Tertullian Prided Himself in Believing Because it Was "Absurd"?
Do Christians pride themselves in believing absurdities? More specifically, did the Church Father Tertullian embrace Christianity because it was irrational? For a long time, critics of Christianity have claimed he said, “I believe [in Christianity] because it is absurd.” But Dr. Peter Harrison at the University of Queensland disagrees. He argues that Tertullian simply thought the resurrection account was too fantastic to have been made up. Dr. Harrison explains this in the following quote.
Scholars of early Christianity have long known that Tertullian never wrote those words… It should not come as a complete surprise, then, that Tertullian did not advocate this principle. He did, however, make this observation, with specific reference to the death and resurrection of Christ: ‘it is entirely credible, because it is unfitting … it is certain, because it is impossible’...
One likely explanation … is that, in his paradoxical juxtaposition of impossibility and certainty, Tertullian is drawing upon a principle set out in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Addressing himself to the credibility of highly improbable events, Aristotle observes: ‘We may argue that people could not have believed them, if they had not been true or nearly true. And that they are more likely to be true because they are incredible.’ His point seems to be that the apparent incredibility of a reported claim can actually provide a reason for believing it, since a witness seeking to perpetuate a false story would most likely have come up with something that at least seemed plausible. If this connection is on the right track, Tertullian, who almost certainly knew Aristotle’s Rhetoric, is not advocating belief without justification, but suggesting that we sometimes have good reasons to believe the highly improbable.
If this connection is on the right track, Tertullian … is not advocating belief without justification, but suggesting that we sometimes have good reasons to believe the highly improbable.
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Peter Harrison, “‘I Believe Because It Is Absurd’: Christianity’s First Meme,” Aeon, April 9, 2018, https://aeon.co/ideas/i-believe-because-it-is-absurd-christianitys-first-meme.