Faith and Reason, Sitting in a Tree
Sometimes it’s frustrating to talk about Christianity, because, most of the time, there is a huge discrepancy between what comes to my mind and what comes to someone else’s. Somehow we have gotten to this place where popular thought is that, to be a Christian, you can’t believe in science and aren’t allowed to ask questions and you have to turn off your critical reasoning. I’ve heard many times, “I could never become a Christian - I’m the sort of person who needs to be able to ask questions.”
There’s this feeling that Christians can’t answer basic criticisms of Christianity (how can God be loving or fair if __?), and what’s worse, is that many Christians I know feel this way too, that there aren’t any good answers, and that trying to come up with good answers is unimportant or even actually unhelpful.
When we talk about being a Christian, we’re right to say that we know God by faith, but we are wrong to stop there. We know God by faith, not in spite of a lack of evidence and reason, but bolstered by evidence and reason, and sometimes arrived at by evidence and reason.
I mean we actually have really compelling historical arguments for the existence, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Like even outside of Christian authorship. We have an abundance of early New Testament manuscripts too, far outweighing any other writing we have from that period of time, and the original writings can all be placed within the first century AD and wouldn’t have allowed enough time to pass for the truth to be completely lost or for history to be completely rewritten. And those manuscripts include these embarrassing details about how Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying or doing and how they were falling asleep on him and abandoning him, giving more credibility to the writings. Then, after abandoning Jesus and going into hiding, Jesus’ disciples suddenly get all of this courage to stand up against the Jews and say that Jesus was alive and eventually die in defense that Jesus was God when they would have been the best ones to know whether it was fake or not. Would you proliferate a lie, knowing it was a lie, and knowing the outcome would be death? Would you do it for decades?
I mean we have reason to believe that we’re not here by accident, but that with the Big Bang and macro-evolution (if you want to believe in that), there’s the Fine Tuning argument and the question of how we could have gotten something out of nothing. (And are we really going to propose the multiverse and universes perpetually spontaneously coming into existence? How do we have any more proof for that than we would of an Intelligent Designer? We can’t talk about the universe having existed forever, because we observe the universe expanding from a point in space and time. We don’t have to call it God, but something made it happen). The development of intelligent life is just one more level of complexity.
There’s this feeling that there is purpose or something transcendental, something bigger than ourselves. The appreciation of beauty or the longing for love or the admiration of sacrifice, feelings you get when you watch a romantic comedy or a superhero movie, feelings which lose all of their mystery and whimsy when you reduce them down to determinism and chemical imbalances and processes. I mean, we have strong feelings about what reality is, or at least what we want it to be. That intuition, counterintuitively, is not unreasonable. Did that intuition come from nowhere? It’s like Pascal’s wager, but more sentimental and utilitarian.
There’s some moral oughtness that could be the result of evolution, sure, but pragmatically, none of us really live that way. We feel an objective responsibility to other humans even when it has no profit - only cost - to us, which does not fit survival of the fittest, but somehow itself has survived. And this responsibility or oughtness makes us feel incredibly crummy if we didn’t occasionally step in and interpose these standards on someone else (if everything’s subjective, that feeling is actually more arrogance than anything good-natured).
Like, I get it, I’m not trying to say that I’m a smart person. I know there are millions of people out there smarter than me that are arguing both for and against Christianity. It’s just that - why do we think the atheists have a monopoly on critical thinking? Reason and critical thinking lead plenty of people away from Christianity, but it leads plenty of people into Christianity as well. The entirety of religion is only jeopardized by the accessibility of information if religion has little reasonable merit to begin with; not all religions (or irreligions, for that matter) are on equal standing when it comes to reason. But it’s up to you to give a fair evaluation. You can definitely disagree with the ideas that run through Christianity; that is something you have every right to do. But that disagreement will not be because Christianity is less complete or less comprehensible. Just call it what it is: personal preference.
Don’t forget to turn around and apply that same level of skepticism to your own worldview.
We want to be better, but we want to be good enough, both at the same time. We want grace and truth. We want love and justice. We want to question, and eventually, we want enough answers so that we wouldn’t need to keep questioning. Where else but in Christianity are these extremes met? Where else but the cross are they fulfilled? Who else but Jesus offers them to us personally?
I’ve found nothing nearly as sweet.