Friday, March 2, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part II

I always like Paul Little, having heard him speak a couple of times. The first time was an intimate group in a museum at my college. The second time was at the huge Urbana missionary conference, where there were about fifteen thousand people in attendance. But this isn't about him or his book but to be a launching point for my next turn in this story.

Following the spirit of being ingenuous (or brutally honest) I want to ask the question, why do we believe in Christianity to start with?

We all have the notion that we believe what we do because we are smart people and that we have used a series of logical deconstructions of the possible belief systems, and arrived at Christianity as the most logical. But the truth?

The truth is, that in about 99% of the time, we believe in Christianity because of social coercion.  More specifically, we were raised in Christian homes, in a Christian society and it was expected that we believe this way.

Now for some of us, the story may have played out a little differently. We may have been raised in a Christian culture but not in a Christian home. Then at some point in our life, for a variety of reasons (usually because we meet really nice people who are Christians) then we join them.

You hear urban legends, and some of them might be true, where someone searches the world for the correct belief system. They analyze each one carefully, then decide that Christianity the better argument . . . and then they convert. But this later case must be extremely rare.

The intellectual exercises of apologetic then comes to the Christian, in the same way to the atheist or other completely secular persons, is just window dressing. For the Christian, they start with the premise that Christian must be true, then they go through the discussion to prove it is true (and of course they will end up where they set to end up). The Atheists are no better. They start with the premise that Christianity can't be true . . .and of course their intellectual exercise ends them up exactly where they intended to end up.

I'm not saying that this has to be a bad thing, but just exposing it for what it is.  Many of my Christian friends take the intellectually easy path at that point. That is, it is God's sovereignty. It goes like this. If God is totally in control, and predestines you to be a Christian, then He has orchestrated each step of the way for you. You were born in the shadow of the church building and you were taught Christianity (rather than being born in Jedda and being taught Islam) because God has his finger on you from the beginning. There is comfort in thinking that way.  I am a "Reformed" Christian, speaking theologically and this is consistent with what we believe. It certainly could be true and I hope that it is.

But this is a logical "cop-out" as they would say in the sixties . . . or seventies. But, once again, it doesn't matter if Christianity is true or if it is true that God is completely sovereign over you spiritual orientation.

But for the young person, truly seeking for truth, this becomes a stumbling block. It starts as stumbling block when they first meet a real-life Mormon . . . or a Muslim, who equally believes that God put them in the their faith because He loves them and chose them to be "believers." But those positions are safe.

For some of us, the desire for truth is so overwhelming, that we are willing to dine with the devil. We are willing to sit at tea in "Doubter's Castle" and not just sip the tea, but read the books in its library. We take the risk of actually leaving the faith in order to save it.

A long time ago when I first started my walk to find truth, I remember my old Navigator boss giving me a stern warning, "I knew a man who did what you want to do . . . he isn't a Christian anymore?"

I knew that I had to take the chance. I took the chance, not because I'm a risk taker just for the fun of it. It did it because I had no choice. That boss had just spent the previous two years being very abusive to my family and me. In the midst of all of that, the "wonderful, godly" self, revealed its dark side of rage, anger and depression.  The Christian ground I was standing on was crumbling under my feet. I had to take the journey.  The default or passive position would have been to completely loose my faith.

But I'm still not one of those rare people who search completely objectively. Even though I wanted to know truth with all my heart, I was still biased. I was still rooting for Christianity to prove itself.

So, before I go further in this discussion, I just wanted to honestly explore this intellectual, psychological and spiritual bases for why we believe anything.


Anonymous said...

I recently met an Indian woman, born Hindu but, like a lot of Indian Hindus, it had no particular meaning for her. In her 30s, still single and childless, she was looking around for a religion that dealt with the problem of pain. So she became friends with some Christian missionaries, and read the Bible though twice. Then she met some Muslims, read the Koran through, felt the God of the Koran speaking to her (whereas the God of the Bible was silent) and converted to Islam. What would you (or a typical evangelical) say to this woman?

jmj said...

As a monist (meaning here that I deeply value this world, the physical world, the workings of psychology and emotional things without the need to make everything a spiritual issue) I would say, that her reasons are probably complicated, having to do with her personality, what she was looking for and other influences in her life. I wouldn't say it was God speaking to her from the Koran nor, as a Christian, would I say it was the devil. You would have to analyze this woman to understand why one was more attractive to her than the other.

I knew a hard-core evangelical missionary tell me that if I really understood Islam, I would be tempted to become one as he was.

Eventually I did get to know Islam quite well (all my associates were Muslim at the time and I was living in a Muslim country) Yet, for me I wasn't attracted at all. I think because all the things I hated about Evangelicalism, were even worse within Islam, the pretending, the dualistic approach to life, the merciless God, the constant working to appease him.

My wife says that she would be tempted to be a Mormon. Not me. Again, all the things I hate most about Evangelism are worse within it . . . plus a flaky origin.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the reformed belief system offers much comfort, (and I am a Calvinist). On the one hand it gives assurance via election, and salvation by grace through faith alone, but the other hand takes it away. (You must show you have genuine faith by your works.)

Jaimie said...

What is up with women converting to Mormonism, or wanting to? I've seen that so much of that lately. Yet Mormonism is worse than evangelicalism in how it treats women. You have to really hate yourself deep inside to want that, I think.

Not saying your wife is that way -- that's just my opinion and obviously it could be more complicated than that. If it isn't about hating yourself, then maybe it's about a deep distrust of yourself and so the more structure the better.

I have just seen so many women want Mormonism, not born into it, not heavily manipulated toward it, but want it. Yikes.

Anonymous said...


I suspect it has to do with Mormon imagery of Big Happy Family. Like Evangelicals, they place GREAT importance on the perfect marriage and family.

Joseph Smith founded the Mormons in the "burned-over district" of upstate New York (weird religion capital of the time), burned over by Evangelical revival after Evangelical revival. And Mormonism is as American in its origins and core as you can get. Given those facts, I would expect similarities between the two.

So at least from the outside, Mormons can appear more Evangelical than the Evangelicals. Here's an opinion piece on the subject, titled"Mormons = Southern Baptist Zombies".

And since they show more of the characteristics and traits which Evangelicals are taught to think of as Godly (TM), the idea takes hold that "They Must Be More Christian than Us".

Like the anecdote about some kid from a Holiness Evangelical background who went Mormon because "Mormons don't drink or smoke."

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

P.S. And don't underestimate the appeal of a structured society (like a Mormon family, Ward, and Stake) in a time of chaos. Years ago, I heard about women in England raised "anything goes/do your own thing" all their lives who were converting to the most strict forms of Islam. Chaos and Anarchy are scary, and a hyper-structured society where you are told what to do, how to act, and how to think takes a big load off your shoulders.

Jaimie said...


Just read that article. Interesting stuff. I like what he said about SBC's need to believe that correct doctrinal belief leads to spiritual success.

And wow, I think you nailed it when you said the appeal of Mormonism for women is the stable family thing. Convert to Mormonism, your husband is now 300% less likely to leave you! And lots of children for you, which means you get to stay around the house cooking and stuff while your husband does the 9 to 5! Sadly, that's the "American dream" for many women. Ugh.

I want to say there's nothing wrong with a woman choosing that, but I guess I do believe there's something wrong with a woman choosing that. It feels so cookie cutter and lazy. I think if it weren't the default choice, I wouldn't criticize it like I do.

Jaimie said...

Oh, also with the world becoming so overpopulated (and the abundance of un-parented kids all over the globe), I think having more than 2 kids is hardly a noble thing to do nowadays.

Anonymous said...

And wow, I think you nailed it when you said the appeal of Mormonism for women is the stable family thing. Convert to Mormonism, your husband is now 300% less likely to leave you! -- Jaimie

And on the flip side (appeal to men), Convert to Islam and you get a Virgin Bride who WILL stay Faithful! Or Else!

jmj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.