Faith: Silly or Significant?
- There were a lot of responses to my brief comments on the about page regarding this topic and creating a dedicated page made more sense than using the about page for any ongoing discussions.
- My hope is that the discussion will help others who may be wrestling with the same issues.
- I have received many requests to share more about myself on a personal level.
- My faith affects the decisions I make in virtually every area of life including professionally, so if you like my work you may appreciate knowing what shaped me as a person and influenced the posture I take with things like support and licensing.
"Don't talk about religion or politics"
I always find it interesting when people say that one's spiritual convictions, political thoughts, and professional life should remain strictly compartmentalized. Sure, if your employer is paying you to do a particular job, it would be inappropriate to burn hours of on-the-clock time talking about politics or your faith. But why have so many subscribed to this idea that we shouldn't dare even mention our convictions to those with whom we work? Because we're afraid of rejection or insecure about our own beliefs? Or maybe we assume that other people aren't mature enough to handle a disagreement without getting personally offended? Of course professional disagreements are easier to work through than religious or political ones because they don't threaten a person's world view which is far more deep-seated and emotional. I get it, but let's try to get beyond that. It's how we learn. Experiment. Think things through. Admit mistakes. When I started dipping my toe in ActionScript development, I made all sorts of mistakes and learned from them. I firmly believed a certain block of code would work but when I hit CTRL-ENTER, it blew up. I was confronted with the truth and had to either stick my head in the sand and ignore it or adjust. As frustrating as it can be to have my beliefs about my carefully crafted code dashed, it's quite freeing to acknowledge the truth and alter course accordingly. So let's take the same approach with the rest of our lives and be willing to consider the arguments, follow the evidence, admit mistakes and grow. I firmly believed some silly things about God and the nature of reality many years ago and when I hit CTRL-ENTER (so to speak), those beliefs blew up under scrutiny. This post exposes some of the beliefs, what I learned along the way, and why I ultimately became a Christian.
Faith is for fools
I was an Atheist for several years in my late teens. I saw lots of hypocrisy in the lives of "religious" people. It disgusted me. I also refused to believe in a God who would allow any kind of evil, and I saw plenty of evil in the world. Plus, I was a "science" guy who put my faith only in things that could be measured, quantified, and observed. I hated the idea of choosing to believe something just because it made me feel better. I saw a vast array of conflicting religious beliefs out there, each saying the other guy is wrong, and I figured that as soon as I laid claim to a particular belief system, I was joining the ranks of those who arrogantly position themselves above everyone else in terms of knowing the "real truth". Religious beliefs were to blame for a tremendous amount of bloodshed throughout the course of history which made it look barbaric and cruel. No thanks.
Oh (and this is probably the biggest factor deep-down), frankly I didn't want to be accountable to anyone, especially an invisible God. I had life pretty well figured out, thank you very much, and all that morality stuff just got in my way and prevented me from being "happy" (after all, that was my goal in life - to be "happy"). I saw parents use guilt to manipulate their kids the same way the church used it to impose their morality on the masses, but I was a grown-up now and recognized the game so I quit playing. I preferred independence; no parents telling me what to do and no religious people wagging their fingers at me. Ah, it felt good to be rid of that ugly thing called guilt. I felt bad for those poor people who were still stuck in their silly faith system.
I was quite content with my Atheism for a while. Religious people were...well...I thought they were basically like stupid sheep with an even stupider shepherd, blindly being led astray. They were weak and brainwashed, ignorant of reality. I, on the other hand, was much too smart to be fooled by that hogwash.
After a while, a few things started troubling me:
- It was easy to see the flaws and inconsistencies in other religions, but I had rejected Christianity primarily because I just assumed it was like all the others. I never really considered the facts or did any research for myself. I felt kinda dumb for doing that. And if it was true I couldn't just dismiss it because I didn't like the implications. Truth doesn't concern itself with my preferences or misunderstandings. I dislike the fact that gravity (and my spindly white legs) keep me from jumping high in Volleyball, but I'd be a fool to simply turn up my nose and decide to believe gravity doesn't really exist because it's inconvenient.
- When I looked around at nature, it was harder and harder for me to explain it apart from a creator. There are some problems with the theory of evolution that I was never exposed to in school, and logic kept leading me back to a creator. (Not that I disbelieve all types of evolution)
- As much as I tried to suppress it, I still knew I was guilty somehow. There was a moral compass inside me that I was willfully suppressing. My keen rationalizing skills kicked in as I told myself things like "I'm a good guy. I haven't murdered anyone, I don't purposely hurt others, and when graded on a curve I'd certainly be in the top 90% of the human population in terms of being nice." But is morality all relative like that? What is justice? Is that equally relative? Upon reflection, the Christian world view seemed to explain my experience and provide a remarkable solution at the same time.
- The more I lived as an Atheist, the more dysfunctional my life became.
- I recognized a peace and "goodness" in some Christians around me that was intriguing. I hated admitting that though. I was, after all, much smarter than any of them.
Again, I tried to suppress this stuff for as long as I could, but eventually I decided that I better just deal with it by researching Christianity in an effort to build a case against it and silence the growing conviction that I was being intellectually dishonest with myself. The problem was that the more I looked into it, the more Christianity emerged as being true and reasonable. I was somewhat disappointed, but more so intrigued. How could this be? Of course the pivotal question related to who Jesus was. He is unlike any other character in history and I had to think through whether he was a myth, a fraud, some crazy guy, or the truth. Eventually I just couldn't deny him anymore. It wasn't reasonable to do so in light of the information I had.
All of my concerns about hypocrisy, evil, science, exclusivity, religiously-motivated bloodshed, etc., were addressed. Every single one. Of course that didn't happen overnight. I had to chew on stuff for quite some time and ask a lot of questions. But when all was said and done, I had a choice to make. I could either accept and submit myself to the truth, or reject it and live with intellectual dishonesty. The hardest part for me was dealing with the fact that God doesn't operate the way I think he should. I thought he should make himself visible and audible and completely obvious to everyone. I wanted to see him, touch him, and carry on a conversation with him. I disagreed with him allowing evil in the world. But I had to acknowledge that once again, truth isn't subject to my whims. God is a whole lot smarter than me, and I'd be a fool to try imposing my "better judgment" on him. I may not like gravity or agree with the way it works, but unless I'm willing to deal with some serious consequences, I better recognize its existence.
Acknowledging I was wrong about Christianity was not only a blow to my pride, but it had huge implications for my day-to-day life and entire world view. It wasn't an easy pill to swallow, but it was strangely freeing. Now I could see why people called it being "born again". Everything looked different through new eyes. A weight had been lifted that I never realized was even there.
One shocking realization to me was that I had completely misunderstood the Hell issue. I thought that Christianity preached there was one simple checkbox on God's evaluation sheet for each of us: "Believed Jesus existed - yes/no". The sole criteria for deeming a person deserving of Hell was the answer to that question. So Jesus was like a cosmic insurance policy that could be purchased by acknowledging that he existed...plus maybe doing a bunch of religious stuff like attending church, repeating certain prayers, and generally acting "righteous" (whatever that meant). But what if a person never heard of Jesus? What if they were incredibly kind and did all sorts of unselfish acts of service but didn't believe in Jesus? Unfair! If that's true, isn't Jesus to blame for a lot of "good" people going to Hell?
When I actually read the Bible, though, I realized that's not at all what true Christianity teaches. People deserve judgment for rebellion against God and the moral code that he placed in their hearts. Jesus is the remedy for that problem (and much more). I had misplaced the blame for my spiritual problems. Imagine a group of people who were all bitten by venomous snakes, destined to perish unless they receive the antivenom. If all are offered the antivenom but half refuse to accept it and die, the antivenom didn't cause their death - the venom did! Jesus is the antivenom. Rebellion and sin are the venom. Unfortunately, most of us have deluded ourselves into believing that we're morally righteous by some imagined sliding scale so we don't even recognize our need for the cure. Society preaches "tolerance" and moral distinctions are frowned upon because they may damage someone's delicate self concept. We lose sight of just how far we have fallen. The message of Jesus and the Bible, however, is clear and consistent: we need a savior and one has been lovingly provided who not only cancels your (and my) debt, but also offers to ease our burdens in this life. We can choose to accept or reject the gift. The loving father portrayed in the Bible is quite different than that angry white-bearded killjoy I formerly imagined. Misperception after misperception started melting away as I looked further into Christianity.
I went from pitying Christians and looking down on them to becoming one myself. The road culminated in me eating some humble pie. Am I an intellectual or theological genius who considers himself smarter than non-believers now? Nope. Not at all. If anything, I've learned that I need to be willing to embrace the truth regardless of my "feelings" about it, and I welcome respectful and constructive debate about these topics so long as you're willing to be open to changing your mind as well. If you're a Christian and want to chime in with your experience, great. If you think I'm an idiot, feel free to share that too, but keep it constructive (I won't hesitate to delete comments that are just nasty, too lengthy, or off-topic). If you're curious about Christianity but have some honest questions or there's something that seems logically inconsistent, ask about it in the comments section below. If nothing else, though, I'd challenge you to suspend your preconceived notions about Christianity and take an honest look for yourself. It could change your life. It certainly did mine.
PS: A great resource for looking into these topics more is www.str.org. Specifically, Greg Koukl seems to do a good job of eliminating what I call "spiritual fluff" and sticking to logic and reason regarding Christianity. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of what you've heard about Christianity just isn't true. Anyway, www.str.org has a podcast and some downloadable MP3s on lots of different topics that might interest you. There are articles there too. Other good authors include Lee Strobel, C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Josh McDowell.