Three Steps to Orthodox Christianity

The question of the relation of reason and revelation has occupied some of the greatest thinkers in the Christian tradition, as well as in the Judaic and Islamic theological traditions.

I wanted to be clear with my readers what I understand to be the relationship between human reason or philosophy and the Christian faith, by which I mean the orthodox Christian faith in general (“little-o orthodox”) and Orthodox Christianity specifically, since I am Orthodox.

Step One: Reason and Natural Theology. I hold that human reason alone, that is, philosophy—and more specifically, sound metaphysics—is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God understood very broadly, as i.e. ἡ ἀρχή τῇς οὐσίας, the ground of Being.  When I speak of ‘God’ in this sense, that of natural theology, I take myself to be referring not only to what Christians call ‘God,’ (θεός, Deus), what the Jews call YHWH (יהוה), what the Muslims call Allah (الله), but also to what Plato is refers to as ἡ ἰδέα του ἀγαθού or the Idea of the Good (“beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power”), what Aristotle refers to as the unmoved mover, what the Stoics refer to as the Λόγος, the Chinese as the Tao (道), Vedantic Hinduism as Brahman (ब्रह्म), the Zoroastrians as Ahura Mazda (اهورا مزدا ), Fiche, Schelling, and Hegel as The Absolute, etc .As far as I am concerned, all these are names for one and the same, that which is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the highest and deepest.

[NOTE ON BUDDHISM: Buddhism is a strange case.  It is worth noting the Buddha clearly and explicitly teaches that “There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed”—Buddhism seems to reject the idea of God under the headings of Brahma or Īśvara, but what the Buddha is rejecting seems to be a degenerate concept of Brahman that was prevalent in his time, much as the original concept of God as θεός degenerated among the Greeks merely to Sdeus or Zeus, and kind of Sky-Father god or “king of the gods”. I have found that Buddhists frequently mistake the God of Christianity for that which the Buddha rejects under the name of Īśvara; however, I believe that they have radically misunderstood the orthodox Christian teaching on this point.]

Step Two: The Strongest λόγος. Socrates teaches that human beings, not being gods, cannot have the perfect possession of truth by their own efforts. As beings essentially defined by λόγος (speech/reason, discursivity) human wisdom consists in open inquiry and to always follow the strongest λόγος and where the λόγος leads. My view is that, given the above essentially universal theistic agreement concerning many aspects of the Absolute, the question turns to their differences, not only in their accounts (λόγοι) of what the Absolute is LIKE but also the various accounts they give of the human condition, the nature of the world, and man’s place in the world and in relation to God/the Absolute.  Here, I think the case can be made that the Christian account proves to be strongest λόγος, that is, it provides the account of all things which both best conforms exemplifies the divine nature and best accounts for the state of man and the world.  It is, for example, evident to me that it is a greater perfection to be a WHO than a mere WHAT, which leads me to reject any conception of the Absolute that is impersonal, or a mere ‘Force’—similarly the Christian account of the divine personhood and the divine essence as being LOVE (ἀγάπη) is the only conception that adequate to the divine nature.  It would be a long and complicated matter to lay out why I hold the Christian λόγος to be the strongest λόγος concerning God, man, and the world, but I want to emphasize that here we are not entirely beyond the reach of reason. To reach Christianity, a leap of faith is required, as Kierkegaard rightly taught and (over?) emphasized—but it is not a blind leap of faith; philosophically it may be regarded as one of the most rational procedures which one commonly finds in all science: an argument to the best explanation.

Step Three: Becoming a Christian.  If and when one ventures a leap of faith into Christian belief, one is not left untransformed by this. As crude as the “born again” talk of some fundamentalist Protestants is, this is trying to name something absolutely fundamental, that entrance into the Christian faith, primarily by the mystery of Baptism, is rebirth, a new birth, in which one dies to oneself only to live again in a new and changed way. Becoming a Christian is not merely an adoption of a certain set of beliefs, but is an ontological change at the deepest level of one’s being.  It is on this side, the other side of the leap of faith, that one learns that the leap was fully and totally justified (although it was a reasonable leap beforehand).  There is simply no adequate way of explaining this to one who has not yet become a Christian—including those who are merely nominal Christians, those whom the Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain termed ‘practical atheists’—for the are atheists in their praxis.  I wanted a rational and satisfactory explanation of the nature of reality, and I got much more than I could ever have expected or guessed.  As I have said to many atheists—and this seems to annoy them, which does not bother me—before I had encountered God for myself, I had not thought there could be anything more certain that the Cartesian cogito sum, the “I think; I am”, the absolute certainty I have of my own existence.  Why possible evidence or argument could one present to me that could persuade me that I do not exist? The idea seems absurd, self-contradictory. How could one even try to convince ME that I do not exist? And yet, although I still hold this to be the case, that I am absolutely certain that I exist, the certainty I have of God’s existence is still more absolute.  I am aware that saying things like “more certain than absolute certainty” sounds paradoxical. Indeed, in saying such a thing I perhaps begin to sound not like a philosopher, but a mystic. Well and good. There is simply no other way to talk about God, however inadequate this is. Socrates was not ashamed to utter the speech that the Good “is beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power,” and even though I say with Descartes, and with absolute certainty, “I think; I am!” this certainty is but a dim shadowy image of the eternal I AM.

This is my account of the three steps that led me to theism, to Christianity as seen from without, and finally to Christianity as seen from within.


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