Paul Tillich and Intellectual Criticism

I enjoy spending time debating; though you could have worked that out from the numerous posts on the subject on this blog. During one of these debates in an attempt to defend the Religious point of view, I made the standard appeal to experience. It was pointed out to me that the experience is often viewed in light of the cultural norms of the experiencee. That is, if you are brought up a Christian, or currently exploring Christianity, you are more likely to attribute the experience to the Christian God.

This means, then, that though the experience can be powerful life changing, however, it is difficult to use it as a definitive proof for a specific form of Religion/Mysticism. Though similar experiences are reported in all religions, experiences very rarely change religion. Nor, in the same way can it be said to point to a divine being, as those who search for inner enlightenment would say that the experience is an example of reaching this state of nirvana.

This, obviously, put me in a rather awkward position. Either I need to say that all revelation point to the divine, and posit a single God, or that all experiences point to a divine, and posit many Gods. Positing a single God, while being in keeping with Christian Doctrine does play fast and loose with the Bible, which at many points does refer to other gods. Though later these gods come to be thought of as Demons, or agents of Satan. This causes another problem in our attribution of Ecstatic experience, who is to say that such experience is not from Satan. Of course the experiencee often attributes the experience one way or the other, but Satan, that great lord of deception could easily convince a befuddled mortal mind.

As you can see, this is a very complicated subject, and I don’t yet have an answer. However, I thought I would turn to google, that fountain of random knowledge to see if it had any answers, and up comes a result from an article by Paul Tillich, and American Theologian.

Though good at articulating the problem, Tillich seems to avoid giving an answer, rather to say that Religion cannot defend itself in the realm of science, but rather one needs to take the critic into the awesome nature of the divine, so that they can see the error of their ways. The rational seems to closely mirror that of Al-Ghazzili.

Tillich doesn’t seem to offer a real solution, but rather states that one should be honest about the problems of trying to justify the experiences. He also makes the point that trying to find proof of God is next to pointless, as God is beyond time and space, essentially, I guess, making God immeasurable. Though the article is interesting, I’m not sure it gets us any closer to a kind of sensible justification, but rather moves the argument. I think that the notion of moving the argument is important, it is very difficult to argue an emotional subject from rational only. Especially as Christians are in the awkward position of needing to work backwards from what they know to what they can prove, and often find themselves with a Religion that works for them, that is predictable, that is comforting, and that guides their way of life.

There are two sides to this. The ordinary Christian will find exploring this subject uncomfortable. It is difficult to hold onto faith when the only justification they are looking for comes from cold, hard fact. However, Religion is not about that which we can prove, but rather about Faith. Religion should improve our lives in one way or another, it should fill a hole or answer a feeling that has no place in the cold sceptical world that Atheists seem to want to create.

The response to these intellectual difficulties, however, should not be to hold even tighter onto the Bible, and turn it into a literal truth where it cannot stand in the face of science. Tempting as some might see this, as it give full certainty, it only means that the fall of faith is much greater should any of the facts prove to be incontrovertible for the literal believer. Those with faith do not live in a comfortable world where Faith is the norm, we live in a world where there are those who are using Faith as a hammer to do harm, though religion can and should be being used to change the world for the better, with focus on health, care of the sick, the elderly, and each other.

I have yet to find a sensible rebuttal, but that doesn’t mean that I should stop thinking.

Thinking Christians are facing attacks on both sides; on one side we have the Atheists who ridicule us for trying to think through our faith, and on the other, our Biblical-Literalist brothers, who ridicule us for wanting to think through our faith. It is no wonder that people leave the Religion (thought not the faith) daily, as they try to struggle with their own morality, and that of the loudest voices around them. I can only say to those of you that are here searching for comfort, you are not alone.

~Black Xanthus

Source : Paul Tillich Article : http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=494