Ok, back to this:
Which - as has been pointed out - is exactly how they sell snake-oil.
I was trying to rush my previous post, and I feel that I left my position on why believers are different then salesmen a bit underdeveloped. I basically just said that most theists are amateurs and that somehow excuses them from responsibility. So let me explain a bit further.
When I meet a pharmaceutical representative selling Snake Oil Plus™, I expect them to be able to answer some pretty standard questions. First and foremost is, of course, "What's for lunch?", but I also expect them to tell me the active ingredients, the indications, the contraindications, the risks, the benefits, the side effect profile, and show me concrete data that makes a strong argument for why I should consider using Snake Oil Plus™ in addition to or instead of Snake Oil Classic™. Also, I expect them to provide me answers to whatever questions I may have (within reason, of course) while reviewing the information.
When I meet an average Joe who swears by Snake Oil Plus™, I expect them to tell me what they took it for and take a good stab at the name. I'm usually happy if the exchange goes like this:Them:
I tried this great new medicine that cured my sickitis! It's called Snake Somethingorother. I think the second word started with a P or maybe a Z.Me:
*Googles* Snake Oil Plus? Snake Oil Classic?Them:
I think it was Plus? It was a blue liquid.Me:
Oh, ok. Yep, that looks like Snake Oil Plus. It looks like the active ingredient is snake oil. Hrm, I don't know that one... oh, I see it's in the reptile oil drug class. It must have just come out. I'll have to check later and see how it compares to the other drugs in the class.
In the latter case I must recognize that the person I am looking for is not an expert who is going to be able to quote me the detailed medical information. They're able to give me the Average Joe explanation, which I hope is good enough to get me to where I can pick up the rest of the slack. Many of them are not even trying
to give me the medical explanation; they're just trying to tell me about the drug and what they believe it did for them.
Similarly, most of the religious are not trained theologians. They're average theists who want to share their faith with others, and consequently most are only going to be able to answer questions to their own level of understanding or articulation. It may be that the theist understands something but lacks the terminology to explain it properly and thus has to use a roundabout approximation, or it may be that you ask a question that they've never considered in their day-to-day faith. It may be that they panic and decide to ass-pull or shift the topic to an area they know more about rather than put up a wall of "I don't knows."
Whatever the case, it doesn't change the fact that the knowledge of the person telling you about Snake Oil Plus™ does not make Snake Oil Plus™ any more or less effective. It only changes the conversation, and the expectations you are able to place on that person before you have to start looking into things on your own.
So, to get back to what I was saying before, believers sharing belief is not like selling snake oil because we expect that the snake oil is being sold top-down by someone specifically trained to do it. By contrast, religions rely on average Joes to share enough of the message to bring others towards the faith, at which point they can start their own journey of discovery. And so when speaking with most theists, the best you're going to get is stories, analogies, and testimonials, and if you want the real meat you'll have to go a bit deeper.
The other significant issue I have with the concept is the fact that it is apparently understandable - but not readily explainable. While I see the potential parallel with concepts of quantum theory or whatever, I don't honestly believe they stand up. Because what we are talking about (at least with Biblical theology) is a god who readily uses human concepts of love and mercy, and whose chief virtue was that he became human. This is a god for whom a significant selling point is that he walked as us, lived as us, breathed as us - and so is a god who should, surely, not be too tricky to explain using human concepts.
God does indeed use human concepts, and the basic theological truths (God created us, God loves us, etc.) are readily understandable via human conception (if not universally accepted.) However, regardless of how much God dumbs down things for us, it doesn't change the fact that we're trying to understand the infinite with a brain that is not infinite, the immaterial with a brain that is material, the supernatural with a brain that is natural, the state of being transcendent and immanent at the same time with a brain that is only immanent, and so on.
Christianity does indeed teach that God became man. And, if you read the Gospels, you'll see that Jesus spends most of his time teaching via analogy, metaphor, and story. The first thing He does in Matthew and Mark is use a fishing analogy with fishermen; in Luke He starts by holding a detailed theological discussion with theologians as a child, but as an adult begins teaching by using proverbs and making analogies out of Old Testament stories. In John He starts talking in metaphor from pretty much Day 1.
And even with teaching from God Himself, many of the average Joes had difficulty understanding. Peter alone has to be told multiple times, yet still doesn't "get it." Mark even subtly compares him to a blind man who first is able to see blurred shapes before being able to see fully. And these are the guys who were witnessing the miracles first hand.
That being said, the message
of Christianity is very straightforward, and is simple enough that most children can understand it. But the message is not really what you're asking for. You're asking for the nitty gritty details, the mechanisms, a full explanation of everything involved, including things that are necessarily beyond human investigation. You're asking for an explanation of sacred mysteries, which are necessarily mysteries because we do not and will never have the tools to investigate them, but instead must take God's word for them at face value.
Likewise, the aspects of Christianity that are more easily understood than explained do not detract away from God's ability to make them understandable - because we do
understand them. Funnily enough, you mention that God relies on concepts such as love, which seems to me to support my view since love itself is something that is not really explainable, yet is readily understood by almost everyone.
Imagine that you somehow have no concept of love and are skeptical that such a thing even exists. You ask someone who is trying to tell you about love to explain it to you, and they present you with these quotes
, a link to Plato's Symposium
, the music video for Pat Benatar's Love Is A Battlefield, and a link to a Shakespeare sonnet archive (with reassurance that you'll "get it" after Sonnet 18.) Heck, maybe they even link you to a psychology article on need fulfillment with an analysis of the different biochemical factors at play throughout the different stages of a relationship.
Will any of these things adequately explain what love is to the determined skeptic? Highly doubtful. Many of those things, particularly the quotes and the literature, are so unfocused and vague that they're likely to provide frustration to the skeptic, and the academic explanation is sufficient to describe some of the behaviors but doesn't really explain the experience of love and certainly don't provide evidence that such a force exists to the degree that it's considered a shared human experience.
For example, a couple years back (uh oh, a story, why can't he just cite a study?) my mother, who didn't really approve of my girlfriend at the time, confronted me and asked me what about her I loved. And I of course started with the usual platitudes: "She's a good person, we share the same interests, we have a lot of the same values," which she expertly countered: "How exactly is she a good person?" "What interests do you share? She's a Midwestern girl in college and you're an East Coast guy in med school: you're in completely different places!" "How on Earth do you share the same the same values? You're a Catholic Republican and she's an atheist Democrat!"
While she was rebutting, it struck me that the reasons I were given were generic generalities that could apply to millions of people throughout the world, and that they really had nothing to do with why I loved her; they were merely the best I could put into words at the time. The result of this, of course, was that I couldn't come up with a response, at which point she promptly decreed that I "have no idea why you like her. Your relationship is clearly just one of convenience" and exited the room.
Was she right? No, and I well-aware as soon as it ended that she was purposely exploiting my inability to really
explain love to advance her point of view.
I think some atheists may intentionally approach theists in the same way, though I'd like to think that most of the time it's not intentional.
So no, I don't think having aspects of the faith being more experiential than intellectually explainable is a bad thing, or that it reflects badly on God or believers or whomever else. It just means that we have to use a roundabout route to get others to the point where they might recognize them when they do experience them, and it makes it a bit harder for us to give concrete answers or answer "direct" questions.
Or perhaps, I should say, that a god so closely linked with the human condition that, to be even slightly understood, requires such a degree of thinking that is so removed from normal human concepts, is not quite as much a friend and confidant as has been portrayed.
Not slightly understood, no. Which of the basic tenets of Christianity do you have difficulty understanding in the slightest?