Friday, May 1, 2015

Credo quia absurdum: Things that may or may not be true

In Second Hand Lions Uncle Hubs gives his nephew, Walter, a sample of his “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech:

“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”

I think Uncle Hub got it right on what things may or may not be true. When it comes to believing I don’t have a hard time with the supernatural stuff like angels and miracles. I’ve never seen an angel but nothing in my experience contradicts angels either. But the things worth believing in—they do contradict my experience. Money and power mean nothing? Really? Good always triumphs over evil? Not sure about that one.

Christianity teaches these sorts of dubious truths. Jesus taught all sorts of things we might cynically dismiss, about loving your enemies, not caring about material needs, not judging others. Stuff like that I have to stop and ask myself if I really believe in practice and not just in profession.

Believing dubious things for the sake of their unbelievability has a history in Christianity. Tertullian taught, “And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.” This is often paraphrased in the pithy line—Credo quia absurdum. The radical Christian existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard, said, "An objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth attainable for the individual."

I think of Uncle Hub’s speech when I read the words of Jesus. The Kingdom of God he preached seems so dissimilar from the world I see in reality. But the vision is compelling. I want to look at some of Jesus’ teachings through this lens in future posts.

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