Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Article of Faith

The other Baptist Record article that I want to tell you about is called, "The Impossibility of Christmas." As you recall, my mother had given me a copy of this publication in one of my gift boxes for Christmas and had marked three articles for me to read. This article caught my eye because it was timely and the headline smacked of truth.

The author, William Perkins, claims (quite rightly, I think) that the literal Christmas story would be incredibly difficult, almost impossible, to believe by a person who relied on scientific evidence. These are the points that he brings out to stress the implausibility of the tale:

1. The Bible is an ancient text based on oral traditions and tales that cannot be confirmed.

2. The Bible makes predictions based on personal revelation.

3. The greatest Biblical prophecy, that of the Messiah, was fulfilled in a poor Jewish bastard child (I use the word deliberately because, if the story is literally true, Jesus was conceived out of wedlock) that nobody really ever understood.

People wouldn't believe just any book they picked up that made such ridiculous claims. Why do they automatically assume that these assertions have more authority simply because they come from the Bible? The author will tell us why once he's finished listing the other questions that any sane, rational person would ask:

1. How can a virgin female, one who has engaged in no sex acts of any kind, get pregnant and give birth?

2. What kind of genetic makeup would the child of such a birth have? Would it have only 23 chromosomes? Sexually, it would have inherited an X chromosome from virgin mom but there would be no Y chromosome from the other side so how could such a creature be male? Could it even be human?

3. How did mom survive a trip to Bethlehem on a donkey when she was so far along? How did the newborn survive?

4. What time of year was it anyway? We don't really know for sure.

5. Why should be place any weight on Joseph's dream? People have crazy dreams all the time. When they start believing in those dreams and basing their relationships and future around them, we put them in mental institutions. Why was Joseph exempt from this critique?

Perkins finishes his list with this question, "No reasonable explanation can be found in science for the impossible circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth, so why should we believe the Bible account?

Why indeed? Why should a reasonable person believe any of that is true? Perkins gives us the answer in one simple word: Faith.

Hebrews 11:1 defines "faith" and I want to share with you a few different translation:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (King James Version)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (New International Version)

Faith is what makes real the things we hope for. It is proof of what we cannot see. (Easy-to-Read Version)

It's hard for me to come away with anything more than the kind of assurance we hear in books like The Secret. Faith is the practice of believing in something without any evidence and doing it so hard and for so long that one's wish will eventually come true.

As a skeptic, I can't accept faith as a reason to do anything- especially make important life decisions regarding who I love, who I am intimate with, what kind of health care I choose, and how I treat my fellow humans. I simply cannot use faith as a tool for living because it is irrational and immoral to me. It is irresponsible. It is unhelpful.

My mother has told me on a few occasions that she is fuzzy on the evidence for the Bible but that she doesn't need to know it because her belief is based on faith. I understand why she has chosen that path. It's a safe path for her and it helps her cope with life. But I believe she is wrong about the nature of faith and I cannot follow her down a road I know to be false.

Perkins tells us to forget all the questions he listed and just have faith. He asks me to be intellectually lazy and morally irresponsible. I won't do it. I have too much integrity to be faithful.

Anyone who scoffs at New Age thinking, The Secret, and such but reveres faith in the Bible has a lot of explaining to do to me because, for the life of me, I cannot understand.