How do we understand and explain Christianity in a way that does not contradict our daily experience of reality?
I recently tried explaining why we sang so many songs at Mass to a Japanese non-Christian, and wound up trying to summarize why we go to Mass, why we celebrate on Sunday. In other words, I tried to briefly answer the questions, “Why do we sing throughout the Liturgy? What is the reason for our joy?”
Trying to summarize Christianity to someone who knows nothing about it and is of a culture foreign to it gave me great pause, as it seemed “an absurd, strange cult”. I said basically the following – I had to try to be succinct and use simple language, because it was during an English lesson and they had paid to study English, not to be evangelized. (To clarify the context, it was asked by a student on-topic during free discussion time, so it seemed appropriate to answer and move on.)
[quote=“paraphrasing what I said (simple vocabulary explanation)”]We sing because we are expressing our happiness and praise for what God has done for us. We’ve all done bad things, right? Well, God became man two thousand years ago, as Jesus, and suffered for those bad things we’ve done so that we wouldn’t have to suffer for them, so that we could go to heaven if we live together with Jesus, if we live the way Jesus wants us to. So God, as man, Jesus, suffered and died, on Friday, and He came back to life in a better, more glorious way on Sunday. So that’s why we celebrate on Sunday, and sing songs to show our happiness and praise and thank God for all this.
It appears that although I understand a great deal about morality and the particulars of the faith, I really don’t understand the big picture at all. There are so many problems with this explanation; if I were not already Christian, certainly I should want no part of such a story.
Okay, so we might say the problem was that I was trying to explain a profound topic using simple language, and it requires more profound philosophy to do the topic justice. Even so, this explanation seems not much better:
[quote=“deeper explanation”]God, our creator, created humanity as one body, integrally related to each other. As one being, then, in Adam, we all are guilty of original sin: We all have chosen to follow our own will, rather than God’s will. This is why there is so much suffering and evil in the world. To solve this problem, God became man, Jesus, creating a new body for humanity. If we leave this first body ruined by original sin, and join this new sinless body of Christ, through Baptism, the Eucharist, and uniting our will to God’s will, choosing God’s will rather than our own, we may obtain peace and live in perfect happiness as God originally planned for us. We therefore sing our joy because we have this opportunity to live as we were intended, and we do so on Sunday because that was the day Jesus finished preparing this sinless body for humanity.
The problem with this explanation is much the same: It doesn’t appear to describe our experience. We don’t experience being one entity with all of humanity, but instead experience reality as individual, separate beings. In summary, it appears Christianity requires rejecting our actual experience in favor of a proposed philosophy.
How do we understand and explain Christianity in a way that does not contradict our daily experience of reality? The problem runs throughout the entire religion: Every encounter with God requires rejecting the reality I actually experience. “It’s Jesus, not bread”, “God is forgiving me, not a man sitting in a chair”, “She’s being reborn with the Holy Spirit, not merely having water poured on her head.” I don’t see how to embrace Christianity in a way that affirms my daily experiences. (This includes my relationship with God: I don’t see how I can affirm God as Loving Father or Jesus as Divine Physician when they refuse to heal me or explain why I must suffer.)
The only answer I see is, “You must have faith, and await the explanation after you die.” After all, if you tell someone of the surprise birthday party you have planned, it ruins the joy which is greater than if they know what’s coming. So this would explain why They won’t tell me why They haven’t healed me. With faith, regarding the Sacraments, we can declare “both/and” because the priest sitting in the chair doesn’t preclude the possibility of God forgiving us simultaneously; even the Eucharist appearing as bread doesn’t prevent the possibility that it’s Jesus’ Body: Creation ex nihilo is a greater feat than transsubstantiation (x from 0 is a greater feat than y looking like x).
But regarding the idea that man is one integrally-connected entity, even though many beings, this does appear to me to contradict (not only surpass) our experience as individual beings. For example, while writing this post, many people have probably died around the world, and many fetuses will be murdered today at “Planned Barrenhood”, etc. I appear utterly unaffected by such deaths in remote parts of the world. Am I to suppose that my sadness, perhaps even my physical pain, is caused by their deaths? How can I affirm this without it being an ad hoc explanation (and thus not worthy of belief)?
Perhaps we can think of humanity as like the mesh in a coat of chainmail (or “thread in a tapestry” to use the analogy in Dreamworks’ Prince of Egypt): Each link is its own link, yes, but they are connected into one body. So we see it’s not really a contradiction, and that we can affirm both our individual experience and assert being one body.
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