Where do we begin?
We have spoken often here about how the only indubitable certainty is "that I am experiencing existence". From there our epistemology exhibits a steady downhill trend. Even so, as finite men we have only one option in our search — and that is to begin with ourselves. And here I think is the dilemma that I've been trying to articulate. (with limited success.)
What justifies such a move?
What justification do we have to begin with our own experience? There is only one answer that holds any weight, and It's not atheism. Atheism destroys any justification to begin with ourself. Within atheism the foundation of all reality is an impersonal something. If you start with impersonal something, then man must be reducible to impersonal stuff. To argue otherwise is to say the stream rises above it's source.
My co-blogging friend Matt seems to realize this (at least the first bit) and thus, has accepted determinism. Man is simply part of the machine. But he can't live consistently within such a world view — none of us can. The implications are too destructive. As such, he clings to one last hope: "My life is meaningful because I find it to be meaningful". I empathize with his sentiment here – we all do – but it's an unjustified leap. It's unjustified because it destroys itself when it tries to answer the question I have asked above. "What gives us the right to start with ourselves?"
It all comes down to this word "personal". If, for the sake of argument, we presuppose atheism, then to avoid having the stream rise above it's source, "personhood" must be reducible the impersonal. Suddenly all the attributes that man has historically thought unique to himself (self-determination, the importance of love, the ability to act for 'better' or 'worse') have been destroyed by man's only option: The decent into behaviorism and determinism. Man is just a part of the machine.
One must watch closely at this juncture as all but the most hopeless of men employ some understandably slippery language in the hope of avoiding the implications. You will hear them say things like, "You are making this all sound much worse than it really is. You simply fail to comprehend the incredible potential of the material world!" and "There is no God needed, just look at all the world can do with out him!" Though I truly empathize with such statements, they are irreconcilably flawed. First off, they simply beg the question. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they make an unjustified optimistic leap. The leap is to desire one's unique personhood in-spite of what must become a reductionist programme in the absence of God. Any attempts to argue otherwise once again have our stream rising above it's source.
I hope I have made the situation clear. It's a desperate place to come to, but if the foundation is impersonal something we are left with no alternative. Now I often have those who are of the atheist persuasion become angry with me at this point. They act as though I have tricked them. There has to be another way... and indeed there is, but before we can consider it we must feel the depth of our plight. If we begin with the impersonal, man is dead. There is no other alternative.
So what other option do we have? "What right do we have to begin with ourself?". There are only two options here an I am convinced that the presupposition of atheism has utterly failed. Let us now consider that which Christianity holds to be truth — that at the center of all reality lies personality. If this proposition obtains we don't have the dilemma of the stream rising above its source. In-fact, personality becomes irreducible altogether. There is an upward rather than downward movement. In atheism we think we know what material is and what it does, thus we are reduced to it. Under Christianity we are only experiencing diffused personality. We cannot fully grasp what it is to be personal. Our ultimate starting point is not blind matter, but a personal God. Our ultimate relationship to reality is not downward, but upward. The mistake of atheism is that it tries to get to know personality by studying corpses.
In the Christian system, beginning with ourself is justified as we are created in the image of God. Like God, we posses a measure of self-determination. Thus, our search is valid because we really CAN search. Also like God, our mind operates according to reason, thus validating our search for unity within the varity. However an important distinction between man and God is that man is finite (and fallen, but that's for another time). Our finite nature makes necessary the 'search' for truth. We don't arrive programmed. We need to look for it. And so, in these ways our most basic task of beginning with ourselves is justified.
One caveat I must add is this: We must here make the distinction between validating the "starting from one's self" and validating the claims of rationalism which stipulate we can achieve final answers using ONLY man, at the exclusion of any revealed religion. This has been the enlightenment project that has died a thousand deaths, but for some reason continues to resurface in the minds of men. If we choose to reject all forms of revelation the result is predictable as the rising of the sun. Unless an unjustified leap of faith is adopted, man is dead. All is arbitrary. We are lost.
As I continue to grapple with these questions I am increasingly confronted with the fact that Christianity, as a system, answers man's fundamental questions like no other philosophy or religion can. It's coherence and correspondence continue to amaze me. Though there are plenty of peripheral questions I continue to do battle with, I am able to live in the comfort of knowing the big ones have answers that satisfy the deepest yearnings of man.