Rationalizing Christianity


In my last post I described the Reformation as an attempt to rationalize Christianity: the Church had grown so corrupt and had resisted reform for so long, that many people of good will began to see tearing it down and rebuilding it from the objective historical documents – scripture – as the best option. They were trying rationalize the Church using intellectual tools they had at hand in the 16th century. In doing so they, in a sense, invented “Christianity”. Christianity became a system of thought where before there had only been the Church, the living community.

This is a very broad-brush hypothesis open to objections, but I still think there is something too it.

The attempt to rationalize Christianity using the intellectual tools of the age is an old one. Marcionsim was the attempt to cut the link between Christian doctrine and the scandal of concrete historical communities. Marcion wanted to rationalize and dehistoricize the faith. The same could be said of Gnosticism.

People smarter than I say that Islam is also an attempt to rationalize Christianity by removing those pesky Christian mysteries like the Trinity or the Incarnation. It is an interesting idea, but I don’t know much about Islam.

The irony of course is that no one today would recognize Marcion, the Gnostics, or Mohammad as being rationalists, because what seems to be “reasonable” is determined to a large degree by the fads of the dominate culture. Deists or Unitarians were seen as quite rational two centuries ago, now they are seen as being slightly absurd because the prevailing model of reason only trusts sensory input and not abstract logic.


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