Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: reason

What it Would Take to Believe

There’s beauty in the idea that we are chosen, and our reward will be worth any amount of suffering. There’s power in the idea that the Omnipotence indwells a believer. It’s great to believe that no matter how bad things get, the One in control of the cosmos has my back.

I’d wager it sounds trite to most unbelievers. The power of Evangelicalism is a bit like the harm of cultural appropriation: you can’t understand it unless you know the whole story. And even then there’s something important lost in translation.

See, every human restlessness and ache and shame and attachment is because of innate brokenness. Our souls are bent before birth, and our bodies reflect it. Ours is a world of exiles, so far from God that we wouldn’t believe the truth even if it slapped us in the face and sent us all to hell. Cut off from reason, we suffer and cause others to suffer until we die and reap suffering’s fulfillment.

Some are saved when God breathes life into their dead spirit, rips the scales from their eyes, gives them a heart of flesh instead of the stone inside. These ones are set apart. No matter what suffering they go through it will not be comparing the eternal weight of glory prepared for them through Christ.

I used to believe all that.

The year of living christianly is not about trying to recapture that belief–it seems dishonest to set out trying to attain any specific belief. But the other day someone asked me what I wanted from God. What would God have to do to prove that he was real? Well, faith is a gift of God, lest anyone boast. If God wanted to prove himself real to me, he would have to give me faith.

so either you aren’t real

or I am just not chosen

maybe I’ll never know

either way my heart is broken

– Derek Webb, “Goodbye, for now”

The thing about Reason

They tell me that I should not rely on my Reason.  It’s faulty, after all.  Prone to bias and laziness.  It’s a good point.  But what should I rely on, then?  Which rule is higher or more reliable than my Reason?

The Absolute is higher.  That it makes sense.  There’s nothing Absolute about me.  So I’ll never be Absolutely right on my own.

But where is the Absolute?  Well, that depends on who I ask.

When I ask the religious friend, they point to God.  Rather, they use their Book to point to God.  Makes sense.  But how can I know that the Book is from / pointing to the Absolute?  I can only see one way of justifying a Book: by weighing and judging it through my imperfect but thoroughly lovely Reason.

Sure, I suppose I could engage it through other faculties.  A friend once told me he trusted his Book because of the positive spiritual feeling it gave him when he read it.  But I get similar feelings when I listen to Matt Redman, Noah and the Whale, and the Portal 2 soundtrack.

Others have told me to engage the Book with Faith.  I’ve never been clear on what that means.  It sounds like accepting something with the kind of trust a child might have.  If that were a good route I’d just accept whatever Book I was first given.

No, it’s my Reason that needs to be convinced that a certain Book or Word comes from the Absolute.

My Reason isn’t perfect.  It’s like a sharp tool.  It’ll hurt me if I use it wrong.  It’ll dull if I use it wrong.  I’ve misused it in the past, I expect I’ll misuse it in the future.  I’d wager I’m misusing it in some way now.  Sure.  But it seems to be one of the best tools I have.  And using it clumsily is better than not using it at all.

My Journey #2 – Calvinism

I was a Christian. I sought after God through the Spirit. I preached in church and counseled at Bible camp and I knew that neither of those things meant anything. I was born of God and striving to live by the Spirit. So when high school ended, I signed up for Bible college.

CalvinInsignia

KLBC was the best time of my life, up to that point. I had never had such deep relationships as the ones I formed there. I had never met such deep and committed followers of Jesus. I dug through Scripture for treasures like the proverbial master of the house (Matt. 13:52). I met my wife there. I also met Calvinism.

Have you ever encountered a beautiful philosophy? A set of ideas that makes you pause, take a step back and go, “Wow”? Calvinism was one of those philosophies (or doctrines, if you prefer). From the outside, it seemed harsh and heavy, but when I dug a bit, I found something lovely. Much of Scripture seemed to imply it, and it in turn illumined much of Scripture. I was quickly convinced of its truth and I used it as I went through the next seven or eight years of my life. It wasn’t my God–it was a useful framework to understand Him.

Even though the denomination I was raised in was started by Calvinists, the philosophy had since fallen out of vogue. For the first time ever, I was standing a little bit away from the rest of my church on an issue of doctrine. Not very far, of course. But far enough for me to notice a difference. That difference allowed me to realize something I had already known:

It was up to me and the Spirit to explore the Bible and discover what I could about God, the universe and everything. While I was always willing to listen to my church, my tradition, my professors, I realized that I had to judge and seek out the answers for myself.

Even when the answers I found put me at odds with the people I loved.

Talking About Anarchism – A Foundation

The foundation for what would eventually grow into anarchism was laid for me in grade two by a mean-tempered teacher named Miss Martin. Every Friday Miss Martin quizzed us on the times tables. It was a grueling test of a hundred questions. It was so long it made our hands ache. That was the point. Because if you ever finished the test without a single mistake, you’d be exempt from taking it for the rest of the year.  I got a perfect score on the third try.

I knew it as soon as I turned it upside-down on the desk next to me. I had been so close the week before and was completely fed up with the tedious and pointless work. I paid attention, avoided every careless slip, and nailed it. But when my peer marker handed it back, there was a tiny red X beside the fourth question.

3×3=9

But I was right. I knew I was right. I pointed the mistake out to my peer marker. She said my 9 looked like a 4. No problem, I thought. We’ll take the case to Miss Martin. The One Who Knows.  But Miss Martin took the Marker’s side.

I remained calm. I still knew I was right and I had lots of ways of proving it. I pointed out that 4 wasn’t even close to the right answer and no one in the whole class could have made that mistake. I showed her examples of how I wrote the number 4 compared to how I wrote 9 and clearly proved that my 4s looked nothing like 9s and my intention was obviously to put down a 9.

“This will teach you to use better handwriting,” she said, dismissing all my facts with a wave of her hand.

“But it’s a math quiz, not a writing quiz.”  It was no use. I wrote the quiz again the next week

I was disappointed. But more than that, I was shocked. Because I had proved I was right. How could she not have seen it? Did I argue my points wrong? I wrestled with it all day long and eventually this seed was planted deep inside my consciousness:

They don’t know everything.

I started to notice that no one at all seemed to really understand what was going on with life, despite all their apparent confidence. The Ones Who Had It Right looked no happier and were no kinder than The Ones Who Had It Wrong. The most common answers to the most interesting questions were supremely confident, “Because [your teacher / your parents / the elders / my version of God] said sos.”

Eventually it stopped making sense to submit my mind and lifestyle to The Ones Who Know. Because they don’t know—not any more than I do, at least. Because if they are no better than me, why would I follow their conscience, intellect or goodness instead of my own? Miss Martin’s seed grew up and a new idea hit me.

I have no need of governance.

That is anarchism. And it tastes delicious.