Christianity and Me, part 2

Yesterday I wrote that I find Christianity beautiful, wise, compassionate, and beneficial. Why, then, am I not a Christian?

It’s very simple. I don’t believe it happens to be true. That’s it; there is no other reason.

I have not yet seen a convincing argument that God exists. Still less have I seen a convincing argument that Jesus is the Son of God, or God Himself. Now, I also can’t show that God doesn’t exist, so I’m not an atheist. I just see no particular reason to believe He does. So I’m an agnostic.

(Yes, I know that faith has its role. But faith without reason is blind, so for me, reason has to come first.)

There are of course many proofs and reasons that defenders have offered over the years for the existence of God, so it’s only fair to look at a few of those, as well as one major obstacle (in my view) to God being real.

The reason most commonly given is the existence of the universe. How can we have a Creation without a Creator? Now, modern Christianity generally doesn’t argue with science over the validity of evolution or astronomy, so most Christians these days probably agree that the universe began with a Big Bang about 14 billion years ago, and evolution is a Real Thing that Happened. But we still need God for the Big Bang, right? The spark of the universe, the laws of physics, all that.

There are two problems with this line of thinking.

First, it says that the universe must have come from somewhere – but then it immediately says that its Creator did not come from somewhere, but always existed. Now, we’re talking about very metaphysical, hypothetical questions here, so human intuition is weak. Is it really so much easier to believe that God always existed, than to believe that we’ve always had some form of multiverse that spawns off little universes like ours constantly?

Or if that’s not intuitively satisfying, consider this. In a universe with no God, there would be no matter, no energy, no laws of physics. In such a place, why shouldn’t a universe spontaneously pop into being? It seems strange to us, but only the laws of physics prevent such a thing. Without them, what’s to stop it? (I’m not saying you have to believe this is true – I don’t necessarily either – I’m just offering it as another possible way of intuitively explaining the universe that doesn’t require God.)

You could also argue that the universe and Earth are perfectly calibrated for life, custom-built for humanity, and that this suggests God. But I think the idea of a multiverse, combined with the Anthropic Principle, obviates the need for God in such calibration. (Again, I’m not saying I necessarily believe in a multiverse, I’m just showing that there’s plenty of room for doubt about God.)

There are, of course, many more arguments for God. But time is limited this morning, and the arguments have all been hashed out a thousand times before. Suffice it to say that I’ve heard many of them, and personally, I’ve found none convincing.

Finally, there’s one major stumbling block to the existence of a benevolent God, and it’s the same one everyone talks about: suffering.

Understand, when I talk about suffering, I’m not thinking of some abstract metaphysical concept. I’m thinking about Robert-François Damiens, who in 1757 was executed in the following manner. (Warning: graphic.)

Fetched from his prison cell on the morning of 28 March 1757, Damiens allegedly said “La journée sera rude” (“The day will be hard”). He was tortured first with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted assassination, was burned using sulphur; molten wax, molten lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. He was then remanded to the royal executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, who harnessed horses to his arms and legs to be dismembered. But Damiens’ limbs did not separate easily: the officiants ordered Sanson to cut Damiens’ joints with an axe. Once Damiens was dismembered to the applause of the crowd, his reportedly still-living torso was burnt at the stake.

I’m hard-pressed to believe that an all-powerful, all-loving God couldn’t have found some way to help him out here, regardless of any other circumstances. And don’t say suffering happens for the sake of free will, because plenty of suffering happens because of natural disasters.

For me, this is not an abstract thing. I have literally wept with grief and anger and shame for the sheer volume of human agony that God has allowed to happen in this world. I’m not saying you have to agree with me. I’m just saying that I take this very seriously indeed.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to be serious all the time. So if you have anything to say in response to my long ramblings, feel free to keep it light. As always, I’m open and willing to talk.

9 responses to “Christianity and Me, part 2

  1. Brian, great post! One of the things you and I are agreed upon is that we should only believe things we have reason to believe are true. There is much more in what you wrote to discuss than can be commented upon in a brief (or as I get to the end of this, not so brief) reply. A few thoughts. One is (and I think from what you’ve written that you are open to this), do you also doubt your doubts? For example are you consistent in your application of your standards of “convincing proof” (and what constitutes convincing proof for you)? There are many things we believe on the basis of reasonable evidence that could in fact later be proven wrong, including many findings in science. This is even more true in the realm of human relationships where we trust people who have proven trustworthy even though they could let us down. In other words, are you truly as agnostic in other areas of life where “belief on the basis of convincing evidence” is not possible? My experience is that most of us aren’t.

    Suffering is a much longer discussion and I struggle with its existence as well, particularly some of the horrendous instances of suffering such as you cite. While I’ve seen writing on suffering that makes sense, none ever is satisfying because, it seems to me, that suffering itself is something we can never be satisfied with–it just inherently seems “not the way things are supposed to be.” Gary Haugen, in a book called Loving Justice raised an interesting counter to our question of God “Where were you?” that challenged me in this regard [He developed this line of thinking as a UN investigator of the Rwanda massacres]. He suggests that God might in many (though not all) instances ask “Where were you?” Haugen now leads an organization called the International Justice Mission which fights human trafficking around the world. Christians believe God has made human beings his agents in the world and that when we witness injustice, evil, and suffering, we are not to stand by wringing our hands but risk ourselves in resisting such evil. Perhaps that is a response to suffering that theists, agnostics, and atheists can all agree upon.

    The other thing that is seldom explored as we consider the problem of evil and suffering is the question of evil in comparison to what? I would suggest that there is also a “problem of goodness” in the sense that we have a sense of the good against which such evils as you describe can be called “evil” and “wrong”. There is also so much goodness in the world, and a longing in all of us for “a better world.” Where does that come from? C. S, Lewis in his autobiography Surprised by Joy indicates that this is what surprised him out of his atheism.

    I’ll stop here. I hope in writing I’ve taken you seriously but also kept it “light”. Much more could be said and you likely have some very thoughtful responses to what I’ve written. We haven’t even gotten into multiverses, which I think take as much faith to believe in as the idea of creation. Perhaps we should continue that over your beverage of choice when you are next in town. Thanks again for “keeping it real”!

    • Thanks for the long and thought-out comment. 🙂 As you said, there’s a lot more to say, but it can wait till we have a chance to really sit down and talk about it.

      • Agreed! One question with regard to the discussion Ben and I are having about You Lost Me is, have you felt that in churches you’ve been a part of that your questions and doubts were welcomed and taken seriously? Kinnaman seems to suggest that often when people raise such questions they are either given simplistic answers or shut down, which has been alienating.

      • In general, my experiences there have been pretty positive. I can think of numerous times I’ve talked to people in the Church, and they’ve taken my questions seriously. Of course, there are always some people who try to oversimplify or sweep things under the rug, but you’ll find that in any group, not just the Church.

  2. Reblogged this on [BTW] : Ben Trube, Writer and commented:
    Part 2 of Brian’s personal thoughts on Christianity. Some good discussions going on here, and in the comments as well. [BTW] Ben Trube, Writer will resume this series next week.

  3. Pingback: You lost me. No really. What are you guys talking about? | [BTW] : Ben Trube, Writer

  4. I will oppose Ben’s long and well thought out post with a quote:
    “I beliiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeveeeeahhhhh in the Lordah”

  5. Pingback: Review: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith « Bob on Books

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