Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Faith and scholarship

Hey - another minefield

Alan Bandy at Cafe Apocalypsis has reposted a whole bunch of scholar's opinions on this potential controversy. I haven't read them (yet maybe I will). But I did see this in the foundational document, part 2
Faith, by definition, is belief when evidence is absent
Well, how shrewd are you? Is this a correct statement? Or is it even adequate as a starting point?  It's not Alan's point of view but a quote from someone else. It's not a definition of faith that I could agree with.

I think it is largely true that scholarship should deal in verifiable evidence. But there is plenty of evidence that is not verifiable. For example, one person's subjective experience is not able to be verified by another person. That does not prove that there was no experience. Surely we need a language to talk about such things. Such a language might include words like spirit, life, God, relationship, obedience to an invisible, faith, self-delusion - and many other aspects of religious language. Defining the language is not without its difficulties. Using it requires some story telling.

Strangely enough, the following statement I agree with:
In other words, according to this view, if I depend on the illumination of the Holy Spirit as part of my argument or if my argument only makes sense when you accept Jesus as the Resurrected Son of God—it is not “evidence” and cannot be submitted in any scholarly argumentation.
The reason I agree is that both statements of faith above involving 'illumination of the Holy Spirit' and 'Jesus as the Resurrected Son of God' are either theological propositions, or language that some person is using to express experience. Theology can be talked about, and even form the basis of some logic in its own realm, but experience cannot, except to say that 'it happened to me' or some such statement (story) - in the way that psalm 34 invites the engagement with the mysterious. This faith, that the psalmist exhibits in the poetry, is not a theological proposition that you can discuss. But it is not a case of absent evidence.  The evidence is the psalm.

So what does the evidence mean? Perhaps it is a coercive culture where failure to conform to the propositions was punishable by death or expulsion. Some religions seems to work this way. This is not a type of culture that we like in the West. (At least not some of us some of the time). And such coercion is not conducive to experimentation. You taste and see - or else! Or perhaps it is a real psychology that is being wrestled to the ground and that calling on God is a way around the horror of the destructive tendencies we find in the world, the enemy within.  This might be worth exploring.

Still, without the scholars, I would be lost. Alan next moves to 2 Peter. I think that's a good place to stop. I have my ideas of why the NT is written the way it is, and what the transfiguration 'means'. It is a very full cup. But I am not ready to say that some story or other 'did not happen' - say that the trees-walking-partial-healing-of-the-blind-man is Mark's personal signature and not actually something that happened in 5 minutes, but maybe 15 years.  There is the problem - it is experience of seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing (Isaiah 35 - alluding to Genesis 3 - eyes open, ears unplugged).  We could talk about these aspects of our shared life, but not if coercion or violence is the only resolution to the discussion.

That's why I like the psalms. But I have experienced correction in mysterious ways. I can't explain it - I can only interact, and it's too good to miss out on. Nevertheless... my experience is not subject to another's verification, and my theology may be true to itself and useless to another (like some kinds of infallibility or inerrancy).

I suppose if I said anything useful, someone might comment....