I wrote a while back on my experiences with doubt. After getting some feedback from that post, I figure it’s best that I quickly summarize where I am now in my beliefs.
The funny thing looking back on the matter is that I was probably deepest in doubt before I really started to investigate the relevant issues. I was deathly afraid that if I pulled back the curtain (a la the Wizard of Oz), the only thing that would be there would be paper thin arguments for belief in Christianity, comparable to those for the flat earth, Scientology, etc.
I knew that once you really opened your mind and allowed new options to enter, there’s no going back. You can’t convince yourself that Santa Claus is actually real by force. It’s too late at that point to ever believe again. And that’s exactly what I was afraid would happen with my belief in God.
There’s a lot of details and interesting life developments I could write about during this period—I struggled the most with doubt from 2009-2010 and slowly crawled my way back to where I am in my faith now—but I’ll spare you that. Feel free to ask me in person (or over email or whatever) if you want more info though.
So, with all that in mind, let me breakdown ever so briefly the two main “pillars” that are the basis of my continued belief in Christianity.
Pillar of Belief #1: The Evidence
Back in 2009 or so, during and right after the darkest period of my doubt, I finally started to actually dig into arguments for and against belief and take them seriously. I didn’t only want to listen to Christian arguments, since that defeats the purpose of opening your mind and really examining things; I also wanted to listen to really good Atheist arguments as well. I’m not going to even come close to claiming complete neutrality on my part or even that I’ve studied enough to really know “all the facts” (neither of those things are even possible for anyone anyway), but I also couldn’t stomach simply staying in the Christian bubble and only hearing from that side either.
I haven’t yet read a full book by an atheist presenting a case for unbelief (I’d like to at some point though), but I did listen to every single debate on this page. That’s about 60-70 hours worth of hearing a formidable group of atheists (and a few Muslims and very liberal Christians) going up against a Christian philosopher over the reasons for and against belief. I’m also in the middle of a very in-depth book on the historical Jesus by N.T. Wright, who uses critical historical methods to try to uncover the real Jesus of history. Besides those two particularly helpful resources, I’ve read up on this topic in some other (admittedly humble) ways over the past 5-6 years, slowly building up some general knowledge in this area. It’s amazing how educational a doubt-driven existential crises can be.
While I still have much, much more I would like to (and need to) read and study, what I have studied so far did help me get a general feel for the material that’s out there, both for and against belief. The result? I discovered, to my great relief, there really seems be good reasons to believe. Conclusive? No, definitely not. And yes, there are some solid arguments for unbelief as well (I’m actually fairly confident at this point I could debate most of my Christian friends and win!). But at the same time I discovered that my greatest fear, that Christianity is utter ridiculousness that is impossible to return to once you take a good hard look at it, isn’t true (at least in my case). In fact, some particular parts of my belief—for instance, in Jesus’ resurrection—were strengthened by studying them more intensely, not challenged.
Pillar of Belief #2: The Power
If you’re not a Christian, you might have a big objection to the first pillar, and I certainly would too if I were in your shoes. You might say, “Ok, even if I grant you that there are some decent arguments for God, and even if the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection are hard to explain, that still doesn’t seem nearly enough for me to sign on to this entire worldview and start restructuring my life around it. You could probably make a decent case for a lot of strange phenomena in the world, but that doesn’t mean you should immediately accept them as truth.”
I completely agree. I don’t think it’s enough either.
That’s why those purely intellectual arguments, though quite provoking, aren’t enough to push me over the edge to belief. Along those lines, if I were to go to hear a Muslim speak, and he or she give a pretty decent case for belief in Islam, I wouldn’t immediately jump on board with Islam (though I have admit that I think the arguments are truly better for Christianity than for Islam anyway). The thing that pushes me over the edge, once combined with the intellectual arguments, is that there seems to be real power in belief in Jesus. There are things I can’t explain in my own life without talking about God and Jesus. And multiple members of my family, including myself, have had powerful spiritual experiences. And this doesn’t just seem like empty, emotional spirituality—something to simply make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. It seems to have real, grounded power. Power that truly affects the world in tangible ways. People’s lives are permanently changed in ways I haven’t seen so far in my exposure to other worldviews and religions. It all just… seems… real.
It’s funny, I remember when I was the most worried that there were no good intellectual/evidential reasons for belief in Christianity. I felt like Christianity was somehow both false and true at the same time. It was false because there weren’t any good intellectual arguments for belief (so I thought at the time), but it still just seemed true due to mine and others’ experience with the power that is behind it.
Now, once again, the astute atheist will object to all this and say all those phenomena are purely psychological and that any supposed “miracles” are either unverifiable or mere medical anomalies, and so on. And yes, that’s all possible. But all I can say is that you can’t fully judge these things until you’ve experienced them yourself or at least really dug in and studied up on these experiences. Few people take the time to actually do that. It’s easy to brush off someone’s supernatural experience from a distance, but things start to change once you hear more and more stories of these experiences, especially once they happen to people in your family and ultimately yourself. All I’m saying is you can’t just immediately discard them. They have to be acknowledged and given their due, even if you ultimately don’t accept them as legitimate.
In the end, I don’t think either the evidence alone or the power alone would be enough to make me a Christian. Taking the evidence alone, while intriguing, it just doesn’t seem quite enough to justify centering your life around this faith. On the other hand, considering the “power” of the faith alone, it’s going to ultimately seem delusional if there aren’t any intellectual arguments and evidence to support belief in that power (and especially if there are good arguments against it). So it’s only with the combination of solid intellectual reasons and experiencing a real power—a power that I cannot otherwise explain—that I am able to have a real hope, and sometimes even a feeling of certainty, that this is all true.
A Postscript of Humility
When writing this entry, I found myself worrying I’m overselling how confident I am that Christianity is true. I don’t want to do that. In fact, what I care most about when talking about beliefs, above all else, is honesty. I’ve been burned too many times in the past by people pretending to be more confident in their views than they are or presenting evidence as if it’s stronger than it is. So, just know that I still struggle with all this. In particular, I especially want to study up more on the spiritual experiences of other religions, because I think that if Christianity is true, then it should stand out (i.e. its religious experiences should be fundamentally different than ones in other religions).