“Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.”
– Bertrand Russell, when asked what his response would be if upon his death he was confronted by God demanding to know why he hadn’t believed.
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy, I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
– C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
I would like to ask atheists the following question: “What would it take for you to believe in Christianity?” The answers would be as varied as the people themselves, but they would provide a glimpse into what they feel is not offered by the faith I hold so strongly. Most often, my approach is against the intellectual barriers to belief. However, I know that emotional and moral objections are much more substantial in the final reckoning. If Christianity were just another philosophy, then it would hold little appeal to the hurting, destitute and powerless. And it would only be fair for me to be willing to answer the corresponding question from the opposite side: “What would cause me to abandon my faith?”
While my faith is strong, it is not unassailable. There are numerous facts which, if proven, would cause my belief to dissipate like the fog on a windshield, clearing my vision to reveal the cold and dark reality of a world without Christ. Even a robust Christian faith cannot survive the inclusion of antithetical or patently false ideas. I will not delve too deeply into what would be required to “prove” these things, but suffice it to say that they would surely be deal-breakers.
The most obvious one would be that expressed by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile…” (v. 15:17). Without the Resurrection, not only does the early Church never get started, but no Christian has a basis for believing that salvation and atonement is available; the very essence of the faith is lost. In fact, if the writing and translation of the very Bible that proclaims the Resurrection cannot be accurately traced to the original authors, then the stories cannot be believed in the first place, and it is useless to debate whether they actually happened.
If the Bible promotes polygamy, genocide, slavery, misogyny, or even simple xenophobia, then it cannot be used to help align the needle of my moral compass. The Ten Commandments are acceptable to most people at most points in history, and so we must look beyond those to discover the true behavior required by the God of the Bible. I cannot accept a faith that gives even a casual nod to repressive and inhuman behavior and practices. Of course, it is my belief in moral absolutes that directs this particular requirement, and therefore I would have greater difficulties than originally imagined if I were to dismiss monotheism in general.
If my God either created evil, or is beyond good and evil to such a degree that He can simultaneously possess both within His nature, then my faith is unreasonable. Similarly, if there is no free will and we are essentially automatons used for divine entertainment, and therefore evil is just another variable, I cannot profess devotion to the Creator of the Universe (as if I would have a choice anyway, in that scenario). It is God’s love that makes both free will and judgment necessary, so even a reality where all people eventually go to Heaven would be an unpalatable alternative; I do not desire the existence of Hell, but I understand that it must be an option if forced love is not.
Even if all the previous criteria were met, and yet Christianity had no correspondence to existential reality, then it would be a dead faith. Following Christ must change lives, produce abiding joy and strength in the face of pains, sorrows, and difficulties. Prayer must be seen to have power, and the special revelation of the Bible must complement the general revelation of nature. The revealed truth must have explanatory power for where we came from, why nature (including us) is the way it is, and how we are to deal with the vagaries of a confusing and ultimately difficult life. I cannot promote a faith that is only consistent within itself, but has no application to my daily existence.
If intellectual honesty required that I accept any of these ideas, my abandonment of Christianity would likely not be far behind. It may be noted that these are also common areas of contention for unbelievers. And yet, my faith is strong. I am willing to raise these complaints and I find Christ able to answer them. I am not willing to cast aside my belief as a result of an unwillingness to reasonably and honestly consider the claims of the Bible with regard to those ideas I find difficult – rather than impossible – to reconcile or metaphysical realities that I cannot comprehend; my ignorance is not an acceptable reason to deny the offering of truth.
And truth is essentially what it all boils down to: if the Bible does not contain truth – absolute and inerrant truth – then I cannot accept it as a token of a reasonable faith. But it is a reasonable faith, and multitudes of intelligent and thoughtful men and women have considered its claims and found them acceptable and even liberating. These are not the ignoramuses and power-hungry hypocrites as characterized by those antagonistic to Christianity. Where is the ignorance of C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias? What power came to Mother Teresa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Can either reckless ambition or intellectual carelessness be attributed to Jesus?
And so the question remains: what would it take for you to believe in Christianity? Bertrand Russell claimed to need more evidence, and yet there is no proof that he honestly considered the troves of evidence available. The answers to the objections are there, carefully and painstakingly revealed over the centuries to assuage even the most ardent atheist, if he is truly willing to listen. But it takes work; it takes some initial effort that cannot be found in the two-minute soundbites that people so desperately expect to provide answers.
Of course, there are loving men and women who are willing to do the hard work and bring the answers directly to your feet, if only you will give them an audience. Or simply model the tolerance that is so loudly demanded in this world and open a Bible with an open mind and a desire for the truth. Turn to the Gospel of John and read about the ultimate Truth, in which there is no shadow of change or deceit. Ask someone you trust and who cares about you to discuss it with you:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…”