11 Feb On Christian Hope
Peter Berger was an enormously influential sociologist in the 20th and 21st century until his death in 2017, and wrote extensively on the intersection between culture and religion. He had a fascinating personal journey as well, from committed skeptic to convinced Christian by the time he died. He was also the mentor of a cherished professor of mine, so, while I didn’t know him personally, he has affected me personally, nonetheless.
He wrote a little book called A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, and in it, he took on the challenge presented by modern, secular, skeptical Western culture, which says that there is no such thing as truth, that any beliefs about God or faith or truth people have are only the product of cultural conditioning (family background, place and time of birth, education, etc.).
Here’s the problem with that, he said: If you try to say, “There’s no way to be objective, no way to be reasonable about faith; we are all locked into our beliefs by our social location,” Peter Berger pointed out that if that is true, then that view itself is culturally conditioned, and therefore, you can’t trust that belief. That belief itself is socially located, so why should we trust it? If all beliefs about faith and truth are culturally conditioned, then so is a person’s belief about non-belief and the non-existence of truth.
Make sense? I hope you get the point.
But his larger point was equally important: because these issues are so large and complex, we should be (and he was speaking largely to skeptics, but to people of faith as well) very humble when it comes to discussions about faith and belief, we should be extraordinarily kind when it comes to expressing our views, and most of all, we should be open to the case being made for faith. We should be open to, as he called it, “the rumor of angels,” or “clues” to the supernatural.
…And that is where this series, What About?, comes in. Over the next few weeks, as you may have heard, I’ll be doing my best to present some compelling emotional, cultural and rational “clues,” or reasons for belief (last week we started with the idea that Christianity provides an indestructible meaning in life) and I wanted to take a moment to set up where we are going next:
When it comes to the kind of “clues,” or reasons for God you’ll be hearing (and specifically for Christian faith), you could most likely summarize them into 4 categories (this is courtesy of Nathan Schneider’s God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet):
- Matter (why does anything exist at all?)
- Mind (you trust your mind, but why, if it’s purely the product of chance?)
- Moral Obligation (why do we act in ways that show we believe in justice, even if we deny God’s existence)
- Music (why do we deeply respond to beauty, if there is no transcendent meaning?)
This week I’ll be aimed, more or less, at that last one, and try to get a look “beneath the hood” of our desires, to try to see how they point us to something we all need (and I think can’t live without), which is a future hope.
Taken on their own, each of these may seem incomplete. But what I’m hoping you’ll see, and what I’m hoping all those who join us will see, is that taken together, these “clues” or “reasons” provide a robust, compelling and rational case for the existence of God, and again, specifically Christian faith—and hopefully one that you feel you can share with your friends, family and loved ones. I would encourage you, again, to invite those around you to watch, and then discuss with them afterward.
Even in the middle of all that is happening in the world right now, even in the midst of great suffering and pain, I “hope” to show you there is still a future hope we can have that can transform any moment, even the “right now.”
I’ll see you soon.