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What is Truth?

Sep
26
2007

It amuses me at times, and frustrates me at others, when discussions arise on the subject of religion and faith; specifically, my faith. The amusement stems from the rash assumptions many people make about those who adhere to my beliefs. The frustration comes from the breakdown of logic that often manifests itself in those conversations. Faith, after all, cannot be measured, nor does it possess tangible characteristics, yet those who would argue with me as to what they see as my foolishness do so because they cannot see or touch or otherwise perceive the evidence of my beliefs.

Readers of this column know that I am a Christian of the sort commonly (sometimes derisively) referred to as born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist. I am aligned with none of the traditional Protestant denominations, but worship with others who seek truth and fellowship with God through a measured study of the Bible. I eschew much of the formality of modern Christianity, though I do practice a number of recognizable traditions such as attendance at Sunday morning service and Wednesday evening Bible study; partaking of the Lord’s Supper (communion) on the first Sunday of the month; giving of tithes and offerings (with an admitted lack of regularity) in support of the ministry. I was baptized of my own volition after reaching an age of accountability, and I sing a variety of traditional and modern worship hymns and songs. I don’t, however, go to sporting events wearing a rainbow wig and carrying a sign that says “John 3:16.”

My life’s journey has taken a few twists and turns, but I eventually came to a decision that the world around me was not the result of a great cosmic accident, but the work of a creator; the Creator. Given that conclusion, I wanted to get to know the Creator – God – and give my life direction through a relationship with Him. This is usually the point at which the conversation becomes amusing (do I really believe in stories like Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Whale, Moses and the Red Sea, David and Goliath?) or frustrating (how can I ignore the scientific evidence of the Big Bang and evolution that so clearly refutes the Bible?).

In my experience, otherwise intelligent people don’t seem to know what to do when confronted with the faith of a “believer,” or they react as if I have never considered the reasons why I believe as I do. And most often, the assumptions brought into the conversation hold no resemblance to the basic tenets of evangelical Christianity. Because I identify myself as an evangelical, I am accused of blind support of certain politicians or political positions, rabid bigotry, terrorism, and of desiring to impose Christian theocracy upon the rest of America, among other ridiculous notions.

One-on-one I do my best to confront such errors. I can correct someone when they betray a misconception or ascribe to me some bit of twisted dogma they might have heard from any number of televangelists during a late-night channel surfing spree. One-on-one, I am able to enlighten them on a particular point by citing the Bible and Christ, whose example I (try to) follow. I am a Christian, after all, not a Robertsonian, Copelandian, or Osteenian.

But when I hear false doctrine repeated as fact and used as the basis of a broad harangue against my faith, it bothers me; especially so when these attacks are made from within the halls of academia, where anti-Christian sentiment seems to be waxing strong. As a college student I enrolled in a class entitled “The Bible as Literature.” I figured I had an edge since I was familiar with the text, but when the professor announced on the first day of class that he would fail anyone who introduced evangelical belief into their work or discussions, I knew I was in for a long semester. In hindsight, I wish I’d been bolder and challenged him on that point, especially when it was clear his own agnostic views would be clearly and often stated.

I recently received a book written by Steven Fortney and Marshall Onellion entitled Seeking Truth, Living with Doubt that is used as a text in Onellion’s University of Wisconsin—Madison physics course of the same name. The book is described as a polemic against ideology, which is ironic when considered against the ideology upon which the book is based, and the ideological fervor with which the arguments contained within are made. In the book’s preface the authors write, without irony, “we argue that seeking truth is, above all, tentative. In fact, we show that in all of human history there has never been any absolute truth.”

Even more ironic, and illustrative of the fact that on-campus fundamentalist secular ideology has become a faith-based belief system of its own right, is the fact that Harvard University has a humanist chaplain. According to an article in the September 16 edition of the Boston Globe Magazine, Greg Epstein, whose position at Harvard is funded by an endowment, functions in much the same way as a traditional chaplain would – except that the belief in or acknowledgement of the presence of God is absent. Epstein officiates at funerals, weddings, and other “religious” ceremonies. He provides comfort and counseling to those who seek it through him.

It all begs the question: what makes a religion a religion? Does it require the identification of a god or gods, or does it simply require ideology? What is the threshold for establishing legitimacy in the eyes of the government? What are the implications if humanism were to be recognized as a form of religion?

I suppose I should leave that to the likes of Professor Onellion and his physics class. While they discuss the absence of truth, I’ll ask God for His help to get me through another day.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:41 AM | Permalink

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