In my interactions with friends who’ve turned away from Christianity, I sometimes notice patterns – certain arguments and narratives that are common among those who have “de-converted”. I realize this is purely anecdotal, but I wanted to take some time to address one such argument. The following quote is taken (with permission) from a friend of mine during one of our discussions on Facebook:
“Where I began to shift from religion to atheism occurred when I was comparing the competing claims of different religions with the evidence available to me. When there are multiple religions which all share the belief that they are reasonable, purposeful, and do not demand empirical or scientific proof — then it is awfully difficult, at least for me, to establish why I should believe one religion over another. When I watch all of these people in the world who have different beliefs but share the idea of “faith”, and when I heard about all of the people in history who had a multitude of different religions but shared the idea of “faith”, then it is very tough for me [to] just have “faith”. If many religions can have a reasonable, purposeful belief that doesn’t demand empirical or scientific proof, then what’s the point of believing in any of their claims? For me, I thought it was more likely that all religions, by believing based on “faith”, were equally likely to be wrong – once I examined the nature of “faith” and the way it operates in many different religious traditions and throughout history.”
We can summarize this line of thinking as follows:
If 0 ≤ C ≤ 1
(where “C” is a person’s initial, subjectively-determined “probability of Christianity being true”)
And 0 ≤ C+W ≤ 1
(where “W” adjusts for the presence of other world religions, and “C+W” represents a person’s subjectively-determined “probability of Christianity being true” when considering the existence of these other religions)
Then C+W < C
And W < 0
In other words, this argument claims that the existence of numerous other world religions serves as net evidence AGAINST Christianity being true. Thus, “W” has some arbitrary but negative value.
The problem with this argument, as I see it, is that there is no compelling, objective reason why “W” should be negative. In fact, I believe one can make a convincing case for “W” being positive. That is, the existence of numerous other world religions actually serves as evidence FOR Christianity being true.
To understand this, we first have to recognize that each religion must be studied and evaluated on its own terms. The mere existence of 1.6 billion Muslims in the world doesn’t serve as evidence against Christianity any more than it serves as evidence against atheism, agnosticism, or any other belief system.
I would argue that the presence of so many religious traditions around the world actually points to the likelihood that there is something more to our existence than can be explained materialistically. It demonstrates mankind’s innate craving for something “more” – some kind of experience beyond the mere physical.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” -CS Lewis
“If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.” -CS Lewis
On Christianity, it makes perfect sense to find so many different religions and spiritual beliefs throughout the world. Man has been created with a spiritual craving which only God can fill, and absent a relationship with the One True God, he may well invent his own deity (or deities) to worship.
It makes no sense at all, however, to conclude that the existence of so many distinct (yet fundamentally similar) religions somehow serves as a logical argument against any one of them.
A Few Clarifications
The skeptic reading this blog might take issue with some of my starting premises (namely, the exclusive focus on Christianity). They might propose, for example, that an imaginary individual assigns values of 0.6 and 0.4 to the “probability of God existing” and the “probability of God not existing”, respectively. At this point, the competing claims of individual faiths and religions would divide that 0.6 probability into dozens of much smaller probabilities, leaving disbelief in God as the largest remaining value.
However, I want to reiterate that this post is addressed primarily to the former Christian who “de-converted” in part because of the competing claims of other religions, as well as to the current Christian who might be struggling with the same issue. Because from the Christian’s perspective, the mere existence of other religions should not give us any logical reason to doubt our own faith.
Finally, I want to emphatically dispel the idea that our faith should be based on nothing more than a numerical “probability of Christianity being true”. I use that terminology to illustrate a larger point, but our hope in Christ is predicated on a bold leap of faith. A faith supported by solid evidence, certainly…but not something that can be boiled down to mere numbers, either.