I started this typing post on a discussion board but decided to put it in blog form, so please give feedback; I’m looking for a conversation, here. It seems to me of late that the primary problem with religion in general, not just Christianity, is that most religious people have a screwed-up epistemology. Let me explain.
Religious people will look at their sacred texts (e.g. the Bible, the Koran, etc.) and then generalize about the world in a sort of a priori (philosophy term that means prior to experience) manner; that is, even before encountering the world, they have already made up their minds on what they should believe about it, because they believe God has “revealed” the world to them through their texts. This approach precludes any real learning, because their only mode of learning comes from reinterpreting their texts rather than any sort of empiricism.
This backward epistemology lies behind all sorts of social ills, all the way from Driscoll’s latest idiotic tweet to racism and homophobia: religious people, because of their texts, have already decided what they wish to believe, and their thoughts and feelings do not undergo critique based on experience. Thus, this entire approach to religion is nothing short of inherently prejudiced.
So if we, as critics, merely attempt to reinterpret our texts in order to promote better behavior, then we are treating the symptoms, not providing a cure. If all we have are new ways of reading certain verses, new hermeneutics, etc., yet we do not encourage people to allow their experiences to teach them, then we have only prolonged the problem. Within a generation, a new problem will arise that challenges religion’s authority.
If we look back, this is exactly what has happened. Race, gender, biology, geology, etc., have all challenged religion just within the last century. Each time, religion takes a step back as outside forces show religious beliefs to be false, yet each step is the same as the last: a bitter fight where the “True Christians” meet these new challenges with hostility and fervor until the weight of reality slowly crushes their resistance. If religion had a different sort of epistemology — one which welcomed learning empirically — then we wouldn’t have to put up with this endless nonsense.
Religion needs to figure out how to incorporate empiricism. That’s not just an academic pursuit; it means that we get rid of the walls around us which prevent us from engaging with the world in a serious and loving fashion. We must not have made up our minds, even at the counsel of supposed “revelation,” before we encounter the world around us. Honestly, I think many Christians could stand to put down their Bibles for a decade or two as they reorient their thinking.
My real problem is how to do this in a Christian context, and perhaps you guys can educate me here. I am torn as to how we might differ from, say, humanists. I have a lot of respect for humanism, but what would distinguish Christianity from such a philosophy? Honestly, I don’t know that there is much difference between a good Christian engaging with the world and a loving humanist aside from the acknowledgement of God. After all, to love God is to love your neighbor (put very bluntly when Jesus asks, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”)
So anyhow, what say you? How does Christianity incorporate empiricism? Also, is there anything else lurking here that I’m missing?