Thursday, January 26, 2006

Questions for Christians, Part I

Over the past decade, I flirted with Christianity. I had some wish to become Christian and sought a reason, or a way, to become Christian. I spoke to Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. I attended Mass. I read.

I failed. I found that I could not become Christian. Indeed when I look back on my flirtation, I now think that I never really wanted it.

I did not decide that I could not become Christian. Rather I simply found that I could not, much as I find that I cannot believe that my head is made of glass, or that I am now asleep and in a dream. Belief for me now seems impossible.

The occasion of this was Roman Polanski's The Pianist. It tells the story of a young Polish Jew who endures the years of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. As I watched, I thought this to myself: "This young man was a Jew. God had made the Jews His people and had promised them His protection. Yet He did absolutely nothing to spare his people the hell of Nazi persecution. Moreover, nothing the Polish Jews had done could have merited what happened to them at the hands of the Nazis. Thus there can be no God, at least no God of the sort in which the Christians believe."

I do not mean that you should find this a persuasive argument. It has numerous gaps of course, and I plan to return to it in a later post. Rather all that I intend is to report what I thought. (The argument, of course, is a version of the so-called 'Problem of Evil.')

From the time that I saw The Pianist, Christianity was no longer a live option for me. In the posts that follow, I will explain why this is so. Each post will consist of a question or questions for which the Christian must have an answer, and although I have attempted to answer each for myself I have an answer to none. Thus at present I cannot be a Christian.

Before I ask my first question, let me say this. In some of what I will say I will presuppose the objectivity of moral principle. I have found that many Christians think this tantamount to the assumption that God exists, or that the dogmas of Christianity are true. I simply do not follow. Perhaps the objectivity of moral principle presupposes the existence of something greater-than-human, of something outside the world in which we live. But why it should presuppose the God of Christianity I do not know. The Christian God is triune. How do we derive that from the objectivity of moral principle? The Christian God became flesh in the form of Christ. How do we derive that from the objectivity of moral principle? Many such questions can be answered, and I have no idea how to begin an answer to any of them.

Here, then, is my first question:

As said, the Christian God is triune. Indeed this is a core dogma of Christianity.
The trinity of God does not imply that God is three gods. (Christianity is a variety of monotheism, not polytheism.) Nor does it imply that God is tri-partite. (This would ruin the unity of God; it would split him into three distinct things.) Rather in its orthodox formulation it means that God encompasses three persons with one God.
I have no idea what this means, and indeed I can think of no reason why I should even believe such an assertion coherent.
The upshot of this is that I cannot become a Christian until I have a good answer to the question, What do we mean when we say that God is triune.

Put another way, I cannot fix in my mind what idea 'the Trinity' is meant to convey. Thus I can associate no proposition with 'God is triune' and so simply cannot believe it. But then I cannot believe one of the core doctrines of Christianity and so am not Christian.

Perhaps others do understand what 'the Trinity' is meant to convey (though a study of the relevant literature on the question makes me doubt it). I do not say that they do not. Rather all that I say is that I do not understand it, and conclude that Christianity is not a possibility for me.

Let me end with discussion of a possibility that I at present but dimly understand. It is that true Christianity is marked not by assent to this or that set of propositions but rather by a form of life that has as it essential character moral rectitude. Of course many Christians will deny this; they say rather that Christianity is, in part at least, a matter of assent to certain propositions. But what if it is not? What if Christianity is rather a life lived a certain way? If so, I could yet be a Christian and yet have answers to none of my questions. If so, I could be a Christian and yet not know it. If so, I could be a Christian and deny that I am a Christian.

If one adopts this possibility, it makes little or no difference that one call oneself a Christian. Rather all that matters is that one live rightly.