Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Christian Hypothesis

‘My faith seemed to present me with two things – the first the phenomenon of faith itself, an autonomous method of knowing just as sure as the evidence of my senses or the inference of my reason. Christ the Son of God was a real person with whom I conversed in prayer and joined through the Eucharist.

The second was the more extensive Judaeo-Christian hypothesis concerning God and man. In brief this held that everything is created by a perpetual being whose salient characteristic is love. If he did not love then nothing would exist but he is, as it were, lonely and needs other beings to receive and return his love.

Love by its nature must be voluntarily given so these beings must be demi-gods who are free to reject him. Like the prince who disguises himself as a pauper to find a girl who will love him for himself, God hides his omnipotence from those he has created. Free will is necessary to make them worthy companions.

First Lucifer and then Adam, under the influence of Lucifer, choose to do wrong. The archetypal man is flawed: the whole race is doomed. Whatever the precise nature of the original sin, ‘the human race is implicated in some terrible, aboriginal calamity’ (Newman) which reduces us to the status of beasts.

God’s love, however, persists and looks for a way to exculpate the sinner. What can propitiate God? Who can win him round? Nothing but an aspect of himself – his own love embodied in a son who to reinstate his father’s affection must take on human form and be sacrificed like a ram.

There must be some merit in man – some glimmer of faith, some sign that at least one among the many has faith enough to rise above his animal nature and do for God what God must do for man. In obedience to God, Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son. That is enough. His progeny, the Jews, are chosen to preserve faith in a single God throughout the pagan prehistory of man until a sinless woman – an immaculate Mary – becomes the acceptable repository for God made flesh.

Christ is born; preaches; gives ample evidence of his supernatural powers and a clear, unambiguous account of what men and women must do to shed their fallen natures and become, once again, the demi-gods of God’s original creation. Before rising to Heaven Christ founds a Church. He appoints leaders with authority to teach, judge and enact the everyday miracle of turning bread into his body and wine into his blood. To one of these leaders – the weak, impulsive but faithful Peter – he delegates his own authority. When Peter is crucified this authority is passed on to his successor, and so on until the Pope of the present day.

How can one prove or disprove such a hypothesis? The supernatural like the aesthetic is not susceptible to scientific proof; indeed any incontrovertible proof would contradict the demands of free will. The only test is to measure it against one’s experience of life...’

-- Piers Paul Read, from Hell and Other Destinations

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