Religion is Absurd

Spandrell points out a talk about religion calling it absurd:

And let me tell you how I think it’s been so successful. First of all there wouldn’t have been any societies without religion, without transcendental beliefs. Which are absurd. They have to be preposterous. The basic tenets are not false beliefs. They are preposterous beliefs. Something like Aristotle’s category violations, a “four-footed idea”. It’s not something that even has truth conditions. It’s not something that even has truth conditions. So it’s open to interpretation, which makes it so adaptable. That’s why you have sermons, and imams, and rabbis, and priests, giving you every week a new version of what it actually means, because the foundations of them are meaningless.

In this he agrees, at least partially, with Paul:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:17-31 ESV)

Myth is True, yet it is also absurd, in that it is beyond verifiability or falsifibility, it exists outside the mere naturalistic material realm and is more True than any mere fact claim. Verifiability and falsifibility can discern naturalistic fact, they cannot discern Truth.

Yet, this absurdity does not mean it is meaningless, something which meaningless which he touches upon right away:

But you need meaningless ideas, unfalsifiable, and unverifiable. Otherwise, it’s a mere social contract of convenience which has an exit strategy and people can defect any time they want. Once you buy into this apparently absurd beliefs, and think about it, the more apparently absurd they are, the deeper the trust they engender. And stronger the societies are in competition with other societies. And Darwin of course was the first to point this out in The Descent of Man, saying : why do the heroes and martyrs come into being? They are willing to die and commit to this… what? What are they dying for? They’re not dying even for their families, because they know they are gonna die. They are dying for abstract ideas, abstract causes, which no other creature but man re subject. And human beings will do their utmost exertion for ill or good, not for the sake of kith and kin, but collectively for the sake of abstract ideas. And these abstract ideas are unverifiable, and unfalsifiable.

People will fight, work, and die for Truth, they will not do so for what is merely true.

This is because meaning is only found in Truth, yet Truth is beyond mere fact. Fact is meaningless; it exists, but in relation nothing.

The sky is blue! Who cares? Water is wet! Meh. 1.34159! So?

The fit reproduce, the unfit are selected out! And so? What does this mean to me?

Solomon was the fittest, he had 1000 wives and concubines. Yet:

And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 ESV)

There is no meaning in fact… Where is meaning to be found?

Man needs meaning, he needs myth. Myth makes man.

Facts are meaningless in themselves, Truth is not. Facts are only valuable when they have been given meaning by being subsumed in myth.


The content of religious beliefs are what people make of them at the moment. What they agree upon them at the moment. They aren’t fixed, they are forever adaptable. And that is why they are counterintuitive and absurd. Because if they were fixed, if you could give them propositional content, if you could falsify them, or verify them, they’d be stuck. So they have to be open.

Here the speech fumbles, at least regarding Christianity. The Truth of Christianity has not changed in two thousand years, as there is one Truth:

A carpenter nailed to a tree then resurrected.

Barring time travel, the ability to verify this event passed long ago. Even beyond that single Truth, the Christian Church has held to the same creeds for two thousand years. Through time and cultures there have been heretics and apostates, debates over theological matters, doctrinal changes, disagreements, and clarifications, different emphasises, and such and on, but the core truths have stood firm and the core teachings, repent and be baptized, have not changed.

Even with these changes the Orthodox Church has held the same views for two thousand years (with, as far as I know, the only major change being the temporary reversals on iconography), the Roman Catholic Church has held mostly the same views for two thousand years, and, until the last century of degeneracy, even within most Protestant churches core doctrines of particular denominations rarely changed.


  1. I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding here. Iconoclastic movement was started by a heretical emperor, but was condemned most harshly, as a heresy by the Church, and thus opposed by the Orthodox faithful. Emperor has put many Orthodox faithful, cleric and layman alike to death for opposing the heresy of Iconoclasm. Iconoclasm was never a position of the Church in the first place, and thus couldn’t ever be reversed. It’s in the same way that the Church didn’t suddenly become Aryan, and then reverse it’s position of Aryanism. Heresy is always a novelty, and not ever a part of the Church or of a Sacred Tradition. Those who have changed their positions were secular rulers, but never the Church.

  2. Very interesting, and I think you sum up perfectly how the Traditionalist approaches the much-scoffed at and misunderstood concept of myth, that in fact myths are representative of a greater truth that cannot be believed in the same way that seeing ones hands in front of their face can. Certain profane sciences may represent truth, but they do not represent Truth.

    It is a higher, divinely sourced knowledge that guides the World of Tradition. As De Maistre pointed out, the key role of a Traditional government is to keep intact the ancient mysteries and the shrouded fog that lies beyond the veil. The fog can only be lifted to reveal a legitimate answer by one person. The person of Christ, who is yet to return to this world and end it.

  3. “Religion” and/or “Myth” are only “absurd” if you take Popperian positivism for granted. Positivism is so prevalent in our society it almost takes active rejection to not fall for it. While there is no way to falsify religious propositions about spirituality (you can falsify a religious system through a true reductio ad absurdum), religion is still subject to transcendental argumentation, and this is where the rubber meets the road, and materialist atheism is the worldview that is actually absurd in the sense of actually involving logical contradiction.

    If no revealed religion is true, then there is no Truth. Period. This is all just smoke and mirrors and everything really boils down to Will to Power and the struggle for survival in a universe where you don’t even know if your senses are at all accurate reflections of reality. If that’s the case, then religion is just another option for you to adopt in your struggle to survive and prosper. The ironic thing about the modern atheist is that, for all their protestations of devotion to reason and logic, they refuse to stare into the abyss and admit it for what it is. They are, without doubt, the most delusional people on planet Earth.

    While it is true that we cannot test mythological origins in a physical sense, the same is also true of all origins. That science has presumed to be the answer to every question of Truth is itself one of the most laughable aspects of modernity. In its arrogance, it forgets its own methods of determining truth in a mad dash to prove principles of naturalism against its recalcitrant opponents. There is no test that can actually prove what happened in our past. It really boils down to who you are willing to believe: Scientists dedicated to the project of methodological naturalism in an attempt to subvert the power of the Church in all walks of life or our Holy Religion in an attempt to put science back in its spot as a servant of man and not his master. The only science which ought to master men is Theology.

  4. The Romans did not follow the usual procedures when crucifying Jesus. Instead of finishing him off by smashing his femurs (instant death), they speared him in the gut (slow, septic death). Then, before nightfall, they allowed his friends to take the body, instead of leaving it on the cross to fully decay and disintegrate. So it’s quite likely the body they entombed was unconscious but still alive.

    That’s the nail that Christianity hangs on, that Jesus died in a public execution watched by thousands of people, and then returned (briefly) to life.

  5. So it’s quite likely the body they entombed was unconscious but still alive.

    Typical swoon theory BS. Even if, beyond all odds, Jesus did manage to survive hanging on the tree for several hours and having his side pierced, what are the odds he would have recovered in time to remove a freaking rock less than 72 hours later? Even with modern medical treatment, recovering from such an ordeal would have likely taken a significant amount of time longer. Without modern medical treatment, the odds are he would have died even if he was alive when they pulled him off the cross. Even if he didn’t, he certainly wouldn’t have been strong enough to push a large boulder out of the entrance to his tomb, especially not having had water since being hung on the cross.

  6. As much as I hate spergy “f*ck you dad!”, “I-f*cking love science!” type atheists, I reserve a special contempt for tweedy “ahem, yes, religion is surely a fascinating socio-politico-cultural emergent phenomenon, but of course it’s all bollocks at bottom, my dear boy” bloviating. With any given religion, the most important thing is really whether you believe its claims are true or not. Beyond that, the question of whether it leads to social cohesion or beautiful architecture or bloody conquest is pretty trivial; in the short term these things are all capable of happening without religious motivations, and in the long term they’re all vanity.

    I don’t think the 1 Corinthians reading really agrees with the original quote. I don’t think Paul believed Christ’s actions were “open to intepretation” with “meaningless foundations” and “lacking truth conditions”. On the contrary, he dedicated his life to teaching a clear, exact, well-developed message and guarding it against any changes. His words about foolishness conquering wisdom and weakness conquering strength emphasized the strangeness and unexpectedness of Christ’s ministry. The fact that the Jews expected a mighty warrior Messiah, and instead received a humble carpenter, who nevertheless won for them a much greater victory than any warrior could, is part of the delightful and profound surprise of Christianity that Chesterton constantly emphasizes in his apologetics. This is very different from claiming Christ’s words and deeds were arbitrary or free of substance.

    Speaking of apologetics, I absolutely disagree with that comment about “lacking truth conditions”. As Paul points out, all our hope is futile if Christ wasn’t actually raised from the dead. Now, it’s true we can’t prove with certainty whether or not that actually happened, but it’s profoundly self-defeating to try to sustain faith without any recourse to the many arguments for reasonable, informed belief: the historicity of the New Testament, the evidence for a created and fine-tuned universe, the lack of naturalistic explanations for the origin of life (notwithstanding the discredited Miller-Urey experiments) or the Cambrian Explosion, the evidence from near-death experiences, as well as philosophical arguments about the existence of evil, the objectivity of morality, and many more. Someone who denies the need for any evidence to support belief will have no reason for preferring one set of beliefs over another, so why not become a Muslim or a Communist instead?

    As for all the True/true stuff, I dunno. A child might believe that George Washington was a larger-than-life hero (I’m a fan of the Cox & Combe version myself, google it), cynical college sophomores might think it’s clever to believe he was a vile slaveowner and patriarch, and hopefully one eventually becomes adult enough to appreciate that he was a flawed human being, but was even so an impressive and hugely successful statesman who left an enormous imprint on the history of his country. A story may not be 100% accurate to history, but the essential points either happened or they didn’t. If people dedicate their lives (or give them) for a true and worthy ideal, I respect and admire that. If they give them for a lie or a false ideal, that’s a human tragedy. Capitalizing a letter doesn’t really change that.

    I don’t really care whether all the dialogue in the NT is word-for-word accurate. I don’t even care if the conquest of Canaan actually happened according to the Book of Joshua (or at all). Either Christ was resurrected, in which case none of the rest matters much, or he wasn’t, and none of the rest matters much. The last thing I want to do is put that one burning issue in its own separate category and claim that it’s too important to consider the evidence.

  7. There was a really excellent column awhile back by Fr Charles Pope regarding the sense of timelessness we feel in our hearts. We have had this sense from the beginning, it is the source of all religion from time immemorial as man struggled to reconcile this feeling with his environment.

    Where Jesus falls in this progression is that He arrived at a critical time and place in history. His Resurrection has been doubted often, yet how else can one explain how much on fire His apostles were in the days and years that followed. So much on fire that Christianity is still around almost 2000 years later, not diminishing and then disappearing like so many other sects. The Resurrection was a truly amazing event; when one understands the context in which it happened, then one understands why Easter is far and away the single most important Holy Day on the Christian calendar.

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