I realise this will be a “well, duh!” for many of you, but this struck me this week, listening to comments on the Pope’s visit to England and Scotland.
So on the radio and TV here, the media have been doing a reasonable job of giving voice both to the faithful and to skeptics and opponents of the catholic church. And, of course, to those who want to go further and rebut the skeptics. Overall I think people of faith have acquitted themselves well in this.
But one thing that I heard, over and over, was a justification of belief in God that goes something like “I believe in something beyond myself”, or “in a creative force behind the universe” or “in the ground of all being”, or “a higher power”. These are interesting, and I don’t know about you, but I can also believe in those things (though I wouldn’t assign them any supernatural qualities). But isn’t this a total bait and switch? You see, Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and so on, subscribe to this:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. God of God, light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
But this week I haven’t heard a single person defending this. Not one. Not one spirited rational defence of the virginal conception, or baptism for the remission of sins, of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, or of biblical prophecy.
I understand that many (maybe even most) adherents to Christianity don’t actually believe the creed, not in its prima facia sense, anyway. But still, I think the incongruity needs to be pointed out ever more strongly: Christians, when challenged, defend something quite different from Christianity. They defend something that even an atheist like me can accept.
The quote is a translation of the Nicene creed, in the form that it was amended and extended in 381 at the council of Constantinople. It is the creed that almost all trinitarian forms of Christianity share in common.