Culminating "Into the World" Posts Ahead

In previous (Into the World) posts we have done work preliminary to the two remaining chapters and the Epilogue. To recount the main points, we have accepted Nietzsche's "annihilating" challenge to the New Testament from The Antichrist. We have examined the context of the trial scene from The Gospel According to John to understand both Nietzsche's critique and the biblical perspective better. We have located the meaning of the Gospel text as the grand narrative foil to the Genesis Chapter 3 story of the fall. And we have constructed a hypothesis based on correlating the Genesis fall with the passion narrative, focusing on the Johannine trial scene. Most recently we have noted the need for the hypothesis to form a "supreme question" by which the gospel narrative framed against the biblical background presents "an answer...which determines what it means to be a human being, in the most basic sense." (Chapter Eight) Several chapters following the hypothesis lend it provisional support.

It is the next several posts, however, that confirm the hypothesis. With the help of Jean-Paul Sartre's analysis of "bad faith," you will see how Christian faith addresses what Sartre called "a nihilating ambiguity" at one point and a "perpetually disintegrating synthesis" at another. Applying Sartre's analysis to our hypothesis will yield a further layer to our understanding of Christian faith, a layer that faith's critics--including Sartre, and Nietzsche, and Dawkins, and so many others--have not grasped. And if you can enjoy the irony of using Sartre to rebut The Antichrist, well, that's just the cherry on top.

I claim, then, that from Sartre's analysis we arrive at a much clearer view of our faith--one which puts humanity's core existential question and the answer provided by faith in clear relief. But from Kierkegaard's challenge to the intelligibility of faith in the following chapter we get something very different: It provides a deeper appreciation of how the Bible "hangs together" conceptually. I use "deeper" rather than "clearer" to describe the impact of reading the posts on Kierkegaard, for they are the most difficult of all the chapters in Into the World. But I think that the effort on your part will prove rewarding.

Now to the primary concern motivating these comments: With the next chapter (on Sartre) the existential dilemma that faith addresses will be fully described for purposes of these posts. It is within that framework that I believe Christian faith functions when it is functioning properly to address humanity's core existential question. The posts on Kierkegaard's challenge to faith's intelligibility should not be taken as relevant to the view of faith derived from Sartre's analysis. The posts on Kierkegaard's "challenge" should be viewed as answering the other half of the hypothesis--that the biblical narrative's broadest theme frames the passion narrative as the answer to "the radical question of life."

I need to point out that separation in advance to avoid having the clear perspective derived from Sartre lost in the subtle analysis needed to respond to Kierkegaard's challenge. And the point is doubly needed for those familiar with the history of philosophy who will note that in responding to Kierkegaard's challenge that much of what is said will sound like a rehearsal of points discussed for 200 years following Kant's so called "moral argument" for belief in God. But his "argument" is only an appreciation of the need for connecting one's moral perspective with reality, when an honest appraisal of the observable facts leads to moral skepticism. I simply argue that faith must be seen as an antidote to that skepticism made in full view of it, and in the posts on Kierkegaard's challenge I make that connection.

What has been missing over the last 200 years is an understanding of the need to define oneself clearly in light of humanity's core existential dilemma. The point of faith can be summed up by borrowing a quote from William James and applying it to the cogent moral skepticism that an honest analysis will otherwise endorses:

"One's objective deliverance...amount[s]...just to this, that 'some justification of a feeling of security in the presence of the universe' exists, and that systematically to refuse to cultivate a feeling of security would be to do violence to a tendency in one's emotional life which might well be respected as prophetic." (James' Preface to The Meaning of Truth)

In effect, that makes faith the opposite of "temptation." For temptation is acting against conscience for reasons that are manifestly "in the world." On the other hand, faith involves overriding temptations to manifest self-interest by trusting in the authority of conscience, when that authority cannot be derived from an understanding of the world. And that is the point of Jesus' coming "into the world." It supplies (to faith) the moral authority to confront a cogent moral skepticism.

The best background book for appraising these claims, that I know of, is Peter Byrne's The Moral Interpretation of Religion, which is self-described on the book's cover as "the first full-length treatment of this theme." (1998) Byrne's "treatment" does not include the point of view presented here, where faith answers humanity's core existential dilemma. Make of that what you will.

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