Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Confession of Faith

So here at American Creation I've written quite a bit about how religion relates to the American Founding. I'll admit my meticulous study has influenced my personal understanding of what true religion is. Over at my personal blog I detail that understanding.

I'll reproduce here what I think most apt to American Creation's mission. A taste:

As a libertarian individualist, I'm interested in taking the notion of Protestant individuality (Priesthood of all believers) to its logical conclusion. Each individual, appealing to his own conscience in good faith, decides for himself not only how to understand the books of the Bible, but also which books are inspired and whether there are errors in them.

The way in which it was determined the Bible has 66 books instead of 73 is complicated and there isn't a clear objectively provable reason to endorse one canon over the other. Martin Luther in fact, when he was cutting out books of the Roman Catholic Bible wanted to -- if I understand the story right -- cut into the 66 until his other friends in his movement stopped him. (Luther actually did a Thomas Jefferson to the Bible, or vice versa.)

The Book of Revelation, among others, almost made Luther's chopping block. Now, I think that book is poetically interesting and well worth reading and reflecting on. But it is so trippy in the way it is presented my conscience instructs that no general principles can be derived from it. The Gnostic gospels are more valuable for ascertaining general truth principles. (And indeed, the early church fathers, though they believed in sacred scripture, did not believe in the Protestant "book of 66." Once they actually formed the consensus in the late 4th Century, the councils settled on books that numbered in the 70s).

As noted above, I reject "rationalism" as a place to settle these issues because it can't. Religion, yes, must meet the test of rationalism. If science tells us that, for instance, evolution is true, then a rationalistic religion must explain itself to meet that test. Thomas Aquinas noted that if religion and reason appear to contradict one another you have either bad religion or bad science.

There is still, alas, something beyond citing verses and chapters of scripture and testing according to the rules of rationalistic philosophy. Something mystical. And the mystical is something the individual must experience for herself in order for this truth sense to be understood and validated.


 Of all the Christian sects, the Quakers come closest. They call the internal understanding "the spirit" from within speaking. (Though I don't like how they got their name. Religious truth should make us be still, not make us quake.) Scottish Common Sense philosophers, many of them theistic and Christian of diverse, questionable orthodoxy spoke of internal conscience as a necessary truth testing monitoring mechanism (beyond what the Bible says in verses and chapters and what the external canons of reason and logic can prove and test for). ...

No. I don't consider myself "a Quaker." Rather, my personal theological approach is "Quakerish."


Tom Van Dyke said...

Thomas More famously argued against the early Reformer William Tyndale that if God could reveal Himself in the Scriptures, He could certainly leave behind a [true catholic and apostolic] church that could authoritatively identify, interpret, and translate the scriptures.

In fact, since very, very few of us can or will learn the original Greek and Hebrew to interpret the scriptures "for ourselves," in the end we're accepting somebody else's word for what they really say, be it the Vatican or Luther or various other translators.

We all end up putting our faith in something or someone regardless.

Tim Polack said...

Thanks for sharing Jon.
One comment: "Something mystical. And the mystical is something the individual must experience for herself in order for this truth sense to be understood and validated."

I don't think it's possible for each Christian to always experience the mystical themselves. Part of Christianity is coming to accept the mystical and mystery that exists. We can grow in our understanding, but certainly may not experience these mysteries. We can also lean on those who have spent their life trying to ascertain and clarify these mysteries. But even as Aquinas experienced at the end of his life, some mystical experiences may seem to show us just how little we know.

Maybe a small point for you? But I think significant since we can learn all the nuance there is to learn, and still not truly know. It's no excuse not to look, but a consistent theme in Christianity - though granted, not as predominant on the Protestant side of things. Though I have seem some growth there with even Conservative Protestants.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks Tim. As I understand the story, Aquinas' experiences left him speechless. The mystical is something beyond words. In fact you don't get it from words, so "meditating" on the text of the Bible won't get you there.

(The theory is the words of scripture come from this wordless place.)

Rather some kind of head clearing meditative experience is necessary.

Tim Polack said...

Well actually, meditating on Mysteries has actually been one of the ways that deeper meaning has been discovered throughout the centuries. So if you mean by 'get to there' is to get to better clarity of the meaning of scripture (for example), that is exactly what can be gotten from meditating on mysteries contained in the Bible (and other mysteries).

That's certainly not the only way of course, science can help, but it is a way that's borne much fruit.

And I think St John would call that wordless place, the Word. :)

Jonathan Rowe said...


I used to practice transcendental meditation which involves the recitation of one word (as opposed to "meditating" on verses and chapters of scripture).

I don't think TM is the only kind of meditation, but what I mean is the need for some kind of technique that places the mind in a state of stillness or wordlessness. Then, read your Bible.

I will admit it's still something I struggle with -- quieting the mind. But no, I don't think a "monkey mind" can find higher religious truths.

The neurotic mind is the monkey mind.