26 December 2006

Jesus doesn’t know Andrew Sullivan’s ‘faith’

He’s at it again. Now comes Andrew Sullivan to explain the recent set-backs for the religious right, among other things.

Andrew Sullivan can have his thesis, that this was the year that religion learned humility. It won’t go down as the year that he learned any. For all his talk about how wonderful a thing ‘doubt’ is in religious faith, he never admits any doubts about the positions that he takes. He is quite certain about his positions. I suppose we can only conclude that, for Sullivan, having humility means agreeing with Andrew Sullivan.

I heard him interviewed perhaps a month ago on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program. My, my, my. Talk about certainty. Stubborn certainty. And talk about a man being a wuss! Hewitt—talking to Sullivan about Sullivan’s recent book—asked Andrew a few questions about his own religious convictions. Sullivan started crying “Inquisition!” If ‘doubt’ means questioning, then one cannot ‘doubt’ Andrew Sullivan’s Christian orthodoxy, for if one does so one runs the risk of being called an Inquisitor.

I’ll stipulate to Sullivan’s overall thesis about ‘religion’ learning some ‘humility’. I’ll even overlook his reification of religion. But there are two things I cannot overlook.

1. There is not only one answer to any question. Sullivan asserts this on the simple grounds that many answers are offered. If we allowed logic like this in, say, a court room, no one could ever be convicted: to the question of the accused’s guilt, the prosecution offers one answer and the defense another. True, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But the point is that the fact that many answers to a question are proffered doesn’t mean that there is not only one answer. All but one of the proferred answers could be wrong. Sullivan, however, is pretty certain, that there is more than one answer.

2. ‘Doubt’ is an important element to faith. Jesus doesn’t seem to know this. One of his most constant rebukes of his own disciples was their doubt, their lack of faith. Sullivan ought to qualify his claim somehow. Some ‘doubt’ may have a place in faith, but not with regard to every assertion one might make within a faith system. A faith system, though not formalized, is an axiom system. Providing that the faith system’s rules of inference are followed, there need not be doubt about everything. Every assertion within a faith system is not a probability statement, as Sullivan seems to believe. For example, Sullivan seems to think that the religious right ought to entertain doubts about their position on fetal stem cell research. Why? He doesn’t tell us. But need we doubt? If one starts with the premise that humans, from conception to death (just to limit our scope here) belong to God, then there ought be no doubt that we shouldn’t presume to have a right to utilize body parts as we wish. We ought also to understand that the fact that a fetus may not be aware of its own destruction is not enough to justify its destruction. Why? Because the Scriptures teach us that we shouldn’t put stumbling blocks before the blind, or curse the deaf. Quite simply: the fact that people will be unaware of the harm we do them is not an excuse for doing them harm.

Sullivan’s real problem isn’t so much that he believe’s there’s room for his doubts in the orthodox Christian faith. The orthodox Chrisitan faith isn’t his faith. Don’t get me wrong: he has doubts about the orthodox Christian faith, but that’s only because he’s certain about his own heterodox faith. Maybe. I guess.

Well, probably.



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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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