Screwing for Virginity

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Story, Faith, and Mythology

This past week I read Robert Fagles translation of The Odyssey and the NASB translation of the book of Genesis.  Both present the mythology of different groups of people: the first, the ancient Greeks; the second, Jews and Christians.  I noticed many similarities in both stories.  In both, gods (or sons of God) procreate with human women, producing a race of superhumans.  Both feature characters who combine the qualities of nobility and hamartia (which Aristotle calls "the tragic flaw", the Bible translates it "sin").  Each story forms the religious beliefs of its adherents.  The most significant difference I noticed was that I believe in one story but not in the other.

But why?

What criteria do I have for accepting the mythology of Moses and rejecting that of Homer?  If, as Kierkegaard says, faith begins where reason fails, rational reasons must exist for choosing to put faith in Genesis over The Odyssey.  But what are they?  Both are ancient texts.  Both were written by a single author (presumably).  Both are based on longstanding oral traditions within societies that took such storytelling very seriously.  Also, a rational reason suggests a certain degree of objectivity.  But how is this objectivity attained?  Both of these stories frame the thinking of their adherents, so I can only evaluate The Odyssey from the point of view of a Christian.  Likewise, an Achaean could only evaluate Genesis as such.  Even if I were neither, I could only evaluate the stories from a story, whether it be as an atheistic, modern, American or an agnostic, French postmodernist.  As long as we find ourselves within story (which I would argue is the context of all humans), we have no objective way to evaluate any story, including (nay, especially) our own.

Thus I feel more affinity for St. Augustine, who said, "I believe in order to understand."  Any reason or rationale that I employ while making decisions, reading stories, or worshipping the God of my people is influenced by the faith story in which I believe.  Because I accept Genesis as my story, I necessarily exclude The Odyssey from being part of my story.

But how, then, can I tell someone who adheres to another story that my story is true and hers is false?

Perhaps I cannot.  Perhaps that is beyond my ability as a human being with no way to objectively evaluate my story and someone else's.  And why should I want to?  Sadly, this is how many of my fellow Christians have done what they call "evangelism."  They arrogantly claim that what we have is absolute truth and everyone else is wrong.  But this is inappropriate and often counterproductive.  To evangelize is to spread the good news, not to convince others that we have rationally grasped the truth while others wallow in ignorance.

If the church is going to succeed in evangelizing in the 21st century, it must do so in a spirit of humility that recognizes the limits of rationale and reason as subject to our faith.  The best we can do (and what we are called to do) is to live out the story in which we believe while inviting others to be part of it.  Our story is the good news, and this story, not rational argumentation, is what we are called to proclaim.


  • At 3:08 AM, July 26, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    well said. the last paragraph expecialy.

  • At 5:23 AM, July 26, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If to evangelize is to spread the good news, does that not mean that you believe that the good news is absolute truth? If it isn't absolute truth then why do you spread it?

  • At 6:37 AM, July 26, 2004, Blogger Buddy said…

    No. I spread it because I believe in it. To call it absolute implies an objectivity unavailable to me.

  • At 8:19 PM, July 27, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm reading Genesis by Bill Moyers. It relates a conversation about the book of Genesis between 7 people, at this point(almost 30 people participated in the collaboration as a whole). The people are from varied walks of life and faith. It is not a debate, simply a conversation on the book and how they see it has shaped and continues to shape society. (and each of them personally as well)

    The bit I've gotten through has strengthened my faith in the story presented in Genesis and throughout the Bible more than anything else I've read lately. I have no problem agreeing with you that presenting and living the story is what needs to be the basis of evangelism.

    My problem is why is that such a hard concept for people to grasp? There are reasons aside from what you give here for presenting the Bible in the light of humility and with understanding for other people and where they are in experiencing life. What do you see as the reasons for people not doing it that way?

  • At 11:17 AM, July 28, 2004, Blogger Buddy said…

    I think many Christians are stuck in the modern mindset that being right is more important (or precedes) being good. Thus, they believe that they're right and need to convince others so that they can be right. If Christians realized that ethics is primary, they would live out the story in an attractive way.

  • At 2:26 PM, July 28, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I want to know reasons from you why I should believe the good news, because I cannot see you live out the story over the computer.

  • At 3:21 PM, July 28, 2004, Blogger Buddy said…

    What do you mean by reasons? If you're asking me to convince you to accept the story I believe in, then you missed my point; I can't do that. But you can observe how this story shapes how I discuss issues important to me. If you have specific questions about the biblical story and how it shapes my life, please ask.

    If you want to know what is so special about this story, I can tell you that God has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection allows all to become God's people. But I can't make you believe it.

  • At 8:37 AM, July 31, 2004, Blogger Pete said…

    I just don't understand why we feel there is this burning need for Christians to convince the unsaved heathens. If history has taught us anything (the crusades) that method is uneffective and ruins cultures and traditions that should be valued.

    Ethics is probably the best way to "witness" to someone about what Christ has done and who He is. I share in your frustration Buddy

  • At 1:07 AM, August 01, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You say that you do not lay claim to absolute truth, yet you believe in The Bible, which claims to be absolute truth. If you believe totally believe in any belief system, you must also intrinsically believe the claims it makes about itself.

    Therefore, making the claim that you cannot call the Bible absolute truth because you cannot logically prove that fact to others is an error.

    I would willingly agree that the best way to witness is through lifestyle instead of logic, but believe as such because scripture is clear on that particular issue.

    To claim that The Bible may not be absolute truth simply because you cannot prove that it is denies faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see. If you are certain, then you can proclaim the truth in confidence, if you are not, then why follow at all?

  • At 12:05 PM, August 01, 2004, Blogger Buddy said…

    Sic et non. Yes, because I believe in the story of Scripture, I believe it's claims. But the Bible does not claim to be absolute truth. Absolute in its current usage is a modern concept. As the Bible was written long before the Age of Enlightenment, reading modern concepts back on to it is anachronistic.

    The term absolute implies proof; it implies that all the evidence is in and only one conclusion is true. Therefore to use the term while admitting a lack of rational proof is absurd.

    The same is true of certainty. Certainty and faith are not the same thing. I can be certain of something if I have rational proof, empirical evidence, and a lack of doubt. The Bible offers irrational evidence, Jesus chides those who demand signs, and most of the biblical characters experience some period of doubt.

    To have faith is not to be sure but to be assured. One is rational, the other is relational. God assures his children much as a mother assures a crying child.

    Because I have no access to absolute truth and cannot claim certainty, I must work out my faith in fear and trembling, as must all who put faith in the biblical story.

  • At 2:54 PM, August 02, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 2:06 PM, November 09, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Is the balance between faith and reason sometimes tipped in favor of faith at the expense of reason? I dont say that to slight faith but to ask if we as christians have not allowed ourselves to see how "reasonable" our faith really is. I was tentative to say this,but then i thought, perhaps our faith is reasonable but i lack information.

    In another blog i read "I and all those I call my sisters and brothers accept by faith that the word of God is the standard of truth and cannot be subject to any other standard." This standard of truth, the bible, is what we are basing our beliefs on. But are we accepting it completely on faith because there is no logic that would lead us to that conclusion or because that is the nature of Christianity?

    all of us can at least factually believe that a man named Jesus existed. So based on historical events can we get to the bible as we accept it today?


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