Conviction or blind belief?

Easter 2014
Marian Free

In the name of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Amen.

Social media has made a vast difference to the world. It is now possible to broadcast news across the globe in seconds, to announce engagements and births, to share poignant stories and funny or moving video clips, to distribute music and to maintain friendships over time and space. A quick word or photo now and then can keep a person much more connected with their friends than the annual Christmas letter. On a political level, social media can undermine authoritarian governments, gather crowds to protest movements and disseminate film clips of police or army brutality all within a matter of minutes. On an intellectual level, social media can provide people with access to stimulating articles and ideas to which they might not otherwise have access. Of course there is also a lot of rubbish and quite a deal or misleading and even mischievous information, but there is no denying that we are all much closer to each other and to what is happening in the world than we ever were before.

In the last few days for example, I have been able to read a number of interesting articles relating to child slavery and chocolate, Good Friday and Easter. I found two of these sufficiently interesting that I uploaded them on to Twitter. One by John Dickson presented: “Top Ten Tips for Atheists this Easter” and the other by Elizabeth Farrell was entitled: “A Meditation on the Cross.

(http://www.abc.net.au/news/thedrum/; http://www.smh.com.au/comment/meditation-on-the-cross-20140416-zqvdm.html)

Both articles challenge us to consider what it is that we believe, why we believe and how we might try to express that belief.

Dickson writes his article “in the interests of robust debate”. He challenges eight arguments put forward by atheists to discredit Christianity. I want to share with you just two. Atheists criticise Christians for believing things without having any evidence to support that belief. That, he points out, is not the way we use the word “faith”. Faith for a Christian is not blind belief in something for which there is not rational explanation. Rather the word “faith’ is used by Christians in the sense of “have trust in”. Christians do not blindly trust God, but have faith on the basis of a variety philosophical, historical and experiential reasons. We have faith in God, because it seems reasonable to believe that there is something behind the creation of the universe, because for millennia others have trusted this same God and because we experience God in some way in our lives. It is only on the basis of reasoned conviction that we place our trust, have faith in, God, faith in anything less substantial would be easily shaken.

A second related argument is to understand the basis on which people are persuaded. Dickson reminds his readers that Aristotle argued that few people – and that includes Christians – are convinced by purely objective evidence. With regard to a variety of different information, people are persuaded by a combination of intellectual, psychological and social factors. Even if those three factors line up, people are only really convinced if they feel that the person sharing the information with them can really be trusted. (A doctor might present information based on the latest medical research, but it might take a lot more than that to convince a patient to undergo a new and radical procedure.) New information often needs to have a personal relevance or impact before it is accepted. If a person is sure he or she is going to die, they might try to trust the doctor for example. This is as true of objective scientific discoveries as it is with regard to matters of belief. People of faith are no more or less likely to be open to persuasion that any other member of the community.

Farrell’s meditation is a reflection on why, when most of her friends are “lackadaisical or downright opposed to Christianity”, she is “impelled by a craving that the mundane world does not fill – a craving for deep time, old nature and transcendent spirit stuff.” She feels a need for a spiritual dimension not only for her own life, but for that of the world. Farrell confesses that she is “addicted to where the quest for goodness and yearnings of the spirit is accepted currency.” For her, paradox is the core mystic message – the idea that we must lose ourselves in order to win eternal life.” “Paradox”, she says, “and the parable needed to express it, lives at the heart of Christian traditions: darkness in light, poverty in riches, pain in beauty, death in renewal. Paradox is the mystery and the enchantment.”

Every Easter you and I gather to celebrate an event that had no witnesses, that cannot be supported by scientific evidence and that defies all rational explanation. We acknowledge the paradox that victory over death is won by death, and we rejoice that contrary to human logic – the Jesus who suffered a shameful, ignominious and violent death is in fact God incarnate, that what appeared to be a disaster turned our to be a triumph.

It is difficult to explain and to defend the resurrection because it is beyond explanation. Yet, for centuries people like you and I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection is a paradox that can be trusted, that it is a contradiction that somehow makes sense and that it is real because it has the power to change and renew lives. It is possible that we believe without objective evidence, but it is not true that we believe without reason. Our hearts tell us that Christ is present with us, our heads tells us that 2,147 billion people must have some basis for their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and our history books remind us that people have risked their lives and poured themselves out for others, all because they believed that Christ had been raised from the dead.

It doesn’t matter whether we use the more personal language of Farrell to explain ourselves, or whether we apply academic arguments in our discussions with atheists as does Dickson. What does matter is that when millions are elsewhere, we are here because our conviction that Christ is risen cannot be shaken by doubters or critics. We know what we know and that is all there is to it.

Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!

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