As a pastor’s kid, I was a bit of a pain in the ass in Sunday school. I knew all of the canned answers, asked a bunch of annoying questions, and was always looking for exceptions to the rule. And as is typical with pastor’s kids, I’ve had doubts about Christianity – or at least recognize some of its absurdity – for a good chunk of my life. Those doubts have become harder to ignore over the last couple years.
I think it largely – though certainly not entirely – has to do with having a daughter and wanting to teach her truth instead of merely perpetuating myths passed down to me. If the Bible’s not true, I shouldn’t teach it to her as if it is. So whereas I’ve been comfortable with a certain degree of ambiguity over the first 35 years of my life – when the cost of being wrong mostly only affected me – intellectual honesty around spiritual matters is more consequential now that an impressionable mind is involved.
Late year I tried to start giving honest consideration to alternative theories of existence and faith. I read through The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins which presents a number of convincing objections to the faith – several of them seemingly obvious in retrospect. I’ve tried to better understand philosophical arguments that feel threatening as a Christian. Are the three major monotheistic religions all a similar degree of “approximately correct”? Are we evolved to believe in God – does he “feel” real – because people groups of faith were more likely to cooperate, dominate, and propagate? Are we living in a computer simulation?
Truth holds up under cross-examination. If the Bible is true, we should be able to throw it into a Battle Royalè with competitive theories, and it will come out victorious. Christians shouldn’t be scared to examine and evaluate belief systems contrary to our own – for if ours is so weak as to crumple under a slight breeze, then its probably not true. If it’s not true, we should stop teaching those fairy tales to our children.
On the other hand, if the Bible is true – if there is a God who loves Emma and wants to have a relationship with her, if he created her with a purpose, if there’s a supernatural reservoir of wisdom and strength, peace and power, grace and forgiveness available to her – she should know that.
I’ve lived 37 years of my life as if there is a God – and as if Jesus Christ was a human incarnation of that God. Though I’ve got plenty of intellectual doubt about why it works, that belief system has served me well. (That said, many atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, can make the same claim and a belief system can produce beneficial results without its core tenants being true).
I’ve also had a host of unlikely experiences that I have hard time explaining as coincidence or confirmation bias: answers to prayer, insights into certain situations, the right opportunity showing up at the right time, experiences and outliers that defy the way that probability and common sense say the world should work. I’m uncomfortable with these experiences – and I’m uncomfortable explaining these experiences to other people – but they happened.
So while I have a lot of doubt, and while I recognize that there are a lot of strong arguments against the existence of God in general, and against my belief system in particular, I’m not ready to discard it just yet.
So here’s my rough plan: give the Bible another read through with a healthy (whatever that means) dose of skepticism and be honest about the things that don’t make sense. But while I’m at it, take notes on what the Bible says about God. If he’s real and the Bible’s a reliable source, an accurate description would seem to be a useful thing to pass along to Emma. It’d be helpful for me too.
An honest, earnest pursuit of truth would seem to have three outcomes.
The first is that I end up with an overwhelming catalog of objectives and walk away with a reasonable degree of certainty that I’ve been led astray all these years. I have to admit that I’m biased against this outcome – for who wants to come to the conclusion that they’ve believed fairy tales for four decades? On the other hand, being freed from the shackles of false teachings should be desirable, even if uncomfortable.
The second outcome is that in naming may objections, I’m able to address them enough to continue on believing. My faith strengthens, I develop a deeper understanding of God, engage with him more fully, and am better motivated and equipped to live life as if the stories are true.
The worst outcome where I’m at today – standing weakly in the middle, full of half-formed, cynical arguments for either side but not really believing any of them. Unwilling to investigate my doubt for fear of admitting gullibility. Unwilling to fully engage with my faith for fear of the ramifications for living in a world where it’s all true – even the really ridiculous parts.
I’d like to document some of the journey here on the blog. Writing is one of the ways I clarify ideas. Having other people read what I write is useful motivator to put in the work. And regardless the outcome, it’ll be a useful trail of breadcrumbs for Emma to follow when she gets older.
And with that, here are some thoughts on Genesis 1.