A Culpable Case of Amnesia
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).
We have been thinking together, in previous posts, about the implications of Peter's command in 1 Peter 3:15. We have seen, first of all, that there is a command. The command is to believe, acknowledge, affirm in our hearts what is actually the case - that is, that Jesus Christ is Lord. In other words, the command is to see the world, all of reality, for what it actually is.
This is no small command, and it requires a lifetime of day to day concentration, meditation, and application. All of the various experiences, tragedies, joys, routines, and challenges that come our way are to be filtered, sooner rather than later, through the golden grid of Christ's Lordship. Part of our sanctification includes seeing what takes place in, to, for and against us as included in the sovereign reign of our faithful Savior, who is the Lord. We may stumble and fall as we progress in holiness, but as in medicine, so also in Christianity -- this is a practice. For the Christian, practice makes perfect, but that perfection awaits the consummation.
Once we have in place the practice of setting Christ apart in our hearts as Lord, we are then in a position where we might do apologetics, or as Peter puts it, "make a defense to everyone who asks." It is the Lordship of Christ, in other words, that explains Christianity. It is that Lordship that provides for us an "account," a "reason," the "logic" (the Greek word is logos) for the hope that we have. And it is that Lordship that alone is able to give us true hope.
This means that Christianity has a rationale, it has a reason. It means that there are explanations that we can and should provide as to why we believe what we do. If that is true, then Christianity is, by definition, not a blind faith. It is not something that is opposed to, or without, reason and knowledge, or something that can only be communicated by way of "experience." It requires faith to understand it, but that in no way means that the faith required is in any way a blind faith.
It is also worth considering that any other position, any attempt to live in God's world, as God's image, while rejecting the true God will inevitably lead one to seek and supply a false rationale, an illegitimate reason, an irrational "logic," for one's life. To pick up on our discussion in the last post, if it is the case that anyone opposing Christianity, by necessity, lives in an illusory "world" of their own making, that world will include an illusory rationale for such. It is a part of being God's image that people seek and supply some kind of explanation, some reason, for their lives. In Adam, however, we always get it wrong.
In the movie, Memento (2001), Leonard Shelby wants to avenge the murder of his wife. The problem, however, is that Shelby has contracted a severe form of amnesia; he can only recollect events immediately present to him. He has no memory of the past. Masterfully, the movie begins at the end. The audience, without warning, is placed within the context of Shelby's amnesia, as he works backwards, using notes and other devices, to try to find out just exactly what happened to him and to his wife, and why.
As each mini-segment of Shelby's own experience concludes, it fades from memory just as quickly as another segment begins. In order to make sense of the end, which is where the audience, and Shelby, begin, we have to string together, working backwards, each of the mini-segments of Shelby's life, until we reach the end of the movie, which is really the beginning of Shelby's problems.
If this sounds confusing, it is supposed to. Perhaps no other movie has so successfully placed the audience into the mind of its main character. And because the movie depicts the experiences of anxiety coupled with amnesia, the audience is brought into the handicaps of the main character. The chaos and confusion of his life is experienced by the audience as well. So successful is the movie in creating this experience, it is one of a very few movies that likely needs to be seen more than once.
Shelby's problem was that he was unable to connect his immediate experiences to anything else in his life. Each experience remained an isolated event, without context, cause or connection, and so, without interpretation or explanation. Shelby was passionately searching for a reason for what had happened to him. He needed a way to bring all of his disparate experiences together.
In the movie, there is a beginning point of Shelby's tragedy, and an end. What is most striking about the movie, however, is that both the beginning and the end play a minimal role in Shelby's experience. Rather, what is highlighted in the movie is the fact that Shelby's disjointed and seemingly disconnected experiences are all in desperate need of one primary thing - a rationale. The reason things were happening the way they were was the goal of Shelby's pursuit. He, like the audience, was desperately trying to make sense of each of his individual experiences.
In that way, Memento is a counter-cultural movie. It goes against the naïve notion that our experiences are meaningful just by virtue of what they are. It points to the necessity of a reason for our experiences - a "why" and "wherefore" - if anything that happens "in the middle" is to be of any significance. Experiences cannot provide their own fulfillment, or their own explanation. Experiences are not themselves a rationale.
In his book, God is not Great, the late Christopher Hitchens writes of the uselessness, even the poison, of religion (it should be noted that Hitchens is an equal opportunity despiser; all religions are poison, not just Christianity). In that book, he notes:
Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a world-view, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard - or try to turn back - the measurable advances that we have made.
There is much here, and in the book, however eloquent, with which we disagree. (The title itself is offensive in excelsis.) What we seem to have in this quotation, though, is a confusion with respect to the meaning of the word "explanation." Hitchens thinks that, due to scientific advances, we are now able to explain such things as the origin of our species or the meaning of our lives, by way of the microscope and telescope. He thinks, because of these (and presumably other) inventions, religion has nothing really important left to say. Thus, religion has been neutered; it is no longer needed now that science and reason have progressed to their current evolutionary levels.
But what could Hitchens mean here by "explain"? Whatever he means, he seems to think the telescope and microscope have sufficiently replaced religion in their power of "explanation." He must think, therefore, that by looking at matters in more detail (microscope) or from a wider perspective (telescope), those matters will be adequately accounted for.
But this seems to be confused, even wrong-headed. Haven't our advances in science raised more questions than they have answered? Hasn't our exploration of the universe presented us with quandaries that seem to be irresolvable? Hitchens seems to think, to use an analogy, that one can "explain" the meaning of a word by more and more analysis of each of its letters. Or, he seems to imply that one can "explain" the meaning of life by learning more and more of the physical size and place of planet Earth in the cosmic expanse we call the universe. But this is, at best, misguided.
The question could be asked, to return to our amnesiac in Memento, just how helpful the "telescope and microscope" might have been for Shelby as he sought to fit the pieces of his life together in order to find his wife's murderer. Why didn't Shelby, instead of attempting to "connect the dots" of his various life experiences, just go down to the local rental store and rent a telescope and microscope?
The answer is obvious in the asking. All that a telescope and microscope could have done for Shelby would be to describe, in more detail perhaps, his disparate and disconnected individual experiences. They could never have given Shelby the explanation that he needed in order to make sense of those experiences. Telescopes and microscopes provide no rationale.
So it is with us. Even without amnesia, it is impossible to "connect the dots" of our life experiences without access to something that transcends them. If all we have are the experiences themselves, no amount of telescopic or microscopic analysis will give us anything more than "more of the same." Is there anything that can tell us, not simply what our experiences are, but rather what they mean, or why they are what they are?
Peter's point is that only Christ and His Lordship will do that. Sadly, apart from that, all that's left are telescopes, microscopes and a culpable case of severe amnesia.
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