When I have talked to my parents about some of my problems with Christianity they tell me that they do not have answers to the questions I ask. I wonder how they can call themselves followers of the Christian God without knowing why he allows, indeed commands, the slaughter of children or how he can condemn people to eternal torture in Hell simply because they believed something different. My parents tell me that they will ask God these questions when they get to heaven and that a “simple faith” is fine for now. I have to wonder, what if that simple faith is wrong? Surely it is better to at least try and find answers than to defeatedly accept a faith that may not be true?
Growing up, my parents drilled me with Proverbs 3:5-6. It was the Bible reference my father put in my 18th birthday card (before covering it up by sticky taping a blank piece of paper over it, realising how offensive it was to me). I can still recite the verses:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
I must ask the question: why did God give us brains if he didn’t want us to utilise them? Why would he bless us with the gift of rationality if we must not lean on our own understanding? Is it some kind of cruel joke?
It is interesting that the oh-so-wise Solomon writes such words. Only a chapter earlier he appraises understanding, comparing it to “hidden treasure.” (Proverbs 2:3-4) He encourages us to find understanding, but then we are instructed not to use it. I am confused.
A common excuse I hear in church is that God is so amazing and beyond our understanding that it is futile to attempt to seek answers to tricky questions. The epistemic distance is too great. It’s easier and safer to settle for a simple unquestioning faith. You can’t ask to many questions or else, god forbid, one might become an atheist.
I’ve recently been reading Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. It obviously wasn’t a book meant for atheists (it is full of prayers for the reader to pray) but a Christian friend recommended it so I thought I’d give it a go because of it’s relevance to some of my objections to Christianity. In this book, Chan does the same lazy thinking and encourages others to do so. He says it’s “ridiculous” for us to question God because his thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). He is the potter and we are the clay. Chan states:
“God has never asked us to figure out His justice or to see if His ways are morally right. He has only asked us to embrace His Word… ”
This sort of thinking scares the shit out of me. This is how the 9/11 jihadists would have thought: Who cares if it’s morally right? We just have to follow the Qur’an and kill lots of people and never ever ever use our brains.
This thinking also relates to the Euthyphro Dilemma: “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” Chan seems to believe that God is the standard of morality. This means that whatever God commands is good, because God commanded it and God is good. The problem with this thinking is that it makes God nothing more than an arbitrary dictator. Genocide, torture, child-sacrifice, sending people to Hell, it’s all fine as long as God commanded it. Again. Really scary thinking.
Christians seem to struggle with the other option – that there is an objective standard of good and God is good because he lines up with that. This means that there is an objective way for us to judge whether God is good or not and therefore it would not be so “ridiculous” for us to attempt to do so. This view would actually encourage us to use our brains! Hoorah!! If only more Christians supported it.
My thoughts on all of this echo Richard Dawkins:
“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”
In my own life, understanding has been a central theme so far. I’ve spent 14 out of my 18 years in school so as to gain understanding of this world and I will be continuing my studies for at least the next three years. I am also passionate about the role of understanding in the developing world, through education, as a cure for poverty. Education promotes peace through understanding of different cultures and beliefs. The world needs more people leaning on their own understanding. People who ask questions and find answers. It needs more people to tackle the difficult questions and not settle for a “simple faith.”
You can be a Christian, you can be an atheist, I don’t care. But you cannot be a human being that does not ask questions, that does not think critically. That, I cannot stand. Unfortunately, many of the Christians I know are like this.
I do have one Christian friend that encourages me to ask questions. He shared this George W. Bush quote with me:
“If you haven’t doubted, you probably haven’t thought very hard about what you believe.”
Yes. Oh yes. More people need to think harder about what they believe. Embrace doubt. Just do it. Pretty please.