26 February 2008

Arrogance and Assumption

I opened myself up to the charge of arrogance because in the course of a discussion (here) I made the claim: “Jesus knows who are or are not His own. I will leave that verdict in His hands.” Ironically, I opened myself up to this accusation by attempting to exculpate myself with respect to a prior charge: that I set myself up as the arbiter of who is a “true” Christian. It was that charge to which I had written in response: “Jesus knows who are or are not His own. I will leave that verdict in His hands.”

I’m arrogant because, among other things (I’m sure), in making that statement I make several assumptions which demonstrate this arrogance:

1. I assume that Jesus existed.
2. I assume that Jesus is the son of God.
3. I assume that he is a member of the Trinity.
4. I assume that the Christian God is the true one.
5. What's more, I assume that my particular sub-branch of a sub-sect has the true faith, the true way, the true connection to the one true God. (This one, by the way, happens not to be true.)

I had thought about writing a response, but during the course of outlining it, I happened to recall a Buddhist koan, which goes, if I recall it correctly, like this:

QUESTION: What is the ultimate expression of silence?
ANSWER: I will not express it at this time.

While meditating on the meaning of that koan I hit upon the idea that an argument against a charge of arrogance is probably self-defeating. After all, it’s easy enough to see how the charge can seem reasonable from his perspective. I am a finite person. I did not live when Jesus is supposed to have lived. I cannot possibly have had time to verify all of the claims of the Bible. My finitude makes it impossible for me to have more than a best-guess regarding the life-system to which I hold. On his view, I don’t have an epistemic right, if you will, to the certainty with which I hold to my faith. Obviously, of course, his perspective relies upon a few assumptions as well, which could open him up to the charge as well. But arguing tu quoque would resolve nothing: at best we’re both open to the charge of arrogance. What’s really wanted is a defense resulting, if you will, in acquittal. But, like I said, such a maneuver might be self-defeating. Besides, it is not impossible that I’m arrogant.

There is another possibility. I've noticed that my critic has assumptions of his own, to which he holds with such certainty that he freely comments in a condescending, superior and belittling tone. (No doubt he thinks I’ve earned it for supposedly asserting the superiority of Christian morality to his own atheistic morality. So be it.) That other possibility is this: he, and others like him, are the arrogant ones. As St. Paul might say, God is not far from any man (see Acts 17.27) and therefore those who claim not to know him have no excuse for doing so (Romans 1.19-20). On this view, I humbly submit to the testimony of the Scriptures, not thinking myself able to refute them. He and others, however, have determined that they know more than St. Paul. (Maybe they do, but it’s a bold claim.) They have taken it upon themselves to declare themselves smart enough, and knowledgable enough, to have determined that, for example, there is no God, or (despite being equally as ignorant about the ancient past as I) that Jesus did not exist, or (despite being equally as ignorant of the Divine Nature as I) that the Divine Nature is not triune nor Jesus a member of the (arguably) triune Divine Nature. I realize that in saying so, I assume (again) the truth of the Christian faith; that can’t be helped. But he also, in responding to me, has assumed throughout the truth of his own life-system. (I don’t begrudge him that: it can’t be helped.) I, however, am the arrogant one. So be it.

The realization that offering a defense against the charge of arrogance would be self-defeating induced me to devise a koan of my own:

QUESTION: What is the ultimate, indefeasible vindication from a charge of arrogance?
ANSWER: Behold, a white horse.

Oh. Wow, man.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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