Friday, September 10, 2004

Logic and reason can't lead us to reject God

One of my students forwarded an email to me today from a student who stated that after a life-long sojourn as a Christian, he had come to reject the Christian faith. The original email officially announcing his apostasy was sent to a list of Christian friends and, predictably, appears to have created a small tempest in a teapot. In any case, since the apostate was also a former student of mine, and one with whom I continue to enjoy good ongoing conversations from time-to-time, I responded to his announcement as follows:
Heard the big news. Well, that's one heck of a way to get attention! I'm tempted to think you did it just as a gag to stir up the hornet's nest!!

So how does apostasy (rejecting the faith) feel? Liberating? Sad? I only ask because I'm sincerely curious. Does it bring a sense of freedom (like the Enlightenment supposed), or a sense of forboding (like Nietzsche expressed)?

I should qualify my definition of apostasy as "rejecting the faith." There's an ambiguity in the term "faith" that calls for comment: when one rejects the Christian faith (as a body of beliefs) one doesn't reject faith (as a subjective
disposition to believe in something). One simply withdraws his faith from Christianity and puts it in something else. The question, then, would be: where's yours now, or did you misplace it somewhere under the bed or in the closet?

People very rarely convert (or 'unconvert') for intellectual reasons, whatever they may say. Usually it's something else, even if there may be good 'reasons' one can muster. Hence, if it's true that "logic and reason can't lead us to God" [the title of your weblog] it's just as true that logic and reason aren't what really lead us to reject God either.

Thus, some unchurched people become Christians initially in order to "find themselves," or for community, or comfort. Likewise, some people raised in religious communities jettison their faith because they're having sex outside of marriage and don't like feeling guilty about it, or for some other convenient reason.

The causes of things we do are rarely the reasons we give for the things we do. The reasons are interesting to play around with, of course. We could line up our logical syllogisms one against the other and, I suppose, have some fun. But as Blaise Pascal (pictured left) abundantly knew, the human heart does not run on syllogisms. "The heard has its reasons," he wrote, "of which reason knows nothing."

So the only really interesting question at this point has nothing to do with arguments. It has to do with the reasons of the heart that animated your inner decision -- as you first toyed with, then more seriously considered, then made a commitment [Oh, yes! -- shades of Billy Graham (pictured right) and the "Hour of Decision"!] to reject the Christian faith.

Those reasons of the heart may not be something you can drag out into the light of day at this point, but if you think about the alternatives involved in Pascal's famous Wager, you may wish at least to consider the implications ...

Assume that Christianity is false. What does the Christian stand to lose who mistakenly spends his life believing that God exists, trying to love his neighbor, forgive people who do him ill, and sharing his faith with others? Not much.
He dies, pretty much just like you do, only with his last thought being the comfortable delusion that a loving God exists Who awaits him on the other side. Not bad, really.

Assume that Christianity is true. What does the apostate stand to lose who mistakenly rejects the Christian faith and spends the rest of his life banking on the assumption that there is "no heaven above us" and "no hell below us" (as John Lennon sang wistfully in his song, "Imagine")? Pretty much everything. He dies too, but then finds that he's still awake on the other side and being led straightaway to the Divine Tribunal where the dread words of Jesus (Mt 7:23) could await him: "Depart from me ... I never knew you ..." Not very good, really.

That's certainly not a very noble reason for clinging to a faith one doesn't believe in. But it would certainly be reason enough for me not to want to turn my back on the possibilies I might have overlooked somehow -- especially with those biblical warnings about how some maddening spiritual blindness could have been cast
over me by One who does not wish us well ... You know of whom I speak: One who makes Tolkien's Sauron (pictured right) seem like a friendly uncle ...

Dr. B.

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