He rages comfortably against the truth
“If you had to choose between truth and comfort, which would you choose?”
So the question is posed by Matt Oxley rhetorically to the readers of his blog as a way of introducing his thoughts on the existential tension between truth on the one hand and comfort on the other, a tension he experienced as he progressively expunged his former charismatic Christian faith, a painful process of replacing what was comfortable with what is true. Oxley is a self-proclaimed atheist who is sharing with others the dimensions and contours of his journey away from the charismatic faith that he once held dear, an itinerarium mentis in a direction opposite of mine toward an ostensibly godless view of the world and life.
“When I began recognizing this truth,” he writes regarding the deception in charismatic churches, “it was anything but comfortable.” And this former comfort he describes as a sort of uneasy truce between how he wanted the world to be and how it actually is, a cognitive dissonance maintained by a promissory note of a celestial afterlife. Now if that accurately characterizes the intellectual life of the charismatic, well then, I could hardly fault his journey away from it. In addition to the moralist burden he describes having to shoulder (i.e., “denying your carnal desires and working to please [God] all of your life”), the intellectual anorexia would surely leave me desperate for something more authentic and honest. For some of us, a group I suspect Oxley would count himself among, such intellectual curiosity is inexorable and insatiable. But just here marks a notable difference between someone like Oxley and someone like myself; we both came to a point where we lost faith in a childish understanding of God, but I did not confuse that with losing faith in God whereas Oxley did. Having said that, there is a more important observation that I should like to make about his post.
He places such a high value on truth that often he capitalizes it, almost as though the word Truth were just as good as the word God (although on his view it is better). I should think that as a former Christian he could probably define to some extent what ‘God’ means, and he certainly defined what ‘comfort’ means, but notice the odd fact that he never bothers to define what ‘truth’ means. “The way I determine what is true,” he said, “has changed dramatically,” but then notice that he never bothers to give that account. How is it that someone who esteems truth above comfort can provide an account of the latter but offer nothing on the former? He described what his perspective on truth used to be: “I used to believe that if the Bible said it [then] it must be Truth. I didn’t even have to question that conclusion; my faith allowed for that to be so.” Yes but that was when he firmly staked his yellow Gadsden flag in the soil of comfort. “It was comfortable to me and I had no reason to question it.” Things are different now, he would have us believe. Comfort was swallowed up in truth, that principle he esteems enough to capitalize but not enough to provide an account of. He surrendered comfort to pursue truth, but was that before or after determining what is true? And this issue is made all the more salient by his comment about embracing the “standard of evidence” he knew existed but ignored most of his life, which represents a potential confusion of the metaphysical (what is true) with the epistemological (how we know it).
I can appreciate Oxley’s disdain for the way he viewed the world and life in his charismatic faith, but I find myself concerned by the echoes of Eden reverberating through his equally naive approach to this new journey. Has he exchanged comfort for truth, or just one type of comfort for another? While he says that he has a very different way of determining what is true, he does not give any sort of account of that except by means of what that way used to be and no longer is. Moreover, even his description of the way he used to determine what is true is not entirely meaningful. “If the Bible said it, then it must be truth.” For that to be meaningful there must be some way of determining what the Bible said (i.e., rules and principles of interpretation). I could go on but the point has been made. I should like to offer a challenge to Oxley for an upcoming blog post:
- “Please explain the way you now determine what is true.”
I am not sure I can entirely relate to Oxley’s experience of existential tension between truth and comfort. I am a critical skeptic by nature, an intellectual attitude that I had not only prior to my conversion to the Christian faith but one that has been deeply cultivated by that faith; that is to say, I have always pursued that which shakes me up from intellectual comfort, constantly seeking out things that challenge my beliefs. I am not sure why someone would prefer comfort over truth the way Oxley did; it is a foreign concept to me. But that just goes to underscore the point I had implicitly made earlier, that one does not need to lose faith in God in order to abandon a childish understanding of faith in God. Truth, logic, reason, knowledge, science, etc.; such things thrive under Christian theology, notwithstanding some weak charismatic faith that cowers with a contrary opinion. I applaud Oxley for turning his back on an intellectual wasteland, but I do not understand his choice of embracing another one.
Matt Oxley, “Truth over comfort,” RagingRev (2011, August 25).