Can One Actually Believe in Christianity?

[Originally published as a guest-post on the A Tippling Philosopher blog at Patheos.]

In one of the essays in Loftus's anthology The Case Against Miracles, Robert Price raises an issue that is commonly ignored. Price's essay, “Jesus Christ: Docetic Demigod”, concerns the miracles of the Incarnation and of the Virgin Birth, and is well worth reading for the many additional points it makes (as is the rest of the anthology). Here, however, I'm just going to discuss that one issue, for it is something that puts the very idea of Christian belief in doubt.

Price asks whether it is possible to “believe what you cannot understand.”

Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. It does not mean that there are three gods, nor does it mean that there is one God who “reveals himself in different forms,” for those, he points out, are both considered heresies (Tritheism and Modalism respectively). Or consider what is claimed regarding the Incarnation — namely, that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human. It is impossible to make sense of such a thing. After all, it is a logical contradiction. But then what is it that the Christian is supposed to believe?

Some might reply that they can believe each side of these claims separately. There is no inherent difficulty in believing that Jesus is wholly human, nor is there one in believing that he's wholly God. Similarly, one can believe that there is only one God, and one can believe that what we call “God” consists of three distinct persons. Nor does it seem impossible to believe some of these things at one time and some at another (so that one moment I might believe Jesus is entirely human and another that he's entirely divine). But that doesn't solve the problem. For it remains the case that one cannot believe the two sides of the contradictions simultaneously. To do so, one would have to make sense of them — and that, of course, isn't possible.

So-called true believers are more likely to appeal to mystery at this point. The human mind just cannot understand these things, they might say, but that doesn't mean they aren't true. And yet this, once again, won't do. For hidden in that defense is the claim that something is true — namely, the thing that we cannot understand. But what is that something? If we cannot even make sense of it, what are we actually claiming is true?

What Christian doctrine asks one to believe are words that, taken as a whole, fail to be meaningful. The doctrine is therefore literally unbelievable.

Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.