This article was originally printed as my op-ed in my college student-run newspaper The Georgetonian,
November 7th, 2013
Last weekend I attended the Center for Faith & Learning’s philosophy conference “Kierkegaard: A Christian thinker for our time?” The Baylor University conference included scholars from a wide variety of perspectives and disciplines, presenting their thoughts on the intersection of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, faith and everyday life.
The only book I have read on Kierkegaard is the Oxford “Very Short Introduction” and, though I learned a lot, I’m far from being able to explain clearly to anyone what “Teleological suspension of the ethical,” means, or what exactly what the Kierkegaardian leap of faith entails.
While I’ve learned a tiny bit of some philosophy, it is in literature that I found imagination —one thing among many feeding my faith. I learned, as C.S. Lewis remarked, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
It is noteworthy that a literary scholar like Lewis is not popularly known for his “Sixteenth Century Verse, Excluding Drama” but instead his apologetic books and his fantasy series, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The two, I think, are not unrelated. Any good apologetic is situated in a story. What is Gospel (good news) anyway? Certainly not just a set of propositions but a story in itself: a narrative more than a formula.
It is not new data of which I was previously unaware which confirmed my life in faith. Rather, that confirmation came in the way I saw the world and the awakening of what I already knew. Lewis’ rising sun rose for me in Chesterton. G.K. Chesterton’s “Ethics of Elfland” caused the world to seem for me far from a mundane world of indifferent and determined facts.
The facts-of-life themselves surprisingly come alive as miracles because they are wonderful. Think of a young giggling child who never tires of playing a game and begs his exasperated parent “Do it again!”
Similarly, the sun rising daily is no mundane thing but perhaps God’s own “eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Chesterton suggests, “The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.” So the world became charged with God before me through a cosmic shift in my perspective. That the world might have been any other way, made the entire universe amazing. That the sun rose opened an opportunity for faith’s imagination to thrive in me.
A recent book of apologetics exemplifies this. It is not a logical defense of Christianity’s ideas but an explanation of what it is like to be a Christian. Francis Spufford’s book “Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense” contends that religious thoughts “are not made of glass, [and] do not need to hide themselves nervously from whole dimensions of human experience.” Spufford, in his artistic and profanity-filled prose, intends not to merely argue but to show what life looks like as a Christian.
The Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper may have been on to something when he said “no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
If Christians believe that in any form, then we may see God not just in arguments but in the way we live life together in churches, in schools. Our faith may change the ways we see art and science. We may hear God’s beauty in the most moving symphonies and see Christ in the face of the beggar.
Christianity or any other religion cannot be proved and will never satisfy the requirements of a materialist, positivist school of thought. There will never be a formula or proof of God’s existence. But I encourage you to look at philosophy, art, literature, and the sciences. All truth is God’s truth, after all. And I hope you may be able to see , somehow, the Christian life not only argued but lived.
I can give no empirical proof of faith. If something is true it must not only be believed but grasped and lived. But I will give you an invitation, the same one Jesus gave in the first chapter of The Gospel according to John, “Come and see.”
I hate to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but this is a realization I came to years ago, but actualized in an as-yet unpublished article for Relevant magazine. I’ll give you a preview here (expect it to be heavily edited, for the better):
‘A scene in Prince Caspian sees Eustace objecting to Ramandu as a “retired star.” “In our world, a star is a huge ball of flaming gas,” he protests. Ramandu replies, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.” The Discarded Image is the culmination of a lifelong journey to teach European thought tradition as revealed in medieval literature, an introduction to the modern reader of a worldview concerned not with what things are made of, but what they are.’
What things are made of =/= what they are. Further reading: The Little Prince.