Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rational Christianity . . . Does it Exist Anymore?

I met a new Christian today and for a flighting moment, I thought that just maybe we could be on the same page. Then, once again, I felt like I am on my page alone . . . at least here in my neck of the woods if not the whole world.

You see, the dude is a recent Harvard graduate and we had a very interesting talk about Cambridge, MA and the Harvard campus scene (I've only visited there once).

I knew he was a Christian and we talked about some mutual acquaintances at Harvard.

But then he threw me a curve. He is involved with a very fundamentalist, charismatic church. The church practices speaking in tongues in their morning worship services, and faith healings are a corner stone to their ministry.

I wanted to write a long essay someday about my views of this brand of Christianity, so I can try and make sense of it. However, I just don't have the time right now. Actually, I shouldn't be even blogging right now as I have too much to do.

When I share my hesitation with charismatic Christianity, many of my Christian friends, and including Denise, see me as just being critical and judging other believers. But I have a lot of history with that branch of Evangelicalism. When I was involved with charismatic groups in college, it was the most intellectually and emotionally dishonest time of my life. I started seeing supernatural miracles every day, crosses in the clouds, bugs that spoke prophecy to me and etc. I will come back to this in another post, which I was working on before I got so busy. In that post I wanted discuss the thought (based on a comment that HUG said) who is really the insane and who is sane?

But, in brief, here is my position I see human intellect, reason or logic (however you want to frame it) as a wonderful gift from God. However, it is not perfect so we can't know all truth 100% of the time but we can know most of it most of the time. So faith is not the opposite to reason nor is faith a spiritual counterpart to worldly reason. Knowledge is wonderful. Knowing as much as the world as we can is our calling.

I also know that our perceptions and emotions are also corruptible. We are all prone to playing games with ourselves an others on a psychological level. Self-deception is very common and we can't trust our own hearts. If I hear voices coming from bugs, then am I not insane and completely out of touch with reality? I never really heard voices from bugs, but I lied, like I think everyone in our group was doing, in order to impress my charismatic brothers and sisters.

Additionally, when you look at the world dualistically, you think that only things that go against the laws of nature are of God. In my view, all of nature is of God. Everything this side of nothing is a miracle. So 'supernatural miracles are not necessary for my faith.

Now God certainly can work outside the wonderful laws of nature, which He has made. But they better be "Biblical-grade" miracles if you want me to believe that it is more likely they are real than me just imagining it. I mean, people should be raised from the dead. Arms should re grow. People should speak languages, fluently, that they have never studied.

So, is there any place left for rational Christianity? The Great Randi is my hero. He is a (secular) rationalist and skeptic. He has a million dollar award for any supernatural act. No one has take the prize so far.

So, it quickly became an oxymoron for me. A Harvard graduate in the most irrational brand of Evangelicalism. I can't even discuss my skepticism outside my own head without being perceived as "nonspiritual," critical, etc. Is there rational Christianity practiced anywhere anymore? If reason has no purpose then I may as well become a new age pantheistic.


heidi said...

You're not alone! Maybe in person, but online, there's so many people who identify with you. Thank you for sharing. I need it. Sometimes Christianity makes me feel like I'm going crazy, until I read your posts and realize I'm not alone either. It's a relief. Thank you.

MJ said...

Heidi I am so glad that there are others. If not, I would have to come to the conclusion that it is indeed me who is insane.

But enter any Evangelical Christian social circle. People can say the most bizarre and simply add, "It was a God thing," and everyone is required to totally believe them. When I raise my eyebrow . . . I am quickly put in my place as the negative guy who has no spiritual intuition. Whatever happened to the gift of discernment?

Trevor said...

(raises hand shyly)

I sincerely hope that I'm a 'rational Christian.' I firmly believe that truth statements should be objectively testable, and in that regard I'd classify myself as an empiricist. I'm a strong adherent to Karl Popper's concept of falsification; the idea that almost any statement can be considered a hypothesis, but to be useful it must be testable and one should be able to propose a test that would prove it false.

How this intersects with religious faith is a topic that I'm still working through; at the moment my thinking is that Christianity actually presents itself as a testable hypothesis. Both Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15 and Jesus' response to Thomas' doubts seem to be saying 'look, the resurrection actually happened in a real, physical, experiential way.'

I'm still working through the implications of this, but it seems to stand in contrast to being told 'just believe these statements because an authority figure has made them.'

I'd be very interested in seeing what a healthy, rational Christianity might look like. I think the folks at BioLogos might be headed in the right direction.

MJ said...

I've always been proud to be in the fellowship of Thomas.

I liked the web page and it gives me hope.

I did attend a great lecture by Hugh Ross last year. When I told my pastor he was concerned and wanted to meet with me to deprogram me a bit. I said, no thanks.

Anna A said...

I share your hesitations about the charismatic movement. I've been in and out of it, since college days.

I also left because there is no firm foundation of testing the emotions and no bones of theology to provide strength.

I believe that there is a rational Christianity out there, I'd not be comfortable there, either. I have a touch of mystic in me, and am comfortable with getting to a point and calling it a mystery.

MJ said...

Anna, I respect what you are saying and I do believe that there is plenty of mystery left beyond where limited reason can take us and I'm glad you appreciate that.

This is beyond your question but more thinking since I posted this morning. My wife is my most familiar sounding board . . . for obvious reasons. She often asks me why do I care what others think about whether something is a miracle or not?

Here is the problem and it has to do with my desire for Christian community and the requirement that I must lie if I am to partake of it.

I'm really trying my best to stop lying, especially lying for Jesus. I will give my best example of this dilemma and how it works itself out in day to day life.

We have a friend who lives close to us. At one time I thought he would be my best friend. He is an evangelical Christian and he use to go to my church (but took the more-evangelical exit door while I have one foot out the less-evangelical exit door). He has been very kind to me and I do, sincerely, like him a lot.

But Mike, wears his faith on his sleeves in a way that always makes me either lie, or offend him, and I don't like doing either.

Mike is very positive, smiles all the time and every time we run into him, he has a new miracle to tell us about. Denise loves hearing his stories and I'm sure there are plenty of days that she would like to swap me for him . . . at least in brief moments of temporary insanity. :>)

Mike always puts me on the spot. He tells me a "Jesus did it" story and keeps pushing me to agree with him. It goes like this:

The Other Mike: "God blew my mind the other day. The car was parked up on the hill and I had forgotten to put it in drive. It rolled down the hill just missing our other car. The sun was shining on the windshield but I really thought I could see Jesus sitting in the driver's seat steering it past everything. It came to a dead stop when it hit the chain link fence and caused no damage. That was certainly a miracle. God is great isn't He."

Me: "He certainly is."

Other Mike: "Do you believe me that I actually saw Jesus behind the wheel?"

Me: "Uh . . . well . . . uh."

Other Mike: "You don't believe that God could do that?"

Me: "Oh, I think God could do that."

Other Mike: "So you don't believe I'm telling the truth or what?"

Me: "Oh, I'm not saying that exactly. I just think with the glare on the windshield you may have thought you had seen him."

Other Mike: "You see, my God is a big God. I see him doing miracles every day. For some people, they have an earthly perspective. You can't see miracles if you don't expect them. I think you need to come to Promise Keepers with me. It will change your life and you will start to see the hand of God where ever you look."

This is what I run into all the time. BTW, this same guy has some serious family problems going on right now. I know because I know his parents and they are much more candid than he is. I've tried to bring it up to him, just so I could be his friend and have someone to talk to. He was very offended and told me that I was just trying to create dirt where there was none.

So, once again, I sound like I'm talking just about my issues but I don't mean it that way. I think Evangelicalism is sick and needs a doctor. There's something wrong with this kind of social mores that force people to either lie, kiss their brains goodbye, or go around inadvertently offending everyone.

Sorry, long thought.

MJ said...

See next Blog posting.

Anonymous said...

Some 800 years ago, around the time of the Mongol invasion, an Islamic theologican named Mohammed abu-Hamid al-Ghazali divorced Rationality and Reason from Faith in Islamic theology with his Incoherence of the Philosophers. Reason was worldly, the enemy of Faith, and Faith Faith Faith MUST prevail, with "God Saith/God Wills It" as the ultimate trump card. His theology came to dominate Islam; historians date the stagnation and decline of Islamic civilization from that point.

You cannot be Rational and please God - FAITH FAITH FAITH FAITH FAITH - How Dare You Doubt GOD! Islam's been taking al-Ghazali's road for 800 years. Look where it got them.

Tell Other Mike to wave hello to al-Ghazali as he passes.

Headless Unicorn Guy

Eagle said...

MJ...I relate.

I was invovled in achrasmatic church, and CCC. Both came back to haunt me. I threw reason and logic out the window and viewed those who had them with skepticism and wreariness. It came back to bite me when I dealth with doubt, and when I confidentially talked about some personal stuff. Some of this was a tiping point for me to lose my faith, but what angered me (and still does) is running into people that project a facade, and have to lie in order to appear spirtual, or be a good "Christian." I leanred that faith was an act..and I am not a good enough acter, so it had to go.

Anna A said...


I completely agree with you about the way many evangelicals look for and at miracles. Iknow that they happen, (and like the rigor that the Catholic Church looks at them before crediting them to a saint ).

In the case of the car, I would just say "Thank you Lord" and not even consider whether it was a natural event or not.

I also agree that many evangelicals don't know how to handle suffering; little to no theology, no examples of just living through it, etc.

J said...


I know this was posted several years ago, but I'm so glad that I found your blog. I googled something along the lines of "do rational Christians exist?" and found your blog there. I feel exactly the way you do. I used to be a part of a Christian group in college (not too long ago... given I graduated a month ago) that had a bunch of people like "Mike" in your comment above. Many times when I would be standing around in a group with them, one of them would bring up some miracle they either heard about or experienced (and was so far fetched and ridiculous that I didn't know why they, as college students at a top 30 university, would believe such things, some of whom were science majors...), and everyone else in the group would say stuff like "wow, that's so awesome! God is go good!", while I would stand to the side twiddling my thumbs. They would all turn to me and I would just nod in agreement, and I hated it.

It baffles me how good, "smart" students at a top university in a science major can put away all their rational thinking when it comes to God. They accept every miracle without questioning it. They don't test anything. Anything good happens? Must be God. Got at an A on a test? Must be God. Hurt my hand and it healed a little faster than it was supposed to? Must be God. I'm not denying that God can do the things above. I just think it's ridiculous that every action must be attributed as a work of God. But then again, most of them were from a Charismatic/Pentecostal background, which tend to be the people who are the most irrational.