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Klavan On The Culture

Bad Arguments for The Truth

August 14th, 2013 - 8:35 am

Two articles that complimented one another caught my eye last week. One was in the Wall Street Journal‘s Friday “Houses of Worship” column. Ari N. Schulman pointed out (what many, including C.S. Lewis, have known) that arguing in favor of faith because prayer makes you healthier or happier is a fool’s game.

The faithful may be winning at the game of life, but they’re playing by rules that social scientists have written in essentially post-religious terms. While churches define the highest aims of life as salvation or enlightenment, social science research replaces these with health and wealth, well-being and satisfaction.

Once you accept happiness as an argument for faith, you will ultimately lose the argument entirely, because the result can be arrived at without the supposed cause.

This was driven home by the second column, this one in the New York Times by T.M. Luhrmann the author of When God Talks BackLuhrmann tells the story of Sigfried Gold, a man who cured his tobacco and food addictions with prayer while never believing in God at all. He was essentially tricking his brain into a healthier life without buying into the supernatural.

Well, sure, why shouldn’t he? The joy of faith is not proof of God and God is not required to produce the “joy of faith.” Hell, drugs will do that for you — you don’t even have to bother to pretend pray. There is a God, but not because it makes you happy to think so. (If you ever want to read a mind-crunching but wonderfully reasoned article on why proof-talk about God is always nonsensical check out this brilliant Reason magazine piece by Mark Goldblatt.)

The larger point, of course, is that bad argument weakens the case for truth. Carrying this over to politics, it explains why leftist venues like the New York Times and NPR avoid highlighting conservative intellectuals like Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson and Mark Steyn and instead give the conservative cause over to anyone they can find with a thick backcountry accent and a tendency to bloviation. They know they don’t have to win the argument. They just let some under-smart right-winger get it wrong.

The religion-politics parallel is a good one. As it is with faith, so freedom, too, makes people happy. But happiness is not an argument for freedom. Freedom, like faith, is a good in and of itself because the fact is no other human good makes sense without it.

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I'm surprised this post didn't get more comments.
The Goldblatt article article was interesting, but Christians know that God, the infinite, can only be known through the person of Jesus Christ. Parables about sections of lines that describe the diameters of both infinitely long straight lines and circles with infinitely long radii -- which are also infinitely long lines, of course -- can tell you nothing about God (as Goldblatt notes).
I think that this is orthodox Christianity -- I hope it is -- but you can never know God except through Jesus Christ; but through Christ, you can know God absolutely; and it is this that puts man above the angels.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Dear Andrew: the case can be made that one should have faith in good times and bad.  Jesus said, what profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul. And, Peter said that faith is more precious than mere gold.  Yet, beattitudes say many things such as: Blessed are those of mourn, for they shall be comforted.  The word blessed has been translated by many a theologian as happy. 

Rather than looking at faith as something that is part of a lifestyle, I think what you're saying is it faith has a far more meaningful part of life.  Through faith, we have an entrance into eternal life.  And, I don't mean that is something in the sweet by and by, it is something that is in the now.  Faith is what we have today. 

Someone can be going through hard times and still be a person of faith.  Faith gets us through hard times, but it is not just for that.  It is also there in the good times.  Faith helps us to excel in the good times, and quite frankly to have the right values. 

But there is another aspect of faith: it is impossible to please God without faith, because anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.  So then, there are three aspects of faith: believing, seeking and rewarding.  As an country preacher once said, the gospel is a covenant of promises and rewards. 

I tell you, there are some who haved discovered the secret to true happiness in life.  And, I will tell you what it is: here is the secret to true happiness in life. It is to find the Lord, and find out what pleases the Lord.  Not everyone is supposed to be an evangelist, but some people are.  Everyone is called to know Jesus Christ. (John 3:16) 

Happiness may be at times an overwhelming joy, but it may also be a deep satisfaction knowing that you've lived a life worthy of the calling that is on your life.  A preacher from the first half of the 20th century, who was a very spiritual man, said before he died, he was happiest about having lived a moral life.  And, so he passed from this life into the next with no regrets.  That may not be the complete definition of happiness, but it is certainly one of them.

“I have come to the end of my life, and I have lived  a life worthy of the calling on my life, and I hear the words, 'well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, rule over many things, and enter into the joy of your Lord.'"  That is the ultimate definition of happiness, and living a life of faith.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Shlomo Freud said to his dear friend Pastor Pfister:
"As for the possibility of sublimation to religion, therapeutically I can only envy you"
"if I could, I should gladly do as others do and bestow upon mankind a rosy future, and I should find it much more beautiful and consoling if we could count on such a thing. But this seems to me to be yet another instance of illusion "
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Luhrmann tells the story of Sigfried Gold, a man who cured his tobacco and food addictions with prayer while never believing in God at all."

AKA self hypnosis and the effect is not permanent. You are right, however, about the mistake Christians make in quoting social science as a reason to believe. It's bad both from the non unique POV but also from the Christian experience POV. What Christianity delivers can't be measured by a questionnaire or checking the salary data.

Also, thanks for the Reason article. The old paradox "Can God create a stone he cannot lift" was long answered by the notion of an infinite creator that is not parsed by human logic.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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