9/14/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Appalachian Agnostic ~
I am currently reading The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel. I have never read Christian apologetics before, so I was curious about this author's claim to answer the tough questions that skeptics ask. I was actually looking forward to reading the book, but Strobel irritated me right away. There is something menacing about a book written by someone who wants to convince his readers that they must either come to agree with his views or else suffer dire consequences. As I read through the introduction and the first few chapters, my adverse emotional reaction triggered the memory of another book. I can't remember the name of it, but it was one of many books about wildlife that I collected as a child. Back then I loved to read about wild animals- their habitats, their behavior, what they looked like and how they survived-it was all fascinating to me. But this one particular book, (I think I bought it at a rummage sale) used stories about real wildlife to illustrate Biblical "truths". Each chapter told a different story about different animals with some cast as "good creatures" and others cast as "bad creatures". Each story was prefaced with a Bible verse that related to the lesson you were supposed to learn.
Perhaps the authors meant well with their clumsy Aesop style fables, but that book thoroughly pissed me off. I couldn't stand being preached at back then and I can't stand it now. But my motivation for reading Strobel is that I want to understand how it is possible that otherwise rational people can convince themselves to believe in things that make no sense. My life is filled with such people and I want to feel more at peace with them. So I will put aside my irritation and keep reading.
So far, it is interesting to see the lengths that the Christian academics Strobel cites will go to in order to hang on to their beliefs. It's strange that so much work is required to dig up the "truth", seeing as how it is so important for everyone to get it right. The mental twists and turns they engage in would put a roller coaster to shame. I think the pattern I see emerging is that one's faith must be preserved at all costs, whether that means changing the definitions of words, ignoring contradictions, or, when all else fails, engaging in the liberal use of foggy gibberish. The need to believe must be incredibly (no pun intended) strong.
My ex-husband and I divorced when our children were very young. They continued living with me and he moved away. During our marriage we had established a routine at Christmas. There would be the usual presents from Mom and Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on, but on Christmas eve he and I would get up in the middle of the night and leave unwrapped, unlabeled gifts under the tree. These were from Santa. After our divorce, I decided to drop the Santa routine and just wrap and label everything. I really didn't give it much thought. But the first Christmas morning after I did this nearly broke my heart. My oldest son went running into the still dim living room, looked around expectantly, and asked, "Where are the presents from Santa?" My youngest son went in, looked around and said, "I know! He left us magic presents. They won't appear until we turn on the light!" He turned on the light, but no magic presents appeared. I cried and cried, mourning the loss of an innocent illusion along with the loss of our intact family.
Something about Strobel's book reminds me of my younger son's desperate attempt to explain away a situation that didn't fit his expectations. He tried to use a combination of real evidence, (the room wasn't fully lit) and faith, (magic would make the presents appear) to keep from thinking the unthinkable-that Santa had not visited our home. Maybe there is a psychological term for this process, or maybe even one of those cool German words for complex emotional states. At any rate, I eventually explained to my children that I wasn't pretending to be Santa any more and they were fine with it. I often wish that the adults in my family would be so keen to embrace reality.