I have not been happy with what I have been writing lately. I don’t find my life to be that interesting and I can’t manage to put much heart into writing about it. I generally spend my life in my own little world and the only thing that even comes close to explaining to others what is going on in my own little world is my essay site.
And I have not been writing for my essay site lately.
So I thought I would try to spend more time trying to write for my essay site and not worry so much about this site (especially since most of the other members of the challenge have dropped off anyway).
But on past form, I will delete everything I write for my essay site before I put it up and this tends to disappoint some people. So I thought I would experiment with putting up sections that I am working on as I am working on them (or deleting them), with some commentary. That way my few loyal readers can maybe understand what I am trying to accomplish and why I keep failing. Also, I can prove that I am as hard on myself as I am on other people.
This is probably a dumb idea that won’t work, but I am in a rut that I would like to get out of. And I guess the only way to get out of a rut is to try different things.
Now, I won’t be posting stuff every day. Most days it will be all I can do to work on the essay a bit. But I hope to post sections of progress (or things that I have deleted) at least twice a week with at least some commentary.
So after the commentary below you will find beginnings of the first real chapter of “A Critique of Christianity”. The part that is currently up on my essay site is only a prologue. A necessary prologue to be sure, as I will need to refer to it. But it is not directly related to flow of my argument.
I had written out past this first chapter long before I even put up the prologue. But I never really fleshed out the arguments in this first chapter for a variety reasons that mostly boil down to the fact that I did not want to.
To make a long story short, as soon as I realized that I had to write this chapter before I could finish anything else (which was a long time ago now), I knew what it was going to be called and the arguments that I wanted to make in the chapter. But I had various problems and I kept deleting everything I wrote.
My biggest problem was that I want to write this essay to express a bunch of things that I have long wanted to say to those Christians who wonder why I don’t go to Church. I know it will not accomplish anything (too long for anyone to read, for one thing). But for therapeutic reasons, I would like write out what I want to say in the manner that I wish I could say it. At least then I will have the satisfaction of having expressed myself, even if it is only to the void.
The reason I kept deleting all my stuff every time I tried to write this chapter previously is that I kept trying to (A) tie this chapter in with the prologue or (B) express the private agonies that lead me to want to write this dang thing. Often I would try to do both at once.
The end result was pages and pages of really stupid writing that was always just a couple of paragraphs away from starting to address what I really needed to addresses when I deleted it all.
And so here I am, trying again for the umpteenth time to spell out things that I know like the back of my hand.
Currently, I have the following structure in mind for “The Problem of Authority.”
(a) Define Christianity (kind of necessary if your over all title is “A Critique of Christianity”)
(b) Define the problem of Authority (particularly as it relates to Christianity)
(c) Explain in biblical terms why the Bible itself is not the solution to the problem of authority.
(d) Explain the conception of authority that will govern the rest of the Critique.
(e) Maybe foreshadow a bit what the next chapter will be about?
As I flesh out this structure, I am trying to keep two things in mind.
(1) Try to error on the side of underexplaining/defending/defining.
(2) Use utilitarian words to create logical flows. (i.e don’t worry about making it an interesting read, worry about making the argument flow).
Below is how I started trying to flesh out the above outline. Tune in next week for an explanation of why I deleted it all (that’s a joke, I hope. Have not slept on it long enough to really hate it yet).
The Problem Of Authority.
This is Christianity….
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
That is the Nicene Creed. It is believed by Catholics and Protestants. It is believed by Greek Orthodox Monks in the mountains of Aetolia and Amish farmers working in the fields of Lancaster. It is the one thing that unites the orthodox Christian believers of all denominations. It is the bare bones definition of Christianity.
But the fact that all Christians profess the beliefs in the Nicene Creed demonstrates the essential absurdity of the word “Christianity”. Christians all claim to believe what the Nicene Creed expresses, but they cannot agree on what those words mean. Arguments over the meaning of the line “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” would be enough to fracture Christianity into a half dozen competing groups. And that would just be a warm up for the discussion of what “Almighty” means or the nature of “salvation.”
The irony of all this division is that the Nicene Creed was formulated as a means of creating and enforcing unity in the Christian Churches. But the Nicene Creed is too simple a thing to unify a group of human beings. To have any hope creating a semblance of unity you have to write out more than a couple of paragraphs.
To understand the scope of the problem, you only need to compare a creed to a contract. They are similar in that they both attempt to lay out a common understanding of the facts and the meaning of those facts so that the agreement will be enforceable (in a creed’s case, enforceability centers on creating a common understanding of who to kick out). A quick look at even a simple contract shows that they need more words than the Nicene Creed to create a common understanding. If the same care was put into creating creeds that is put into creating contracts we would create a creed that was extremely long and complex. Only such a creed would have any hope of creating unity in matters of the faith.
And this is in fact what we find in the Catholic Church. The body of authoritative Catholic doctrine is complex enough that it can make a reasonable claim to covering any eventuality. Since adherence to this doctrine is expected by every member of the Church, they have in effect turned their doctrine into one giant creed. And to insure that everyone has the same understanding of what this complex creed means, Catholics have invested in the Pope the ability to make binding interpretations of what the doctrine/creed means.
But it is not only the Catholics who create such complex creeds. There are individual protestant churches that enforce a system of doctrine that is almost equally complex as Catholic doctrine. And as a general rule, these churches have one man who serves as a kind of de facto pope whose interpretations are final. Disagree with his interpretations and you will be driven out to preserve unity.
Many Christians find this situation abhorrent. They find that complex creeds masquerading as doctrines fail to reflect the essential simplicity of their faith. After all, does not the Roman’s say that “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”? If this is true, why then is the body of Christ divided up on the basis of complex legalistic creeds? The logic of this question drives many to call for Christians to put aside their petty differences and unite around a simple common creed (such as the Nicene Creed).
But such calls for unity face an insurmountable Catch 22. If the beliefs expressed in the Nicene Creed are important, then what those beliefs mean is also important. You can’t say it does not matter whether baptism is a sacrament or a mere symbol of a spiritual event and at the same time say that it is important to believe “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Those two positions on baptism are the exact opposite of one another. To say that we can unify both groups under the banner of the Nicene Creed is to make the Nicene Creed meaningless.
In other words, if the beliefs expressed in the Nicene Creed are important, than their meaning is also important. And if there meaning is important, than all the disputes that currently divide Christianity are also important. And if the beliefs expressed in the Nicene Creed are not important, why bother being a Christian? The nature of the problem seems to indicate that the choices are either apathy or legalism.