Christianity Isn’t Irrational… It’s Worse Than That
Christianity is about as multifaceted as the people who label themselves adherents to it. Once “the bible” was given to the masses and the notion, put forward by the Renaissance and Enlightenment, that the individual mind could seek truth, it didn’t take much time for theology to reflect even more the nature of its creator, i.e. human variety. The title here then is a simplification, for the topic in question has far more to do with the basis of a supernatural tradition than with any particular instance of it. Still, for ease of writing, Christianity will serve as primary example. At issue is the claim there exists a fundamental level of reality, the realm of god and his angels, that is by definition outside of the understanding of humanity. While much can be said about such claims and their absurdity, what is often overlooked is what such a pronouncement means about people in general.
The apologetic traditions of Christianity boil down to two: evidentialism and presuppositionalism. The former is most glaringly offered by people like Josh McDowell and William Lane Craig, offered through some variation of the cosmological argument. Essentially the practice boils down to finding a point of ignorance and then filling it with, in a display of utter self-service, their own deity. The latter has historically been placed in the hands of Gordon Clark, Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer, among others, and is offered through some iteration of an axiological argument. Essentially this attempt is to declare all ideologies must assume some foundational basis for knowledge and existence, so of course their holy book and their god is correct, particularly since once you assume their book and god, all other ideologies fail. Truly, it’s that mind-numbingly simple. What both traditions have in common, besides attempts by users of each to destroy the arguments of the other, is a belief that at some point there is a limit to human understanding, not because existence is huge and complex, but due to some inherent lack or deficiency in humanity. This is why at some point each tradition flings itself into the arms of faith. The evidentialist does this as a “leap of faith” ala Kierkegaard, the presuppositionalist simply assumes faith as the preeminent means of knowing right from the start.
The efficacy of rationality depends upon the potential of an idea being skeptically scrutable and publicly debatable. By public is meant nobody is in need of a special gift or fundamental change to their person in order to understand a claim. This doesn’t mean all claims are equally accessible in practice, only that they are so in principle. Skeptical inquiry allows for variations in the amount of study one commits to, intelligence and time. At no point does it say, prima facie, a claim is impossible to be understand due to one’s innate humanity. The claims of Christianity, like those of any supernatural religion, are exactly the opposite of this. Such claims would have little weight if they were concerned with the menial or inconsequential. However, the claims of eternal salvation and how to live a holy life in line with the dictates of deity are of immense importance. This is true regardless of one’s stance on belief. The adherent, because of the weight attached to these claims, makes them important for everyone due to their existence in the social network called civilization. Given that the ultimate consequence of not believing is eternal damnation and torture, there’s clear grounds for their fervent promotion.
When an apologist declares that the fundamental, most important, eternally consequential ideas of existence are wholly outside of the realm of human rational inquiry, this means more than any potential labels of irrationality. Spiritual revelation through faith is, for the believer, superior to reason. Due to the fantastical metaphysical grounding that Christianity must have for claims of the supernatural, this claim is a necessity. Public knowledge is not merely limited, it is inherently flawed. Humanity’s attempts to understand existence are not simply faulty, they are doomed to failure precisely because he is doomed, cut off from the sole wellspring of truth that is deity. Only by embracing faith and the concomitant supernatural realm that serves as next step and support, can anything be understood truly.
The nature of Christian or other absolutist dogmatic claims, is not irrational, but wholly non-rational. They are not open to public debate or individual skeptical inquiry. To be irrational is curable and even in many circumstances comical, but to be non-rational is to deny a fundamental quality of being human. Religious leaders like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, among others, have proudly and publicly declared that if a claim of faith runs up against a claim of reason, then the latter must be removed. Is it any wonder that the policies promoted by fundamentalists are at odds with known sociological and psychological science? Is it truly surprising then that religious fundamentalists of all stripes deny the findings of science and doubt the efficacy of rational inquiry? Personal relationships are destroyed, social progress stunted or reversed, an understanding of ourselves and the universe kept at the level of subjective whimsy, all these and more due to the silencing of reason and the potential for discourse. The silent pain of a society shackled by ideological rigidity screams out as a lifeless living.
We must understand what is being dealt with and call it for what it is, a systematic and deliberate attempt to undermine what it means to be human. Nothing less will bring the point home, nothing less will do justice to the seriousness of the calamity that is dogmatism.