Sarah sees Jane coming out of the elevator and it’s time for their favorite ritual- their weekly walk through city park to wind down from the week. After exchanging a little debriefing of work drama, the topic turns to deeper discussion.
“I just don’t know, Jane.” “I just feel like it’s getting harder to believe. Like the world is moving away from Christianity- and so is my experience- if that makes any sense”
“Tell me more.”
“I don’t know- it’s like the arguments haven’t changed in thousands of years, right? But sometimes the whole thing- God and the devil, heaven and hell- the whole thing just seems so fantastical- it’s like I just don’t resonate with some things in the bible like I once did. Maybe we (as a society) don’t resonate in the way we once did.”
Sarah laughs and then realizes her vulnerability. “You probably think I’m some sort of heretic or something”
“Nope. I think you’re a human- an engaged, thinking human at that.”
“Well- what do you think?”
“Well- I think you’re right. Objectively, not much has changed. Science has shifted how we think about some doctrine, but the claims, the arguments, the reasons and challenges to belief- they haven’t changed much over the centuries.
On the subjective level, I also agree that your intuition is absolutely on to something-there have been some pretty seismic changes we’ve undergone individually and societally”.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, here’s where you might think I’m a little crazy!”
“So, postmodernism can definitely be taken too far, but I think one of the great gifts of that movement is that we understand how deeply our experience shapes our beliefs
So, think of the individual level- you grew up in that little farming town outside of Minneapolis, right? The one where everyone knew each other?”
“Yeah- so what does that have to do with my faith in God?”
“That experience- of a close-knit family, bumping into people you knew at the grocery store, the fact that you knew everyone in your grade- subtly communicated to you that reality was personal- warm and friendly even. So if someone came along and claimed that the universe was cold, impersonal, and indifferent- that would have been harder for you to believe- or maybe even conceive!
BUT- if a claim came along that relationship was at the heart of reality- that life was primarily about relationships and that the reason for existence was simply an ‘overflow’ of that eternal self-giving relationship between the members of the Trinity-
“Then I’d think that that was beautiful- and maybe even true.”
“Yes. It’s not some sort of knock-down case. But all an argument is is a set of premises- and your experience would make that premise about the trinity plausible to you.”
“So now that I live in city, surrounded by strangers, seeing my family a few times a year, and let’s face it- feeling a little bit lonely at the moment- that same premise is less plausible to me?”
“Yep. And that’s just one example. Think of the farming town piece for a second. I mean, for the farmers you regularly interacted with so much depends on factors outside of their control- temperature, precipitation, etc. What a humbling experience to bump into that reality every single day.
Again, that doesn’t make every farmer a born-again Christian- it just makes some ideas- like say, “That God is in control, we are not, and we need to humble ourselves in light of that reality” more plausible.”
“Hmmm… and I suppose when I walk home from work now I see shops and factories that run 24-7- where weather and even daylight itself has been overcome by the powers of man… who needs humility in a place like that?”
“Exactly! And actually- we’re only looking at one aspect of the changes you’ve made- the move from country to city. Think about political shifts over the decades and centuries. For centuries we had kings that were seen as the person God himself had put in place to govern us. Architecture, literature, arts, science- you couldn’t live your life without daily bumping into very tangible emanations from God himself”.
“Hm- It seems that on the subjective experience side of things… the tangible representation of the Judeo-Christian worldview has pretty much been chipped away to nothing.”
“There are still remnants of how the west once was- but if you think about how much our daily experience has changed… it’s a wonder anyone still has faith in God when so much of their experience inclines them not to.”
“Ok- so what do we do? I feel like I need to either become an atheist or move to the country, build a house with classical architecture, only read science books by Isaac Newton, turn my back on democracy and just refer to the president as a king.”
The two share a laugh.
“You know this, Sarah- but it’s so relevant here. Christianity was born- and thrived- in a culture that was much more hostile than our own. The first Christian lives were lived in a hostile, polytheistic, pluralistic society devoid of nearly any tangible pointers to the Judeo-Christian worldview. So much of what was going on politically, religiously, and geographically seemed to tip the scales against the plausibility of Christianity.
But power-hungry emperors, crazy sexual practices, atheistic philosophers- that was the world that Jesus came into and the one where the Jesus movement started.”
“Ok, so maybe the better question is- how did they do it? What was their secret?”
“They wouldn’t have used these words… but I think they built their own plausibility structure”.
“Ok, Ms. Smarty Jane. So what is a plausibility structure- and how do I ‘build’ one?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
To be continued!