Justified Faith or Emotionalism:
The Christian Prerogative on Authority,
Conversion, and Spirituality (1998)
Frank S. Palmisano III
[Editor's note: The author wants to make known that he no longer holds the views and opinions expressed herein in any meaningful, personal context. He feels "the need to distance himself from these views as such, and to communicate that he no longer identifies with them morally, intellectually, or spiritually" having "recently surrendered himself to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."]
In this essay, I will expose the various problems arrayed in certainty claims. I will address the inauspicious consequences of Church authority and its role in the life of its members, particularly the indoctrination process of new converts. This essay will provide a theological as well as philosophical examination into the matter of faith, the renunciation of worldly agendas and materialism, and the inaccurate portrayal of a transcendent religious experience. It is quite difficult to provide an adequate depiction of any particular denomination, due to the varieties of doctrinal practice. However, I will be addressing the general issues that seem most properly defined as "mainstays" within Christianity.
Authority, as much as any man assumes, implies that a faction or consortium of individuals possess specific claims that foster a particular truth. These claims are then imposed upon a much larger group who either acquiesces because of insufficient knowledge of the subject or firmly believe that such a certainty is tangible. Many of us never challenge authority throughout our lives, those of us who do find that our attempts to refine or redefine an institution is generally inadequate due to that group's prestige, financial support, or a variety of other factors that perpetuate their power. If any institution is guilty of subjective despotism then it is Christianity, which presents an irreconcilable contrariety of doctrines and beliefs. Each individual denomination fosters the opinion that theirs is a direct revelation from God, rather than an orchestration of human invention. Such claims foster an egocentric spiritually that either inadvertently or deliberately rejects other opposing groups as inherently misguided or heretical. Ironically, the "misguided" group who is defamed is guilty of the same behavior and, in reaction, decries that former group's objection by assailing their misguidance. This polemic exchange is recognizable to those who isolate themselves from Christianity. Some are inclined to dismiss the contrariety as a meaningless dispute with very little in the way that would elicit our attention. Others feel obliged to decry such contrariety, criticizing this lack of congruity as an indication of its human origin rather than its divine. Still others see all religion as a subversive agent which counterfeits life; these feel it a divine obligation to disclose the deception and manipulation that has caused religion to persevere. Whatever the cause, it is in the interest of all of these groups to comprehend and provide coherency to the issue of truth. If any of these groups are justifiably correct in their doctrinal assessments, how can we know? Why is a group compelled to make such extravagant claims? Does Christianity promote a cause that is incompatible with reason?
I hope to address these questions throughout this essay as I look at the various points that perpetuate the myth of certainty. The realm of certainty as it pertains to claims is very precise, and difficult to resolve in some matters. Mathematics and Science tend to be the vanguards on claims of truth. For instance, 2 + 2 = 4 or the earth revolves around the sun. These are irrevocable evidences that in being established have found themselves unassailable. The evidence is overwhelming, insurmountable, and thus accepted as fact. However, it is difficult to assess the value of a subjective truth, especially when there is other evidence in opposition to the claim. A claim that Jesus Christ is God can be easily counteracted with a claim promoting Allah's deity. The claim that the world is governed by a monad, can easy be opposed with the claim that there is a multiplicity of gods or otherwise. The next logical step would be to examine the claims of each. If a man supposes that 2 + 2 = 5, while another insists that it equals 4, then we have a contradiction that must be either affirmed or rejected upon the grounds of evidence. This is similar to Hume's theory of cause and effect which shows that a constant conjunction of is more plausible and always more certain than an arbitrary event of divine origin. If I can consistently show that 2 + 2 = 4, then we can conclude that such is the case. Why? Because I can readily make this information available. I can exhibit my discovery to others, who can in turn, verify this discovery through their own careful examination. Thus, we cannot determine the truth of a claim unless it is easily available to everyone, and can be consistently proven in conjunction with that claim. At this point, Christianity and all religion diverge significantly. Where Christianity can affirm itself within itself, the claim it alleges becomes enigmatic and untenable to the objective observer. An experiment such as 2 + 2 = 4 can be easily observed by every individual excluding all partiality from itself. However, Christianity cannot verify itself in the nonbeliever's life to the measure that would be considered an established fact. The objective verification is excluded as an applicable possibility, only subjective consent is possible and even this is debated among conflicting groups. If a denomination cannot logically or rationally support their claims, it is generally alleged that the nonbeliever lacks the "eye of faith" that would enable them to do such. The nonbeliever who is subjugated to the realm of material realism is obscured to this higher realm of cognizant transcendence. Iniquity has adulterated his spiritual sensibilities. Such is the claim of orthodox Christianity. There are innumerable problems with this statement, but it suffices to show the disproportionality that incriminates their position. If groups within Christianity suffer from the same allegations among other groups, then the claim of a Christian truth is deflated and a singular group's authority is implied. The claim is condensed to accommodate a singular unit within the aggregate. Hence, it is this singularity, this authority that is presumed to be paramount to their position that will be my concentration.
When a group claims to possess authority from God, they imply a certainty that was previously restricted to scientific inquiry. The question arises, from where was their authority espoused? Rather than concoct a direct connection with God, although more radical groups concede to this method, most groups such as Catholics express an illustrious heritage that regresses back to Jesus himself. This Patristic lineage is one of tradition rather than refinement which is indicative of Protestantism. With such a pedigree established, it is almost expected that a denomination will erect a spiritual wall of impregnable strength. They suppose that such a rich heritage attests to their current position. This first group which I call the Traditionalist's stake their fictitious claim on this position. However, we know that it is nearly impossible to appropriate a doctrine or position in conjunction with its original proclamation over a long duration of time. Human intervention precludes this, and adulteration is inevitably. Even scientist attests to this fact, showing development either in a regressive sense or progressive sense. Ethical claims, as well, are susceptible to this scrutiny, because the practitioner is subject to death, where they will ultimately lose their effectiveness. Anything after death is speculative and debatable. Nothing is a consistent, immutable entity or event. Christians that claim that their doctrines are immutable and authoritative decline to recognize the arrogance of this claim. If all things mutate with the exception of God, then in essence they are ascribing to themselves the same nature as God.
The traditionalist ascribes his authority to his lineage which cannot be substantiated due to the impossibility of a transitive idea. Linguistic barriers and multifarious interpretation have already proven the complexity of a single faith. In retrospection, the traditionalist who attempts to indulge in an immunity has failed to respect the possibility of deception, which is as much a problem in the realm of faith as it is in the rationale. The book of James 2:20 reads: But wilt thou know O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (KJV).
If one's faith is evidenced through works, we expect the effect to compliment the faith exhibited. That is to say, the effect must convince us of a collaboration and prove that the cause is legitimate and enjoys some ethereal autonomy. But when the effects are similar while the causes are contrastive, than you must address the problem of a religious pluralism. One religious consortium claims that God has revealed to them, generally in a surreptitious manner, that eternal security is the foundation of Christianity. They may then refer to various passages of scripture that appear to support their claim. However, another consortium, in a contradictory assertion, believes that conditional security is definitive of salvation, generating support from the Bible as well. Now, the problem, which hasn't been resolved for two thousand years, lingers to this day. However, Paul states that God is not a God of confusion, but of harmony among all the churches. To clarify this statement, each church either dismisses the question of salvation as pertinent, attending only to theirs with little respect for the other, or they once again justify their authority, as delegated in Christ, by maligning the other church for compromise, incessant sin, or demonic influence, to name a few. The arrogance is perpetrated in these reactions. The one alternative remains, "we don't know." The problem with this concession is that it debilitates the church's authority in any manner. When one cannot elaborate on the very infrastructure of their belief i.e., the salvation promised in Christ Jesus, the whole system will inevitably deteriorate. The salvation of the believer through Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the Christian faith, at least the orthodox and mainline denominations. This dilemma provides us with further evidence of the church's inability to recognize one another's' claims. The reaction is simple, when confronted with a formidable dilemma, dismiss it, ignore it, mitigate the circumstances, but never admit that faith in such a doctrine is unjustified and inept. The extremes that display themselves within dogmatic stances, throughout Christianity is an indication of either a lack of a harmonious God, and one of justice, or a lack of spiritual insight and misapplied exegesis. I think it is safe to say, that authority is not recognized widely among rational individuals because authority has confounded a solution, and its quantitative panacea has in fact turned out to be nothing but the Hemlock which destroyed the "intellectual reprobate."
The mystic tends to separate the natural emotion with the religious emotion. Hence, when I speak of love, the mystic refers to a love that is unattainable at the sentient level. Although each of us experiences love, his is a love in which he arrogantly asserts is stronger then mine. How is such a claim warranted? If it is only in the aspect of the object of our affections than such a claim is subjective and incompatible with a universal application. On the other hand if he claims that the love per se is stronger in essence, then he needs to verify such a claim which is impossible, and there is no coordinating evidence to prove this to be true. There is no distinction between the manner in which these loves are expressed. If the religious man claims that devotion is the prominent feature, it is invariably refuted in that those who do not attend to a religion still exhibit the same fervor and passions for other encompassing aspects of human existence. The argument is deflated. William James expounds upon this point when he comments,
There is a religious fear, a religious love, religious awe, religious joy, and so forth. But religious love is only man's natural emotion of love directed to a religious object; religious fear is only the ordinary fear of commerce, so to speak, the common quaking of the human breast, in so far as the notion of divine retribution may arouse it; religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge; only this time it comes over us at the thought of our supernatural relations; and similarly of all the various sentiments which may be called into play in the lives of religious persons.
One must procure a strong emotional divestment in religion to understand that such an ignorant investment can be catastrophic. The motivational factors are obvious enough. The fear of total annihilation, the terror of a meaningless existence with no hope of eternity, the reality of life in all its immoral and atrocious intensity (for man assumes that divine retribution will exonerate him and recompense the perpetrators who have done him wrong), all of these compel man to accept a divine organization and a supernatural intellect orchestrating the whole of humanity. In essence, such an identity that is assumed by the religious authority is presumptuous. They regard God, although omnipotent and omniscient, as an entity that operates within the confines of human reason. Is it quite possible that the authority that believes he possesses the divine commandments of God has in fact deceived himself, believing that he can ascertain the character and the incomprehensible mind of the deity he claims to be incomprehensible? Does the assertion itself suggest a contradiction? Has the religious man defiled himself with a system of ethics and designated it as the Hand of the Deity.
Such certainty reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone in the early 1980s. This fictitious story is has elements of verisimilitude that illustrates my rebuttal. A counsel was gathered, representing the nations of the world, not much different than our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). An alien intelligence revealed himself before this counsel, presenting them with an ultimatum: Unless the planet earth endeavors to reconfigure the world they had created, these aliens threatened that total annihilation of the planet was inevitable. Reacting to the terrifying proposition, the counsel disseminated the message throughout the planet, securing peace in every nation and everywhere. The aliens returned promptly and to the chagrin of the counsel, informed them that peace was not the climate that they were attempted to achieve, but instead, a survival of the fittest. They wanted the strongest nation to prevail over the others. The presumptuous counsel attached their value system to an elusive imperative offered by the aliens and rather than seeking elaboration it concluded in the destruction of mankind.
This analogy is not as ostentatious as we would attempt to portray it. This is the same manner in which the religious authoritarian constructs his ethical world, assuming he has perfect knowledge of God in this world, and will achieve a higher illumination upon his death. His methods, he directly attributes to God without shame or acknowledgement of his own feeble nature. The Twilight Zone illustration is an important one. The moral of the story is that man is very certain, arrogantly certain. He dismisses any reality other than the one he has concocted. Any alternative that displaces his presuppositions, unless great persuasion is enlisted, is infeasible. Thus when he speaks of love, his love is arrogantly certain, although he generally fails to display it in any permanent fashion. His dictates are not his own, but rather of divine performance, unquestionable ethereal.
It has been assumed that a banker who had been indoctrinated into the world of banking will invariably be able to recognize the difference between an authentic currency and that, which is phony. Such a proposition is pragmatically plausible, due to the universal congruity of what the currency is. It has been defined and accepted as such. Hence, when a falsified currency is presented at a bank, the trained eye will be able to determine its unfamiliar nature and reject its authority. However, such a defense in the religious sphere is inane. Many authorities, especially within the Christian church will claim that their doctrine is authentic and derived from God. They may even suggest that determining the nature of another doctrine is irrelevant because all that is needed is a capable knowledge of the authentic doctrine, anything thing else can be denied due to its dubious origin. I would endeavor to say that this is a precocious assertion but difficult to amend. Once again, the aspect of conflicting doctrinal stances impedes any authority from such a superfluous claim. If I am a cooperative leader of a country and I demand that my currency is indeed accurate, I must recognize that the other leader might be promoting his currency as well. If this were the case, I need make claim why I insist that my currency is legitimate while his currency is false. If the claim alone doesn't rectify the ordeal then I have a number of less savory options, all of which never truly resolve the contention but rather evade it to secure as much power as I am capable of maintaining. The question remains, how do I know or how can I convince the people that my currency proposal is authentic while his is not? Well it is difficult and depends on a number of factors. But ironically, the religious authoritarian evades this problem, he denies the alleged inauthentic without regard for aspect of truth. Where both currencies have the same value in the fictitious society so does the multiplicity of religious affections. A Christian as well as a Buddhist can each attain a peace and devotion that resemble one another. Hence it is in the religious authorities best interest to examine the evidence with impartiality. The man, who says, there is no reason to examine the counterfeit when I possess the authentic, is deceived within the realm of religion. If deception is a Christian invention then he must recognize that he himself is susceptible to it as well as the "false religions" he claims exist. To even posit the claim that his religion is authentic, he needs to have relevant knowledge of what he denies as counterfeit and why. The evidence must be convincing and cannot suggest a cultural bias or the investiture of traditional manifestos that deprive the participant of an impartial investigation however revealing it may be. The individual must liberate himself from the values instilled by the supervising contingent, i.e., parents, friends, society, which intend to impress their discretion upon the mind. It is the liberated mind that struggles more with the problem of divesting in this social inundation than it does in discovering the intrigue that encompasses life. Kant, a philosophical icon, subscribes to this proposal where he states:
It is sometimes requisite in common life to follow opinions that one knows to be most uncertain exactly as though they were indisputable. I thought it was necessary to take an opposite cause ... in order to see if afterwards there remained anything in my belief that remained certain.
Kant was not suggesting that certainty is inevitable. No search for knowledge entails a promise of lucidity. Every question, if probed deep enough, will provide the honest inquirer with less comfort in a solution than he possessed at the commencement of his search. The religious authoritarian has suspiciously transcended this barrier, purporting that faith serves man in a realm that is superior to reason. Ironically, even his intellect and capacity for reason makes it possible for him to assert such a claim. I submit that the religious man discredits his ability to reason due to its unattractive nature, i.e., reason is blatantly honest, if the world is a foreboding exercise in temporary existence then existence proclaims it with resounding confidence. Reason is innocuous and has no incentive to deceive its user when appropriated correctly. Only the man who employs reason is guilty of conducting his affairs through the manipulation of it. No practical tool of human activity can manipulate itself; it hasn't the ability being that it is a cognizant component of man that assists him in his endeavors. Reason speaks boldly, without apology. Reason introduces a world that is overtly bleak, diminishing the hopes of perpetual life and suggests a terrifying place of injustice, contempt, and exoneration from any moral consequence. This fact of life is repugnant to the religious man who claims a clairvoyant relationship to God. He dismisses reality and embraces fiction to maintain his sanity. His will to power is ultimately comprised in his ability to convince his religious affiliates of his supernatural interaction with a God he has fabricated to accommodate his needs. Otherwise, if he failed to present a God whom he insidiously fabricated, his power is a facade in as much as his followers have the cognizant ability to confront his fable. The effects of religion are pernicious, and Christianity is the vanguard of institutional devotion and owner of indentured spiritual servitude.
As authority constricts an individual depriving him of those desires and hopes he had once aspired to, he affirms the religious concept of the world embracing illusion and eschewing actuality. The religious man is indoctrinated by those, his predecessors, to detest his very nature and that of the world he resides within. All his compulsions, desires and hopes are frustrated; all his dreams are assigned a mark of futility, a curse of vanity. The morality so embellished upon the secular mind by the religious contingent however has a more profound application when the Christian acknowledges a potential conversion.
When another who has had little or no contact with the message of salvation confronts the Christian, he is immediately prompted, more or less enticed to consider this religion on the grounds of the finished work of Jesus Christ. His death and subsequent resurrection was an acceptable propitiation for the universal sins of mankind. As a result, the astounded proselyte is consoled in the fact that Christ died for the remission of his sins because the sinner was inadequate to justify himself upon his own merits. The blood of Christ made atonement for an implacable God, who could not acknowledge the works of man to expiate sin. With all of this said, it is important to interject here, that the Christian who is soliciting new believers (generally those who have enough decency to listen patiently as they present their cause), emphasizes the work of the savior, nullifies the moral conduct of man as insignificant and offers the individual eternal life at the expense of Christ.
This method of proselytizing is well attested to and is prevalent throughout the Protestant Church. While it appears innocuous, it is calculated and pernicious. The Christian who is inchoate and begins his walk with the Lord is inundated with a variety of doctrinal rhetoric, providing spiritual instruction and admonishment in his new faith, the first indication of human intervention. The initial stage of his induction into Christianity fails to stress moral behavior as a work of man, but rather a transitive work of the Holy Spirit. When the religious convert fails to see the "evidence of the spirit" which in itself differs from denomination to denomination, he is inclined to become disheartened, perhaps disappointed. Where is the God that felt so close, so intimate at his conversion, and yet so distant, and so far at times of trial and spiritual complacency. Some churches suggest that this is an indication that sin is dominant in the life of the convert and he needs to repent. Others, such as the Calvinists, might suggest that such a continued degradation indicates a pretentious conversion (the man who believed he experienced God and his peace was deceived), still others suggest and enumerate various procedures to determine the problem. None of the problems ever suggest a tension within their object of affection; none ever indite those spiritual authorities that exhibit a deficiency in proper teaching.
Generally, it is left up to the convert to find something else in the corporeal realm, which he can abstain from or deny until his ascetic fervor has been satisfied. St. Paul asserts that it is moral to "beat one's body and bring it into subjection (the Greek etymology indicates a treating harshly)." While fasting tends to clear one's body of impurities it also develops a spiritual pretense. Those who fast believe that a strong spiritual connection with God can develop through the vehicle of prayer. Hence, the individual hears voices, dreams dreams, sees visions, and enhances his prayer life temporarily. This behavior is also indicative of the tortured individual or the stowaway, or the man stranded in a desert who sees the same illusory voices, experiences the same transcendent dreams, and utters profanities, communicating with that mysterious entity he regards as superior to him. So the morality becomes a gradual work of man once again, and the agent of coercion is the church asserting God's intervention in that believer's life. The spiritual gift is merely an ingenuous wrapping to conceal the morality of old. This is the difficulty that morally stable individuals experience when presented with the argument for Christianity. The individual might claim that he is presently exhibiting moral behavior, but the religious man repudiates his claim, contenting that if he is deficient of the presence of God, or the institution of the church, his morality is self-promoting and devoid of any substantive worth. Surprisingly, the religious counter-argument cannot be validated. The evidence in the believer's life of God's presence is sometimes affectionately termed, "the fruits of the spirit." But these fruits of the spirit express themselves no differently than the fruits of the secular man who is mild-mannered, altruistic, pleasant, and peaceful in his existence. There is no ethereal quality that distinguishes the Christian moralist from the secular moralist. The distinction is merely in the claims of origination. One derives from God; the other is attributed to the man per se.
As the convert accepts this indoctrination he becomes more and more cognizant of the world that once elicited his passions. He despises it, and with good cause. For without this detestation and renouncement of the world and its pleasures, he will inevitably be coerced to return. He must convince himself that the world is evil and neglect its every pleasure that entices him with its irresistible siren songs in the night. The world must be an object of detestation, and the epitome of all that is perverse and profane. This provides strong evidence that the pull of the world is ever calling and Christians generally attribute this calling to two agents: Satan, the roaring lion, and the weakness of their own fleshly desires. Subsequently, both agents are spiritualized to the place that they no longer have a practical worth, but become the vehicles of all demonic influence. They are personifications, suitable characters for Bunyan to manipulate. Nietzsche illustrates this point precisely when he says,
The Church combats the passions with excision in every sense of the word: its practice, its 'cure' is castration. It never asks: How can one spiritualize, beautify, deify a desire?' - it has at all times laid the emphasis of its discipline on extirpation (of sensuality, of pride, of lust for power, of avarice, of revengefulness). - But to attack the passions at their roots means to attack life at its root: the practice of the Church is hostile to life...
The convert having attested to this denouncement of life appropriates a conscious effort to eradicate the sin that beset him. Sin, since no one definition is universal, seems to attend to a sense of guilt expressed in the participant. The Bible speaks of a transgression that ultimately strains our relationship with God due to our overt disobedience. Interestingly enough, many new converts do not have as firm as knowledge of sin as many Christians implicate the world of possessing. The convert must be indoctrinated into his particular church with exhaustive intensity. Although he might recognize that murder is a deliberate violation of moral legislation, he might not be cognizant that his church expects him to attend prayer services regularly, or propagate the gospel message to those he comes into contact with, all of which the church designates as sin. Ironically, when that convert is informed, he is thus accountable for his actions. Where such an impassive attitude was displayed in light of ignorance, now it is imperative that his active participation concentrates itself on the determination of what sin entails, i.e., what his church considers morally indecent. The man who attends a much more legalistic church might be directed in his appeals toward God. However, experience has proven that this method is erratic. For the man who engages in an activity might offend his brother who finds such an action repulsive. Therefore the man, the scrupulous individual, abstains from any action that offends although he does not encounter any sin principle within it. Therefore the brother who is offended is admonished not to judge harshly, he must reckon that the Christian is liberated to engage in debatable acts where sin is contingent upon the individual conscious. This scenario is counter-productive and diminishes the liberties of both the man who promotes himself to his own selective judgement seat and the man who encounters no tension in his free-spirited practice of life. The convert finds himself subjugated to the demands of his religious authority, subjugated to the caprice of inchoate members with various intentions and motives, subjugated to those who are quite sincere in their requests, subjugated to spiritual involution.
The religious experience must be reevaluated in light of the evidence that it presents. That evidence is not satisfied by a terse justification that reminds the religious man to concentrate his energies upon the object of affection and dismiss the power structure that dictates his being. Any man must be aware of the implications that Christianity incurs when authority is demonstrated in this facet of existence. Authority has always proven dubious, it is always subject to debate, and if it is unassailable than its dictates and regulations are inappropriate for practical existence. Humankind possesses an intuitive capacity to better themselves. Such degeneration if uncontested will no doubt ground man's aspirations. Nietzsche suggested,
A condemnation of life by the living is after all no more than the symptom of a certain kind of life ... one would have to be situated outside life ... to be permitted to touch on the problem of the value of life.
Questioning an institution's motive is not an accusation against it, until such an incident can be proven problematic, does it require a redress of legislation and a reconfiguration of integrity. After all, humans are fallible creatures, subject to error and perversion. This aspect is rarely debated among Christians and skeptics alike, however, in practice the skeptic is most resolute in this conclusion, the Christian authoritarian is inclined to merely offer lip service, his practice as such is subverted daily by his detestation of the confrontation. The difficulty with certainty claims is that certainty has been frustrated perpetually. For an institution to present a justification regarding its procedures it must be willing to extend its outside of its parameters to show how this universal agenda is applicable to any and all that encounters it. A claim that Jesus is Christ because the Bible demands this is morally deficient. Even trial lawyers must prove that their client is innocent outside of the realm of his presupposed character and provide evidence that would displace him from the scene of the crime. Authority will be a perpetual problem in the religious sphere. Those it inspires, those it corrupts, and those it confuses are subjected to this web of variance, and the spider is subjected to each individual's interpretation. Voltaire commented, "If God created man in his own image, we have certainly returned the favor."
 James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York. The Modern Library. 33.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. London. Penguin Classics. 52.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. London. Penguin Classics. 55.