Religious authenticity?

A very interesting discussion came up among philosophers last night. Someone suggested what seems to be a lack of faith among the religious at funerals. On the one hand, the faithful believe that death is a birth into a better world, and the separation is only temporary. On the other, everybody is crying their eyes out as if they believe they will never again see the departed. What gives here?


7 thoughts on “Religious authenticity?

  1. Huenemann Post author

    I think everyone ought to have anxiety toward death – whether religious or atheist or agnostic. I guess I view it as the central philosophical problem: facing the fact that, at some point, you will be no more. I think the problem can be — well, not exactly solved or overcome, but faced, and that is an important component of a human life. When religious folks too eagerly embrace an afterlife, they have too often sidestepped the problem by simply trying to deny its existence. In fact, I think it is healthy for religious folks to have a kind of split-mind with regard to the afterlife. I hope that some part of them is wrestling with mortality, while another part is in search of some faithful relief.


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  3. Michael

    This seems to me a perfect example of Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead” (even though the statement can itself be traced to Martin Luther, and Hegel as well). God is dead not because he once existed and does no longer, but because we no longer are able even to believe in him. Naturally, of course, we claim to believe, but our actions show otherwise.

    What good does it do to claim that I am God, if I can perform no god-like action? Similarly, what good does it do claim that I believe in God, if I act as if I did not believe. Nietzsche’s claim, I think, is still just as relevant today. We have lost all touch with a grounding in anything beyond this world that we see. We scholars (and those of us who will become scholars), with our reason and science and our searching after Truth–we have killed God, and belief is no longer even possible. Belief has become a fad, a style, a fashion statement, but not an authentic way of living. Belief has become a tasteless, stale hypocrisy.

    The Christian mourner who falls apart at a funeral is confronted with this lack of belief. It is clearly not the mourning of one who is parting with a friend whom they will see down the road, in but a few seconds, seen in the grand scheme of eternity. It is not (and forgive me if I generalize) a joyous celebration for a friend who will no longer suffer, who goes on now to paradise. The tears shed are decidedly not this. They are shed because the believer does not believe. Confronted with this reality, there is sorrow not just for the friend who has past. There is something more, for the “believer”, even than the mystery of death and dying. There is, too, the face to face confrontation with one’s own failure to believe.

    Death brings the Christian face to face with their deepest convictions. Tears and mourning are a physical display of the lack between faith and knowledge. For those who parade their faith as though it were knowledge, this confrontation of hypocrisy is quite a load to handle.


  4. Huenemann Post author

    I wonder though, Michael, if there ever was a time when self-identified Christians didn’t truly mourn deaths. That is, at least on this issue, maybe God always has been dead, in the sense you describe. I would say that the reality of death is so undeniable and striking that it puts aside any high-level cognitive belief in God and an afterlife; religion is always a matter of trying to deny what’s in front of your eyes, and when death comes, there’s no denying it (though many people try, of course). But I know a Christian could say that this all just shows how difficult faith is. It’s what makes Abraham so ‘unthinkable,’ as Kierkegaard says.


  5. Michael

    Vince, your last (parenthesized) point was really my only contention, and it is that point which is displayed very clearly, I believe, in the actions of the overwhelming majority of Christians. Funerals are but one example.

    (Another which shows itself again and again, is the habits of most “Christians” regarding the bible. Most Christians will declare readily that the bible is the Word of God. And yet, they’ve not even once read the book in its entirety. No, it’s quite clear that they don’t believe that the bible is true and inspired by God. They merely say they believe that the bible is true and inspired by God. If they did believe it, then one can only imagine the level of dedication they would put forth in reading—and living—its words.)

    All of the “reasons” to believe which you mention only seem to strengthen my point (that faith is difficult, if not impossible, and very very few have any semblance of the faith they declare they have). Instead of faith, we want reasons. Instead of recognizing the fragile delicacy of faith, Christians pretend their faith is akin to knowledge. None of the arguments for God’s existence lead one to the biblical God, even if we granted them valid (which wouldn’t be very reasonable either). The difficulty of faith should be realized, not buried under false blankets of knowledge, so that Christians can lead easier, more normal lives.

    If you’re going to believe, then believe. But don’t tell the world that you believe, while you sell your faith for a more comfortable life. If you’re going to cry at a funeral, then admit why you cry. If you’re not going to read your bible incessantly, then tell us why you don’t read (or know) your bible.

    (I won’t get into the problem of translation or interpretation or infallibility here.)

    Huenemann, I would probably agree that there likely never was a time when self-identified Christians didn’t mourn deaths. (As has been said before, and perhaps it is true in this regard, ‘the last true Christian was Christ.’) If this was the only difficulty that reared its head in the lives of believers against belief, then it would be much easier to understand, but as I said earlier, the lack of belief in the life of most “believers” shows itself again and again and again. And I have no problem with this. I have no problem chalking it up to the difficulty (and perhaps to the near impossibility) of consistently sustaining belief. But that being the case, Christians ought to recognize that difficulty and not prance about as though everyone should believe, as though faith were an easy, rational, obvious choice which they have made—and you should make too.

    (As something of a side note, I find this idea that “Christ was the last true Christian” somewhat fascinating. While Christians go about declaring the strength of their faith, the rationality of their belief, and the comfort that belief brings—many declaring that they have escaped the isolation of life and hear from God on a regular basis—the last words of Christ as he died on the cross, in Matthew ch27, were a declaration of aloneness and abandonment. ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)


  6. Huenemann Post author

    Just for what it’s worth, the claim “The last Christian was Christ” is Nietzsche’s, who actually wrote “The last Christian died on the cross.” (Much more punch that way!) It’s in his “Antichrist,” which I think is a very powerful work. Indeed, I think one can sort out the interesting from not-interesting theologians by asking whether they are trying to respond to Nz’s critique in some way. It can be answered, I think, but not ignored. Barth, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, and Niebuhr are the fellows to read, at least on the Protestant side. And Hans Kung — the first half of his “Does God Exist?” is an excellent history of philosophical theology, which culminates in Nz’s challenge.

    What Michael and Vince are pointing out is exactly right, I think. “Christianity lite” is no substitute for the real thing. (This is also part of Nz’s point, I think, though he also thinks the real thing pales in contrast to his own recommendations.)


  7. Mike

    Vince mentions “camps” and specifically “camps of faith”.

    It seems like a lot of people think the world is a place where you’ve got a ton of different packaged worldviews and your mission is to choose between them and pick one, put it on like a helmet with goggles and your world will forever be transformed by it. You “understand” the people with different worldviews because you understand their helmet.

    Truly understanding people is quite different because each person’s view of the world is really their own. A person’s view of the world is mostly guided by things that are outside of his/her control (environment, culture, indoctrination, etc.). So understanding myself and my view of the world is a discovery process not a construction process. It’s similar when I change my view of the world. I read something or understand some new concept and can’t help but be changed by the concept.

    I think some story like this is the human process and I think arguments about this camp vs that camp don’t really get anything done. So… I wouldn’t pair Spinoza and Einstein in that way and I view all people as having distinct worldviews. If I were to pair people by worldviews I’d probably be more likely to use culture as a metric. Culture seems to have a large impact on human behavior and therefore seems like something we could (should?) work on directly to make a better world. Metaphysics is largely impotent and has been for quite some time. Looking around… “American” is what defines the people I see in regard to behavior much more than Christian or Athiest or Buddhist.

    choosing camps… choosing faiths… maybe those aren’t really choices we have? OR how is it that we gain that level of control over “reality”?

    just my thoughts.



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