Sunday, October 14, 2012

Deep Thoughts

In my previous two posts, I discussed apparent contradictions that people who oppose Christianity claim invalidates the truth of our faith. The first kind has to do with variations in the Scriptures, and the second has to do with apparent contradictions in our beliefs that can be solved for those seeking to understand by undertaking a little research to get all of the facts.

There are still Christian teachings, however, that appear to have contradictions that are not so easily cleared up. Indeed, most of the core teachings in Catholicism involve apparent contradictions such that we have a special name for these beliefs: mysteries. Protestant Christianity also has some of these mysteries, but I think it's safe to say that the Catholic and Orthodox traditions have the most.

Here are a few examples. We teach that there is only one God, but we also say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. This is known as the Holy Trinity. We say that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Human, not half God and half human, or some mixture of humanity and deity. We say that God is absolutely sovereign, and that everything that happens is according to his plan, but we also say humans have free will, and that their choices are truly free such that they are responsible for what they choose. We say that the little fetus in the womb of the Virgin Mary was the creator of the universe, including Mary, in whose womb he inhabited. We say that there will be a resurrection of the body, even for those whose bodies are completely decomposed, and whose atoms have been scattered and through the course of the food chain end up in other people's bodies. Catholics say that in the sacraments, material substances are used to convey spiritual benefits. Catholics also say that the bread and wine at the Mass becomes the body and blood of Jesus, even though to all appearances, including scientific analysis, they seem to still be bread and wine. Catholics also call Mary the Virgin Mother, as well as the Mother of God. Finally, Christians claim that God is almighty as well as ultimate goodness and love, but he also allows evil in the world.

Although Catholic theology has worked on these teachings for nearly 2000 years, and has come up with formulations that provide some measure of explanation, there is still an unfathomable depth to them that no human has been able to penetrate, and so they remain mysteries. I have heard many people express frustration because their questions on these topics to their pastor, priest, or teacher, have been met with the answer: "it's a mystery." While I'm sure in some cases the teacher should have made more of an effort at an explanation, in the end, it must still be said, "it's a mystery."

Why do we Christians put up with this nonsense? If the Christian God is real, why did he make his religion so difficult? Well, there are alternatives. Judaism and Islam reject the Trinity as well as the divinity of Jesus. I believe Islam also rejects human free will. I have read about people who went from Christianity to Islam precisely because the theology of Islam was much more rational and not so mysterious.

But Christianity, and especially Catholicism, has stubbornly held on to these mysteries when a lot of trouble could be saved by making some concessions. It's not that people haven't tried. The history of Christianity is full of various groups and individuals who have tried to simplify a doctrine in one way or another. Sometimes these simplified doctrines attracted a large following, but each time, a flaw would become apparent, either immediately or over time, that showed such a simplification took the Church away from the truth that had been revealed through Jesus Christ through the Apostles.

But why should it be so surprising that the subject of the most high God has aspects that are beyond human understanding? The most ordinary things around us are full of mysteries such that even the greatest scientists who have devoted their lives to understanding them still have unanswered questions. I have started reading a 400 page book on quantum mechanics, Absolutely Small by Michael Fayer, that attempts to explain basic things like why a cherry is red. His goal is to make it understandable to people who don't have the extensive training required to understand the math used in physicist today. According to the reviews, there is disagreement on if he has achieved his goal. If the redness of a cherry is so hard to explain, why do we expect simple answers to questions about the nature of the Creator of the cherry?

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