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The Dead-End Response

By AncoraImparo --

My search for the reality of the world began in college, provoked by an unassuming paper in which I was to evaluate my faith journey from a sociological point of view.

~Easy to see why it's a "Dead End"~Image by ~Sage~ via Flickr

At the time, I was quite proud of the final result: an analytical study of the factors that influenced me throughout childhood to be the dedicated Christian I now was, including a strong Christian family whom I love and respect, an inspiring and authentic circle of Christian friends, and intensive discipleship by my pastor. Underlying all these external factors, I also outlined my own personal and conscientious desire to serve and love God, prompting me to seek out apologetics, leadership within my youth group, keyboard in the praise band, mission trips to Mexico, becoming a counselor at a Christian summer camp, and an earnest struggle for understanding God through a genuine relationship with him.

However, despite the sense of accomplishment in my critical self-analysis, several discordant ideas in my reasons for belief were highlighted which I couldn’t stop thinking about. Since the main purpose of my writing is more recent thoughts, I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but the general theme I began to consider was the power of the mind. I saw that every time I had looked at reasons for belief, I had always looked to validate the belief I already had, and I strongly believe that one can almost always find what one is looking for when it comes to rationalizations in the mind. I was shocked at my previously-hidden bias and unbalanced approach to what I considered the most important decision of my life. For this reason, I decided to ‘take a step back’ from Christianity, as I called it in my head, to attempt to eradicate this unacceptable partiality. Naively, I figured I could sweep the cobwebs of prejudice away, quickly evaluate other worldviews, feel the hollowness and inanity of a life without Jesus Christ, and return to Christianity with renewed and enriched faith, probably in a couple weeks.

Instead, I was shaken up by a completely new world. I began to really listen to people’s differing worldviews, not automatically pinpointing where they were wrong and I had the answer, but hearing their honest struggle and life experiences which contributed to fashioning what made the most sense to them. I realized that non-Christians weren’t just ignoring the obvious truth of God, reveling in rebellion against God and attempting in vain to satiate their gluttonous appetite for sin. I mean, I never would have voiced it that way, but that is what I imagined a life without God was like. I felt like I was loving people in a way that I never had before, and it was a beautiful thing! I began to read what atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians had to say about the world, instead of just what Christians said they said, closely followed by easy refutations. The first time I picked up a book by Christopher Hitchens, I stopped halfway through, terrified that I couldn’t write it off as easily as I had imagined, overwhelmed by the vastness of knowledge and reason which seemed to be in contradiction with everything I had built my life upon. It was exhilarating, and frightening, and I was completely alone.

I began to really listen to people’s differing worldviews... I realized that non-Christians weren’t just ignoring the obvious truth of God, reveling in rebellion against God and attempting in vain to satiate their gluttonous appetite for sin.That birth of my quest was about two years ago, and since then I have been trying to catch up on the world. Philosophy, science, history… I am often overwhelmed by the immensity of things to understand, the centuries of people wrestling with the same questions as me, and I feel ill-equipped to absorb, test and make any sort of substantial decision about what I “believe” anymore, whatever that even means. Through all this, there is one fairly concrete theme which keeps my skepticism a close companion. In engaging with my many Christian friends and family and revealing my questions to them, I always get these answers which sound so good when you start with the presupposition of Christianity, but which are completely unfalsifiable once you step outside their set of assumptions. They halt any conversation, not because of their merit, but because they create a dead end in reasonable discourse. Perhaps this is general knowledge and has already been discussed many times, but the absurdity of these unsatisfactory answers boggles my mind.

1) ‘God isn’t answering because of something wrong with you’. Eg: sin in my life, tainted motivations, I don’t have enough faith, I am rebelling.’

Any silence from God’s end during the countless times I cried out to him, alone and begging for anything, can always be explained away by the imperfections on my end. With this handy explanation, God never has to intervene or interact with his creation, because an introspective critique can always lead to a discovery of a roadblock in the questioner which justifies God’s righteous absence.

2) ‘There are evil forces at work in the world, deceiving, confusing, distracting.’

This conveniently responds to other people’s religious/spiritual experiences which they have found validation through, which may be in direct contradiction to the truth of the Bible. Those demons do an excellent job, convincing millions of deluded people that they are justified in living lives of submission, discomfort, self-denial and sacrifice even to the point of death for an illusion. The obvious turnaround question: how would I discern that I am not simply being duped by some other religion’s sly and deceitful forces which create my Christian experience?

3) ‘Faith with no validation is virtuous. The greater the leap, the more virtuous one is. Faith is being certain of what we do not see’

While this doesn’t directly answer objections, it can also be used to venerate the denial that discrepancies even exist. A verse in the Bible that I always wrestled with says we should all have the faith of a child. My picture of child-like faith revolves around trusting in absolute authority, since the child does not have the faculties or resources to make their own decision yet, and this seems like a terrible reason to believe in something.

4) ‘God’s ways are higher than ours, his ways are mysterious, he knows the grand picture and we have but a sliver, etc.’

When believing in an infinite God and recognizing our own finiteness, this will of course be true. But it can be used to rationalize absolutely anything, and no longer gives us even a semblance of a standard to decide anything. Once our human faculties and reason are ultimately discounted, we become powerless under our own characteristics. This is my largest frustration: that a God would hold us accountable to believe in him after creating us with the faulty reasoning equipment that he made unreliable.

I know that a watertight rejection of Christianity’s claims can’t be built upon these common, meaningless responses, but they are biblically-based. Their insufficiency and yet continued overuse by many Christians makes me cringe, and reinforces that I am right to continue seeking and questioning and wrestling with the reality of the world.