Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Give Me a Reason

When writing Monday's entry, I was reminded of a song that I hadn't heard in a while. It was recorded by Christian contemporary musician Al Denson. One of my college friends (we ultimately were roommates for a year) had attended a music camp Denson had coordinated a few years previously. As I understand it, this camp was a fairly exclusive gathering for talented young Christian musicians, and thus my friend got to know Denson in person. Through my friend, I got to meet Denson myself, and even enjoyed one of his concerts backstage on one occasion. In 1993, about the time we were finishing up our first year, the Reasons album was released. I think Reasons may actually hold the distinction of being the first CD I ever purchased (it was certainly before I had a CD player of my own. I had to play it on the computer at first). The song in question was the title track to the album. Here is the chorus:
Just give me a reason
And I'll come running
When I have reasons
I know the way
I'm pointing my feet in the right direction
Give me a reason*
Perhaps it makes sense that I would think of this song when writing about the need for Christians to give people reasons to go to church that they can't find in the secular world. Yet, I also have an awareness that faith is, at a basic level, "unreasonable." God cannot be measured, nor demonstrated in a laboratory. Whatever experience we may have of God, however real it may be, is ours alone, and an outside observer may not see things the same way.

In some ways, this is not a peculiar problem to religion. We all must accept all kinds of knowledge on the basis of faith in some authority or another. We accept that certain historical figures existed, let's say Socrates, for example, on the basis of Plato's writings (and a few others of his students). We accept that Plato (and these few others) were writing about a real person, and not simply making up a character to use as a voice for their own philosophies. And perhaps even more to the point, since few of us have access to Plato's original writings and Plato's language, we accept these facts on the basis of the authority of our teachers who told us that these things are real.

But at the end of the day, even if one decided not to take the teachers' words for it, the historical evidence exists for anyone willing to do the work and reason through the data to make a convincing case for the historical existence of Socrates. It is much harder to do the same for religious figures, and when it comes down to the nature of God, specifically, this line of inquiry fails us utterly. All we have are the religious texts and similar revelations that we believe God has given us, and to appeal to them quickly becomes a circular argument to anyone not already accepting their authority.

Ultimately, the most compelling reason we have will be our own lives. When we have chosen to do what we believe is God's will, despite the fact that it doesn't make sense for us to do so. That generations of other believers have done the same. That we can point to lives changed toward the betterment of others when all reason suggests that we should have kept on paths of self-preservation.

Indeed, I'm reminded of another song, from roughly the same era (less than 10 years earlier, at any rate):
So we follow God's own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well
— from "God's Own Fool" by Michael Card
I stand by my words of the other day. If our church bodies are going to survive, we need to give people reasons to attend that aren't available in the secular world. But to accomplish this, we will have to look beyond "reason" as the secular world understands it.

*By the way, if you've searched for the lyrics online, you'll notice that the lyrics on most sites follow the lyrics as provided in the liner notes. These actually do not match the song, oddly enough. If you're listening to the song, the lyrics above are what you'll hear.

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