Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 30th, 2015 by Joel Watts

a helpful dose of possibility

Major religious groups

Major religious groups (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When discussing theism and things such as this with others, I sometimes hear the phrase “X needs a dose of reality.” This can come from either the theist or the atheist. I am troubled by the notion that theism is supposed to represent reality when in fact we have such a difficult time “proving” it. So, the thought occurred to me that what we may need is a dose of possibility. In summarizing Farrer’s Saving Belief, the authors write,

…Farrer already is in the process of transition to making this view explicit in a brilliant opening chapter on the relation of faith and reason. There he introduces his concept of “initial faith.” The notion of God is not a neutral but a loaded term, to which we react positively or negatively. Farrer compares it to the concept of a mother. Even an orphan feels moved by simply entertaining the notion of a possible mother, whom he imagines he might still have but whose whereabouts is unknown to him. So too with God. If we do not find ourselves at all moved by the notion of the possibility of God, we will not be able properly to recognize the data that relate to the existence and reality of God. God will remain an abstraction, unable to move us toward a full faith. But if we are at all inclined to the possible reality of God, then this “initial faith” can turn into an explicit commitment as we carefully consider the testimony of nature, the gospel stories, the life of the Church, and the lives of saintly people. To pursue such intellectual work properly requires some positive engagement, some spiritual development in order to overcome the blindness of those who stop with limited questions and do not allow admittance to what has the power to wholly convince the mind and heart.1

Does the possibility of a God, rather than the probability, offer a better heuristic analysis?

I am not a theist in the traditional terms, nor am I an atheist. Not because I believe or disbelieve in a higher power. Rather, I do believe there is the possibility of a higher power, of a deity… of the God. This is not a presupposition, but it is a subjective starting point to remind me always to question and in questioning, I have a better reason to believe.

I also have a tough time with people trying to prove God, more so than I have with people trying to disprove God.

  1. David Hein and Edward Hugh Henderson, Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 61–62.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

6 Responses to “a helpful dose of possibility”
  1. Pie chart is questionable. Non-religious, which I assume includes agnostics and “don’t care”, just 11%. and Christians make up 1/3 of the entire population of the earth? I think the chart was generated by an optimistic Christian.

  2. Know More Than I Should says

    It is impossible to prove a negative. Hence, it is impossible to prove that a Supreme Being, i.e. God, does NOT exist. Thus far, it has proved to be equally difficult to prove a Supreme Being does exist. Nevertheless, the quest continues much as it once did for the every elusive philosopher’s stone in alchemy.

    Even more interesting, much like childhood, religion is one of those rare safe havens for those with imaginary friends! Then, perhaps much as marriage exists to regulate sexual activity, religion was created to channel some of the quirkier aspects of the human psyche — or mind if one prefers that term.

    However, as human history clearly shows, some real problems arise when zealots take their belief in imaginary friends a little too seriously.

    Another factor to consider regarding the pie chart is that Christianity is a highly fractus religion best by internal strife. Much the same is true for Islam. Although a decidedly religious minority, even Jews squabble among themselves. Thus, the subspecies of broad religious labels can be misleading.

    Furthermore, religions such as Christianity can also serve as a convenient social cover for those with a less than charitable dispositions. Examples include Catholic rites for deceased Mafia and Baptist funerals for departed Klan.

    One thing I learned very quickly while serving in the wartime military was that the last entry on a dog tag seldom defined a lifestyle.

  3. John Callaghan says

    Have you considered Pascal’s Wager:

    “You have two things to lose: the true and the good; and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to avoid: error and wretchedness. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other. That is one point cleared up. But your happiness? Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything: if you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then: wager that he does exist.”

    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/pascals-wager.htm

    • CYA! The logical position is to be an agnosticism. No proof for. No proof against. So agnostic. However, considering the wager, nothing to lose, nothing to gain. Do you bet on possibility or probability? Yikes. I just saw Seattle score before the end of the half. Perhaps theology and football have something in common.

      • Of course, in retrospect, throwing an interception with 20 seconds left in the game, from the 2 yard line, is a little like getting your temple destroyed twice. Perhaps there is no God! Unless you have deflated balls.

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