The (Politically Incorrect) Nicene Creed
There's something in the creed to offend every contemporary sensibility. Does saying it reflect intellectual failure?
BY: Luke Timothy Johnson
Many Christians know that deadly moment at a party when their friends realize they actually believe something everyone has merrily been belittling. They recall their stammered reassurances, their tortured reinterpretations, their relief when the conversation moves on, their self-contempt. They may never have heard of Nietzsche, may not be able to define Modernity, and may think of the Enlightenment as a chapter in a first-year college textbook. But their embarrassment at being seen as believers reveals them to be Christians whose view of the world has been shaped less by the Christian creed than by its cultured despisers.
For Modernity, belief in a creed is a sign of intellectual failure. Creeds involve faith, and faith makes statements about reality that can't be tested. Everyone knows that statements can be true only when they don't really say anything about the world or when they have been empirically tested. Creeds are therefore structures of fantasy. One cannot be both a believer and a critical thinker. Creeds also express convictions held by a group of people, and for intellectual elitists, the many is always a herd, and a herd will always believe what it is told. A creed negates the need for individuals to seek truth as a quest for authenticity. To be authentic, people must own each statement they make passionately and personally, and must accept nothing on the basis of outside authority. Better to stay silent than to speak a single word that is not a personal testimony.
For intellectuals in the West, it is the Christian creed that most offends. Christians are pitiable not only because they live by faith rather than by evidence, but because the faith they declare has so thoroughly been demolished by the evidence. This is the conviction lying behind all the raised eyebrows, averted glances, and embarrassed silences when the cultured cognoscenti find a committed Christian in their midst.
Isn't it obvious, these gestures suggest, that science has disproved each and every Christian claim? Adherence to them can be attributed only to an ineradicable (and probably insincere) social conservatism, invincible ignorance, or stupidity-and we thought you were one of us! If the Christian creed has been shown to be false, and even its adherents know that it is false, their willing submission to its herd mentality must come from intellectual laziness or psychological weakness.