Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why I Am Not a Christian (At Least Not Yet)


Let me begin by explaining the title of my post.

I chose the phrase, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” to explain why I – as a 29-year old man on my own free will and choice – have not – as of now – chosen to embrace Christianity, describe myself as a “Christian,” accept Jesus Christ as my Savior, attend church, etc.

This is a factual description of my reality. I am not a Christian, in the same way I am not, say, a woman, or Chinese.

Could I be a Christian?

Of course. I am partly of Christian heritage (through my family), I was raised in a predominantly Christian culture (America), and I am sympathetic to some of the tenets of Christianity (faith in God, the equality and integrity of every human soul, the beauty and happiness of a moral existence, etc).

So why am I not a Christian?

First, and quite simply, despite my family background, my family did not go to church when I was a child, and despite my cultural background, I was raised in a largely secular ghetto of that culture. So a direct acceptance of Christianity on my part would have required a sustained initiative on my part. For the most part, I have not exercised that initiative; I have not chosen to immerse myself in the Christian faith.

Why not?

Well…even though I did not go to catechism or attend Bible study, etc., I am confident enough in my knowledge of Christianity (absorbed through a variety of means, including popular culture, news articles, discussion with friends, observations of other people, a college class about the New Testament, etc.) to say that I would not find Christianity believable or satisfying even if I chose to immerse myself in the faith in the way that many people have (becoming “Born Again, etc.).

So again we come to the question: “Why?”

Before I answer that, let me say that many, many people throughout history have taken potshots at Christianity and organized religion, in general. The so-called “New Atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, among others) have been prolific in that regard. I have not read any of their books (except for Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene and Dennett’s book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, although neither book is about the merits of Christianity, per se). However, I know enough about their books to say that their indictment of Christianity (if not theism) is devastating. Of course, it’s not fair for me to say it’s “devastating,” and leave it at that. I owe you an explanation. OK. Fair enough. I will give a short, but simple explanation. However, I think it’s a powerful explanation.

Basically, the “truth” of Christianity rests on the validity of Revelation - the numerous Revelations of the Old Testament (in which God plays an active role in human affairs) and the Revelation of the New Testament (in which the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed to redeemed humanity). The fact that Jesus was a nice guy or that the 10 Commandments are "good principles of living" are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the Revelation. The Revelation is the foundation of Christianity's "truth." Can we agree on that? Yes, I think we can.

OK…having said all that…unlike the atheists, I am not – in principle – opposed to the idea of Revelation…as a believer in God and a believer in God’s omnipotent power (for reasons explained in The Mustard Seed), I cannot – in principle – rule out the idea that God would “reveal” Himself through the Judeo-Christian faith, or any other faith for that matter…God can do what he wants, and I am not arrogant enough to tell God what he can and cannot do.

But here’s the thing…where is the evidence for God’s Revelation?…Yes, I think it is fair to ask for some evidence – some fact that can be identified by the senses, and integrated by our rational brains – something like say, the existence of the Ark of the Covenant, or an independent, non-Biblical account of Jesus' ministry (even the Gospels were written at least 3 decades after his death). No such evidence exists.

But the issue goes beyond sensory, historical evidence…Perhaps we could accept “on faith” that Christianity is true – even if the physical evidence was lacking – if we had strong reason to believe – through experience - that God’s Word (as expressed through the Bible) was valid…In other words: It would reasonable to affirm the practice of Christianity (just the practice) if it lad to morality, happiness, and success?…But as we know, in many cases, Christianity leads to just the opposite: immorality, despair, and failure.

Why?

Well, that’s a complicated issue…But in the interest of time, I will simply say, “Because it is not consistent with Reality.” There are too many Christian teachings that are either contradictory or flat-out wrong to lead people to a better future. It is not unreasonable of us to expect that God’s Word would be better than Christianity what has delivered thus far (more understandable, more universal, and certainly more positive in its results).

If I sound negative about Christianity, please don’t misunderstand me: I certainly don’t think Christianity is evil, and I have no interest in trying to convert people away from Christianity. Nor do I declare that someone has to choose between Christianity and Spiritual Rationalism. The principles of Spiritual Rationalism are compatible with Christian teachings to the extent that those teachings are compatible with Reality. I have only been alive for 29 years old in one body. I am not presumptuous enough to say that I have access to all truth. There may be people out there whose experiences are radically different from mine – and based on those experiences – they have come to different conclusions about Christianity. That’s why Spiritual Rationalism isn’t a religion; it’s a philosophy. And it’s not even really a philosophy; it’s more of a “sense of life.”

Even though few people have articulated it in the way I have, I would suspect that many Americans (perhaps 25-40% of them) share my perspective. And in Europe, the numbers are probably between 60%-75%. Furthermore, those numbers are increasing steadily year-by-year. As John Derbyshire has pointed out, the global growth of reason and knowledge has put Christianity on the defensive, and there’s no reason to believe Christianity can surmount its gradual, tactical retreat. That’s why, quite frankly, I’m not terribly interested in Christianity (as you’ve probably noted from the scarcity of blog items about it). To paraphrase Ayn Rand (when talking about Richard Nixon): “People ask me what I think of Christianity. And I say, ‘I don’t think of Christianity.’”

What I DO think about is Reality – and where the search for Reality's Truth is taking us. In contemporary culture, the “Battle over Reality” manifests itself in 3 ways:

First, the decline of Science (in recent decades, Science has become a priesthood that is antagonistic to reason and freedom, and indeed to human dignity ).

Second, the decline of Western Civilization (as seen in the collapse of Europe – once the home of the Enlightenment - and the gradual decline of America – unless we reverse it).

And finally, the confrontation between a weak, de facto atheist West and a strong, revitalized Islam (as seen on 9/11, the Iraq Fiasco, the Cartoon Wars, and infinite examples). THOSE are the subjects that get my mind racing. Christianity itself does not hold much intellectual or emotional appeal to me.

Of course, the title of my post is “Why I Am Not Christian (At least Not Yet).” And let me repeat: Not yet. If anyone wants to convert me…well…you’re welcome to try…but I should warn you: It’ll be tough.

-Todd




13 comments:

Rich said...

Unpersuasive. You acknowledgment of the existence of God requires the same burden of proof you demand for the veracity of Christianity. You believe the one but not the other arbitrarily.

Todd White said...

Rich, see this post. It's not comprehensive, of course. But it lays an intellectual foundation...

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/08/best-evidence-for-god-in-one-paragraph.html

Rich said...

I read the post.

Irrelevant to my question. There is no logical or philosophical difference between believing in God and believing Christianity.

You demand the same proof for Christianity that an atheist would demand for proving the existence of God.

Todd White said...

Rich: With all due respect, I couldn't disagree more. And since you're just making assertions (without providing any evidence) it's impossible for me (or anyone else) to be persuaded to your view.

Rich said...

Similar tactics to what you are posting over at Vox's blog, I see.

Over there you have simply made statements as if they were truth. Do you ever give a straight answer or back up what you are writing, or is this all just a game for you?

Todd White said...

Rich: "Do you ever give a straight answer or back up what you are writing, or is this all just a game for you?"

TW: (Giggling) "Pot, meet kettle." I could say the same thing to you, my friend.

Chuck said...

Todd:

Unsurprisingly, I'm siding with Rich on this one. Christianity is just one branch of Theism. If you choose to believe theism of any kind, you're merely drawing numbers out of a hat.

I guess - to answer the question you posed to me in an earlier post - I'm wondering if you believe in an active, benevolent/malevolent God who interjects in our lives and made us in his image? If you *do*, what has made you choose to believe that, and if you *don't* how do we have an objective moral code of any kind?

As I've said a million times, if you believe the latter, you're just as "reductionist" as any garden variety atheist. you fall back on faith which is *not* based upon reason - thereby undermining your "spiritual rationalism".

Todd White said...

Chuck:

With all due respect to you and Rich, if y'all honestly believe that the arguments I use to defend my philosophy are equivalent to the arguments (or non-arguments) that Christians use to defend their faith, then I feel no obligation to respond to your other concerns.

Honestly, by making that assertion, you shows that you can't distinguish between arguments based on reason, and rhetorical ploys based on emotion ("I *feel* this; thus it must be true), and if that's the case, I have to abstain from further dialogue.

Rich said...

Chuck,

Thanks for the support. I note that he completely evades your points as well.

His argument boils down to "You're all stupid, so I'm leaving."

Todd White said...

Rich,

Fine, I'll answer your question. I'm in a good mood today.

You asked, "Do you ever give a straight answer or back up what you are writing, or is this all just a game for you?"

The answer is: "Yes, I do give straight answers. And no, it's not a game."

See, I'm a good sport.

Silas Reinagel said...

So, let me get this straight. You're confident that you understand Christianity, without having read through the Bible yourself, and you're confident that the New Atheists have successfully indicted Christianity, also, without having read their books yourself.

You claim that your objection to Christianity is that not enough evidence has been provided in support of Revelation, and yet you haven't even looked at the source matieral itself, nor the arguments against Christianity.

If you are going to be skeptical, then feel free to do so... but Rich and Chuck are quite right that you shouldn't believe in God without empirical proof, if you take such a route.

Alternately, if you seek the truth and are actually interested in making a rational decision, at least familiarize yourself with what Christianity actually is, what it actually teaches, and what the evidence for it is. Rather than making your judgment based on third-party matierals and caricatures of Christianity, judge it on it's own mertis. Else, you can't reasonably describe yourself as a rationalist, spiritual or otherwise.

Todd White said...

Thanks for your feedback, Silas. I'll reply over at your website.

Todd White said...

Silas: Without getting too much into the weeds, I’ll make 2 major points…

1) I do not believe – and would never advocate – that we need “proof” of God or “proof” of Christianity. Rather, I would prefer merely suggest that we make “an inference to the best explanation.” If we do that, I feel comfortable saying that it is nearly certain that God exists (upwards of 99% certainty). As for Christianity – based on my understanding of faith – well, I would put the odds at way, way less than 50%.

2) I wouldn’t concur that I’m “unfamiliar” with Christianity. I’ve read the New Testament and major portions of the Old Testament. Having said that, you are correct in saying that my knowledge of Christianity is suboptimal and could use strengthening. That’s why I’m looking forward to your series on Christianity.

I agree with you that “either Christianity is true, or it isn't. If it is true, then it must make sense of every single fact of the universe. If even a single piece is actually out of place, then Christianity fails.”

That’s the standard I use too. And I’ve just seen too much inconsistency and outright falsehoods to make me a member of the faith. But you claim that Christianity can meet that standard. That’s a bold statement. Having said that, I respect your ambition. And I genuinely invite you to enlighten me.