Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Ineffability

As we often do here in the Jonals, I want to go back to a recent topic and look at it from another aspect. This process does not invalidate anything said earlier, but is intended to add to it by looking at another side of it. In this case, I want to look again at the quotation used a week ago today on "the irrationality of believing." As I said then, it's my position that believing, faith, especially biblical faith, is entirely rational, which means reasonable, and that the Bible consistently calls it forth on the basis of historical events and evidence, not on "leaps of faith" or on "hoping against hope." The body of evidence behind Christianity is true, not mythological, and it's objective in the sense that it is not derived subjectively, from the inside out, but rather from looking at the evidence, considering the revelation and the historical data, from the outside in, to the religion's core. Many people have approached Christian claims from an outside, objective perspective, and found themselves inside, in the faith itself, as a result.

The most recent case I know is that of Anne Rice, whom I've written about several times in the past three weeks. Though as a college student her academic studies caused her to "rationally" reject the teachings of her Catholic upbringing, at middle age she found herself "needing" Christianity in her life and decided that she would undertake a thorough research of it and see what she would be able to salvage from it. She was even prepared to accept it as "myth" and live with that if her studies took her there, but the more she researched the subject, the more convinced she became that Christianity, based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, a historical man who claimed to be God incarnate, is not based on myths but on truths. She tells the whole story of that quest as an addendum to her novel, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt. Her "testimony" is worth the price of the book, though the novel, as a whole, is first-rate reading.

I've heard many stories of people who've taken the challenge to read the Bible with an open mind and found that it opened their hearts and changed them radically. An earlier famous case is that of Lew Wallace, 1825-1905, a Civil War general who was appointed governor of the then-territory of New Mexico, who set out to disprove the Bible, but was driven to the opposite conclusion by that book's own internal witness, and as a result he wrote Ben Hur, a highly successful novel of faith in the 19th century made into a highly successful movie in the 20th. Francis Schaeffer, the missionary who was so effective with intellectuals in the past generation, about whom I wrote last week, also set out as a youth to read the Bible without a preconceived position, and was also driven to accept it and from that point on let it direct his life.

Nevertheless, there are a great many people, quite likely a majority of those who might be questioned on the point, who believe that being "metaphysical" and "transcendent" makes faith irrational. Maybe they're just using the wrong word or failing to comprehend the real meaning of rational/irrational. Let's read again the three sentences from "Blackadder" Rowan Atkinson from his presentation to the British government on the issue of its then-proposed hate speech legislation and see what, if anything, is worth saving from them.

It is absolutely right and reasonable that religions should be protected from threatening language, behaviour and written material but I support the amendment to retain the right to abuse and insult, because of the essentially irrational nature of religious beliefs. That is not to dismiss them: indeed, I'm a great believer that the most important and most sustaining things in life are essentially irrational. Love, beauty, art, friendship, music, spirituality of whatever form, these things make no rational sense yet they are more important than any qualities that are rationally measurable.

Not only is religion itself not irrational, neither are these other examples of "irrationality" he cites. What is "irrational" about love, beauty, art, friendship, and the rest? What's not "sensible" (to use his synonym) about them? But I do think he's on to something, but it isn't irrationality. It's metaphysical, but that is such a laboratory-sounding word it's not quite fitting. How about "ineffable"? Never heard of it, or "heard of it but have no idea what it means"? It's a relatively new word to me, too, but it connotes what you might think of as the "sublime transcendence" of religious or conversion experience, the "knowing in the soul" that you've found salvation. Ineffable is from the Latin, ineffabilis, and means "beyond words," incapable of containing in your descriptive powers. Religious experience, love, beauty, friendship and the others are all, at their best, described in this much better term. And it doesn't make any of them "irrational," which means "unbelievable" by people with rational minds.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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