Monday, February 20, 2017

Belief, prophecy, and certainty

I mentioned earlier that the whole idea of belief is becoming unpopular. If we look at the world before the Council of Nicaea in 325, we find a world in which any belief is tolerated, except for a belief that doesn't tolerate other beliefs. The Roman empire of the second and third centuries was a world full of gods and goddesses of all kinds of religion, This was fine if you believed in a pantheon, but for Christians, there was only one God and one alone! Christians were regarded as the original atheists, despite the fact that they believed in one God. This would normally be fine, except Christian life did not tolerate the worship of other gods. For a polytheist, it doesn't matter which god you're sacrificing to, it's all good! For a Christian, to sacrifice to another god who is not God, is idolatry mainly because the Christian does not believe that other gods exist. Meat offered to idols must be refused, even if the best meat at the local butcher has been offered in sacrifice. If running for political office involves a sacrifice to a god, then a Christian cannot enter local government. If the Emperor is coming, then it's best to find a hidey-hole, because he will demand worship as a god incarnate!

We look at the lives of Christians in the first few centuries, and we see lives of persecution, of punishment for transgressing the ultimatum of be part of pagan society or die. We look and we see St Valentine clubbed and beheaded, St Lawrence roasted, St Simeon crucified, St Sebastian shot with arrows before being given the coup de grace, St Agatha mutilated, St Perpetua thrown to the beasts. What can be said is that these men and women truly believed. They held something so dear as to be certain about it.

I said earlier that the word "belief" in its very origin means holding something beloved. To believe means to be convinced, to have a conviction. Ideally, is one prepared to be convicted about one's beliefs? 

Few of us would risk going to gaol for the belief that it will rain tomorrow, but one might risk losing a fiver, or a day's worth of washing-up on it. For Christianity, the wager is clear: believe in God or risk eternal separation from Him. Pascal's wager may not be a watertight argument, but it does have a good convincing power.

In today's society, I believe that we find much the same thing. The plethora of beliefs, plus a force within society to regard all beliefs equally valid or invalid is very much the norm. Theological courses tend to be that of comparative religion and often encourage the student to suspend her own belief so that she can study the subject "fairly". If you are a Christian, then there is only one belief. The others are false, wrong, incorrect, incomplete, or nonsense pure and simple. That other people have the freedom not to be Christian is common sense: Christianity is about the freedom to be human and to choose. Other people have the freedom to be wrong, and we Christians believe that people who are not Christian are wrong. That doesn't mean that we believe that they are wrong about everything, though. This is why dialogue is important - not to convince each other of the correctness of one's belief, but to explain one's own belief.

Now, I have just said that as a Christian we are not to convince others of why our Faith is correct. We are witnesses to the Truth, not the Thought Police, nor the Inquisition. We can only give testimony to the Truth by the way we live our lives. What then of prophecy? Are not some Christians called to be prophets? Aren't prophets supposed to be loud and objectionable people telling passers-by that they are all sinners and going to Hell?

Actually, a prophet is simply one who speaks the will of God via the Holy Ghost. Thus a prophet can never contradict previous prophecies otherwise the Holy Ghost would be contradicting Himself and that would be nonsense. The Holy Ghost dwells within every baptised Christian and, therefore, every Christian has the propensity to be a prophet and speak prophecy. The testimony that each Christian bears is witness to the existence of a loving God. It means that each Christian must live a life with that conviction. The Christian that is not convinced or loses conviction needs to get it back and thus requires support, prayer and encouragement. 

There have recently been some cases in the media where Christian retailers have been hauled through the law-courts for refusing to support a marriage of two homosexuals. The worst that I have seen is that of Irish Cake bakers who were sued for not baking a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage". For the Christian, gay marriage is a logical nonsense for, in the Christian milieu, marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. Since Christians are to bear witness to the Truth, it is simply not possible for a Christian baker to support "gay marriage" without testifying to that which is not of God. The Christian that does support "gay marriage" is setting up within himself a cognitive dissonance which he can only explain away by changing the meaning of words from what they were, or by declaring that what Holy Tradition bears is either false or changes.

The choice for the Christian baker is to submit, bake the cake, and then reflect on the action, or to refuse and receive the full punishment of the law for that conviction. The law-courts will pass away, the Truth of God will not. In this day and age, it is now a frightening possibility that Christians in Western Society will find persecution by law-court. Given that the Christians in the Middle East are suffering a massive persecution which is practically ignored by Western media, the Western Christian's lot seems rather incommensurate. The Syrian Christian would, I'm sure, rather lose money to the law court than his hand, eyes and/or head. However, the Christian that is not willing to sacrifice anything for his belief in God is going to reap no reward for burying his talent.

The only belief that is being encouraged in society is that nothing is certain. That's not untrue. Certainty is a very difficult thing to establish. Logic is infallible in its grasp of certainty, but logical truths are not very interesting. Aristotelian syllogisms are certain but fail to establish any new information about the world. In order to discover new information, it seems one must sacrifice certainty. There is much logic and rational thought in Christian doctrine but it has, at its root, axioms of belief, thus logic cannot establish certainty itself. It can, however, establish conviction and thus further belief. If one accepts the Epiphany of God, this great Theophany, given in the Church and Holy Scripture, then one has the basis on which to encounter the Truth. However, one has to accept that Theophany as infallible, otherwise one compromises the whole of Christianity and runs into danger of just being another syncretist like the pagans of the AnteNicene era, and that is not what Christianity is about.

However, there is a flip-side to this. It's all very well being Christian and thus necessarily saying that Islam, Hinduism, Atheism, and Buddhism are not true, but rather inherently wrong, but the Christian faith insists - absolutely insists - that we always see people. We cannot live out the truth of Our Lord's commandments if we see people merely as embodied ideas.That reduces the great unsearchable interior of another human mind to an abstract. Thus we should not see Muslims - we should see people. We should not see Communists - we should see people. We should not see <insert your least favourite expression of Christianity here> - we should see people.

If we are seriously convicted Christians, then we should be prepared to be convicted. If we aren't showing love in our conviction, then it's not Christianity that we're convicted of!

No comments: