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Do we as believing Christians have Faith or are we merely superstitious?
by Robert Randle
6/16/2009 / Book Reviews
One of the complaints most frequently heard against those who are 'Christians' or members of any theistic religion, is that there is no rational basis for belief in God or any Deity outside the act of creation as a whole entity in itself; and being as it were, just the most random and logical arrangement of violent, unseen cosmic forces (energy and dark matter) which shaped and gave birth to 'Life' in the Universe; without the intervention of some invisible, immortal, transcendent, purely Spiritual, Celestial Being called "God" or the Creator.
Perhaps the closest embrace of this concept of a Divine Intelligence is in Aristotle's "The Unmovable Mover" where this Greek Philosopher postulates that since God is changeless, then some other Divine Being must have created [through change, movement] the Universe; namely, the one which he refers to as the "Demiurge." The argument won't be settled in this article but there are some interesting points which are worth considering, and that is, can the Gospel message be presented in a rational basis; and secondly, is it anathema [a curse, essentially] to use your intelligence when the Word is taught?
The book entitled, "The Christians as the Romans Saw Them," by Robert L. Wilken, offers valuable insight into how Christians were looked upon in contemporary Roman and Greek society from the first century onward.
Another Roman historian, friend and correspondent of Pliny, Suetonius mentions the Christians in passing in his book, Lives of the Caesars, where he wrote, "Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition' (Nero 16). The term superstition referred to beliefs and practices that were foreign and strange to the Romans. This was a designation of the kinds of practices and beliefs associated with cults that had penetrated the Roman world from surrounding lands such as the Celtic religion from the British Isles, the practice of Germanic tribes in northern Europe, and the customs of the Egyptians.
Suetonius (Claudius 25) mentions a certain Chrestus and states, "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (impulsore Chrestus), he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome (Cp. Acts 18: 1-2). Suetonius may have been speaking of Christians in Rome who were followers of Christ and were not distinguished from Jews.
According to Plutarch (50-120 C.E.), "Superstition sets people apart from the rest of society because the superstitious person does not use his intelligence in thinking about the gods... The atheist thinks there are no gods but the superstitious person believes in them against his will, *for he is afraid not to believe."* (p. 61)
The Christians were seen as religious fanatics, self-righteous outsiders, arrogant innovators, who thought that only their beliefs were true.
Galen, the famous physician and native of Pergamum in Asia Minor (born 130C.E.) mentioned the Christians in some of his writings on other matters. Galen, speaking about the opinions of certain physicians, says, "They compare those who practice medicine without scientific knowledge to Moses, who framed the laws for the tribe of Israel, since it is his method in his books to write without offering proofs, saying God commanded, God spoke." (On Hippocrates Anatomy). Galen's concern was that Christian and Jewish schools did not live up to the intellectual ideal appropriate to philosophers, and instead, appealing to "faith" and the authority of their teachers.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations 11.3) seemed to think that the Christian attitude towards death, illustrated by the behavior of martyrs, was at odds with a genuinely philosophical life. To Marcus, the Christians appeared fanatical and foolish; one might even say 'superstitious.' Their presumed lack of fear in the face of death did not [appear to] rise out of genuine self-control, or out of an understanding of the self, or out of free will, but from mere obstinacy based on irrational beliefs.
Galen found Christian and Jewish teaching objectionable, dogmatic, and uncritical. They were unwilling to submit their beliefs to philosophical examination. They asked people to accept their doctrines solely on 'faith'.
Celsus, a Greek philosopher in the year 170 C.E wrote a major book devoted solely to Christians, called "True Doctrine." In one passage he mentions that the Christian Scriptures provided justification for eschewing appeals to reason and argumentation. 'Some [Christians],' says Celsus, "do not even want to give or to receive reason for what they believe, and use such expressions as 'Do not ask questions, just believe' and 'Your faith will save you.' Others quote the apostle Paul, "The wisdom of the world is evil and foolishness a good thing" (I Corinthians 1:25-26; Celsus 1.9).
Celsus goes on to say that some Christians are arrogant and contemptuous of the opinion of others; they keep to themselves and appeal to people's fears and ignorance.
32. Christians had the reputation of being
gullible and credulous. "The poor wretches," writes Lucian, "have convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live for all time. They despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. (Peregrinus 1.3)
With this lengthy historical backdrop, it is prudent to introduce some Scriptural references to prove that conveying the Gospel message isn't just about preaching and teaching by rote without using one's intelligence and oratory to persuade and convince; as evidenced by the Apostle Paul.
Acts 17: 1-3
And for three Sabbaths, Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures in Thessalonica.
Paul was in Athens, reasoning in the synagogues with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles.
Acts 18: 4
Paul was in Corinth, reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to convince [persuade] Jews and Greeks.
Paul entered the synagogue in Ephesus and reasoned with the Jews.
Acts 19: 8-10
Paul entered the synagogue [again] in Ephesus and for three months, reasoned about the kingdom of God. He later withdrew from the synagogue and was reasoning daily for 2 years in the school of Tyrannus.
NOTE: In all probability this was a school that taught [Greek] Philosophy, and the Apostle Paul spoke Greek (Cp. Acts 21: 37)
According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary:
1 reason: b; a rational ground or motive c: a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense. esp.; something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact.
2 a (1): the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking esp. in orderly rational ways; INTELLIGENCE.
Also, as was presented in the previous History lesson, the Romans perceived the early Christians as 'superstitious,' and perhaps among quite a few, the judgment was true. I have another definition, which is, "faith in the absence of reason or intelligence becomes superstition," and I totally agree with (excerpt 22).
In II Timothy it states: For God has not given us a spirit of fear [superstition??], but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.
It is the responsibility of the believer to live in such a way that we are not perceived as neurotic, paranoid, irrational, vacillating, arrogant, isolationists, condemning so many things in life as sinful; but rather be more life-affirming and ready always to give an answer [logical/rational] to everyone of the hope that is within us (Cp. I Peter 3: 15).
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Read more articles by Robert Randle
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