Deconstructing a Common Cause of Unbelief

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.

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“Does God Pose an Authority Problem for You?”

While reading a recent post from Wintery Knight, I stumbled upon an excellent little article from Tough Questions Answered. I’m just passing this along third-hand, so I definitely recommend checking out the entire thing:

“Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority.  They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.

For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.

Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God.  This God gives them what they want when they want it.  He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.  He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead.  C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren.  You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  No problem!” (continue reading here)

This resonated with me because I, too, have observed a correlation between those who reject traditional Christianity (either by adopting a very flimsy, self-centered, humanistic kind of theology, or by turning to atheism or agnosticism), and those who have difficulty accepting authority in general. This seems particularly true for my own generation.

I was also reminded of a college class I took in which we studied the book of Genesis. My classmates came from very diverse backgrounds, so this opened the door for some interesting discussions (to say the least). One of the most prominent themes in Genesis is the idea of “faithful obedience”. Just think about Adam and Eve being instructed by God not to eat from a specific tree; think about Noah being instructed by God to build an ark; think about Abraham being instructed by God to leave his homeland, and later being told to sacrifice his son Isaac.

In every case, the individual is being asked to submit to God’s authority as an act of faith. Quite honestly, this is a virtue that isn’t widely recognized by society today (nor was it regarded as such by most of my fellow students). From the time we’re children, we’re constantly being taught to question all forms of authority – to analyze and critically examine the world around us. I mean, let’s face it: to most people, words like “rebellion” and “independence” carry a lot more appeal than the word “obedience”. The thought of putting aside our own reason and placing our trust in God’s authority is often regarded as a sign of ignorance, weakness, even foolishness.

Yet if we take the Bible seriously, we see that this kind of obedience really is a virtue. I would even go so far as to say that humble obedience to God is the most basic and fundamental form of good. After all, it’s the exact opposite of pride – arguably the most basic and fundamental form of evil.

Is Faith Irrational?

The CMA group at my medical school recently had the privilege of hosting Dr. John Patrick, a physician from England who lectures on matters of faith, science, and medicine. He was an awesome speaker, and I want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of what he said while it’s still fresh in my mind. So basically, I don’t take credit for the following thoughts. I’m paraphrasing a man who’s brighter than I am.

During the dinner talk, one of my classmates asked the following question:

“How do you suggest we respond to colleagues in the medical profession who regard our faith as irrational?”

Dr. Patrick’s response really stuck with me. He suggested, first of all, that we explore what’s meant by “irrational”. The word “irrational”, after all, is just a polite way of saying “crazy” or “insane”. If our faith is insane, one would expect that to manifest itself in visible ways. One would expect our lives to be chaotic, inconsistent, or disordered. Instead, we most often find the exact opposite: our lives reflect a sense of meaning, our relationships become healthier, and our thoughts and actions become subject to a higher set of standards.

In other words, living a godly life is the easiest way to dispel the notion that our faith is irrational.

Furthermore, Dr. Patrick suggested talking about men like Pascal, Boyle, and Kepler (who scribbled prayers in the margins of his lab notebooks). Many of history’s greatest scientific thinkers were also men of profound faith.

The funny thing is that people of faith have plenty of room in their lives for reason. It’s modern-day secularists and rationalists who have no room in their lives for faith. Which is the bigger box? Who, then, is being small-minded?

To paraphrase the words of Dr. Patrick, our Christian faith is neither “rational” nor “irrational”. It’s supra-rational. It recognizes that human reason can only extend so far, and that there is an ultimate source of Truth beyond our powers of understanding. Science is a powerful tool, but we should recognize (with some humility) that there are certain questions that it cannot answer.

The Problem with Liberal Theology

‎”I would repeat that liberal theology is only humanism in theological terms.” –Francis Schaeffer

In certain liberal churches, there is a tendency to accept the idea that there are “many ways to God”. The idea that there isn’t anything particularly special about Christianity, and the many kind and generous Muslims and Hindus of the world have found their own way to God and should be left to themselves.

I assert that this isn’t a sign of love, or acceptance, or tolerance. It’s a sign of cold indifference.

“I don’t think Christians know what they mean when they proclaim Jesus as Lord of the world. That is a massive claim. If you took that seriously, you would probably have to be a fundamentalist. If you can’t be a fundamentalist, then you should give up Christianity for the sake of honesty.” –Gerd Lüdemann, a former liberal Christian

Many of these same churches also hold to “progressive” views on issues like homosexuality, cohabitation, and the sacredness of human life. Passages of the Bible that are deemed offensive are either ignored or creatively reinterpreted. Rather than confronting sinful behavior like Jesus commanded (Matthew 18:15-17…also see Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11), openly sinful lifestyles are accepted – even celebrated – as normal among the congregation.

In the end, these kinds of churches cease to resemble anything like historical Christianity. They become social clubs.

On his blog, Andrew Collins contrasts this with the Evangelical approach:

“Many Evangelicals, if they’re honest with you, don’t like what the Bible says about things like God’s sovereignty, hell, or homosexuality, but they choose to believe them anyways. These Christians have a unique freedom to admit that their own perspectives, even their own moral sensibilities, may be a little tweaked. As such, they seek an external standard by which to correct themselves….what sort of relationship can you have with a personal God if He does not contradict your beliefs, assumptions and sensibilities every once in a while? If you find that your God is always exactly who you want Him to be, could it be that you haven’t found God at all, but rather created a god in your own image?(emphasis mine; read the full post here)

Most recently, we’ve seen examples of liberal writers and theologians advocating for various forms of Universalism and denying the existence of hell. I’ve been getting a little carried away with the quotes – so I’ll close with an excellent video from Francis Chan addressing this issue. For the “short version” watch the two-minute segment starting at 3:32.