinely inspired and worth basing my life on. At the same time, I was vaguely aware of its history – that there were other gospels not included in the New Testament – but I didn’t really get into the details much.

Now, however, I find it much harder to have that faith – partly because I have more questions about how it was formulated. Why were certain gospels, such as those of Thomas, Judas, or Mary, not chosen? How credible is it that the gospels are accurate, given that they disagree among themselves on the order of events in Jesus’ life?

It appears, from the limited knowledge I’ve gleaned since high school, that there was a fair amount of internal struggle through the first few centuries as the Christian church decided what exactly it believed – and what it didn’t. Schools of thought like Gnosticism were declared heretical, while others like Trinitarianism were declared true. Why? Is this a case of “the winners write the history books” or is this Divine Providence winning out?

I’m not sure that I can take that step, frankly. I don’t trust mankind enough to get something like this right. The hand of God acting through man doesn’t seem credible enough, given the history of who has led (and continues to lead) the church. “I bought meth, but I never used it”? Come on…

Miscellaneous Footnotes

Beyond those thoughts, there are a few other things that have struck me as odd, but aren’t really integrated into my worldview quite yet:

  • Until the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was the Christian Church, and the Papacy was the leadership of the Catholic Church. The first pope, Peter, was supposedly named by Jesus in saying “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” With all of this being the case, why does Peter not play a larger role in the New Testament? Instead, it’s the letters of Paul that make up most of the Epistles. Something doesn’t square here…
  • What about the Apocrypha? Am I right in thinking that this is a section of the Catholic Bible that is not included in the Protestant version? How is this possible? Was it legitimately in the canon from Nicea until the 95 Theses – but not now?

Your thoughts, comments, and diatribes are welcomed – I’m searching right now, and I could use additional thoughts to help sort things out.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 4, 2006 5:03 am

    Matt,

    You’re not experiencing a crisis of faith, so much as you are experiencing spiritual growth and a revelation. I too came to many of your conclusions after going ‘hyper Christian’ for a while. When I was really into it, I spent all my waking hours trying to please all the people around me and live up to their standards. At the end of the day, I was drained both emotionally and physically.
    In the end, I got tired of the constant hypocricy that followed the ‘hyper religious’ no matter where they go. No matter how much they CLAIM to be loving and accepting, the truth is that they are ONLY if you believe just lke them. If you stray even a little bit, you’re someone who needs to be saved. Saved? From what? Myself? I have a very bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to religious zealotry, no matter what religion.
    Then it came to the Bible. I was taught that it was a devine work, perfect in it’s menaing, to be interpereted literally and not to be questioned. But the more I read it, the less it made sense.
    In all of the quotes directly attibuted to Christ, he spoke of love, acceptance and forgiveness. The only time that he EVER condemned anyone was when he rebuked who? The ultra religious. What was it he said, judge not unless you be judged?
    Yet you read on further and the letters of Paul condemn people left and right. That doesn’t jive with the original teaching.
    I then stepped back and looked at the Bible from a historical perspective. When I did, it all became clear. It is essentially 66 different, disjointed books assembled together to create one contiguious story. With a bit of creative editing, the scholars of the last two centuries molded and shaped the bible as we know it today. I’m certain that given an equal amount of time, scholars could take individual chapters of every Isamov, Heinlein, Weber and McCaffery book ever written and assemble a contiguious, believable story as well. So much for mystery.
    In the end, I hold faith for what faith is. Belief in the unseen and hope in the unknown. I take Christian Faith at its root. I don’t add any overhead or dogma into it’s simplicity. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Case closed. That’s it. The rest is fluff. I don’t buy into the fluff.
    Religion has stifled progess because it gave the power to the educated. By keeping the masses uneducated (and therefore dependent) it kept the powerful in power, for centuries. At the time, Gallileo was excommunicated as a heratic by suggesting that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. 400 years later, it seems that Gallileo was more and more correct, and the Church wasn’t. Go figure…

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