Absurd Belief

Tertullian is famous for saying:  That the Son of God died—was allowed to be crucified—is beyond doubt because it makes no sense. And that after having been buried He rose again, this is without doubt, because of its impossibility.

A friend reminds me of this.  Usually I don’t pause to try to make sense of it.  But today, I asked myself, When, in what sort of circumstances, might it have made sense for Tertulian to say this?  I don’t mean, why does he believe in the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but why does he say he believes because it’s ‘absurd” (or impossible).  When would Thoreau — a wild but sensible man — say he believed something because it was impossible?

Let’s ask Thoreau, exasperated and quite upset,  Why do you believe John Brown is immortal, is a Christ, is more noble than Washington and Franklin (who never died because they never lived)? Say we were flushed and utterly flabbergasted: in dismay, we cry, “How can you believe that !?!”

Thoreau might size up the situation, get annoyed, but realize there was no explaining.  Not to us. He had said what had to be said. He might think, or mutter,  “Yea, it’s absurd . . . to you!”  And he might think to himself, “Among our great loves, can any be defended as ‘rational’? Where do these critics come from?”

He knows he’s  in the region of wild belief (not simple means-ends rationality) — He just IS !  It is what it is. And if he stopped to examine his assurance that John Brown was Christ, and immortal, for the moment putting on the garb of a classroom teacher in critical thinking — well then, of course, all he could say is yes it’s absurd, and I’ll be damned if I don’t believe it anyway.  It is what it is. If it were more sensible, it wouldn’t be worth saying. I believe because it’s absurd (to common sense) — that’s its nature.  The “because” is an “and” — not a justification. There’s no justifying these sorts of things.  This belief is not just everyday garden variety common sense.  You’re just pointing out the obvious when you say it’s absurd.  My faith is rooted in something unobvious (to you– and many others) !

Love isn’t everyday common sense, and neither is Thoreau’s defense of John Brown, and neither is Thoreau’s reverie of the gods at Spaulding’s Farm.  Thoreau holds “impossible” beliefs and is the sanest man in town.


4 comments on “Absurd Belief

  1. dmf says:

    but I doubt they would apply this to all things one might call “impossible” so there must be a special ‘class’ if you will, maybe something akin to Jaspers on what exceeds our grasps?

    • efmooney says:

      Yes . . . that’s why I have Thoreau restrict his exasperated remark to someone who challenges “a great love” like the love of justice Thoreau finds in the John Brown case. You could say it’s absurd to believe in justice. Just open your eyes to all the cruelty and evil about. Only crazy people would. But then, we’re happy that enough people believe in the impossible to make the world less cruel and evil than it would be otherwise. We’re happy they believe because if they stuck to sensible belief the world would be a worse place.

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