The people who say that Christianity is just all fairy stories have got a point. Yes it is mostly myths and fictions. The birth in the stable plainly is. According to the scripture scholars, even the descriptions of Jesus’s deeds and words in the Gospels are not historical accounts, at least not in the sense that we would mean history. The three synoptic gospels are all based on what we might today call bites that had gone through thirty or forty years of oral transmission before they were written down which undoubtedly coloured and distorted them, and explains why they give us such different accounts of the same events. St John’s Gospel is more of a poem than an observer’s description.
How then can any rational modern person go on believing in Christianity? Because to ask ‘is Christianity true?’ in the same sense that there is one proton and one electron in a hydrogen atom, or to ask ‘is our solar system part of a galaxy?’ is to ask the wrong question. It’s like asking ‘Are Shakespeare’s plays made up of one proton and one electron?’. The proposition I have come to believe in more fervently than anything else is that there is a further dimension of reality, both beyond and anterior to our own, one that escapes our capacity to understand or imagine or know it directly, but one that does, nevertheless, make its presence felt in ours. I think quantum physics is telling us that – how can a subatomic particle be both a wave and a particle, how can electrons be in instantaneous communication with other electrons all over the universe, how can effects cause the causes that have already caused them? These things baffle the reason of even the scientists that discovered them yet science tells us they are true. They seem completely irrational yet they underpin the rationality of our own universe. There must be, in the depths of our universe, a dimension of rationality beyond that which we currently know. I certainly feel a numinous presence in nature that people have felt acutely all through human history, which science cannot, or does not even attempt, to explain. All through the ages, for millennia, in experiments in the inner realm as disciplined and rigorous as any that science performs in the outer, mystics of all stripes report to us intense experiences of contact with this further dimension of reality that they can neither put into words nor explain. How can we know that such experiences are invalid? How can we dismiss such a weight of evidence?
It is a mistake to think that science tells us certain truth. It tells us certain limited truths. But the whole history of science tells us that great discoveries not only shed light on what had hitherto been inexplicable, but also constantly reveal even more mysterious dimensions of reality that before the discoveries had been made had not even been thought of. Science has now discovered so much, the mysteries it is now revealing are so bewildering to the rational mind they escape the grasp of our ordinary everyday intellects completely. Yet, even though it cannot explain to us how such things can be, science tells us that these mysteries exist. Science cannot reveal to us the ultimate mystery of the universe but it does journey ever more enthrallingly towards it. But if we cannot grasp it intellectually, all through history people have felt they can make contact with it emotionally, and making such an emotional contact is the most exciting and meaningful and exciting thing that humans can do. We cannot encompass the reality of this ultimate mystery in facts. But we can reach towards it through fictions. This is what religions are. Meaningful fictions that allow people to feel themselves in contact with an ultimate reality that science cannot itself reach. Science can tell you what the mathematical intervals are that make Bach’s music good to listen to. But it’s also possible actually to listen to the music, and this science does not do.
I’m a Christian because the fictions of the New Testament are so emotionally meaningful to me I cannot see myself living without them, as I cannot see myself living without the music of Mozart. I don’t think it makes much sense to say ‘prove Mozart’. Having said that though, I’m totally fed up with dull dog pseudo-scientific atheists who can’t see that the mysteries science is now revealing to us are so mysterious and so great, it is not implausible that, given that a further dimension of reality makes its presence felt in ours and I believe it does, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility even that the Son of God – the ultimate ambassador, as I cannot know but do believe, from this further dimension of reality – should literally have risen from the grave. The evangelists strike one as plausible witnesses. Oral transmissions in traditional societies do, it is true, re-fashion details in the process of transmission but are, nevertheless, remarkably accurate methods of preserving essential accounts. I believe in the Resurrection because all through history human beings have felt themselves to be in contact with the great mystery of being through rituals and myths and fictions, and central to those myths has been that of a hero who dies and rises from the dead. That will do for me. But the great mystery of the universe is so mysterious I’m quite on too for thinking that it might have happened literally as well. I just don’t know. But, remarkably, the atheists say they do. How can they know? Were they there when the risen Lord didn’t appear to the disciples?