I think my Dad was right.
You see, when I was younger, my father and I used to have the occasional disagreement over which theological issues are essential, for salvation, and which are simply peripheral to the faith (the latter being items on which Christians can safely agree to disagree, while still calling themselves "brothers and sisters in Christ"). My Dad is, by his own admission, a "fundamentalist" Christian, whereas I came to consider myself more of an "evangelical", as a young adult. Frankly, I always bristled at the term fundamentalist. He says it simply means that one holds to the "fundamentals of the faith", something of which he is quite proud. Fair enough, I guess.
But here's where I think my Dad got it right...he felt that if we admit, as Christians (I say "we", since I still was one at the time) that some issues are unimportant, it might lead to a sort of slippery slope effect. A creeping compromise, if you will, where an individual slowly allows themselves (and others) the freedom to question larger and larger issues, until eventually "the Gospel" itself has been completely eroded. (He used the emergent church as an example, of this phenomenon, a movement he basically thought came from the pits of hell itself.)
I used to think all of this was complete bull. Today, I think it's pretty much bang on.
De-conversion has a way of causing you to question things you never thought you would question, or even needed questioning. I've always thought of myself as a fairly analytical guy (and my friends/family would certainly have always described me in these terms). Given this, it's funny how there were elements, about Christianity, that I never thought (dared?) to analyze while I was still a believer.
Once I lost belief in the inerrancy of the Bible (which I discuss here) I allowed myself the freedom, almost subconsciously, to question various other tenants of Christianity. At one point I remember running into a rather pointed question, one that I hadn't seriously considered before. It's a question that has stayed with me, to this day, and it goes as follows..."what's so special about belief?". (Was it Richard Dawkins? Or Michael Shermer? I honestly can't remember. Maybe both.)
But, seriously, stop and think about it for a second. What IS so special about belief?? Does anyone (Christian or otherwise) actually have a good answer for this?
I realize the Bible says "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and though shalt be saved". That's not what I'm asking. What I'm asking is WHY does God care, in the slightest, what we believe about Jesus?
One possible answer would be to say that God cares about our belief because he wants, most of all, for us to "trust" him. According to Christian thought, he created us for relationship (with him, primarily, and also with one another). But, hang on a second, what does "trusting" have to do with what we believe about certain historical events??
I'll tell you what.
If Socrates came back from the dead, would he be offended that there are some people who doubt certain facts about his life? (Or even doubt his very existence?) Or would he care, instead, about what people have done with his ideas?
Or let's say you, somehow or another, got separated from your child while they were still a newborn. If that child wrongly came to believe (later on) that you were dead, but you actually weren't, would you be angry that they didn't "believe in you"? Would you scold them, for their lack of "trust" in you, upon your long awaited reunion? Of course not! You would understand fully that their not believing in you was nothing personal...it was simply a side effect of not having enough evidence of your very existence.
See what I mean?
Let me connect the dots even closer...when Christians say that we must "accept Jesus", they don't actually mean that we should accept his ideas (like with Socrates). What they mean, instead, is that we need to mentally assent to the historicity of certain events, especially the ones that are recorded in the Bible. But, the question still lingers, why does God care? Shouldn't it be even more important, to God (logically), what we did (or didn't do) with his ideas (like those expressed by Jesus)?
If someone honestly doubts something, due to a simple lack of evidence, only a monster would punish them for being in error (much less eternally).
This bears repeating...if someone honestly doubts something, whatever it might happen to be, only a monster would punish them for being in sincere error.
Another possible answer is to say that the belief alone is simply representative, of what God actually wants...ie. that it's a token, of our willingness to follow him wherever he might lead. But it seems to me this is also false, and on a couple of different fronts. Firstly, it implies that belief is a choice. I don't think it is (more on that in a future post). And, secondly, it assumes that all unbelievers would be unwilling to follow God (were they to have enough evidence of his actual existence).
I can't speak for atheists en masse, of course, but personally speaking I am not angry with God. I also don't have any problem with "trusting" him, in the sense of "surrendering my will" to his (if I came to believe he were real again). None of this presents the slightest issue for me. On top of that, my experience as a Christian was actually quite positive. So, any accusations of leaving the faith for emotional (instead of rational) reasons just don't stick to someone such as myself.
I left the faith for one simple reason, and one reason only...I genuinely doubt the factual claims of Christianity.
There is little evidence in their favor, and there is a significant amount of evidence against them.