How can I investigate religious knowledge systems and the Christian narrative?

Let’s pose the knowledge issue “Does God exist?” Given that there is no proof for the existence of God what is relevant is an evaluation of reasons given to support the idea that God is a meaningful concept. Various arguments for the existence of God have been put forward. The argument from religious experience poses the idea there is evidence for God because people feel his presence (the nouminous), they have prayers answered and they experience miracles. When someone is converted they ‘give their life to God.’ The experience of Saul (later St Paul) on the Road to Damascus and the emperor Constantine set a precedent for unlikely people to feel dramatic changes of heart and turn to God. This is hardly likely to count as persuasive evidence, but let’s consider the psychology of Christian conversion.

Firstly, the premise that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of God’ (so says Paul in Romans) inspires looking at the shortcomings in your life and an awareness that we have done bad things. A rejection of bad thoughts, including jealousy, pride, and arrogance might come next. Who after all wants to cling onto them?

Secondly, the notion that Jesus actively endured pain on the cross to produce the spiritual effect of setting us free from this burden comes next. In TOK accepting this commits a classic fallacy; confusing a correlation with a cause is known as post hoc ergo propter hoc. Whilst there could be a correlation between Jeusus’ death and our sin, how can a single death 2,000 years ago have actually caused a ‘spiritual’ effect that remains today? From another cultural perspective this sounds like blood letting or the idea of human sacrifice. On moral grounds, how would a God of love allow this? Nevertheless this is a tenet of Chrisitan belief and whilst it makes an assumption about the effect of Jesus’ death it is an artcle of faith. That means that you beleive in it instinctively without the need for evidence or rationality. This is what makes religious claims to knowledge unique; claims about faith may have a truth value, but faith is not about a series of propositions to be proven. Faith is often seen as a way of life. It’s in the application of religious ideas that their value can be found. Asking the question ‘is it true?’ misses the point. In religious knowledge systems it’s worth asking what practical applications might religious teaching have? So in TOK, you could ask the question, how do Christians know how to follow the teaching of Jesus and in what ways will it inspire it inspire them to live a good life?

But now for the third bit. The question is, ‘Do you accept God’s gift?’ The idea of reciprocity might encourage people to just accept that God might have sent Jesus to die for us. Although seemingly irrational, this may contain a vital and enduring human truth. The idea of saying sorry (stage 1) appeals to our instinct to please others and more importantly to please God. Then being set free and liberated from one’s dark past or dark present has huge appeal: we are attracted to new beginnings, transformations, and freedom from within. We all want to be loved (stage 3) and collectively fear rejection. Being confronted with the certain fact that God loves you is a truth that goes beyond our understanding. I cannot understand why God would bother to love us or send his son to die, but as the early church father Tertullian said, ‘I believe it because it is absurd.’ At this point irrationality has crept in and the knowledge claims made by Christian theology seem no longer relevant to TOK; they may appear to be plain nonsense. But from another perspective there may be a deep personal truth to the acceptance of Jesus’ teachings into one’s life. Psychologically it offers hope from within and inspiration on a personal level.

For more theological reflection on God, take the battleground God test: http://www.philosophersnet.com/cgi-bin/god_game1.cgi

This test promotes the need for consistency. Have a go take the test as it’s bit of fun, but be aware that the straight jacket of consistency required could be a type of rational dogmatism. If we were consistently rational, what implications would this have for our knowledge and for our relationships?

Links to websites:

For more on religion and ethics visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/

‘Explore the meaning of  life’ within the context of the charismatic tradition of the Anglican Church go to: http://www.alpha.org/

This website offers a scholarly approach to biblical study which you could use as a resource for interpreting biblical texts from different perspectives:http://www.textweek.com/

This website outlines the Christian narrative and you could offer your own critique of it: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/

To explore ‘the God question’ in more detail visit: http://www.thegodquestion.tv/

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