This is a quickly drafted response to Andrew S about this comment:
I don’t think that it is pain is a pre-requisite for understanding Christianity, but enormous pain is just a part of life- that is the message of the Buddha as well as Christ. In my view, Christ is about facing reality. Discovering the reality of despair is as easy as looking out the window, most simply ignore it because they don’t have to/want to worry about it.
Andrew asked: How does this reality support Christ, rather than diminish/preclude Christ?
The short answer is that the despair and pain we see in the world neither proves nor disproves Christ, nor does it reveal Christ. There is no explanation for why the world is the way it is. The fact that more people do not find joy in Christ just shows that the way is straight and narrow and few will find it.
I think Christ is a reality just like I think language is a reality. It is obvious that language exists, but I can’t explain why it works or how.
There is empirical evidence of pronounced psychological change in people (including myself) when they grasp what Jesus was talking about. One common way to get to the point where you can grasp what Jesus is talking about is to face despair. It may be that Christ is simply a psychological trick for relief from any sort of despair, that is a reasonable conclusion (like Buddhist enlightenment). But even if this was all that Christ was, it would definitely be worth seeking.
But although I have fooled myself in the past (often willingly) this does not feel like I am fooling myself, it feels more like a philosophical understanding of a physical reality. Being “in Christ” feels like a physical reaction to a solution to an equation, it feels like Helen Keller described it was like to grasp language or mathematics. Metaphysically I don’t know what Christ is, just like I don’t really know what an idea is, but it has consistent physical and psychological effects on me. This is why Christ is a reality that I can’t deny, just like I can’t deny that 1+1 = 2 even though there is no complete and consistent system of though
However, like a many philosophical positions that I have a grasp of, i am not that great at explaining them. most philosophers were not great at explanation either. For example, I can grasp what Heidegger was talking about, but I don’t think Heidegger explained it well at all. I can grasp what Plato was talking about, but he didn’t/couldn’t use straightforward prose to describe what he was saying either. Kierkegaard is almost impossible to understand by reading Kierkegaard. I think Christ is similar to this. I think Jesus and Paul were able to explain it because they were drawing on a very deep tradition, but It is clear that what they said is not a sure-fire way of enlightening people to the reality.
However, the difficulty of grasping Christ says nothing about the reality of Christ. Human beings spent tens of thousands of years without knowing how to draw an image, or write down words, or express mathematical ideas, use fire, etc. I think Christ is a truth that is a durable and reliable source of joy, better than any drug for example, but I think the complexity of the world and the strength of our thoughts and experiences cloud it from our view, just like we may forget the insight we get from philosophy when we get caught up in ideology, visionary experiences, psychological obsessions, etc.
I am still very much a new traveler in this territory. I think I was a strong ideological Christian when I was a Mormon and I felt a spiritual affinity to Jesus and Christian ideas. I could convince people by appealing to their intuitions and latent beliefs about God and their desire to believe in something good. But now I feel like a scientist that discovered a new drug that brings joy, but I can’t quite provide the formula because it was a mixture of hundreds of different ingredients. My grasping Christ seemed like the confluence of dozens of streams of thought.
I have a couple of more polished posts where I will try to present my thoughts clearer about the nature of seeing Christ and the “terrifying reality of God” that I mentioned.