Wherein I argue that even if a mythical god appeared today, it should have no impact on our faith.
That was years ago on Blogger. I used Cite Bite to link it because the old blogger archiving (surprise) doesn't seem to be working very well. I make no claims about the validity of any of the links in this relic, but overall I think the reasoning holds up well.
Powered by ScribeFire.
Update, the Citebite version seems to be having trouble with punctuation. I'll just copy and paste it here. Enjoy.
Lileks had an interesting “Bleat” about comic books a few days back. Specifically, Spider-
man and Thor. I mention this because he raises an interesting question. One that’s important to answer. The reason I think this is important is NOT because I think his hypothetical question likely, but because the issue he raises is one that has far reaching implications for a Christian’s faith. The question he raises is, what if, just like in the comic books, we suddenly found out that Thor was real? Specifically, what would that do to people’s faith?
He thinks he knows:
If Thor, God of Thunder, was indeed flying around Manhattan on a daily basis, what would this do to organized religions? Here’s a living incarnation of an ancient creed. Flying around. In broad daylight. Imagine the anguish: we’re all waiting for an incarnation to appear, and it’s THAT religion? Like, the God of SWEDEN? I would suggest that this would cause a meltdown in Western society, especially once Thor’s interviewed on TV.
Later he adds:
Legalisms aside, at some point we’d have to confront Thor’s manifest divinity:“I’m one of many gods, and we live up there, in the sky. Our leader is Odin, who’s your typical big fellow with a white beard. We’re the only gods up there, as far as I know.” People would come out of church, see Thor flying across the sky (with a hammer! A stupid HAMMER!) and feel this horrible pang of doubt.
Let’s break this down a bit. Is Lileks right? Would people’s
faith be shattered if we suddenly met Thor (or some other mythical god)
in the flesh? I’m afraid he’s right. Most people’s faith would shatter.
Now why do I think this is important to examine? Because
people’s faith would be shattered for no good reason. Further, people’s
faith is shattered all the time by things no where near as profound as
the appearance of Thor.
Some of you are probably surprised. Do I seriously believe
that the sudden appearance of a god out of myth has no affect on our
faith? Let me be perfectly clear. This event would certainly change our
world view. Among other things, it would blow away one of my arguments
about what makes Christianity so important. (That being that while its
central story may resemble some myths, Christianity points to a place
and time and says the myth became fact at that point in history.) But,
that argument is NOT Christianity, nor is it biblical, or actually
important in the grand scheme of the Christian’s walk with Christ.
I certainly concede that Thor’s appearance would change our
world view. (Not just the Christian’s either. It would be a big shock
to atheists and agnostics as well.) I do contend, though, that whether
or not Thor is real has no bearing on whether or not Christianity is
true. Let’s think about this. The only way the truth of one fact
statement is evidence of the falseness of another is if those two
statements are mutually exclusive. The statements, “Thor is real,” and,
“Yahweh is real,” are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, even if Lileks’s
hypothetical statement by Thor really happened, “I’m one of many gods,
and we live up there, in the sky. Our leader is Odin, who’s your
typical big fellow with a white beard. We’re the only gods up there, as
far as I know,” it still would not be antithetical to Christianity.
Someone may say, but doesn’t the Bible say there is only one God? And in fact, it does. Several times. But now its important to understand what we mean by the word "god." I would suggest that historically the word has often been used to describe someone with a great deal more power or ability than you yourself have. This would explain why, for example, men like Caesar Augustus could be worshipped as gods. The point of this is that while the same kind of language was used by pagans to describe beings they believed to be greater than themselves as we use to describe the one Being greater than all does not mean that the words mean the same things in these different contexts.
The Bible's description of Yahweh is of a one of a kind Being. If Thor existed for real, the fact that some people have considered him to be a god would not disprove Christianity. My faith is not based on word games. My faith is based on having found the New Testament account to be a reliable source of information and moving on to see that it describes Jesus being raised from the dead. The rest of my faith is built on that cornerstone. The existence of Thor or any other mythical character being proved to be real would not contradict the evidence of the resurrection. (As mentioned above, great men have often been worshipped as gods. The existence of Alexander or Augustus does not shake our faith. The only difference I see is that Thor would have more intrinsic power and actually be among us. His power would not be as great as that claimed for Yahweh, so that should have no effect. His being here in the flesh doesn't put him at a rational advantage of Augustus because very few people doubt Augustus's existence.) Nor should we be disturbed by Thor's statement that there was nobody else up there in the sky with him. (While we talk about Heaven being above, we know that to be a metaphor to describe that which we cannot otherwise explain.)
I can see no reason why the existence of Thor would have more effect on men's faith then the existence of Superman. But I don't think anyone would seriously argue that the existence of Superman would disprove the existence of God. (Nor would be likely to change our minds if we found out some primitive tribe called Superman a god.) I do think that many people would lose their Christian faith, however, if Thor were found to be real. I think that the reason why boils down to two things. The first is that many people don't really know what the Bible teaches and would simply assume, without thinking too much at all, that the Bible had been contradicted.
The second is dangerous to the serious believer. All of us sometimes waiver in our faith for no good reason. I don't think many people are rationally argued out of Christianity. For the most part, faith seems to be lost for emotional reasons that have nothing to do with the actual evidence. That is why faith is considered to be a virtue. It is often easier to stand up to intellectual criticism, which we can respond to rationally, then it is to deal with emotional shocks which rattle us and cause our capacity for rational thought to abandon us.
It is certainly true that things will come along which will force us to back up and reexamine the evidence. When new information comes to light, that is exactly what we should do. But if the new information doesn’t shed any actual light on the situation, rationally, our beliefs should not change. That’s really what faith is. Keeping on believing when you’ve gotten a nasty shock, but nothing has really changed to alter the basic facts of your beliefs.
As bizarre as it would be, suddenly seeing Thor in the
flesh would be just such a shock. But if it happened as Lileks
described, it wouldn’t be something that could shake the faith of those
who understand the reasons for their faith. And if a jolt like that can’t knock us down, the everyday stuff should be easy.
P.S. to comic book fans. As far as I know, Lileks complaint
that this issue was never discussed in relation to Thor is correct.
However, changing comic book company's D.C. did briefly address this
issue in Justice League of America #183 where the Earth 2 Wonderwoman
declares that she believes in no gods besides the gods of Mount Olympus
and "the only true 'God' whose nature remains unknown." Granted, that
neat little sidestep probably wouldn't satisfy Lileks anyway.