Friday, 25 November 2011

What's So Special About Belief?

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 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 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.


  1. I have now read all of your blog and things that I wonder about is do you feel you have lost a purpose or reason for being on this earth? Do you feel a loss at not having that assurance that when struggles happen you can no longer rely on god/jesus to help you through hard times? Do you still catch yourself praying?

  2. Great questions Cerbaz.

    No, I honestly don't feel personally that I've lost a sense of "purpose or reason", but I can certainly understand how losing faith could cause some to feel that way. (Have you struggled with this at all?)

    I DO, however, miss that feeling of "knowing" God has my back (and that all the bad things that happen are part of some sort of mysterious master plan he has for me and my life). It's comforting to believe that "all things work together for good" (even if it's bunk).

    I still pray sometimes, on purpose, but now my prayers are more along the lines of..."Hellooo, God, if you're really up there, and I'm wrong about all this atheist stuff, I'm still listening if you'd like to help me get back on track..." (nothing yet :)).

    I'd love to hear more of your story, if you'd like to share it.

  3. For many years as a christian I was told that god and a christian world view gave you a purpose for being here on earth. I now believe that being kind and caring, and helping others makes me happy and fulfills the needs in my life. I was a christian for 30 plus years, I was not born into a christian family, I was invited to a youth group as a teenager and it was wonderful to belong to a community that had fun and treated young people kindly. From that group I met my husband who had grown up in a christian family. Lots of believers on his side of the family not on my side. About 3 years ago I started to have some questions and as I was searching the internet I came across Ken Daniel's deconversion story, it wasn't in a book form at that time. As I found blogs about people deconverting and read their stories I had more and more doubts and questions. I, like you am in the closet, not because of a job situation, but because I can not hurt my husband's elderly parents, or my oldest son who teaches in a christian school. I attend church with my husband, however, the whole time I find myself analyzing what is being said and usually walk away from the sermon with more questions to google search. The pastor is going through the book of revelations right now so I really enjoyed the you-tube link you had on your blog. Thanks for your wonderful writing and I am looking forward to reading more.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing that Cerbaz. I find it strangely comforting to know that there are other "in the closet" atheists out there (and that we can be an encouragement/support for one another). Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts as my blog progresses.

  5. Cerbaz, I recently watched a video clip by Sam Harris where he talks about life's meaning. He made an interesting point that just adding "infinity" to existence does not give it meaning. Believing that this life is just a temporary stepping stone to a better one can actually lead someone to wasting this life (even though this is the only life we are certain of having).

    If you want to see the video, it's on youtube. "Ask Sam Harris Anything #2" - it's the first question he addresses.

  6. R.A., I like this post. You make a great point. I did not stay "in the closet" very long. You will be surprised (well probably not) how Christians will try to stereotype you and say that you are rebelling from God. But there is a big difference in rebelling from a KNOWN authority and simply having a different opinion about how the Christian religion was formed. Realizing that the Bible could not be divinely inspired was the first step in my de-conversion as well.

  7. Thank you Dave for the link. I will watch it on youtube.

  8. Thanks for the encouragement Dave. Yeah, I've thought quite a bit about what people would likely say/think, if they knew I was actually an atheist. I may do a blog about it, at some point.