Knowing the truth when you hear it

August 15, 2006 | 1 comment

One thing I’ve heard described by atheists as one of the weakest defenses of Christianity is the notion that the stories of the New Testament sound true; that they have, as C.S. Lewis called it, a “shattering immediacy”. Below is an excerpt from a Wall St. Journal article that summarizes the case:

Mark’s Gospel, for example, sets the scene of Jesus’ arrest this way: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” We’re never told who the man was or what happened to him. Luke describes a tax collector named Zacchaeus, who was too short to see over the crowds following Jesus. “So he ran ahead, ” Luke reports, “and climbed a sycamore tree to see him.” It’s irrelevant to what follows. Likewise, the Gospel of John tells of a woman caught in adultery and dragged before Jesus, who “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” Nothing, absolutely nothing, comes of it.

Any serious reader of the Gospels knows that their many references to the divinity of Jesus are thoroughly embedded in these earthy details. Here is a narrative style that anticipates the modern, realistic novel. “I have been reading poems, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life, ” Lewis wrote. “I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this.”

Make this claim to a skeptic and you can count on him to dismiss it as so much Christian wishful thinking and pretend like the concept of knowing the truth when you hear it is completely foreign to him. A friend recently told me that this is a classic example of unscientific thinking by Christians: it just “sounds right”? What on earth does that even mean? Rational, scientific people would demand hard proof rather than buy into this vague “ring of truth” business.

It was kind of funny to watch him work so hard to feign confusion. It’s a classic example of Chesterton’s observation of skeptics “pretending not to understand things that we do understand…like saying that the terrible Troglodytes of the Stone Age lifted alternate legs in rotation, as if we had never heard of walking.” We all make judgment calls about the truth based on gut feelings all the time, particularly in the internet age. Anyone who regularly reads blogs will know what I mean.

Many bloggers write anonymously, giving only a first name — if that. Yet I doubt any of their readers have ever questioned that they are who they say they are and the stories they relate about their lives are true. Why?

Because we know the truth when we see it, and the larger the quantity of writing, the more difficult it would be to keep up a hoax. I’ll use the blog I last read as an example: Happy Catholic. Maybe that site is really run by a 17-year-old Scientologist who is luring in readers before slowly starting to pitch his religion to them. Or maybe it’s just a really good spam site and, now that there are plenty of readers, the next entry is going to be “R U LOOKING FOR R-O-L-E-X REPLICAS?”

But if that’s true, then the real writer is a genius. Because there are so many little details that give it a “shattering immediacy” — from the jokes to the buttons to the detailed blogroll to the stories of everyday life — that back up the assertion that the writer is who she says she is. It seems silly to even analyze it because it so obviously smacks of truth.

Each of us could be wrong about the identity of the bloggers we read. Maybe Defamer is written by a nun, A Little Pregnant was created as a spam blog for fertility drugs, and The Corner is outsourced to a company in India where a poorly paid staff writes on behalf of Kathryn Lopez & co. But does anyone seriously question this kind of thing? No. Because we know the truth when we hear it.

I don’t want to insult holy Scripture by comparing it to weblogs, but I get the same impression of its writers and its stories that I do from most of the blogs I read: either the writers are who they say they are and the events and experiences they recount actually happened, or the real authors are minds of unparalleled genius (who have a whoooole lot of time on their hands).

1 Comment

  1. Martin

    Well … bloggers do seem to have a lot of time on their hands. I agree with you though, I don’t think most of the bloggers that I read are making things up.

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