Yesterday I began to answer the question, “Would you be a Christian today if you had not been raised one?”, by telling a little of my journey toward Christianity. Today though I will try to show why I do not think I would be a Christian if I had not been raised around Christianity. The basic answer is that within Christianity I was not simply allowed to ask questions I was taught to ask questions, and no question was ever off limits. It is important that I say from the start in one level Christianity is a truth claim and believers are to accept that fact on another we are invited to wrestle with God and Scripture precisely because it is true. But I’m not sure this for was open to the same degree in every philosophy.
As I waded into Eastern religions I found these religions were unable to ask questions, in eastern thought questions do not exist. Reading books like Siddhartha I found that all that is important is retreating into one’s self and finding the Eternal. But all questions are meaningless. One cannot ask, what is love because love is not real, nor can one research into logic because likewise logic is not real. This is what allows Eastern religions to say that individuals can be practitioners of multiple religions at the same time. Had I been raised in such a mentality I would have rejected it understanding that I am capable of asking real questions which are important to existence. I may have practiced the religion as profitable to mental and moral discipline (much like I did with Christianity for a time), but I would not have accepted such beliefs and mostly likely would not have sought others to replace them.
I found in Islam a hard legalism which may have suited me and allowed me to research but had I come to a crisis of faith like I experienced I would have been left cold. I found much similarity between the fundamentalist Christianity I knew and Islam and if this crisis had come I probably would have handled it in much the same way, though perhaps with fewer resources and a slender change of discovering the books that ultimately helped me with my questions.
But I think the person who asked this question was more inclined to know would I have rejected a secular or atheist point of view (or perhaps this is my own projection). This is where I do not know if I could have removed myself from an atheist mindset. I say this because of intelligent people like Richard Dawkins who have not removed themselves from the mindset. The problem with atheism is that atheists fail to truly question reality. This was my real problem with Dawkins, though at the time I was not able to see it. Atheists will say things like, “That was not a miracle because we understand the natural cause.”, or “If God exists then why doesn’t God do something obvious to prove it?”, or “Suffering exists therefore God cannot be all good and all powerful.”, or “Jesus could not have been raised from the dead because we know that dead men don’t rise from the grave.” To some these look like iron-clad arguments, but they are tired objections which only prove one thing atheists expect theists to prove the supernatural by the nature, the metaphysical by the physical, or to prove God by science.
“That was not a miracle because we understand the natural cause.” Simply knowing the natural cause for an event no more disproves the event was a miracle than its unexpected occurrence proves it was. Yet, the denial of the miraculous is a go to for many atheists, and academic research into the subject, like Craig Keener’s Miracles does not carry weight, because (as thhe argument I’ve seen most goes) if we had more information and a scientific study of the event we would find there was a natural cause to it. This is essentially the denial of the event because of the previous denial of the category. Nor do they consider potential answers from theoretical physics, like God’s potential ability to change reality through adding active information. (I do not want to sound like this is a slam-dunk argument but it has potential.) Essentially God would be able to change the system without appearing to have changed the system. It is possible that God influences the system merely by observing it and by adding information (rather than matter or energy) alters the outcome. The idea is based on the theory that observing an experienced changed the outcome of the experiment (at least if I’m accurately summarizing John Polkinghorme). What would appear to have happened is a cause-effect relationship but only because God actively interfered. I want to acknowledge this is purely a hypothetical idea and comes very close to a “God of the gaps” theory which I detest, but I’ve never seen an atheist interact with such ideas.
“If God exists then why doesn’t God do something obvious to prove it?” What could God possibly do to prove to committed atheists God’s existence? Their worldview excludes God at all levels; how is God supposed to answer this challenge? God could appear as a corporeal being covering the entire sky and declare “I am God” and Atheists would chalk it up to an alien being pretending to be a god like a character out of Marvel Comics. There is no legitimate answer to this question because the questioner has disallowed all evidence beforehand. As my Granddad used to say, “There’s no answer to ‘to me it is’!”. And that is what this “argument” is; the atheist says “to me it is” and I say, “yep” (under my breath, “ostrich”).
“Suffering exists therefore God cannot be all good and all powerful.” I’m surprised by how many times I’ve heard Epicurus’ famous phrase thrown out as if Christians have failed to adequately refute this tired piece of logic. Yes if God is two dimensional then the existence of suffering and pain in this world would undermine God’s existence. Also yes, the existence of pain and suffering poses a difficult problem for Christians. But, Christians acknowledge a loving God who wants to work with humanity within creation and humanity does not want to cooperate and causes pain and suffering. God is self-limited by love (at least in the Christian understanding of God), God is all-powerful and capable of doing anything but there are principles God chooses to work by because of a desire for a loving relationship with humanity, and a desire to see humanity as co-workers in creation (including humanity participating in ending suffering).
“Jesus could not have been raised from the dead because we know that dead men don’t rise from the grave.” Well yeah dead men don’t rise; yet dismissing the Gospel accounts because they make this claim is utterly ridiculous, because that is precisely the point of the Gospel’s (See N.T. Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God or his much shorter Surprised by Hope). Again the atheist’s I’ve read dismiss all the evidence because it is not “scientific” and then expect Christians to make claims to science to prove what is beyond science. Science, inherently, deals with repeatable events, it is fundamentally unable to prove a non-repeated event. Science cannot prove history, it can give clues which can help the historian but it cannot prove events which only happened once. Jesus’ resurrection is fundamentally in the realm of history and outside the abilities of science.
What I am getting at in these questions is a result of Enlightenment thinking. The Modern divides the world into two categories logical and faith. We are told that Atheism because of its dedication to science is logical and theism because of its dependence on experience is a matter of faith. Such a division inherently creates a barrier between logic and faith and marks them as mutually exclusive. We are told logical the person must only delve into what can be proven, implicit in this is the addition “by science”. But this is an artificial divide which cannot be maintained. For instance science can tell me what parts of my brain are excited by beauty and what that does to my body, but it cannot quantify the beauty. Is beauty unreal? the same is true of love and goodness and a host of other realities we take for granted. The atheist does not feel a need to account for these because they are labeled “experience” and therefore somehow not real.
Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.C. S. Lewis Surprised by Joy
What I have found in reading atheists is precisely what Lewis talks about they guard their faith closely by not allowing any evidence in conflict with their worldview. They often fail to question their presuppositions, wish is precisely what I did at the start of my journey. I have found few if any atheists who truly open themselves up to the possibility of anything beyond the natural world. If it is not measurable by science they often do not consider it. This is where Christianity gave me the advantage, no question was off-limits, but I have found few atheists who seem to have opened themselves up to the struggles caused by this openness. Atheists like to talk of the “problem of suffering” for theists but rarely, I’ve never seen it, discuss “the problems of good, beauty, and love” within their own systems. They are willing to critique theism but not self-critique atheism.
As I have grown I have become increasingly aware that Christianity is always self-critiquing sometimes because of outside pressure, but mostly from a desire to know God better and fully understand the world. Would I be a Christian if I was not raised one, I don’t know because only in Christianity did I find the freedom to adequately critique the world, my life, and God.
The above paragraph is true enough and is an honest reflection of myself and the experiences I had encountering competing philosophies. But, the statement “I don’t know” does not take into account God. One thing I have noticed in my life is that I seem to be always reading a book that adequately prepares me for the next step I’m taking or having a strange encounter with someone which forces me to think about and clarify my beliefs. The same was true of C. S. Lewis and St. Augustine on whom I relied so heavily, and of so many others I have left unnamed. For instance, I have met one other person in my life who enjoys John Polkinghorne and that was years after I encountered his books. I do not even know how I was introduced to his work, coincidence(?). Are these events merely coincidence or is God actively engaging me actively seeking me through avenues to which I’ll respond? At some point the coincidences pile up to a size where they must be investigated, and that is what is happening to me. As I investigate the coincidences in my life I come to the conclusion of God. This conclusion has allowed me to encounter God. (I was just asked the question: “Why isn’t God more obvious in communicating with us?” It is this question to which I intend to turn next).