The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Puddleglum’s Speech

In my last post, I began a discussion on the role of “choice” in faith by addressing Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy and the implicit idea that belief in God requires proof.

So for the duration of this post, I will be working off the assumption that a Christian’s faith entails a reasonable and purposeful belief that is supported by evidence. This kind of faith isn’t “blind” by any means, but neither does it demand empirical, scientific proof.

If one accepts this definition of faith and the premise that Christianity has a chance of being true, where does this leave us?

In a recent post, Max Andrews asked himself the question: “What would it take for me to be an atheist?” Some of his thoughts are given below:

“I was speaking with my professor over lunch a month or so back and we struck up a conversation on what it would take for us to be atheists.  Proving the resurrection false doesn’t disprove God, it just disproves Christianity.  The cosmological, fine-tuning, ontological, and moral arguments still work….I believe these arguments are sound.  If I were to become an atheist it wouldn’t be for intellectual reasons, it would be for emotional and existential reasons. What’s interesting is that I’m a Christian for existential reasons. My existentialism is what drove me to Christianity.  I recognized my life was utterly meaningless, valueless, and purposeless without God.” (read the full post here)

An atheist friend of mine once dismissed this idea as “believing in something because you want it to be true”. He then compared Christians to those who jump off tall buildings because they want to be able to fly…and actually believe they can. This comparison, however, suffers from the same problem as Russell’s teapot analogy. It equates a belief in human flight (something with no evidence at all) with a belief in Christianity (something with considerable philosophical and historical evidence, regardless of one’s ultimate conclusions).

The reality is that one of Christianity’s greatest draws is its “appeal to beauty”. It reveals the ultimate source of meaning, value, and purpose that we’re all searching for. All that remains is to make the choice to believe; a “leap of faith”, but not a blind one.

In my opinion, this “appeal to beauty” is most elegantly conveyed in – of all places – a children’s book. In C.S. Lewis‘s “The Silver Chair“, the main characters have entered the underground realm of the Green Lady, where they’ve been enchanted into losing their belief in the above-ground world. One of the characters, a marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum, makes the following speech:

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” 

Related Articles

Atheism’s Universe is Meaningless and Valueless (J.W. Wartick)

Faith and Reason (Part 1) (Quadrivium)

The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Addressing Russell’s Teapot

“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth with falsehood
for the good or evil side.

With each choice God speaking to us,
offers each the bloom or blight
Then the man or nation chooses
for the darkness or the light.”

-James R. Lowell

When it comes to matters of faith and religion, there is a prevailing tendency among skeptics to deny that belief is a choice. At some point, most of us have probably heard something along the lines of, “Christianity sounds nice and all, but I’m just not able to believe it,” or perhaps, “I’ll believe it if you can prove it.”

Unfortunately, this attitude is dangerously flawed.

It’s flawed because the idea that belief requires proof is completely inconsistent with the meaning of faith.

It’s dangerous because it provides people with a spiritual and intellectual “out”. They reason: “If Christianity can’t be empirically proven, then I can’t be held responsible for not believing. God – if he exists – should have given me some proof.” In response to this, a quote from Tozer and a verse from John immediately come to mind.

“We rest in what God is. I believe that this alone is true faith. Any faith that must be supported by the evidence of the senses is not real faith.” -A.W. Tozer

“Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” –John 20:29 (NIV)

Skeptics commonly cite Russell’s Teapot as a justification for rejecting the existence of the God of the Bible. This well-known analogy is often used to place upon Christians the burden of proof for God’s existence – despite the Christian’s insistence that the need for proof (in a scientific sense) goes entirely against the point. The argument is stated as follows:

“I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.” –Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

Of course, the problem with this reasoning should be immediately obvious to the fair-minded person. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a china teapot exists in orbit between Earth and Mars, and in fact there are many very good reasons to doubt the existence of such a teapot. To make this same assertion about the Christian God requires that one willfully ignore not only the well-reasoned philosophical arguments for God’s existence, but also the overwhelming historical and archaeological evidence supporting many of the central claims and events of the Bible.

It’s one thing to debate these arguments for God head-on, but quite another to simply dismiss them outright or pretend that they don’t exist. And even if the skeptic ultimately finds the evidence for God to be insufficient, it must still be conceded that this is not the same as having no evidence at all (as is the case for the teapot). Thus, Russell’s analogy is fatally flawed (along with more modern parodies like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn).

Keep reading: in my next post, I further explore the role of “choice” in faith.

Related Articles

Atheists and Unicorns: Emotional Appeal (J.W. Wartick)

If God wanted us to believe in him, why doesn’t he give us more evidence? (Wintery Knight)

Russell’s Teapot: Does it Hold Water? (Maverick Philosopher)

Francis Schaeffer Quotes

Francis Schaeffer would have celebrated his 100th birthday in January. I’m obviously a couple months late with this, but here are a few quotes in remembrance of a life well lived.

Francis Schaeffer

“Think of this great flaming phrase: “certain inalienable rights.” Who gives the rights? The state? Then they are not inalienable because the state can change them and take them away. Where do the rights come from? [Jefferson and others] understood that they were founding the country upon the concept that goes back into the Judeo-Christian thinking that there is Someone there who gave the inalienable rights.”

“In passing, we should note this curious mark of our own age: the only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute.”

“Humanism, man beginning only from himself, had destroyed the old basis of values, and could find no way to generate with certainty any new values. In the resulting vacuum the impoverished values of personal peace and affluence had come to stand supreme.”

Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”

“But if I live in a world of nonabsolutes and would fight social injustice on the mood of the moment, how can I establish what social justice is? What criterion do I have to distinguish between right and wrong so that I can know what I should be fighting? Is it not possible that I could in fact acquiesce in evil and stamp out good? The word love cannot tell me how to discern, for within the humanistic framework love can have no defined meaning.”

“There is no place for love in a totally closed cause and effect system.”

Reconsidering the “War on Religion”

Thanks in large part to the Republican primaries and the recent Health and Human Services contraception fiasco, we’ve been hearing a lot lately about a perceived “war on religion”.

Although religious freedoms are undeniably under attack in this country (consider, for example, the actions against Vanderbilt University student groups, or the contraception mandate mentioned above), it’s important that we keep things in perspective. Christians in countries like Somalia, Nigeria, and Indonesia are regularly beaten, beheaded, imprisoned, and intimidated with death threats and church bombings.

In the meantime, we act like we’re being persecuted whenever a nativity scene is removed from the lawn of a courthouse.

So although I think we should be gravely concerned about the increasing secularization of our culture, I’ve slowly come to the opinion that we might be approaching things the wrong way. By combating unfair treatment in the political arena, Christians sometimes adopt an “us vs. them” mentality that can gravely undermine our more important Message. Politicians mention the “war on religion” taking place in our culture, and our first response is to reach for the pitchforks.

Contrast this indignation with what we find in the book of James:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. -James 1:2-3 (NKJV)

Should our top priority really be to fight for a safe and religion-friendly government? The early church thrived under Roman persecution, but frankly it stagnated when life became “safe” under Constantine.

Not long ago, I heard a fascinating story about a missionary in China. He was talking to members of their underground church, and mentioned that a lot of Americans are praying for them, and for an end to their government’s persecution. In response, he was told that many Chinese are actually praying that Americans would experience more persecution, so that we would see the kind of explosive spiritual growth that has been occurring in their country.

To clarify: just as Christians shouldn’t let these political issues totally consume us, I’m also not trying to suggest that we completely detach ourselves from them. Rather, I would like to see us cut back a little on the whining and instead adopt an attitude of, “this is where we stand – come what may”.

(This article also appears on The Political Consortium, a newly-formed site that I contribute to.)