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Christianity is Bizarre But Not Absurd

Absurd n. utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense.

Bizarre n. markedly unusual in appearance, style, or general character and often involving incongruous or unexpected elements; outrageously or whimsically strange; odd.

The human mind can entertain bizarre things.

I remember when I was young, I had this nagging and, at times, paralyzing fear that (get ready for this) I was the only person that really existed, and the rest of the world was either self-produced or a big test of some sort. No, this was not a chronic fear. It was intermittent. It happened only when I let my imagination and thoughts of “the possible” entertain me. Absurd? Yes. But terrifying nonetheless. I did not want to be the only person who really existed. I did not want reality to be a test. I did not want my mom to be only a mom in my mind. During these times, I would be sent into an existential crisis that would, to say the least, ruin my day. You must understand: this fear was not rational. It was quite absurd. My thoughts would create a vortex of terror which was built only on what I thought might be possible, no matter how unlikely. I came to later find out that this is an actual psychological condition called “solipsism.” I am not kidding. Look it up. Though I have not been in this vortex since I was a kid, I trained myself not to go there. As irrational as it was, as crazy as it may seem to me know, I have learned that there are certain places that I don’t go simply because my mind is not as stable as I think.

The human mind can entertain bizarre things. Life is bizarre. I mean, think of it: we are actually conscious organisms who are self-aware. We came from a union between two other beings. We grew in the belly of a woman and then spent years clinging to that woman for support. We find a limited extension in space and cannot transcend the confines of our bodies. We eat, we drink, and we breathe air to survive. Harmony of sound waves (music) can make us laugh, cry, or get angry. Emotions control the majority of our lives and they are nearly always the result of relationships with other beings. We believe in right and wrong. Almost always, we think we are right and others are wrong. Yet due to this recurrence of “life,” we become used to it and it eventually becomes defined as “normal.” Here and there we catch glimpses of how bizarre life really is. Through the conception and birth of one’s own child, we see it. Sometimes when we look up into the sky we see it. Here and there joy can make us forget that life is normal. But for the most part, the idea of bizarre is reserved for those things that don’t fit into the categories we unwillingly find ourselves in. I suppose that this paragraph is trying to help you reimagine the world around you. Reality is not normal at all if by this it means we “get it.” We don’t “get it.” We live it, but we don’t “get it.” We believe reality, not because it is unbizarre, but because it is . . .well . . . reality.

Solipsism does not make the reality cut because there is no rational reason for believing it is an accurate representation of the world around us. The evidence is against it. This is why I don’t go there. I have come to realize that my mind is too weak.

There are other places that I don’t go in my mind. When I was in my first year of college I had another existential experience. I have had this many times since. It haunts me and can make me crazy if I allow it. It is hard to explain (and I don’t know of any formal psychological conditions it goes by) but here it is: I don’t like time. Yes, time. Most specifically, I don’t like the present or the past, either in theory or reality. Hang with me. I think that it is completely bizarre that we live in the present moment, but it is always passing by. I cannot ever catch and hold anything, for it is always fleeting from the present. For this reason, when I go here, I find it hard to define life. Who am I? Am I the sum total of my past experiences? But the past has no ontological value now. If this is true, who am I now? I can get insanely frustrated that I can’t freeze a moment and just be. I am always becoming, but never am. The moment I am, the same moment has passed. Where in time am I? What is “present”? If all of this is true, is there really a “me”? When I am in this mode, I am haunted by the possibility that I do not exist either the way I want to exist or the way I think I exist. If this is true, in what sense do I exist, if at all?

But, again, this is an irrational thought pattern. Where this ends is insanity and untruth. Just because I cannot figure out the mechanics of my existential experience, this does not mean that my existence is forfeited. But I still don’t go there.

I remember in college, having a philosophy professor who attempted to convince the class that everything we see and hear are merely translations of reality, but not reality itself. He was not arguing that reality did not exist, but that reality, as we think we know it, is purely subjective. The color red did not really exist, it was just how our mind translated “color.” Solid matter did not really exist, it was just how our mind processed the sensation of “matter.” Heat did not exist, it was just how our minds interpreted things. Our minds simply react to certain stimuli and translate them according to preset patterns that may or may not reflect reality. When this class first began, I laughed at the prospects of such subjectivism. However, after volley upon volley of his arguments for subjectivism, I was totally depressed. I did not want to entertain this philosophy any longer. It hurt too badly.

This philosophy, while interesting to entertain, ends in a place that does not account for the evidence. Like with the rest, I don’t go there. I can entertain very absurd things when I do. My mind is not that stable.

Those are three absurdities that have affected me personally. Those are three places that I don’t go. Not because I think that they might be right, but because I can get caught in a vortex of irrationality that suddenly seems like wisdom – yea, the very graduation of knowledge. But there are a thousand other places I have seen people go that are in the same family:

  • Belief that suffering does not exist (pantheism)
  • Belief that we are all beings living inside another being (panentheism)
  • Belief that we were other beings in former lives (reincarnation)
  • Belief in total and utter meaninglessness (nihilism)
  • Belief that we never really move since there are an infinite number of half steps to take (“Zeno’s Paradox”)
  • Denial of the existence of other minds (solipsism)
  • Disbelief in the past (i.e., we were created a few minutes ago with pre-programmed memories)
  • Paranoid delusions of marital infidelity, death, robberies, and sickness
  • Belief that being came from non-being (atheism)

All of these things can control you if you allow yourself to go there. All of them have what can seem to be perfectly reasonable arguments when suffering with their thoughts for too long. But they just don’t make sense. What they contribute to a worldview is neither rational or systematic. They posit a theory and then seek to birth this theory in isolation from intuition, evidence, and wisdom. Therefore, I advise people that these places are not safe places to go, at least for too long.

However, nothing is going to stop people from teaching and believing that one or more of these is the more sensible option. In fact, some will make the argument that one of these offers the least bizarre of all the options. But, again, how bizarre something is is not a criteria for judgement. Everything is bizarre, but not everything is an option. Everything is bizarre, but not everything demands respect. Everything is bizarre, but not everything is true. Everything is bizarre, but that does not mean everything is formally absurd.

Look at what I believe: I believe in a heaven that exists on a plane parallel to our existence. I believe in angels, demons, and a being called Satan. I believe in transcendent good and evil. I believe in a God who is quite empirically elusive. I believe in a God who loves us. I believe in a future judgement by this God. I believe that this God became man and died on a piece of wood to satisfy himself!

Bizarre is not the issue. However, bizarre + absurd does not work. Existence coming from nothing is not only bizarre, but totally absurd. Minds coming from non-minds is not only bizarre, but impossible. Meaninglessness is not only bizarre, but outside of my experience. And while someone might make a good argument that all of reality exists only in your own mind, the evidence does not play a part in such a worldview.

I don’t have the time or sanity to entertain absurd notions that do nothing more than mess with my head. I am not that strong. I don’t go many places anymore. Bizarre places? All day long. Every time I open my eyes I enter into a bizarre world. Absurdity is where I draw the line.

Christianity is bizarre, but it does make the most sense out of the world. Christianity is bizarre, but not absurd. So when you begin to doubt your faith based on bizarre beliefs, don’t fail to realize that your life is much more bizarre than you are able to see right now. Bizarre is not the issue. Formal absurdity is.

11 Responses to “Christianity is Bizarre But Not Absurd”

  1. Oh those philosophy professors, some are good some are not so good! I was myself one of them for a time, but thankfully I was one that learned philosophy early from the Greeks and Romans, in the RCC. And as an Anglican I was a Thomist of “He Who Is”, and then later a presuppositionalist of “HE Who Spoke, and Even Became Man”!

  2. CMP wrote another great topic that I could not have articulated it better. I also experienced Solipsism in my youth, feeling that I was part of a grand experiment, which flew in the face of my Christian doctrines and traditions at the time (Presbyterian-Reformed). I believe that many of us go through similar paces growing up in faith as not everything is always taken as a given. We tend to struggle, question, change, and grow in faith or lack thereof. The last two paragraphs of this blog sum up what I also believe. Another solid post.

  3. Being raised Irish Roman Catholic myself, my worry was sinning too much and too often! And then I learned we are all really “sinners”, I was not the only one, and then my worry was as Augustine taught, did I as a vessel of grace, care about the depth of sin in myself?

  4. It is bizzare, in a way.

    It is so unlike us.

    (grace???) We would never have cooked it up.

  5. Hold on – what if the colour *I* see as red, is what *you* see as green??? Woooooaaaaah, maaaan!!!

    _____

    I know this is not the point of your post but my favourite part is:

    “I am always becoming, but never am.”

    This made me go – yeah! Not because I like the idea of being trapped in an endless chase after an elusive and fleeting “present” but because it speaks about God. We always become – we never just *are*. But God does not become. He Is. (Although I guess He did become flesh… but anyway… eternal I-Am-ness… that’s it…)

    Saskia

  6. I can’t get past that picture.

  7. Btw, thinking theologically here, we need too a sort of “apophatic” (negative) theology, or the approach to God that is always incomprehensible, i.e. Who or is always God Himself, this helps to maintain the great Mystery of God! Of course Calvin is certainly helpful here, as other great Reformed and Reformational thinkers and theolog’s. I myself really like reading Theodoore Beza, Calvin’s choice to lead the Geneva academy (after Calvin), and into even the 17th century (Beza lived an amazing 86 years old! Very long for that age, or any really). Yeah, I like Protestant, Reformed Scholasticism, myself! :)

  8. Good post. One quick question: If “everything is bizarre,” how could we have come to know it? Echoing C.S. Lewis a bit, mustn’t there be some standard that is “normal,” by which we can recognize the bizarre? If so, what is the standard? It is tempting to say that it just is reality, or the way the world (and God) happens to be, but as Christians we believe that our own worldview most accurately represents that state of affairs, and as you point out, our own beliefs often seem very bizarre indeed. But why would the truth seem bizarre to us, if it is itself the standard of “normality”? It just seems to me that your way of characterizing things, while perhaps useful at times, is a bit simplistic. Thoughts?

  9. MAN, you were THIS close to becoming a Buddhist…

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    […] (7) Michael Patton admits Christianity is bizarre, but maintains it is not absurd. […]

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