With More Thought….

Thanks to Steve for pointing out some of the weaknesses in my argumentation a few days ago regarding belief.  True enough, what I said sounds a lot like the common argument about and for belief.  It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something.  And therefore it shouldn’t matter to you what anyone else believes, so long as what they believe makes them happy.  That wasn’t the road I was trying to go down, but I can see how that could come off that way.  Another good reminder about posting too hastily!

I think it matters eternally what you believe.  And I also think that belief has to be anchored somehow in order for it to be of much good.  Someone can believe that the universe is sending good vibes their way, but without any verifiable evidence of this, I can’t see it as a very fulfilling belief.  My belief about forgiveness and eternal life is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth almost 2000 years ago.  That anchor is secured through the historical documentation of the Gospels.  It is a reality that affects all aspects of my life, not just when things are difficult.

Belief in this respect seems like a matter of answering the question do I believe these witnesses?  Why would I, and why would I not?  I don’t see it as a massive, nebulous thing.  It requires belief in some amazing things, to be sure.  But the people I talk with most frequently aren’t objecting to amazing things.  Miraculous things. They don’t have a problem with the idea of a divine entity, but they act as though, having acknowledged the God of the Bible, there’s some doubt whether or not they can be in on the story.  Does his story include them?

It does.  He says so himself.  Repeatedly.  Believe.  It’s for you.  Not because you consider it good news by your definition of the term, but because it is good news by the actual definition.

And thanks again for prompting me to think more.

6 Responses to “With More Thought….”

  1. Steven Hoyt Says:


    god is a metaphysical proposition. there either is or isn’t a god but we can’t deliberate on it such that we can claim any belief about the matter is true or false. in that case, what matters about belief isn’t its truth-value but whether or not the belief matters in some way.

    here’s the deal. if through adam all men are damned regardless of their particular ideas about god, christ is inferior in salvation doesn’t also set all men free regardless of their feelings on the subject either.

    if “one must x in order to be saved” then one is saying that what one does earns them salvation. some say it’s faith that saves, but that’s ridiculous. sola fide only means “x” is “believe” and is then a work.

    how beliefs safe is only in that they can point to an experience, and that experience is empirical. such a belief pointing to some experience is with thinking it’s true if the experience matters in some real way.

    reformation, post enlightenment christian philosophy remains bankrupt for seeing this whole state of affairs as propositions; the most extreme example being literalist fundamentalists who likewise read in black and white too; which is a signified of illiteracy.

    but, i digress.

  2. Steven Hoyt Says:


    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      God is a metaphysical proposition, an answer to the ultimate questions of what and why and how regarding every aspect of the universe and our existence in it. The assertion that we can’t have knowledge of whether a particular proposition about the metaphysical idea of a god is true or not is not necessarily true, however. It would be true only if the god we are contemplating has not given us any means of determining validity or falsehood. A belief may matter in many ways, but if the belief is false, it cannot be ultimately be said to be good. At most, it can be said to be convenient.

      Oddly enough, almost every metaphysical assertion (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, etc. et al) rests its claim about metaphysical truth on a text, more often than not a text claimed to be provided by the god in question. In other words, each metaphysical system provides a means of justifying itself and what it teaches us to believe. What we can do, therefore, is begin comparing those sacred texts, those alleged divine disclosures, to determine if we can reliably trust them or not.

      Now, what you say about such systems not offering a way to determine truth or falsehood is, to my knowledge, universally true with one exception – Christianity. Christianity and the sacred text of the Bible differs markedly from these other metaphysical systems in that within the sacred text is a testable means of determining validity or falsehood of the religion (and text) as a whole. Not simply a “close your eyes and hope it’s true” sort of thing, but very much a “here is how you know it’s true”.

      In Christianity, that issue of validity or falsehood is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be nothing less than the divine Son of God incarnate, and who predicted not just his death but his resurrection. And according to multiple historical documents contained within the Bible, this is exactly what happened.

      If Jesus rose from the dead as per his prediction, this would be a singularly good reason to trust what He says on other matters. If He was correct about the highly unlikely issue of his bodily resurrection from the dead, then we have very, very, very good reason to take seriously everything else he said. Certainly far greater reason to trust what He says than what the Buddha allegedly said, or what Mohammed claims the angel Gabriel said.

      As for faith being a work, I disagree. If someone comes up to you and hands you a check for a million dollars, what do you do? You look the check over. It looks authentic. Other than the sheer unexpectedness of the whole affair, there isn’t any reason to assume the check isn’t good. So what do you do? You take it to the bank and try to deposit it. Lo and behold, the check is good – it clears, and you now have a million bucks sitting in the bank.

      You exercised faith in the giver of the check and deposited it. Do you go around bragging about what you ‘did’? Of course not. You only ‘did’ what any rational person would do.

      This metaphor is fundamentally flawed (in many ways, no doubt, given my struggle to create decent metaphors recently!) by the fact that it doesn’t fully describe the process by which faith in Christ comes to us. The check has no power in and of itself. It’s just a piece of paper, representative of something – or not. But Christians have always believed that the Bible is different in that it is the Word of God. It contains the power of God within those words, so that as I read or hear it, God is active in that moment and instant. My decision to believe is not literally alone but itself a gift of God (so that none may boast). God provides what is required of me. My ‘work’ of faith is indeed a work, but not my ‘own’ work, but God’s. As such, in cashing his check, it is God who receives every bit of the glory, not me. And in tearing his check up and refusing to take it to the bank, it is not God who is at fault, as though somehow He failed, but rather myself, for not receiving him.

      Much of Christian theology in the late 19th and 20th century has gone down the road you describe – trying to protect itself from assault by a rationalistic and humanistic world by relegating the life of faith to intangibles separated from actual history and reality. By re-casting the Christian faith as an interior issue for the believer, which cannot be proved or disproved and therefore must be allowed to remain. This is hugely problematic, and completely anti-Scriptural. Repeatedly in the New Testament people are called to believe in Jesus not because it makes them feel good, but because He rose from the dead! Believing in Jesus was actually counter-productive for many people – by worldly standards. They faced persecution, being ostracized from family and friends and their faith community. Many lost everything, including their lives. But they were constrained to remain faithful through all of this not because they felt happy in their heart, but because they were convinced by the evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. The Biblical argument from faith is an objective one – this is what happened – not a subjective one – this is how you will feel if you believe it.

      • Steven Hoyt Says:

        there’s just a lot of glad handing in all of that but i think we can get around it.

        first, when i use the term metaphysics, i mean it in its epistemological sense. that has nothing to do with god. it is simply a matter of fact, by definition, god is such a proposition and cannot be known to be true or false. that is most certainly true, absolutely, by definition.

        to the rest, let’s suppose for a moment that every human being who has ever lived has had a numinous experience. we can merely observe then that such an experience exists. what we cannot do is say anything true or false about any metaphysical explanations for it; for if they all differ and if each link premises to conclusions and this all accounts for numinous experiences, there’s no sense in calling any of them true or false. that’s because they ALL MUST converge on the same experience. we’re simply narrating the experience.

        you can’t at all suggest taking a text and comparing it to another. even if one is convoluted and less than elegant, all it must do is explain said experience. we’re you to argue counter, you’d have to soon realize that all you were arguing was expediency, not truth; preferability.

        i can only sigh about resurrection. it isn’t a matter of history. even what it entails to theologically is uncertain, though popular ideas exist. but for sure, there is NO place in scripture jesus claims to be god. he was going to be stoned because priests thought that was his claim. his denial, applying the meaning from psalms, set them straight, and ought to set you straight too, though, believe what you will.

        finally, NO!!! bibliolatry is entirely new to christianity and is a fringe idea. the word of god is not a book. see logos and memra to learn for yourself.

        i’ll leave you to the rest of your comments as they are also too numerous and too fringe to keep my attention.

      • mrpaulnelson Says:

        Thanks for stopping by. Theology is complicated under any circumstances, and certainly here as well! You’re always welcome back to continue the discussion.

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