|March 7, 2012
Faith Critically Examined
Believing a thing to be so does not make it so, regardless of how sincerely and firmly the belief is held. An example of a firmly held belief that turned out to be completely wrong is the sixteenth century belief of the Catholic Church that the earth was the center of the universe—because they believed the Bible affirmed it to be so. A Polish scientist and churchman, Nikolas Copernicus, however, proved that the earth circled around the sun, which held a stationary position in the center of our solar system. The church’s view was wrong, and the dogma was eventually changed, but not before the church burned the monk-philosopher Giordiano Bruno at the stake for refusing to accept the church’s dogma. The critical evidence presented by Copernicus could not be denied by a reasonable person.
An uncritical faith exposes a person to the risk of being ensnared in the web of the “true believer” or the religious charlatan, both of whom, motivated by different reasons, aim to bring a person under their influence, and the influence of their views of faith. In conservative Christianity both of them use the Bible successfully to exert influence over the unknowledgeable, incautious, and unwary. One saying that is now almost a by-word with some conservative groups is “if the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Any faith that demands such unquestioning trust in an ancient collection of documents is essentially an uncritical faith.
On the other hand, persons who exercise critical judgment do not allow faith to demand that they affirm something they find to be patently untrue. How might that work, for example? A critical faith may be willing to affirm that Jesus healed people on the basis that their ailments were psychosomatic (physical illness induced by psychological causes), and faith was the trigger that accomplished their self-healing (Mark 5:34; 10:52). But those who observed the healing would not be able to make such fine modern distinctions and to them it would appear that Jesus had performed the healing. But incidents in which Jesus manipulates the natural world (usually referred to as “nature miracles” by biblical scholars) a person of critical faith would find patently impossible on the basis that the world, we now know, does not work by magic-like manipulation. So such things as the restoring of a withered hand to its former vigor (Mark 3:1-5) or changing the water to wine in Cana (John 2:1-11) as they are described in the gospels a person of critical faith would decline to affirm as historical events. A person of critical faith would likely not be persuaded by the belief that because Jesus was divine (or God) he could manipulate the natural world, since such claims were also made for others in the ancient world. Persons of critical faith do not allow religious dogma to determine for them either the nature of reality or the character of historical event.
A critical faith is not unlike that of Job. The Job of the poetic sections of the book remains almost to the end a questioner. He does not settle for traditional answers, rejects the easy answers of his well intentioned friends, and continues to pressure God to explain himself. But in the end Job eventually capitulates before a barrage of perplexing unanswerable questions (chapters 38-39), and returns to traditional faith (42:1-6)—at least that is the suggestion of the romantic narrative ending to the book. I suspect, however, that in reality the critical thinker having escaped the worldview supporting the creeds and confessions of the church will never be able to return to the confines of traditional or populist faith.
Charles W. Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 5:07pm
Loving your work. It all resonates with me. Are you still church attendee - if so how do you 'marry' your thinking with the creeds and structure of liturgy? Narelle from Australia
Thank you for this, Charlie. Your words are thought provoking and “right on.”
The question of Jesus' physical healings (now described as "magical thinking") and being impossible is addressed just as vehemently by some as Copernicus" observations. I hold the feasibility of "healing" as an unproved possibility. The proof is not in that this is not feasible. Recent findings in physics suggest that we are all connected in a ways little understood. Scientists can see the results empirically but as yet cannot explain why. Quantum Physics opens a whole new window on this question in my opinion and like never before leaves the door open. As you say it is a matter of pece0ption..
Really enjoyed reading this. I often wonder about these things....can you have faith but still realize that many things in the Bible cannot be true?