• Other Life
  • Posts
  • On the Unleavened (A Thought for Easter)

On the Unleavened (A Thought for Easter)

"Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." —Corinthians 5:8

I was a lapsed Catholic for 12 years. I gave confession for the first time as an adult 7 years ago. My conviction since then has grown more or less linearly. Today is Easter, so I would like to explain one reason why my conviction continues to grow.

Many of the smartest people I know do not understand the credibility of Christianity. I want to rectify what I believe is the deepest and most widespread mistake about Christianity today (popular even among Christians).

Christianity makes some claims that are hard to believe, I admit.

But there is a crucial fact about Christianity, which I believe makes it unique among religions—and uniquely true among all possible systems of thought:

Christianity only asks you to believe in the truth.

This fact is remarkably explicit throughout the Gospels and the teachings of the Church Fathers. God is thrice called the Spirit of Truth; Christ says repeatedly he is there to reveal the truth; he does not ask the Pharisees to believe him despite the truth, he remonstrates them only for denying what they can see is true. Even Pilate acknowledges that Jesus is telling the truth! His crime is only that he dismisses the truth, infamously.

And yet to most readers my claim will sound unfamiliar at best, and absurd at worst.

To be clear, the Christian ultimately comes to affirm a supernatural reality—yes—but this affirmation is the result of a process, which I will try to unfold.

Christianity asks that you seek the truth as radically as possible and that you bear witness to what you find there as fully and courageously as possible. Many smart people today seek the truth, but then they condition what they profess based on personal and social preferences. Christianity proposes that the truth is, in fact, true, ultimately and unconditionally. Notice the modern rationalist does not believe anything is true ultimately and unconditionally because scientific method gives us no such purchase. To be Christian really is to wager one’s life on the truth being true, in a sense that is higher than anything else that can happen in the material world, and in a sense that will outlast anything else that can happen in the material world.

If one seeks the truth vigorously, however, one encounters some irresolvable mysteries and paradoxes.

I have come to learn that if one tries vigorously to bear witness to the whole truth—the whole messy portfolio of truths and mysteries—one is surprised to find that everything is already explained and foretold by Christianity.

It is at this stage that the otherwise non-credible and supernatural elements come to have a genuine goodness-of-fit with everything else in one's mental model of the world, at which point it is correct and intellectually honest to say that one believes in the supernatural elements—even though they remain mysterious and, on some level, still incredible. It is no different than when a scientist must throw his hands up and say that certain results contradict what he knows, but the experiment was correctly conducted, and so the results are what they are. That is how I feel about the resurrection of Christ: I don't know how it's possible, everything I know about the material world says it's obviously a myth, and yet in my own history of honest searching I have seen and heard many other things, and as a whole everything seems to vindicate this story. So I throw up my hands, and I say that I believe. And then I try to act like it.

The great and popular error is that Christianity asks one to affirm anything other than the truth; that it requires some degree of intellectual dishonesty. Even many Christians will say things like, "You have to forget rationality sometimes, and just have faith." That's wrong because today rationality means truth—we no longer remember anything else—and so there's this weird detent between simple Christians and high-IQ atheists where they all take for granted that Christianity and the human way of knowing are in tension. One must take a certain leap beyond empirical demonstration, as I said above, but at no point is the Christian ever asked to believe anything other than the truth.

The technical truthfulness of Christianity is even more astounding insofar as Christianity was arguably the condition for the possibility of intellectual honesty in this world—it is not an accident that the very phenomenon of public truth verification via scientific method only arises after Christ and primarily in Christen Western Europe. To the degree one even cares about the truth as a value, one has received that through Christianity. Look at other religious cultures; look at Muslims, look at Hindus, look at the non-Christian Orient—nobody else believes that an objective and independent truth is accessible to human reason (and that it's intrinsically good to go get it, even if it defies social and political stability). Christianity invented this way of thinking and living, and today the most "advanced" Christian societies all share a consensus that Christianity is somehow at odds with the truth.

If you seek the truth without any other calculation, and you try your best to testify to everything you find, unconditioned by temporary matters, and then you happen to find all of your conclusions already recorded, it requires a most violent irrationality to reject that recording. The very existence of such a recording, which fits the truth so perfectly, is itself such a miraculous fact—in the technical sense of vanishingly improbable—that it justifies any of the seemingly improbable elements therein. To find such a recording is itself an empirical proof that miracles happen, or at least that is how I see it.

Happy Easter.