People often ask me if I believe in God for a rational reason or if I believe on faith. Usually I answer a rational reason. After all, I am a student of the humanities, and I have had more formal training in rational belief than most naturalists outside the academy.
Incidently I stumbled across this article a few days ago where a naturalist philosopher is disgruntled by all the uniformed naturalist philosophers out there. I grinned because I often see tweets where people make supposedly sound arguments about the absence of the supernatural that theist philosophers could refute in 10 seconds. Smith, again a naturalist, is right that sometimes we aren’t as logical as we claim to be.
Here lately I’ve begun to reconsider my faith position. For sure there is a rational component to my belief. After all, even the philosopher Kant said he was impressed by the teleological argument for God’s existence. And on an intellectual level, I have labored for answers my whole life. It started in elementary school when I’d hit myself to see if I was real or a figment of the imagination. I am not intellectually lazy.
But it’s more than intellect. Ultimately, it’s an experience with “something more” that’s kept me in the faith community. In the dark moments it wasn’t a “valid judgments” as we say in logic that held me in God’s hand. It was what I have seen and experienced that held me, and what others have seen and experienced.
That’s why when Tony Jones’ wrote about how he believes because of a collective belief in God worldwide, I got it. Here’s what he said.
At this point, I simply cannot abide severing myself from the rest of the world’s population, from 7 billion of my fellow human beings. I have enough respect for the collective wisdom of humanity to stand in solidarity with them in proclaiming that there is, indeed, a God.
I know Jones got some of his stats wrong, and made a couple offense statements about race. But beyond this, I still *got* it. I have, as I have mentioned the before, experienced that there is “something more.”
This has included things such as the blind seeing after we prayed over him, God providing me with emotional healing, seeing a very, very broken dad be transformed, and the presence of God really showing up in my church. Admittedly, I’ve always known that there could be natural explanations for these things. The blind boy could have been healed because he believed God was healing him so much that the energy of his body came through and healed him. My dad could have been transformed by a strong will or good therapist (except he did not go see a therapist). God’s presence could have been an emotional experience that was nothing more than human emotions. This is all true.
But you know what kept me going? A community of faith. For example, there is simply too many miracles in SE Asian alone for me to deny them all, and everyone on the missions ground knows what I mean. There is simply too many broken people transformed by God’s presence globally for me to dismiss it as just emotional comfort.
I’ve mentioned this story before. But there was a man who came to church week after week but never said a word, not even hi. He had several severe addictions and was a street person. He did not want financial assistance; just wanted to stand there and say nothing. But then one day in the middle of worship he burst out crying and fell over and couldn’t get up. Then he believed right.like.that. He started talking and said God had touched him; the church dropped their guitars and gathered around and just prayed over him as Jesus became real to him for the first time. The next week his buddies from the slum were at church too.
Jesus said that we come to him like a child. And now I finally get it. We do.
That’s why when my friends on twitter said Tony Jones does not have “good logic” and “what kind of Christianity is that?” I disagree because most of us don’t, in the final end, believe because of logic or science (even though I think it is a logically sound belief system). In fact, what makes the gospel so difficult is that it requires us to become a child, and this is uncomfortable.
Some have suggested that Tony Jones’ argument is equivalent to arguing that we should just jump off the cliff because the majority do, or that it’s denying that that the majority of the world has been wrong about a lot, such as the majority who once believed the earth is the center of the solar system.
This is not about jumping off the cliff because everyone does it: this is a prior experience that gives me solid grounds to take that leap believing that God is catching me.
Given my experiences of the divine, I turn to the world, and in finding a community, I simply cannot easily dismiss the testimonies of several billions of people throughout the course of history.
Could we all be wrong and all be disillusioned? Sure. Possible. Is Jones’ stats off, both because a large portion of westerns are no longer believers in anything supernatural, and because there are a lot of closet naturalists? Sure.
But no matter what, we are bumping into large percentages of people who have had experiences, and these individuals are not, no matter what, an isolated few. I think it’s important, as Bram mentioned, to remember that westerners live in a world where we have suppressed the supernatural, but much of the third world has very a very different experience than us.
We as Western moderns do live in a world with a seemingly complete absence the supernatural, and we do everything to keep up this illusion that it doesn’t exist in no way at all… People are conditioned to see the world this way, have learned to not bother about those superstitions. But is this reductionist naturalist world the real world, or is it just what we want to see? Isn’t a life of materialism and naturalism, like a lot of us have in the ‘civilized’ part of the world (especially academic circles…) the privilege of ivory-tower Westerners, more like a form of wishful thinking than ‘the only rational way to view reality’ as some claim it to be.
From a few things that I’ve experienced, and a lot of things that I’ve heard from different sources around the world, the influence of the supernatural is not always as easy to put away as ‘superstition’ as it is here and as we would conveniently be able to do. People in a lot of countries do even live in fear of it, sometimes out of real superstition probably, but sometimes not without a good reason nonetheless…
I agree that it’s in a way very convenient to have a world that is completely ‘rational’ and that can be described solely through ‘the laws of nature’ as modern science defines them. But do we have such a world? We have at least been living like we have in only a material world, for a few hundredths of years. Since the enlightenment we’ve been denying the supernatural here in the West, telling ourselves it does not exist… Which also means that we generally stopped almost all of our contact with it, and we got completely our of touch with it… We built up a world in which it has no place and is not supposed to exist!
And still it did not go away, and it won’t… No matter how much we cry to the sky that it’s empty, the world is and has always been more than just ‘natural’ in the modern sense. Things I’ve experienced myself, as well as heard from witnesses do convince me that there is something, whatever it is…
It’s interesting, but me too. When I doubted Christianity, my mind did not immediately turn to atheism. I simply walked the Buddhist temples and talked to friends, because my gut said there was too much out there for there to be nothing.
I don’t think the community proves Christianity as much as it’s a serious step that turns me towards the supernatural.
I have a professor who studied under a famous atheist philosopher half a century ago. Himself a naturalist, he spent years in intense logic, science, and mathematics trying to grasp an intellectual, rational, logical, and sound argument to believe or disbelieve. It was an experience that made the leap to Christianity possible for him nearly 40 years later (incidently, he does not call it a leap; he says he’s certain that God exists). Here he was a man with more training in logic than most individuals in the entire world, but it was experience that brought the belief in Christianity.
I know this deconstructs more questions than I can answer in one post. We might start to ask why God does not give us all an “epiphany” or why some people are left screaming for help in the snow with only more snow falling in their face. These are valid questions worth an entire blog series, and I don’t want to dismiss that pain.
I still cry out sometimes. But for me, and admittedly I’ve lived a fairly privileged life, it forces me to come face to face with my limits and humanity. Perhaps this is why I believe more than ever.
Sadly, I cannot prove God’s existence. Atheists tell me that is my job. It’s not my job. It’s God’s job. Granted if we were to debate, the burden would rest on me. But for me, life is not a debate. Life is a faith journey.
Something a scholar and philosopher said to me last semester stuck out to me. He said, “We have spent hundreds of hours worrying about these problems for theists. But at the end of the day there is something to what the Bible says: are you preparing yourself to dine with your maker?”
The naturalists will make their own choices, and I understand. But I have made a different choice, and this decision directs my life.
Even so, may you come Lord Jesus.