“Episcopal Church Appoints First Openly-Muslim Bishop!”  It is now apparently only a matter of time, as an Episcopalian priest has revealed that she thinks of herself as both a Muslim and a Christian.

Ann Holmes Redding, a priest formerly associated with St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, contends:

“At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”

She says she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God — the meaning of the word “Islam.”

“It wasn’t about intellect,” she said. “All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.

My brother is perplexed that Christians might find this sort of adhering to contradictory beliefs strange:

Well, which is stranger? Believing that one can be totally Christian and Muslim, or believing that one can be totally human and divine?

For kicks, I’ll answer it:  the former.  Christianity and Islam have ideas that contradict each other.  They say different things about Jesus.  To be both would necessitate thinking that “The sky is blue” and “The sky is not blue” are both true at the same time (unless, of course, one wishes to join Rev. Redding and ignore the intellect entirely).

But Christianity contends that two natures–a divine and human–can both exist in the same substance.  There is no clear contradiction here, as there is above.  The difference is that the above is Rev. Redding is attempting to do the logically impossible, while Christianity purports something that may not even be improbable, depending upon the sort of thing a “person” is.

While Redding’s bishop may find “the interfaith possibilities” of Redding’s situation “exciting,” Redding has undercut what both religions, and all humans, care so deeply about:  the possibility of knowing the truth.  By claiming to hold contradictory positions, Redding reduces her faith to her experiences and emotions.  Yet in doing so, she may manage to bring Islam and Christianity together in a way she never expected:  by causing them both to reject her approach and cling all the more to the truth claims that make each respective religion unique.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

7 Comments

  1. Certainly, I agree that Christianity and Islam make statements that contradict one another. To say, however, that “there is no clear contradiction” in the Christian concept of the trinity seems false. Before this comment falls into the “heresy” compartment, let me quickly clarify.

    The Bible is inherently an eastern document, and Christian doctrine contains many eastern doctrines. To operationalize what I mean by “eastern” and “western”, I argues that western thought stems from Aristotelian logic in general, and the principle of non-contradiction in particular. I would argue that Aristotelian logic, like Newtonian physics, is only true for certain applications.

    To say that a statement like John 1:1 is not a contradiction seems like a statement poisoned by the limitations of non-contradiction. In my opinion (such as it is), the Bible is asking us to use our minds to approach Biblical truth, embracing the inherent contradictions in concepts like the trinity.

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  2. Dr. Jones,

    What evidence is there that “the Bible is inherently an eastern document” that causes us to reject the law of non-contradiction?

    Paul, for instance, uses a Greek poet on Mars Hill to argue for the Christian God, which makes it seem he is comfortable using “Western” categories.

    Also, what do you make of Joe’s latest post on this very issue? The url is: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003743.html

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  3. Excellent point. Here are a couple of reasons to believe the Bible is an “eastern document”. 1) The bible was originally grouped topically, which is a hallmark of eastern thought and was changed by western thinkers to a chronological order, which is a hallmark of western thinking. 2) The bible accepts as valid propositions that western logic would declare nonsensical. Take for example, the proposition “There is only one God (Deut 6:4), and the trinity worked together to make the world (Gen. 1:26)”. We come up with lots of linguistic tricks to get us out of this contradiction, when in my opinion the Bible is teaching us to embrace the contradictions that exists in the spiritual world, where Aristotelian logic may not apply.

    Of course, we can and should use Aristotelian (western) thought when our audience uses that form of thought. What we see from Paul is an example of eastern thinker who was well versed in western thought putting apologetics in western terms for his audience.

    I believe that Joe is following this thread in a very different direction, questioning fundamentals of theistic philosophy that I am more than willing to stipulate.

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  4. Dr.Jones,

    You claim that the Bible asks us to “accept vlid propositions that western logic would declare nonsensical.”

    Out of curiosity, do you think that the Bible is true, and if so, what does it mean that it is true?

    If it’s true (in any sense), how do you explain it having contradictory assertions?

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  5. Unfortunately, I think you’ve missed my point. I will, however, answer your question. I believe the bible to be true. What that means is that when the bible speaks of historical events, those historical events actually occurred in the way described. When the bible speaks to morality and doctrine, those statements are the guides to correct moral and theological choices. I think of myself as an orthodox Christian, at least in the sense that Chesterton described.

    Allow me to attempt to clarify my point in one more example. Many western biblical scholars see two creation accounts in Genesis, one in chapter 1, and another in chapters 2-3. I believe this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the eastern worldview, which tells stories in repetition and in parallel. This form of writing, which characterizes the Psalms and almost all of Hebrew poetry, serves to bring the reader to a space “between” the two stories or verses, which is where the truth resides.

    Since only one writer of the bible is explicitly a gentile westerner (Luke), I find it ironic that when I claim that western logic is not the only way to understand the bible, you immediately assume I am a heretic.

    Can you not at least stipulate that the Christian doctrine of the trinity is at least problematically defended using pure Aristotelian logic?

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  6. Dr.Jones,

    Apologies, as I didn’t mean to imply that you are a heretic. I really do have a tough time understanding youu when you say things like, “in my opinion the Bible is teaching us to embrace the contradictions that exists in the spiritual world, where Aristotelian logic may not apply.” This sort of sentence makes me wonder whether you think God can square circles. Such a proposition is (literally) nonsensical to me, since I think it’s impossible for God to do anything that would break the law of non-contradiction.

    I guess at the end of the day, I don’t really buy the assertion that because the writers of the Bible are Jewish, they don’t think of the world in terms of “western logic.” While Aristotle is the first, it seems, to articulate the law of non-contradiction, it’s true regardless of who said it and it seems the writers of the Bible assume its truth. The question I posed about truth stems from my intuition that if you reject the truth–for God, for us, for everything in the universe–of the law of non-contradiction, it’s impossible to accept any notion of “truth” at all. It seems to be the foundation on which the whole concept of truth is built.

    I don’t think the doctrine of the Trinity is any more problematic for westerners than it is for easterners. I think even calling it “problematic” for those who adhere to logic (which is really a silly phrase–everyone uses logic, even if they don’t use good logic) is too strong. It raises questions, yes. Problems? I don’t think so.

    Good discussion–I look forward to your reply.

    Reply

  7. I agree this is a good discussion, and I think we have achieved some measure of clarity.

    You believe that non contradiction is essential to all correct thinking. I believe that non contradiction is essential to only those spheres of life that can be subjected to propositional logic.

    To return to our original article above, I’m suggesting that a discussion of the Christian trinity is one of those spheres that can not be subjected to propositional logic. In other words, the doctrine of the trinity can not be reduced to a series of propositions that make sense together. To quote the Tao Te Ching (a major influence on eastern thinking), “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” The idea is that once you reduce the Tao to propositional logic, it ceases to be the Tao. The same is true for the trinity.

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