Saturday, February 2, 2008

Religion and the test of Life

I have been arguing that, if we desire miracles, we need look no further than the eternal miracles that are the Jews and the Church. Besides the fact that these miracles have the peculiar feature that they are not merely historical (and therefore at most probable) but are ever-present and therefore as susceptible to certainty as anything, they have another remarkable feature. God himself has defined the parameters of fulfillment for these miracles. These are not miracles that come as complete surprises, but are predicted by Him in the form of a promise. Consider the following passage from Deuteronomy, where Moses speaks in the Name of the Lord to the Hebrews as they are about to enter the land of Israel:

See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statues and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish...
(Deut. 30: 15-18)

Skeptics like to make a big point concerning the apparent irrationality of all the minutiae of Old Testament Law. What's with all the petty details about oxen and sheep, the slaughtering of animals, circumcision and the rest of it? How is that conducive to human flourishing? This misses the point. If you told me that if I and my family all got mohawks and dyed our hair red, and did that for generation unto generation, then God would bless my family with enduring life till the end of history, I would be skeptical. But if you showed me an ancient book where God commanded a people to do that very thing, and that people had been getting red mohawks for twenty-five hundred years and remained intact as a culture and a people, outlasting by far any other people, then I would be tempted to head for the barber myself. So what if it doesn't make sense to me? There are stranger things in the world than are dreamt of in my philosophy.

God does not offer the Law to the Hebrews as something reasonable. He does not even offer it to them as something true. God is "realistic" in the most basic sense, for he offers the Covenant in terms of the most basic realities, life and death. And it makes it clear to us, today, the terms in which it is appropriate to judge the Old Testament: Did it and does it give life? Is it alive today?

Jesus Christ casts the New Covenant in similar terms in the New Testament (John 3:16). Jesus does proclaim himself to be the Truth, but his constant refrain is that his Gospel is a gospel of life. And so we may judge the New Covenant in the same terms as the Old. Did it and does it give life? Is it alive today? Yes, in the Body of Christ in the Roman Catholic Church.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think i just found a new favorite blog. you depth is refreshing

edtye said...

Dave,
I think this is a good line of argument but the miracle is still historical in that it relies on the historical existance of the Jews and the Church. Though I think most would agree this is a highly probable existance.

David said...

Anon,

thanks for the kind words... stop by anytime...

David

David said...

Ed,

The point about the Jews and the Catholics is that they are living realities right now whose existence is undeniable, not hypothetical constructs from times gone by. What explains the present realities of the Jews and the Church?

Yes, at this point we get into history, but it is history anchored in the undeniable realities of the present. The Jews and the Catholics are here and had to have come from somewhere.

Thus, skeptical attacks on the Church generally take a different approach than skeptical attacks on Bible-based (i.e. Protestant) Christianity. The latter try to show that the whole religion is a myth of historical reconstruction. But the historical reality of the Church is undeniable, so attacks on the Church take the form of conspiracy theories (like the Da Vinci code or Constantine's Sword). So my argument starts from a remarkable fact that the skeptics concede but for which they do not recognize the significance - the Church has been preaching its Gospel since at least the fourth century. I call that a miracle...

D.