Lately, I have been thinking about the fact that there is no such thing as “Christianity.” I mean this in the descriptive sense of the word. The beliefs and practices of those who are following Jesus are so varied and contradictory that they defy easy categorization. The numinous experience of billions of people across thousands of years and thousands of miles will not be pigeon-holed. However, there is, perhaps, such a thing as Christianity, in the prescriptive sense of the term: who I should be as a human being who seeks to follow the Divinely-Inpired Deuteronomist’s dictate.
And this is where things get confusing. Because there is no such thing as “Christianity,” the varying strains of the aforementioned religion that defies classification offer conflicting prescriptions about my epistemic relationship with God: one group says that the Divine transcends reason and to try to understand it is to destroy the beauty of the epistemically offensive nature of Christianity and another group (e.g., process theologians and reformed epistemologists) that seems to be doing a pretty good job at reducing the epistemically offensive nature of Christianity.¹
As I read the thinkers on both sides of this issue, I can not help but taken in by the attitudes and arguments that are expressed. The result is that depending on who I am reading at the time, I may feel either that Christianity is fundamentally ridiculous and therein lies its beauty (like in my post “No Love for ‘Love Wins'”) or that the absurdity of Christianity is a stumbling block to spreading the Good news, an essential component of Christianity.
In short, I am confused about whether or not to be confused. I am unclear about how much should be unclear. I am quite comfortable with not having certainty on a lot of issues. I have enthusiastically embraced the project of wrestling with the Divine in order to be “blessed” both in the ethical and epistemological senses of the word. But this confusion is new. Can I at least be freed of this confusion about being confused?
The question would be a lot easier if the arguments that were put forward by the epistemic euphemisers (those who seek to make “Christianity” less epistemically offensive) were terrible. It is easy, for me to read Kierkegaard and echo his sentiments saying, “Yeah! It is about faith! The project of rationalizing religion is going terribly anyway, so give up and embrace the beauty of being a true Believer, i.e., a Lover.” until I encounter arguments that are actually successful in making sense of the “nonsensical.”
Indeed, my attitude about the value of epistemically offensive presentations vs. epistemically euphemistic presentations of the Gospel is contingent on the success of these presentations. This, I think, is an important discovery. Insofar as I am an addict, this discovery reveals that I want a gospel that does not make me feel like a loser. In other words, if the epistemic euphemisers are “winning” the argument, then I am inclined to get behind them and say in an insecure way, “Yeah! We are not crazy!” But if the euphemisers are “losing” the argument, I want to say, with Kierkegaard, “Yeah! We are crazy, but this [Christianity] is the best shit ever!”
However, insofar as I am a disciple, the conflict between the two presentations of Christianity concerns me because it has important consequences on how the message is receive and therefore, who will be able to usher the kingdom of heaven here and into their own hearts. If God really is into retaining the epistemically offensive nature of God’s existence, then God must feel something like what Kierkegaard writes in The Sickness Unto Death,
This is precisely the sorrow in Christ: “He can do no other”; He can humble Himself, take the form of a servant, suffer and die for man, invite all to come unto Him, sacrifice every day of His life and every hour of the day, and sacrifice His life-but the possibility of the offense He cannot take away. Oh, unique work of love! Oh, unfathomable sorrow of love! that God Himself cannot…make it impossible that this work of love might not turn out to be for a person exactly the opposite, to be the extremist misery!
While I sit here confused about how to understand and present the very way of life that I belong to, we are supposedly all dying. If we are really all sick and addicted and dying (and this seems to be a big if- here is my confusion on this matter), then my confusion sucks even more. Perhaps, however, I can take some solace in the idea that whatever angst I feel qua a disciple, is infinitely multiplied for the One who is Love.
1. I recognize that this binary, like the categorization of “Christianity,” is descriptively problematic.