Questions of Faith and Devotion
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…
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.