Monday, June 28, 2010

Childish Things-Idiotic Voices

“I believe it because it is absurd.” –Tertullian

“We sacrifice the intellect to God.” –Ignatius Loyola

“Reason is the Devil’s harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does.” –Martin Luther

Can faith and reason co-exist? The longer I study and the more I research the answer becomes ever more clear; no. While I still do not regret (for the most part) my past, including my previous beliefs, I am, quite honestly, often embarrassed by them. I read the words of these giants of Christian history who shaped and directed the Church (and me) in both its theology and practices and more often than not I find I am reading the words of idiots who not only do not command respect but deserve pity. These are men who were scared of humanity’s potential through the use of reason, the loss of their personal power and, of course, their own deaths. Tertullian did not claim to know much about the afterlife but promised that in heaven one of the greatest sources of pleasure will come from the endless contemplation of the tortures of the damned. Luther’s work is filled with fear of demons, hatred for the mentally ill and blatant anti-Semitism, which would continue to inflame the hatred of Jews in Germany all the way up to the Holocaust. And Loyola was the founder of the Jesuits who were trained to search for and eradicate all heresy by any means necessary; thus the birth of the inquisition whose most successful apologetic was convert or die.

It has taken years but it has become clear to me that these men believed these things and said them not because they misunderstood Christianity but rather because they understood it all too well. Somewhat ironically, after lengthy and at times painful thought they came to believe and teach that Christianity demands mindless (in every sense of the term) obedience. Thoughtless faith is the greatest virtue while critical thinking is the greatest vice. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on love, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” I agree with these words of Paul and have sought to do likewise. The funny thing is that putting childish ways behind me has meant giving up almost everything Paul every taught. His teachings are childish at best and more often dangerous as they teach and support misogyny, slavery, anti-Semitism, hatred of homosexuals, elitism, xenophobia, sexual repression, anti-intellectualism and an all-around arrogant stupidity. Even as I write this I can remember many of the reasons I believed these things when I did and I can also remember how differently they looked back then. I did not see the blatant anti-Semitism in the Gospel of John or the clear disdain for women in Paul’s works. Even when I caught glimpses of them I found ways to side step the issues or explain them away as misunderstandings or misinterpretations. But perhaps what was best for my faith was that I was unaware of most of Christian history and the works of men like Tertullian, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and so many others. It’s easier to get the bible off the hook when you don't have any real concept of the history of its interpretation. Thankfully the one Christian lesson that never got pushed all the way through my head was, “don’t think for yourself just obey.” So I continued to think and study and research and discovered through more honest and impartial eyes than my own the errors and horrors created and sustain by the Christian worldview. And yes those more impartial eyes came from both Christians and non-Christians.

Now I will continue to study, including men such as Paul, Tertullian, Augustine, Luther and Loyola but I can no longer hide the fact that I pity these men and will continue to deride much of what they choose to preach. A fair trial has been given and the crimes these men committed (both in word and deed) allow, even demand, that I not give their voices the same amount of weight in matters of truth as those of more learned, wise, tolerant, generous and good people.


  1. Z - it's interesting to me the specific church fathers you discuss. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (and Russian) churches have followed very different paths, theologically, from those followers of Luther or Loyola. Take the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example - they believe in corporal (rather than individual) salvation, in the power of icons and in praying to saints, and that "faith is a constant dialogue with doubt," all of which would be considered blasphemous to a Lutheran. The Russian Orthodox Church believes it is the sole (remaining) carrier of "true" Christianity. So to judge all of Christianity by the works of only a few (no matter how prominent) isn't entirely fair.
    However, I do understand and sympathize with your 'fear.' I, too, have never really liked Augustine or Paul, and find that I often cannot agree with them. And both misinterpretation and correct interpretation of the works of the early Church have shaped Christianity as it is today. This is where I think the Episcopalian/Anglican church has a good stance: it's known as the "braid" - Scripture, Tradition, Reason. All three must play equal and complimentary parts in Christianity.

  2. Clearly it is impossible to cover every important Christian figure in a few paragraphs. I just played with a few people and at the end spoke specifically against them. I do weigh and judge the words of different people individually and as such find some far more valuable then others. But the overall conclusion that faith and reason cannot ultimately co-exist in Christianity is one I stand by. Both the Russian and Eastern Orthodox churches are different in many ways but the shared centuries in the beginning including most of the church fathers and the shared scriptures ultimately end up leading to similar conclusions concerning faith and reason. Faith ultimately trumps reason every time, even if one is willing to acknowledge reason on some level. At best reason is the little sister of faith only to be used when it is helpful to what faith has already decided you must believe.

    I would add that there isn’t and can’t be any “unified” correct interpretation of either the scriptures or the early church fathers rather there can only be interpretation of individual and often contradictory people and ideas. And that is one reason why history has unfolded as it has and why the conflicts will always remain and that is why I am sure someone could pull out multiple quotes that would oppose the one’s I am critiquing. But concerning the Anglican Church I would say that even without a unified correct interpretation of all the scriptures or church fathers I believe they would have difficultly justifying their braid as anything remotely close to what any of the biblical authors or church fathers believed.

    I do realize this piece was more aggressive than usual (you should have seen the stuff I cut) but I admit I am getting tired of trying to pretend that the history of the Church is due simply to misinterpretation. At some point you have to look at the fruit and judge the tree. As always thanks for reading and sharing.