Tuesday, July 16, 2002

A thought that at first seems obvious

This may seem obvious at first, and so you may lightly skip over it. But the more I have reflected on it, and tested it against my daily experience and against the history I read, the less obvious and more remarkable it becomes.

The thought is simply this: Excepting only Christianity (and to some extent its older brother Judaism), all human religion, so far as I can tell throughout history, seeks to explain the ordinary by the extraordinary. You win or lose a battle not by virtue of your skill or preparation, but because this god sought to undermine that goddess by turning your general into a pig. You turn left instead of right because a hawk came out of the sky to speak your name and tell you which way to turn. Even Buddhism (which Chesterton maintains is a philosophy and nothing like a Church in our sense of the word) and Hinduism attribute mundane things to grave cosmological forces. And since few ever likely believed that the hawk spoke or the general became a pig, the universe is arbitrary and, ultimately, meaningless.

Christianity, in contrast, uniquely explains the extraordinary by the ordinary. The universe exists (a fact that physicists regard as almost infinitely improbable) because God loves it, and us. Creation is managed by ordinary processes, and God's interventions in those processes reiterate them, rather than contradict them. Water becomes wine at the wedding feast of Cannae and in the vineyards of Bordeaux. Cancer goes into remission at Brigham and Women's hospital and the Fountain of Lourdes because a switch in the tumor cells gets turned off.

Even senseless things take on the form of shape when the universe is viewed as a rational place. The atheists understand that, but few recognize how much Christianity is responsible--necessary, even--for the notion.


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