A Reasonable Doubt?

“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.

“He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” – Matthew 28:6

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.

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” – John 17:17

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?

“Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40

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…”

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7 Responses to A Reasonable Doubt?

  1. Good for you. I love you not being afraid to raise these questions. I like you find God more than to the challenge of answering.

    • ajfits7 says:

      Thank you so much – I spent many years either ignoring or avoiding the questions, and I never realized how much they would bolster my faith when I honestly examined them. It is so liberating to know that the difficulties raised have reasonable answers!

  2. Me too, and my faith has flourished in a much more real way.

  3. Hello, atheist here. :)

    “What would it take for you to believe in Christianity?”

    I spent the first 25 years of my life as a Christian. I wasn’t a run-of-the-mill, church-twice-a-year Christian either. My days started with reading the Bible and often included devotionals. I spent a lot of time on the internet reading about faith ideas / concepts / history and even fancied myself an amateur apologetic, if you will. I was a Christian because my parents (and their parents and their parents) were (are) Christians and, well, that is just what you do when you’re three and can’t reason so well.

    I mention all that because, at the outset of this post, I want to dispel the image of the lifelong atheist that has been on a mission to deny god at every opportunity. That hasn’t been the case. My road to apostasy was (and is) a long, painful, and trying journey.

    I left Christianity and, indeed, faith in general when I realized the utter failure of any faith to satisfactorily delineate itself from other faiths. After all, Barry, there are thousands of gods you choose to not worship. Or, if you haven’t made a conscious choice to not worship them, perhaps you have not even studied or considered them. Why do you do that? What can you tell me that a Muslim or Hindu cannot tell me, about their respective faiths?

    On that vein, I could not avert my attention from the fact that faith is largely an accident of geography. Had I been born in Saudi Arabia, to likely Muslim parents, I would likely be a Muslim. Had I been born near Salt Lake City in Utah, there is a much greater probability that I would be a Mormon. Is this another aspect of god’s quirky plan? I’ll come back to God’s plan though.

    The next big roadblock, for me at least, is Christianity’s ongoing hostility to science. I need to choose my words wisely when I write about this one, lest I create an image of an angry atheist. :)

    Simply put, there are things we KNOW and there are things we don’t know. For example, we know the Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old and we know that homo sapiens arrived as a species approximately 250,000 years ago as a result of evolution through natural selection. This is as close to a fact as things get in science.

    I don’t know that your a creationist, or YEC, or theistic evolutionist or some combination thereof so I’ll refrain from referring to you directly on that point. I do know, however, that many Christians (dare I say most) have a bad habit of rejecting good science. If, indeed, you deny evolution, you’re forced to ask yourself a couple of questions: Do you, in fact, perceive a global scientific conspiracy, the scale of which the world has never known? After all, well over 99% of scientists fully support the scientific theory.

    Moving on…

    You briefly identified some of the, shall we say, off-color aspects of some of the themes in the Bible:

    “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.”

    I won’t argue that the Bible promotes those ideas, per se. However, if it doesn’t promote them, God was certainly a fan of them, especially in the Old Testament (though not unique to the OT only).

    I’ve read a number of apologetic works that explain (or attempt to explain) the reasoning behind some of the atrocity readily available in the OT. Despite the fact that I unequivocally disagree with these logic acrobatics, I am also disinterested in attempting to critically address why genocide would EVER be appropriate, in any context, ever. Especially considering it was ordered by the same being who ostensibly loves his creation.

    Even more common than the rampant murder and bloodshed is the slavery and misogyny. The women-hatred is especially prevalent, though it should be noted that the Bible never condemns slavery. Instead, it offers rules on keeping slaves. But back to misogyny…

    One story I find particularly horrifying is the episode in Judges (or the whole book, really) when the Levite’s concubine is delivered to the mob (who wanted to rape the Levite, a man) who proceeds to rape her all night. She crawls back to the house and dies on the doorstep. In the morning, the Levite demonstrates all the compassion in the world when he opens the door to the house and says “Up, let us be going.” He evidently didn’t know she was dead at that point. When he does realize she is dead, he did what any sensible person would do: he busted out a knife, cut her into twelve pieces, and sent the gruesome post all over Israel.

    Now, I am sure there is some sort of lesson or doctrine or idea we can glean from this. However, this isn’t the type of story I would want to tell my kids to illustrate a point. On that idea, though, how much different is the idea of hell to a 3 year old? But I digress…

    Then there’s the problem of evil and suffering which can encompass the failure of prayer as well. You said, “Prayer must be seen to have power…” Prayer is one of the most obvious aspects of the failure of faith. Why is it when someone is healed, or prayers are answered, God is good. When they fail, it is part of “His plan” or some other spin-off rationalization. Millions of people prayer for basic necessities like food and water. Other pray for jobs, new cars, or their favorite sports team. God’s failure to answer prayer in any sane method also betrays the contradiction of the very nature of God. Epicurus sums this up better than I can:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus 341 BCE-270 BCE

    I considered all the previous ideas before I faced the final nail in my faith’s coffin: God’s plan for salvation.

    Let us assume, for the sake of discussion, that I had not considered any of the previous points listed above. Let’s assume God crafted the universe in six days, a snake tempted Eve causing the Fall of Man, Noah collected two of every creature on Earth, and the OT atrocities had some clear implication with modern usefulness in discussions of morality. Let’s assume all that is fact.

    So God, the supreme Creator of mankind and the universe in which he resides, must devise a plan for salvation. The best solution this supreme being, who ostensibly can do whatever he wants, settles on a blood sacrifice of himself incarnate, as a sacrifice TO himself, in order to save his creation from the plan of condemnation he engineered in the first place. To FURTHER complicate the matter, this plan, however inane, has only been heard / accepted by about less than a third of the population of Earth at any given time since its inception. Oh, and those numbers are dwindling.

    This is God’s plan for his beloved creation? His plan is to sit idly by while 2/3s of his children are condemned to eternal torment, many of whom don’t accept simply due to the influence of their parents or their culture?

    I could type for hours on these ideas. There’s no sense in beating a dead horse though. The reason for listing some objections is simply this: the implication that doubt is unreasonable is patently absurd. Exacerbating that idea is your implication that people who doubt have simply not conducted adequate critical thinking in order to dispel the doubt.

    No, sir, I have conducted my critical thinking and I continue to do so. My doubt is, in fact, quite reasonable.

    • ajfits7 says:

      I appreciate the comment, not least because it certainly is well thought out, and because you obviously have an understanding of the difficulties many atheists face in trying to present an argument. Christians can become very defensive when presented with many of the arguments you presented above, because so often they are presented with a stridency and anger that is compounded when they contain misconceptions coupled with a blatant disregard for the truth. Your comment shows an appreciation of this difficulty, and I recognize that your final statement is accurate, even where I disagree with both the premise and the foundation of the argument.

      That said, I have responses to the arguments you have proffered above, and it would be up to you to decide the reasonability (if that is a word) of them. I briefly considered the question of God’s goodness in a recent short post (https://ajfits.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/is-god-good/), and some of the others, as well. A greater issue, however, is the contention that Christianity is antithetical to science, that Christians often neglect good science, and that we are willing to accept our faith in blatant logical contradiction to (or ignorance of) your presented obstacles to faith. I agree that this is sometimes the case, but not as often as is intimated.

      There is a lack of education and understanding on both sides of the argument, and that is why I write this blog. That is also why I appreciate someone taking the time to write their opposition to the blog (such as yourself). We cannot shy away from the conversation, much less the debate. Because of your initial approach, I believe I would enjoy continuing the conversation, if you so desire. This can be done here, on my Facebook group page (https://www.facebook.com/AJFITS), or in private email (ajfits7@gmail.com). I honestly learn from every conversation. As for the difference between Christianity and “all the others,” it is quite simple, really, and aligns perfectly with what we already know from our own individual experience: we are a wicked species, and no amount of effort allows us to overcome that on our own, so God does the work and freely gives us freedom from it. No other religion, in any form or fashion, suggests anything other than that we have to earn it. We demonstrate this in our daily lives, and we see it daily around the world. Without a God, evil can have no inherent meaning, and without Christ, it cannot be sufficiently addressed.

      Thank you, truly, for the comment, and I hope you continue to do so.

      • I’d be happy to continue the conversation! I agree completely that the conversation must be had and it must be had in a respectful manner. Otherwise, the conversation will regress to inane talking points and nobody will learn anything at all. Looking forward to it!

        Cheers,
        Andrew

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