December 23, 2012
Reservations about Returning to Christian Belief
Hi Dr. Craig. I would like to thank you for all your hard work and dedication and wanted to let you know that your work has certainly nudged me into investigating more deeply a faith I had once held, took for granted and am now trying to rediscover. My biggest hurdles are twofold:
First, from a philosophical perspective I know that the multiplicity of religious belief systems does not necessarily negate the truth of one or indeed provide for any logical inference to the non-existence of God. However I do find it at times rather unnerving when I see and experience the way followers of other faiths like Buddhism, Hinduism and even Islam seem to achieve the same sense of peace and authenticity I have come to associate with my own experience of Christianity in my own life and the lives of people I meet. It does tend to make me think that we might conclude, if not that God does/does not exist, that the christian path might not be the exclusive route to a real knowledge of God. The niggling thought does occur to me that perhaps one religion is just as good as another as far as God is concerned. Wouldn't it be the case that if God intended for Christianity to be true that other faiths would fail where ours succeeds? My observations tend to indicate that this isn't the case.
Secondly, from a theological perspective; I find it hard to explain myself when pressed by skeptics on the God of the Old Testament. I understand there are a variety of interpretations afforded on the, at times, shocking depictions of the Old Testament God and I've read a work recommended in one of your talks 'Is God a Moral Monster?' by Paul Copan, but it seems that any time I come to explain myself on these matters it is dismissed as simply that 'explaining away' via a convenient interpretation afforded by the inherent vagaries of language and on one occasion was demonstrated how similar literary interpretative exercises could be performed n obviously abhorrent texts like Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' to make it seem as though it had moral viability.
I know this might be a lot to take in but I would really appreciate your patience and wisdom.
Thanks for your questions, Jon, as well as your encouraging comments! As you continue your spiritual journey, I hope that I can be of some help along the way.
With respect to your first question, it seems to me that it is based upon the faulty assumption that the purpose of religious belief is the psychological benefits that it confers on the believer. Let’s assume that you’re correct that many religions besides Christianity are effective in bringing “a sense of peace and authenticity” into the lives of their adherents. That would be troubling only if the purpose of Christianity were to bring a sense of peace and authenticity uniquely into the lives of Christian believers. But while many evangelists encourage people to believe in Christ because of the peace and joy and love that Christian faith brings, it seems to me that the purpose of Christianity is not to bring such psychological benefits, though they are a nice side benefit. The purpose of Christianity is not to help people feel good. The purpose of Christianity is to bring people salvation, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And I would argue that no other religion is as effective as Christianity in bringing those benefits to mankind. In that respect Christianity does succeed where other religions fail.
Of course, that raises the question of how we know that Christianity is true. We mustn’t think that a religion is true just because it confers psychological benefits upon its adherents. A Muslim who believes that everything that happens is the will of Allah or a Buddhist who manages to extinguish all desires may experience a sense of peace as a result; but that does nothing to ratify the truth of their belief systems. The arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences provide good grounds for believing that Christianity is true, wholly apart from any psychological benefits that Christian belief may confer.
As for your second question, I notice that your concern is not with the truth of Copan’s exegesis but with how to present such a response convincingly to sceptics. Here I would say two things.
First, many sceptics are not really concerned with a careful exegesis of the biblical text, but merely with taking potshots at the biblical depiction of God. We need to help them come to grips with the fact that they have not studied the Hebrew text carefully and in many cases simply have a misunderstanding of the text. So-called “slavery” in the Old Testament is a prime example. I think that Copan’s point that our understanding of this term is shaped by the experience of the American South prior to the Civil War and that what is described in the Old Testament is actually a sort of anti-poverty program designed to help the poor in the absence of a strong national government is quite convincing. I doubt that a similarly convincing interpretation could be made in the case of Mein Kampf!
Second, when presented with an objection, we should always ask what we would have to give up if the objection were proven to be correct. As I have emphasized elsewhere, objections to various passages in the Old Testament would at most require us to give up biblical inerrancy. While that would be an important conclusion, it would do nothing to undermine either God’s existence or his self-revelation Jesus of Nazareth. So my inclination is to simply grant the sceptic his objection, for the sake of argument, and then get on to more important matters, like the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. That puts the emphasis where it belongs and forces the sceptic to come to grips with the fundamental truth of Christianity.