Recently a Christian lady suggested I listen to a podcast by Reverend Timothy Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York city. This talk was titled, “The Reason for Living.” I listened and enjoyed it very much.
This suggestion didn’t just happen out of the blue. We began trading thoughts on Facebook when she posted her concern about a story, that was later de-bunked, about how Christians in the military would be court martialed for sharing their faith with unwilling people.
Reverend Keller is known as a Christian apologist, a field of Christian theology which aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections.
Knowing the messages in his podcasts are shaped by Christian apologetics, I listened, not as a devout Christian wanting inspiration, but as a secular and agnostic Christian, seeking links and bridges to my questions.
Summing up both the book and Reverend Keller’s podcast, the purpose for living this life is God and the afterlife and we achieve both through the Christian faith.
I can’t argue against the idea that we need meaning and purpose to live our lives to the fullest extent possible. I also can’t argue against the fact that some portion of 1.2 billion people on the planet find meaning and purpose in the Christian faith.
I would argue that the Christian faith, like all other faith traditions, is a closed system of logic that contains certain universal human truths represented in its metaphors and mythologies.
Philosopher and Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University, John D. Caputo writes in his book, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, “deconstruction is a theory of truth, in which truth spells trouble.”
By applying the concepts of French Deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida and his own expertise in Biblical hermeneutics, Mr. Caputo makes a compelling argument for the fact that truth is rarely at the superficial level of our texts, holy or otherwise.
And I add, our interpretations have many levels of meanings like sediments that form over ancient artifacts. To really understand them we must intellectually walk the steps it took to get to the surface.
So to find a truth, Christian or otherwise, requires an ability to get down to the original meanings of our texts. And as Derrida points out, instead of the truth, most of the time we find aporia, i.e., confusion in determining the truth of the proposition.
An example might serve at this point. From her book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of a Story of Martyrdom, Candida Moss, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, writes, “We might even say that it’s understandable that the values that led Christians to embrace death in preference to apostasy were inherited from Judaism and Greek and Roman mythology and history.” In other words, the idea of a noble death had been around a long time before Christianity absorbed it.
And what’s more important to Christians than the Christian theology of the cross? But when we dig down, deconstruct our texts, we find evidence for another truth that questions the claim that “Christianity is true because only Christians have martyrs.”
Candida Moss goes on to prove that many of the Christian martyrdom myths were exaggerations and enhanced through the centuries to solidify the faith.
Now again, I won’t argue against the idea that Christianity does contain truths. But if we are to find them we will need an open mind and a willingness to admit our very human ability to disregard facts we don’t like.
Derrida once wrote, “there is nothing outside the text.” Maybe an overstatement. But it reminds me, agnosticism is the only intellectually honest place for me to be.
For a final note on Biblical interpretation, Karen Armstrong comes to mind. In her book, The Battle for God, this British author, offers us a key to settling our minds and hearts in the confusion of this conflict through learning the difference between the mythos and logos. “The modern era brought us the age of reason and with it the determination to understand our religions rationally through logos. The problem is that we cannot, because our religions belong to the realm of mythos and can only be apprehended in a mystical way.”
I believe Ms. Armstrong’s is saying we can use reason for faith in our beliefs. But when we reach the edge of the abyss, and reason fails, faith in the unknowable can begin.
Robert De Filippis