Christianity as Abstract Art: Epistemological Resonance

I was thinking tonight about why I’m a Christian. I think you have to acknowledge that, one way or another, any philosophy or way of life can be justified rationally. You can construct a cohesive, internally consistent structure out of virtually any set of beliefs.

In that sense, Christianity is no better or worse than anything else. It can be reconciled to science in a variety of ways. It can be reconciled to our ethical sensibilities. It can manifest itself uncompromisingly in a multitude of cultures, without trampling on the dignity of each one. (It can also–dangerously–stand in violent opposition to all those things.) But none of that makes it inherently right to believe. I don’t think the distinguishing mark of a belief is in its rational articulation.

The best analogy I can give is that it’s like going to an art museum and looking at a Jackson Pollock painting. You could be like a lot of people and stare at those drips of color and think, “Any kindergartner could throw paint all over the floor and make this.” You could also stare at that painting and let it teach you how to feel its meaning, let it say something to you. “Any kindergartner” could not articulate the sentiments that Jackson Pollock expresses on a canvas.

When you stare long enough at the painting–with effort, with expectation–you realize that Pollock’s paintings express truths about reality that can’t be understood in any way other than by speaking to and listening to his artwork. You sense it by your participation in them. You know that in no other way could Pollock have expressed precisely what he saw in himself.

Christianity isn’t exactly like a Pollock painting. It isn’t even exactly like art. Really, I think it’s more comprehensive than that. The more I stare at it, the more it seems to resonate with palpable truth about everything. It’s too complex to pare down to a doctrinal statement, but it can be gazed at, studied, and transformational to its participants. If you believe something, it has to make sense, but it also has to resonate–with sufficient complexity. It has to hit all the right buttons that tell you, “Yes, this is comprehensively true.”

Sometimes things don’t resonate until you stare at them for a while.

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