Faith and other commentary

3. Can God be three persons in one? Certainly, if one is familiar with Multiple Personality Disorders or other such psychiatric syndromes. But, the problem is a metaphysical one, not a psychological one. How can God be three separate entities or beings and yet be one? An answer suggested is that God is a unity of the three. But, in what does this unity consist? Perhaps, it is that God is one substance which has three aspects or modes. The Father is the most important mode. OK, but what about the following problem? Can God really perish? Christ, it is said, died to remove the sins of man from the world. However, if Christ is God, and God is a necessary being (one that cannot NOT exist), then it would be impossible for Christ to die. Perhaps, the better meaning of the crucifixion is that God was willing to suffer terribly for us to show us how to live correctly. But, if He did not die, then the problem of whether or not Grace is possible without the death of Christ arises.

4. There is a further problem concerning the death of Christ. It is not fair for God to take on the sins and wrong doings of man. God did not do these actions, man did. Why should God be burdened with the responsibility for the wrong actions of man? Moreover, even if God chooses to do so, such action is a reverse form of paternalism, to take on responsibilities for another without their permission. To have God take my responsibilities from me tends to deprive me of true autonomy, something which we would expect God to leave unaltered in man. On the other side, if I relegate my sins to Christ, even if He is willing to accept them, I am a shirker of moral responsibility; I would be a coward to let another person pay for the harm I committed. People who are Christians just to avoid responsibility for their actions are hypocrites.

Why then is Christianity (and other religions) so popular? Why do so many persons have religious beliefs when the religious materials at the bases of the religions is science-fiction (or fantasy) in nature, and sometimes, poor science-fiction at that? That question, I would like to answer in the last chapter about the meaning of life. It may be well here to mention some explanations that are given by other thinkers.

5. Religion is the opiate of the people. A philosopher named Karl Marx developed an interesting thesis about religion. Marx was a materialist to the point that everything was an effect or aspect of the activities of the material world. In the economic sphere, material was money; money made the world go around. Whatever social policies or beliefs came into being were the result of the effects of money upon man and his environment. Take any society, Marx would say, and ask what are the modes and levels of development of production and exchange. Given that "financial analysis," one could predict what kind of society (what values and behaviors) would accompany (would be produced by) that monetary system. Capitalism, Marx held, is an advanced form of the means of production and exchange. Consequently, capitalism would have a complex society. However, complex as it may be, capitalist society is a derivative of monetary or economic forces at work. The society which accompanies capitalism is one in which the rich dominate over the poor. One method of domination is through government. Government, says Marx, is the political means by which the rich rule over and exploit the poor. Now, to keep the poor from realizing who really is responsible for this domination and the suffering which goes along with it, the ruling class, the capitalists, must use ploys to convince the poor that their suffering is not the fault of capitalism. One way to do this "soothing" is to use religion. If persons believe that their suffering is the result of their own sins (the doctrine of "original sin"), then each person can only blame him/herself for his misery. The buck is passed from the capitalist to the working poor through organized religion. Thus, in any capitalist society, we would expect to see strong forms of organized religion which emphasize the innate sinfulness of individual persons. But, of course, through religious repentance, those sins can be washed clean and a glorious afterlife enjoyed. Religion soothes the worldly agonies of the exploited poor; hence, it is the opiate of the people. It drugs them into not realizing the true source of their misery. (See Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. by Samuel Moore (Progress Publishers, Moscow)).

6. Religion is the herd (masses) of weak persons protecting themselves from persons with power. Friedrich Nietzche developed a view of religion which declared it to be pathological. Real persons have a "will to power," a creative force by which they confront the world and make it their own. These are the persons who create according to their own rules and stand above the world of conformists. The conformists, to make themselves happy with the mundaneness of their lives and works, must come up with psychological ploys to justify their abhorrence of those with power and their own incipient weaknesses. Religions which emphasize meekness and submission (turning the other cheek; loving one's enemies) are those which are attractive to the passive herd of conformists who try to make their lackluster lives more attractive by claiming that meekness and submission are virtues rather than dispositions contrary to the true human spirit. Real persons, Nietzche says, are creators of the world in their own right; they are "artists" who go beyond the boundaries of rules and set their own standards. The rest of the herd tries to deny the real power of these creators by emphasizing the exact opposites: conformity, denial, submission and passivity. Religion is a key player in this denial, for through religion the masses can "justify" and be happy with the dullness and painful sublimation of their lives. Religion, rather than being a celebration of life, is a denial of the very essence of life, the power to create. (See The Genealogy of Morals, translated by F. Golffing (Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y. 1956), pp. 170-72)

For Marx and Nietzche, then, religion turns out to be psychological tools to be used either by those who rule to dominate the ruled or those who are weak in spirit to deny the reality of true creativity. For them, religion is bad make-believe.

7. An apology to the criticisms of Christianity. OK. Christianity has a host of theoretical problems, yet there is still a faith in it. No rational person would entertain the Christian thesis because it is fraught with so many contradictions and unsatisfactory explanations of the nature of God and man. But, there is a wealth of good material in the Bible and a host of secondary material which improves on it. So, Christianity is not dead and gone. As a matter of fact, the more irrational it becomes, the more there is a tendency towards it. The same is true for science-fiction; contemporary physicists scoff at the notion of travel beyond the speed of light. Yet, most sci-fi persons view interstellar travel at speeds faster than light as a given (Star Trek and Star Wars would not work as films otherwise). There is something that is attractive about Christianity. There is something so attractive that persons will have faith in it as a doctrine in spite of all the known difficulties. What is it that is so appealing?

There are a number of things.

First, God is personal. Whether He is mad at us, is in regret over the harm we do, or gives us His unconditional love, there is a personal relationship --just between Him and us. There is the Church, of course, and the Church is important, for through it, we come into contact with one another and interact. But, it is the personal relationship that is most important. In basketball terms, it is "one on one." What this means is that there is a Person who cares about our actions and us at all times in our lives. We can never be truly alone; we may turn our backs on God, but He will never do that to us, no matter what. The knowledge or belief that someone cares is highly important. It is the ground upon which we can base our lives and interactions with other persons. There is nothing more wonderful than to have something done for you by someone (could be a friend, a mere acquaintance or a stranger) out of the blue for no reason at all. That God cared enough about man to suffer to teach us how to live together is extraordinary.

Second, if there is a God, then we have the hope that good things will happen. What this is to say is that a belief in God has the hope that things will get better sooner or later. Sooner, if we behave in ways that make a better world. Later, if there is final justice for the suffering of the innocent at the hands of bad persons. It is this notion of later that produces a soothing sense of justice due for bad persons and good rewards due for unselfish toil of persons who have struggled against pain, torment and evil. God, in the end, will make everything all right. This hope for an ultimate good cannot be underestimated. It is in virtue of that good that other problematics can be withstood. We can tolerate that our efforts to achieve justice in this world are incomplete because we can hope that justice will be served later for those who deserve reward or punishment. We can tolerate that our efforts to make our lives and the world a better place now are incomplete or frustrated because we hope that those efforts will be realized in this world after our departure from it. It is the hope for a true good to be realized now and later that keeps the faith.

Faith, thus, involves two requirements. The first is that faith cannot be blind; that is, it cannot be faith that is unfounded. By this I mean that we must struggle with the arguments for and against the existence of God and the problem of evil before we can make a commitment of faith in the hypothesis that there is a God. Too many persons do not investigate the problems with religious beliefs before they have them. As a result, they do not recognize the nature of that commitment and try to defend it with rational arguments. The results are usually catastrophic. Christianity is very difficult if not impossible to defend from a rational perspective. The defense must be through a personal perspective; Christianity is tenable because it means something to the person. It does something for the person. And it does something for the society of persons who believe in it. There is no rational defense for Christianity save a personal commitment. But, again, that commitment cannot be a "walk up and buy" type of relationship. Before the commitment is made, one must realize all that is being given up and assumed in that commitment. What is being given up is rational support. No appeal can be given to explain or justify the commitment anymore than one can explain or justify how he/she is in love. As Pascal once put it, "The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know." (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans. by W. Trotter (London: Dent & Co., 1908 #277) What is assumed is a commitment to action.

The second, that which is assumed, is that Christianity involves a commitment to action. The commitment is to do things for oneself and for others. This is a difficult commitment, for it goes against inclinations of selfishness and greed. Christianity demands a great deal from its commitment to action. Christianity demands that we care for others and ourselves. In fact, we must care for ourselves as we would care for others. This requirement is usually stated the other way around, that we should care for others as we would care for ourselves. However, the message of The New Testament is that there are duties to ourselves and to others. Our primary duty is to do the right actions --to get ourselves in the right relationship with God. In doing so, we are treating ourselves as agents of goodness in the world, respecting our commitment to the good and the right actions which follow from that commitment. If we are in the right relationship to God, then we will de facto be in the right relationship with other persons, for we will be treating them as we would ourselves by first of all treating ourselves correctly.

Faith, thus, involves a personal commitment that goes beyond the bounds of reason. It involves a commitment to action for the good, for God. And it involves no hypocrisy. One cannot profess a faith and not act on that faith, act in accordance with that faith. There is no room for hypocrisy for the truly faithful. Only psychological undoing will result. With that in mind, we should be very careful when making a leap of faith. The requirements are tremendous and should not be attempted by persons who have not thought through the decision for a long time and with great detail. A crash from lost faith is one of the worst psychological traumas that can be endured. If we have faith, then we must truly live it. (See the works of Soren Kierkegaard for a definitive exposition of Christian faith and how to live by it.) Which is why there are very, very few persons in this world who are really Christians.

Let me end the chapter with a story about faith. It is unusual in its message, for it combines religious faith with scientific faith.

INSERT: "The First Canticle" by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Story appears in Book #4 of The Road to Science Fiction, edited by James Gunn (Mentor Books: 1982). Library of Congress Card Number 78-070642

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