Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 6. May 28, 1958
Christianity is Irrational
Christianity is Irrational
Sir,—The naivete of your correspondent John North alarms me considerably. Unless he means not what he writes, Mr. North must lead a blissfully ignorant existence. He implies that reason itself is invalid. And as he rejects reason, one may justifiably take the liberty of presuming that his outlook on our natural world retains none of the elements of rationality. Nothing that is, of the Shorter Oxford definition: "The quality of possessing reason; the power of being able to exercise reason. The fact ... of being . . . agreeable to reason." Perhaps Mr. North would care to justify his assertion that rationalism has nothing to offer by explaining why reason should be invalid in a world that moves by law and order. He is obviously not content with the orthodox Christian attitude towards rationalism — that Christianity, because it claims to be of a supernatural order, cannot be validly appraised through the formulae derived from the natural. No, Mr. North goes further to state: "Rationalism sounds very learned and academic but what has it really to offer. Ultimately nothing."
The first main step in Mr. North's immutable dialectic is an attempted proof of his belief that reason does not apply to an ordered world. He emphatically jabs his messy thumb at a conception of his own. This example is what Mr. North would term: "A concrete refutation of reason in our world.
"Are you the says) "sure that you are the same person as you were yesterday? Of course you are. Can you prove it deductively? No, you can't, but that doesn't lessen your certainty in any way. Apparently we can and do accept as true some things which cannot be proved deductively."
It mystifies me as to how Mr. North can conclude that he is the same person as he was yesterday, without reason. Let's assume that he can.
"But, Mr. North, you aren't the same person as you were yesterday."
"Of course I am."
"How are you sure?"
To which he must answer that he is "not sure" or that he "Feels it". To give the valid reply that it stands to reason simply would not do.
In short, I fail to see how one can make an assertion about the natural world without reason. To pretend that any statement is valid because "I feel it", is quite ridiculous. I would gently demure at the statement (quote) "Perhaps you are not such an extreme rationalist and sceptic after all. Even if a fact cannot be proved deductively as true you are prepared to accept it as true if there is sufficient evidence in its favour". If Mr. North really applies this maxim to the questions of existence He must harbour numerous contradictions within himself.
What of two conflicting statements, both of which appear to have equally strong and favourable arguments? Surely to be consistent Mr. North must assume both to be true. What of two arguments, one of which has more evidence than the other, but both appear equally plausible? Is the former a priori to be accepted? In point then, Mr. North has painfully confused the distinction between validity and probability. One is forced to assume that he has accepted Christianity merely because it seems probable. "Probability, implies his maxim, is truth".
Mr. North has then by his own admission accepted Christianity because "there is sufficient weight of evidence in its favour." Just what counts as sufficient weight of evidence eludes me. If Mr. North considers that Christianity contains this sufficient weight then he issues a severe indictment of his historical faculties. To me it seems strangely farcical that God after placing man in a naturally ordered world, and after endowing man with a rational capacity to acquaint himself with it, should expect man to abandon this ability and unhesitatingly accept his existence, i.e., the existence of a supernatural being. But what of those individuals who find it impossible to escape the chains of reason? They, smirks the Christian, are to be assigned to eternal damnation.
The final steps in Mr. North's argument is the most excruciating of all. This one doesn't even move by the laws of probability. Mr. North begs the rationalist to cogitate on this:
One should accept the truth of Christianity because Dr. Schweitzer (D.Th., Ph.D., D.Mus., D.Med.) thoroughly believes in it.
Surely there is something in Christianity because Dr. Schweitzer has gone to Africa. From this evidence Mr. North concludes that Christianity is for you. "Perhaps," Mr. North comments very safely, "there is something in Christianity after all." And after this, "What does Christianity have to offer"?
Ultimately, Mr. North, nothing. But immediately it grants a life of complacent security and a creed of false values inherent within which is a moral code that stifles and degrades true humanitarianism. The Christian contributes towards human welfare mainly because it will pay him to do so. But the true humanist does it not for any ulterior gain but because he realises that man's salvation can only come through himself. In point of fact Christianity subtracts more from the sum of human welfare than it ever adds. In its focus of attention upon the higher world it indirectly acquiesces to the furtherance of hell on earth.
I was once an evangelical Christian but I have been converted to an existence that lays upon me now a greater burden of responsibility. Perhaps the cry of Schiller will eventually be realised: "Brothers, above the heavens there must be a loving father." Perhaps. But He has chosen not to reveal himself. And until he does so I shall pursue the affirmation of Russell: That the greatest satisfaction in life is to realise oneself and to face the apparent truth of human destiny.