Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Contradictions in Christianity

There is a post here about atheist claims that the bible has contradictions. He makes a few good points. What I find interesting is the strong parallel between alleged contradictions within scripture and alleged contradictions within the larger Catholic scripture, tradition, and the magisterium. His first point:
When I first got to college, I had begun to take my faith seriously and yet was encountering much opposition to the Bible in my humanities classes. So the claim that the Bible contradicted itself bothered me, and I looked into it. I went to the library and found the best books I could documenting so-called contradictions in the Bible, looked through them for the most challenging claims of contradiction I could find, and discovered through study and my own reflection that every single one had an answer.
This is a subjective thing but it is true about many intelligent people. They don't simply blindly accept the lack of contradiction. They take a skeptical view and study. But there are many Catholic converts who tell this same story. Studying all the alleged contradictions and finding them to have good answers. Many are just assertions that a text has to be interpreted in a protestant way. Many are a misunderstandings of the doctrine of infallibility. The point is all the specific examples you typically find have good answers. Those are from educated people who are motivated to find real contradictions and they fail every time. That means something.

The next point worth making is that the appearance of contradictions is not a bad thing. Rather, it is a good thing because it stimulates thought.
I reject entirely the notion that “the contradiction is the hallmark of truth.” If two things really contradict one another, they cannot both be true.
But tension and the initial appearance of contradiction are something else altogether. They cause us to think harder about how the two truths fit together. They cause us to probe more deeply and come to an even greater understanding.
Which is why crying out “contradiction” when we see tension in the Bible is lazy and superficial. It leaves us with uncreative level one thinking, rather than bringing us deeper into a fuller understanding of the truth.
This superficial and lazy thinking is something I see in protestantism a lot. Either you believe in Sola Fide or you are Pelagian. Really? There are no other options? Either you believe in a ministerial priesthood or the priesthood of all believers. Either you believe in the pope or the bible. The world is full of complex realities. These paradoxes may be difficult but why would you expect the questions of God not to be difficult? Either embrace the tension or study the theology and learn all the proper distinctions. But don't dismiss the whole system because of a lazy and superficial analysis.

Part of this expectation for both atheists and protestants is that God should make this easy. That God should make his existence obvious and He should make the truth about the Catholic church obvious. He has chosen not to do that. He makes us work. The effect that had on me is to allow me to fall in love with His church. If He had just pointed to the church and said, "There she is. Obey!" that would have been harder. That slow realization that this amazing, life-altering claim is really true. That allows the emotions to get involved.


  1. Proverbs 22:5 "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; the glory of kings is to seek it out."

    I remember "tracing out" papal succession during the "western schism" as one of the last things to look at before I decided to join up. It helps to visualize the different threads, but when I sat down to consider it all, it made sense.

    I really like your blog, and this was a great post.

  2. Thanks so much for reading John. Did you post your tracing anywhere? It might be an interesting thing to look at.