Faith Transcends Reason

 

File:St Paul's Cathedral Dome from One New Change - Square Crop.jpg

The ball and the cross at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Picture by Colin; click for details.

Things that can be true at the same time:

There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
Some religious claims cannot be perfectly proven.

There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
Some religious claims are beyond our complete comprehension.

There is some evidence that faith is the right move to make in life.
Faith goes beyond reason.

The word “transcend” is the best I know for this sort.  X transcends Y when Y fails to contain X while still being relevant to it in some way.  The top floor of the skyscraper transcends the middle floors, but not so much the local zoo.  Marriage transcends engagement and courtship, but not a jar of peanuts.

Faith is outside the jurisdiction of reason, but that doesn’t mean they are completely separate.

It’s a real shame I don’t have more Luther, Calvin, and Edwards in my head.  What’s worse is that I never learned Hebrew.  But I can tell you from my own personal study that these ideas are in Christian thinkers like Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Alvin Plantinga.  (And Kierkegaard is probably closer than you think.) Philosophy giants William James and Immanuel Kant–maybe not exactly Christian, but friendly enough–are pretty similar.

Much more importantly, this is also in the New Testament.

Here’s how I put it in my essay in this recent book I edited, which is very cheap on Kindle (hint, hint):

Say a young man (call him Mark if you like) is in love with a young lady (you could call her Shonda). He is seriously thinking about putting a ring on her finger. Suppose he were to sit down with a pen and paper to analyze his situation and were to estimate the probability that this course of action will lead to years of marital bliss (stipulating that he is the kind of nerd who might actually do this). He is not going to end up with a result of 100 percent. There is always the tiny, tiny chance that she is secretly a witch, an alien, or a robot. More likely, perhaps personality differences that have already become evident hint at years of communication problems and marital fights. Optimistically, the young man would be pretty lucky to be able to estimate a probability of around 95 percent.

But what young lady wants 95 percent of a ring?

The fact of the matter is simple: His action ought to be either 100 percent or 0 percent.

Of course, the conclusion of the matter may be a 100-percent matter. Given pretty good odds that they are meant to be together, it is reasonable to say that there is only one right course of action. What right action avoids all possible risk of a bad outcome? And that is another way of making the main point: Even an action which is certainly right may be based on uncertain evidence. In any case, the action must be either done, or not: He must give his lady friend a ring, or not. Similarly, she must agree to be his wife, or not; if she is less than fully convinced about it, she cannot act accordingly by becoming less than fully a wife, for there is no such thing, and if there were he is not asking her for it.

Faith is like that. It involves a commitment, not only of belief but of life. There is no faith without repentance (Acts 17:30–31) or without works (Jas 2:14–26). There is no faith without following Jesus, who says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). This commitment is meant to be total; we do not get to keep 10 percent of our idols and 10 percent of our sins, and follow Jesus carrying 90 percent of a cross if a good study of apologetics leads us to assess the probability that Jesus is the Messiah at just 90 percent. The evidence is not binary, but the action is: We do it, or not.

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  1. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    One of my favorite phrases in the Bible is “Come now, and let us reason together.”  An invitation for the purpose of a meeting of the minds that reinforces that faith and its obverse obedience is reasonable, rational, and fact-based.  Certainly God’s reasoning is superior to ours, and this is at the very least because He is in command of all the facts.  Furthermore, He acts according to His own good pleasure, and created and organized the entire universe and all humanity to accomplish His own purposes.  He knows not only how but why.  We might never know how, but if we don’t know now we will very likely know why from His own mouth, so to speak.

    Faith may be the 50th floor, but it relies on the first 49 floors to be what and where it is.  Revelation is below, reason is somewhere lower.  And the first floors are facts.

    I marvel that God gave us a concrete reason to believe in the Messiah when He told us centuries before (inarguably in the book of Daniel, translated into Greek some three centuries earlier) when He would send the Messiah to live, and to heal, and to be cut off.  There are other reasons to believe, but when I say, What?  Could this be wrong? I always come back to, No, this is fact.

    When I ask myself the questions, Why this and why that?  Quandaries, mysteries, seeming paradoxes, I come back to, God is, and is in charge and eventually all will be known, and all will make sense.  There are questions that are unknowable at present, and for them I lean easily on the faith that when all is known all will be reasonable.

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Faith may be the 50th floor, but it relies on the first 49 floors to be what and where it is.  Revelation is below, reason is somewhere lower.  And the first floors are facts.

    Like the ball and the cross. In Chesterton’s book The Ball and the Cross.

    • #2
  3. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Faith may be the 50th floor, but it relies on the first 49 floors to be what and where it is. Revelation is below, reason is somewhere lower. And the first floors are facts.

    Like the ball and the cross. In Chesterton’s book The Ball and the Cross.

    I’ve never read it.  Can you give me the gist?

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Faith may be the 50th floor, but it relies on the first 49 floors to be what and where it is. Revelation is below, reason is somewhere lower. And the first floors are facts.

    Like the ball and the cross. In Chesterton’s book The Ball and the Cross.

    I’ve never read it. Can you give me the gist?

    No time for the book!  But the gist of the illustration is that the ball represents reason, and the cross faith.  One rests on the other.  This is explained by a monk in the beginning of Chesterton’s novel. He and the bad guy are looking at the ball and cross on top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

    • #4
  5. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    He and the bad guy are looking at the ball and cross on top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

    (I’m a loser. I had to look up the location.)

    • #5
  6. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Yes. Yes. Yes. In theology (which is woven with Hebraic-Christian philosophy :) ) we might say,

    “Christianity is reasonable and yet, something beyond reason.”

    Hebrews 11:1-6 is a perfect connector. In theology, “faith” has to have content (the “things” in 11:1-3, ESV), credibility (“assurance,” “conviction”), and commitment (“by faith…” and then v 6 “without faith…”).

    Your marriage-proposal-ring illustration exactly gets after the point (as does the 49+1 floors in The Ball and the Cross). All of Christianity rests on history, events claimed to have taken place in our space-time continuum. If there was not a real (living, breathing, identifiable) person named “Jesus” who physically died on a cross for the sin of the world then rose from the dead and was observed after the resurrection by a multiplicity of eyewitnesses, Christianity would not exist as a comprehensive worldview.

    And then there is that word “transcend.” Yes, indeed.

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    He and the bad guy are looking at the ball and cross on top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

    (I’m a loser. I had to look up the location.)

    I must take issue here! You are NO loser! :)
    :)

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Hebrews 11:1-6 is a perfect connector. In theology, “faith” has to have content (the “things” in 11:1-3, ESV), credibility (“assurance,” “conviction”), and commitment (“by faith…” and then v 6 “without faith…”).

    I could talk about this. The English translations reliably botch verse 1. It’s in this nerd article I wrote.

    • #7
  8. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Hebrews 11:1-6 is a perfect connector. In theology, “faith” has to have content (the “things” in 11:1-3, ESV), credibility (“assurance,” “conviction”), and commitment (“by faith…” and then v 6 “without faith…”).

    I could talk about this. The English translations reliably botch verse 1. It’s in this nerd article I wrote.

    Where HAVEN’T you published?! Great stuff!

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Hebrews 11:1-6 is a perfect connector. In theology, “faith” has to have content (the “things” in 11:1-3, ESV), credibility (“assurance,” “conviction”), and commitment (“by faith…” and then v 6 “without faith…”).

    I could talk about this. The English translations reliably botch verse 1. It’s in this nerd article I wrote.

    Where HAVEN’T you published?! Great stuff!

    Oxford, for a start.

    • #9
  10. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    I mashed the “Like” button because I couldn’t find the “…wow” button.

    • #10
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Some of you people are too kind. Thank you.

    • #11
  12. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    Saint Augustine:

    There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
    Some religious claims cannot be perfectly proven.

    There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
    Some religious claims are beyond our complete comprehension.

    There is some evidence that faith is the right move to make in life.
    Faith goes beyond reason.

    The question that I keep wondering about is : What do we mean by a religious claim being “true”? We know what makes empirical claims true or false. But claims like “For God so loved the world…” or “The word became flesh” aren’t just unprovable, they’re not even the kind of claims that we can even define what their truth would mean. What does it mean to say that a certain person is the incarnation of God? Debating whether it’s true is putting the cart ahead of the horse. What would it even mean for it to be true? Logical positivists would say that the problem with such claims isn’t that they’re false. Rather, it’s that they’re meaningless. I wouldn’t go that far. But it seems that there needs to be a clear definition of truth/falsehood when it comes to non-empirical claims. 

     

     

    • #12
  13. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Hebrews 11:1-6 is a perfect connector. In theology, “faith” has to have content (the “things” in 11:1-3, ESV), credibility (“assurance,” “conviction”), and commitment (“by faith…” and then v 6 “without faith…”).

    I could talk about this. The English translations reliably botch verse 1. It’s in this nerd article I wrote.

    Where HAVEN’T you published?! Great stuff!

    Oxford, for a start.

    Their loss. 

    • #13
  14. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine:

    There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
    Some religious claims cannot be perfectly proven.

    There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
    Some religious claims are beyond our complete comprehension.

    There is some evidence that faith is the right move to make in life.
    Faith goes beyond reason.

    The question that I keep wondering about is : What do we mean by a religious claim being “true”? We know what makes empirical claims true or false. But claims like “For God so loved the world…” or “The word became flesh” aren’t just unprovable, they’re not even the kind of claims that we can even define what their truth would mean. What does it mean to say that a certain person is the incarnation of God? Debating whether it’s true is putting the cart ahead of the horse. What would it even mean for it to be true? Logical positivists would say that the problem with such claims isn’t that they’re false. Rather, it’s that they’re meaningless. I wouldn’t go that far. But it seems that there needs to be a clear definition of truth/falsehood when it comes to non-empirical claims.

    I think many things are not true until you apply faith.  For instance, most of us would agree that it is true that Joe Biden is President, Donald Trump was President before him and Barack Obama was President before both.  I have never physically seen either one of them, so for me, the truth that they exist rests on the witness of someone else whom I choose to believe.  Many people believe the three to be real people, but it would not be impossible to think there is someone who would not and for them, their existence would not be true.

    In the same way, there are over 2 billion Christians in the world who apparently believe “God so loved the world …” so one could easily draw the conclusion it is a true statement.

    • #14
  15. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    I like to call it; “Heart and Head”. I believe in order to understand. One needs both to avoid becoming a skeptic. A skeptic who is skeptical of everything, and everyone except themselves.

    • #15
  16. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine:

    There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
    Some religious claims cannot be perfectly proven.

    There is some evidence for the truth of some religious claims.
    Some religious claims are beyond our complete comprehension.

    There is some evidence that faith is the right move to make in life.
    Faith goes beyond reason.

    The question that I keep wondering about is : What do we mean by a religious claim being “true”? We know what makes empirical claims true or false. But claims like “For God so loved the world…” or “The word became flesh” aren’t just unprovable, they’re not even the kind of claims that we can even define what their truth would mean. What does it mean to say that a certain person is the incarnation of God? Debating whether it’s true is putting the cart ahead of the horse. What would it even mean for it to be true? Logical positivists would say that the problem with such claims isn’t that they’re false. Rather, it’s that they’re meaningless. I wouldn’t go that far. But it seems that there needs to be a clear definition of truth/falsehood when it comes to non-empirical claims.

    I think many things are not true until you apply faith. For instance, most of us would agree that it is true that Joe Biden is President, Donald Trump was President before him and Barack Obama was President before both. I have never physically seen either one of them, so for me, the truth that they exist rests on the witness of someone else whom I choose to believe. Many people believe the three to be real people, but it would not be impossible to think there is someone who would not and for them, their existence would not be true.

    In the same way, there are over 2 billion Christians in the world who apparently believe “God so loved the world …” so one could easily draw the conclusion it is a true statement.

    That Obama was president is a fundamentally different type of claim than God so loved the world. So it’s not sufficient to compare the two in terms of whether we are forced to accept the word of others about them. We all know what it means for someone to be president. The truth of the statement that Obama was president is judged against the “backdrop” of the empirical reality of how many people voted for him and the fact that he carried out the duties of president.  What is the  “backdrop” against which we judge claims like “God so loved the world”? Or the claim that God became a person? Where do we look to understand what that claim means or if it’s true? 

     

     

    • #16
  17. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine:

    There …
    Some …

    There …
    Some …

    There is …
    Faith …

    The question that I keep wondering about is : What do we mean by a religious claim being “true”? We know what makes empirical claims true or false. But claims like “For God so loved the world…” or “The word became flesh” aren’t just unprovable, they’re not even the kind of claims that we can even define what their truth would mean. …

    I think many things are not true until you apply faith. For instance, most of us would agree that it is true that Joe Biden is President, Donald Trump was President before him and Barack Obama was President before both. I have never physically seen either one of them, so for me, the truth that they exist rests on the witness of someone else whom I choose to believe. Many people believe the three to be real people, but it would not be impossible to think there is someone who would not and for them, their existence would not be true.

    In the same way, there are over 2 billion Christians in the world who apparently believe “God so loved the world …” so one could easily draw the conclusion it is a true statement.

    That Obama was president is a fundamentally different type of claim than God so loved the world. So it’s not sufficient to compare the two in terms of whether we are forced to accept the word of others about them. We all know what it means for someone to be president. The truth of the statement that Obama was president is judged against the “backdrop” of the empirical reality of how many people voted for him and the fact that he carried out the duties of president. What is the “backdrop” against which we judge claims like “God so loved the world”? Or the claim that God became a person? Where do we look to understand what that claim means or if it’s true?

    I have neither observed nor experienced Obama, Trump or Biden or the votes that elected them, nor did I watch either of them carry out any duties.  I personally have no empirical evidence.  I only have beliefs related to their existence and what they did.  Perhaps you do, so just pick something else that you believe with no personal evidence like the moon landing or mars rover.  Seems like 90% of conversations these days have to do with people believing different things with no concrete evidence.  I suppose it’s how we are wired.  Faith takes what we know and fills in the blanks. 

    Specifically to believe “God so loved the world” one would first have to believe God exists.  If God exists, then Him loving the world is a short step.  

    • #17
  18. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    W.Bob . That Obama was president is a fundamentally different type of claim than God so loved the world. So it’s not sufficient to compare the two in terms of whether we are forced to accept the word of others about them. We all know what it means for someone to be president. The truth of the statement that Obama was president is judged against the “backdrop” of the empirical reality of how many people voted for him and the fact that he carried out the duties of president. What is the “backdrop” against which we judge claims like “God so loved the world”? Or the claim that God became a person? Where do we look to understand what that claim means or if it’s true?

    I have neither observed nor experienced Obama, Trump or Biden or the votes that elected them, nor did I watch either of them carry out any duties.  I personally have no empirical evidence.  I only have beliefs related to their existence and what they did.  Perhaps you do, so just pick something else that you believe with no personal evidence like the moon landing or mars rover.  Seems like 90% of conversations these days have to do with people believing different things with no concrete evidence.  I suppose it’s how we are wired.  Faith takes what we know and fills in the blanks.

    Specifically to believe “God so loved the world” one would first have to believe God exists.  If God exists, then Him loving the world is a short step

    If God exists…that’s another question where we not only don’t know the answer, but don’t know even what it would mean to be true. Is God the highest of all existing beings? Usually this is how people seem to think of God. But this posits a God “existing” alongside all other beings, as if he is one of them, albeit the most powerful or omniscient, but whose existence is the same type of thing as theirs.

    I think it was Paul Tillich who said “God does not exist,” by which he did not intend to express an atheistic sentiment if I understand him.

    • #18
  19. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I am amazed at the emptiness of the faithful whose hearts are filled with God, but who ache for science.

    Keep your chocolate out of my peanut butter.

    • #19
  20. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Some of you people are too kind. Thank you.

    Which ones?  Which ones??

    • #20
  21. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    BDB (View Comment):

    I am amazed at the emptiness of the faithful whose hearts are filled with God, but who ache for science.

    Keep your chocolate out of my peanut butter.

    You might want to click on the link to the story of this Catholic priest; Father Georges Lemaître.

    • #21
  22. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    W Bob (View Comment):

    That Obama was president is a fundamentally different type of claim than God so loved the world. So it’s not sufficient to compare the two in terms of whether we are forced to accept the word of others about them. We all know what it means for someone to be president. The truth of the statement that Obama was president is judged against the “backdrop” of the empirical reality of how many people voted for him and the fact that he carried out the duties of president. What is the “backdrop” against which we judge claims like “God so loved the world”? Or the claim that God became a person? Where do we look to understand what that claim means or if it’s true?

    There are over 2 billion Christians in the world who apparently believe “God so loved the world that he gave is only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  But there even more people in the world who do not apparently believe this.  I think Christians and non-Christians alike tend to reject argumentum ad populum, the belief that something is real because the majority think it is real.  

    I am willing to entertain the idea that Obama was not President of the United States.  It is possible that someone back in 2007 slipped a powerful drug in my lemonade that has caused me to hallucinate and believe that Obama was President of the US from January 2009 through January 2017.  What about all these other people who say that Obama was president?  Hey, maybe I am hallucinating about those conversations too.  It’s possible.

    But is it likely?  That’s where I have to place myself in either the agnostic camp or the atheist camp, not only with respect to the claims the most Christians make, but also the claims that most Muslims make and those that many Hindus, Mormons and Jains make.  

    It’s possible that Jesus rose from the dead.  But it doesn’t seem likely in my opinion.  

    I think it is far more likely that someone who followed Jesus during his ministry, before Jesus was killed, had a dream about Jesus after Jesus died.  This person might have interpreted this dream as a message from God and told some friends of his, who were also followers of Jesus while Jesus was alive.  So, the word spread among people who thought that this kind of story was inspiring.  Eventually the rumor developed into a movement we call Christianity.  

    I can’t prove that this is what happened.  But given the tendency of human beings to believe things that are not true (take Islam, Tarot Cards can tell you the future, the earth is flat, etc), I think my hypothesis is closer to actual facts than that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.

    • #22
  23. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    • #23
  24. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Matthew Hartke discusses the Resurrection Narratives.

    • #24
  25. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    A good book to read about “contradictions” in the Gospels is by J. Warner Wallace, a former cold case homicide detective for Los Angeles County and a former atheist.  Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.

    Unless you’ve worked a lot with eyewitnesses and have become familiar with the nature of apparent contradiction in eyewitness accounts, it’s easy to assume that people are lying (or are mistaken) simply because they don’t agree on every detail or have ignored some facts in favor of others…While we might complain about two accounts that appear to differ in some way, we would be even more suspicious if there were absolutely no peculiarities or differences. If this were the case with the Gospels, I bet we would argue that they were a result of some elaborate collusion.

    • #25
  26. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    W Bob (View Comment):

    The question that I keep wondering about is : What do we mean by a religious claim being “true”?

    We mean it’s true. That’s all.

    We know what makes empirical claims true or false.

    Yes, the facts make them true.  Same with religion.

    But claims like “For God so loved the world…” or “The word became flesh” aren’t just unprovable, they’re not even the kind of claims that we can even define what their truth would mean. What does it mean to say that a certain person is the incarnation of God? Debating whether it’s true is putting the cart ahead of the horse. What would it even mean for it to be true?

    Religious claims are more empirical than you think.  But even if they weren’t, they would be true if and only if they agree with the facts.

    Basically, I don’t understand why you’re even asking these questions, and I think the questions are making false assumptions.

    Logical positivists would say that the problem with such claims isn’t that they’re false. Rather, it’s that they’re meaningless. I wouldn’t go that far.

    That’s a start!

    • #26
  27. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    I think many things are not true until you apply faith.

    Yes.  William James is very insightful on this.  (See his second argument here.)

    For instance, most of us would agree that it is true that Joe Biden is President, Donald Trump was President before him and Barack Obama was President before both.  I have never physically seen either one of them, so for me, the truth that they exist rests on the witness of someone else whom I choose to believe.  Many people believe the three to be real people, but it would not be impossible to think there is someone who would not and for them, their existence would not be true.

    No, their existence would be true, but not known by those other people.

    • #27
  28. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    I like to call it; “Heart and Head”. I believe in order to understand. One needs both to avoid becoming a skeptic. A skeptic who is skeptical of everything, and everyone except themselves.

    Yay Augustine!

    • #28
  29. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    W Bob (View Comment):
    What is the  “backdrop” against which we judge claims like “God so loved the world”?

    The facts.

    Or the claim that God became a person? Where do we look to understand what that claim means or if it’s true?

    Scripture and history, for a start.

    • #29
  30. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    I think many things are not true until you apply faith.

    Yes. William James is very insightful on this. (See his second argument here.)

    For instance, most of us would agree that it is true that Joe Biden is President, Donald Trump was President before him and Barack Obama was President before both. I have never physically seen either one of them, so for me, the truth that they exist rests on the witness of someone else whom I choose to believe. Many people believe the three to be real people, but it would not be impossible to think there is someone who would not and for them, their existence would not be true.

    No, their existence would be true, but not known by those other people.

    I am far more confident that Barack Obama exists than I am that Jesus rose from the dead.  

    • #30