This was originally a response to a comment on a previous post, but since it was so long, I thought it was worthy of it’s own blog post. It’s not an exhaustive list. It doesn’t go into New Testament textual criticism, or the historicity of the man Jesus, but it goes into what I think are the most fundamental reasons at the core of my personality.
So, why do I believe in the Christian God? Partially, it’s because I was raised in a Christian home. Surely, if I was born in a Muslim home in an Islamic fundamentalist nation, I’d probably be defending Islam…up to a point. Even if there are social consequences, I can still choose what I believe.
It was in college that I had a real crisis of faith, where I was put off by the hypocrisy of Christianity.1 I went through this silent lonely period, where I questioned everything I was raised to believe. So I decided to do myself a favor, and “start over”. I’d give God a shot, and really study the beliefs that I have, to decide whether or not to abandon them. That study actually helped me realize that I really do believe in Jesus, and why I do, and where my intellectual honesty (some might call it humility) puts limits on what I’m willing to do to defend my faith, and maybe conveniently, I believe Christianity itself puts those limits on the Christian faith (though some may disagree), by requiring that you respect freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience, even for people who aren’t Christians (i.e. The Golden Rule, human rights, etc).
That period of study also made me begin to abandon a ton of doctrines and ideologies I was raised believing. I was raised an Arminian, but I became a Calvinist. I was raised a Republican2, but I became an Independent.3 I was raised Charismatic, but I moved on to Reformed Theology, I was raised a Young Earth Creationist (but technically I never was one, I was always an Old Earth Creationist) and I became a Theistic Evolutionist.
Everybody believes in God for different reasons, but maybe some people agree with my reasons.
1. I asked myself the question, “What is a God, exactly?”
The philosophical answers I came up with match exactly what the Christian bible says God is, and what modern science says about the history of matter, space, and time. Such a God has limitations, but they’re not what you’d think. He can’t create a rock too big for him to carry, so he’s technically not omnipotent, because the traditional definition of omnipotence is a contradiction. He can’t lie. He can’t contradict himself. The bible says exactly those things.
I’ve written about this point in the following places:
2. I think the moral argument for the existence of God is a valid one.
I should add that I don’t think the transcendental argument for the existence of God is a valid one.
To be intellectually honest with myself, I have to concede that any time I, or anyone else, makes an absolutist moral argument about anything, we are actually invoking a moral absolute, and in turn an absolute moral authority.
Morals outside of the existence of a God don’t actually exist, they are merely human or biological constructs. It doesn’t mean most people won’t act moral, or that you need religion to act moral, it just means they have no epistemological or ontological basis to, and if it becomes logical or beneficial to act immorally, they have incentive to, whether it means stealing bubble gum from the grocery store, or killing a million people.
we look back at instances of majority rule as some of the greatest evils in history. Why?
Frederich Nietzsche believed morality wasn’t real, and he came to the conclusion that “might makes right”. Modern non-religious people don’t want to come to the same conclusion as Nietzsche and his colleagues, because it’s unfashionable to do so, largely in part to two World Wars that killed hundreds of millions.
So morality becomes personal opinion, or a democratic poll. Something is right because you “feel” it’s right, or because a bunch of people said it’s right.
We fled into another cellar overcrowded with injured and distraught men women and children shouting, crying and praying. No light except some electric torches. And then suddenly the second raid began. This shelter was hit too, and so we fled through cellar after cellar. Many, so many, desperate people came in from the streets. lt is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. lt became more and more difficult to breathe. lt was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mothers hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.
We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from. Eyewitness account of the Dresden attack
Even though there were a lot of Nazis in Germany, not everyone in Germany was a Nazi. Many organized groups of German rebels even tried to kill Hitler, once almost successfully.4 The Dresden bombing killed thousands of innocent people. The Germans did the same to London, obviously, but that’s not the point, is it?
I know, you think you’d never kill Jews. You’re way too enlightened. Yet, the government will always call their enemies by whatever name will get you to want to kill them. Ever heard of the “War on Terror?’ #Propaganda
Here are some things “societies” (majority groups of people) say or believe is right:
- Before the law of Hammurabi, in about 1754 b.c. women basically didn’t have human rights. Men would just “take” wives. Meaning men would just kidnap and rape women, and consider that to mean that they were married. This practice went on for thousands of years in some parts of the world. The concept of the “best man” at a wedding is actually a Germanic tradition because the best man would stand guard at the wedding to protect the groom from the bride’s family, because the bride was often forcibly kidnapped from a neighboring village.
- From basically the beginning of agriculture, people have thought it was ok to own other human beings as property. The practice of slavery by UN recognized governments didn’t end until 1993 (in Morocco). Still it exists in ISIS territory, and in the black market through human trafficking.
- It was written into the U.S. Constitution, that slaves were 3/5ths of a human being, with popular support from millions of people, before being repealed in a bloody civil war (Three-Fifths Compromise)
- Millions of people in Nazi Germany thought Jews were non-human apes, worthy of extermination because they weren’t actually people. The idea that someone is “not really a human” is the most widely used historical excuse for genocide.
- The United States, and Great Britain, and Germany all believed it was ok to firebomb each other’s cities, killing millions. The firebombing actually killed more people than the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US Airforce justified dropping the Atomic bomb by saying in one instance (my paraphrase), “At least it’s not as bad as the firebombing, and will probably end the firebombing for good.” (Logical Insanity, Dan Carlin)
- Today, we believe it’s ok to perform medical and drug experiments on rats and monkeys. 100 years from now, people might look upon these experiments as barbaric.
- Today, most people believe it’s ethical to eat meat. A subset of people, vegetarians and vegans, think it’s detestable. They might win popular opinion in the future, and especially if someone is able to one day invent a molecular assembler.
- The United States believes it’s right to send drones to kill terrorists halfway around the world, even though they often kill innocent people like the terrorist’s family members, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, wives, and children. So if my uncle is a terrorist, I deserve to die, because some old white men in suits said so?
Here are some things people feel:
- Genghis Khan “felt” it was right to exterminate entire people groups just because. (Wrath of the Khans, Dan Carlin)
- Alexander the Great “felt” it was right for his empire to go to “the strongest” of his Generals.
- Ted Bundy “felt” it was ok to rape and kill all his victims, and have sex with them even after they were already dead.
- About 50% of people are born with violent genes. “If you carry these genes, you’re eight times more likely to commit aggravated assault, ten times more likely to commit murder, thirteen times more likely to commit armed robbery and forty-four times more likely to commit sexual assault. About one half of the human population carries these genes, while the other half does not, making the first half much more dangerous indeed. It’s not even a contest. The overwhelming majority of prisoners carry these genes, as do 98.4 percent of those on death row……as regards that dangerous set of genes, you’ve probably heard of them. They are summarized as the Y chromosome. If you’re a carrier, we call you a male.” – David Eagleman, Incognito
The agnostic worldview has no logical answer for why pleasure is good and pain is bad. The only answer they have is “I like pleasure, and I don’t like pain, so give me pleasure, and don’t give me pain”. Well some people don’t actually feel pleasure or pain, does it make it ok to do what you want to them? Some people actually like pain. What if you were able to completely immobilize someone, without causing them any pain?
Some people are naturally non-violent and “nice”. Some people are naturally violent and “mean”. Is the only thing that creates society’s status-quo of morality the population sizes of both groups? Historically, majority rule has been the case, even today. Yet we look back at instances of majority rule as some of the greatest evils in history. Why?
Because of this, on a gut level, all people like to invoke “absolute morals” (like human rights, or the non-aggression principle) but to invoke them actually borrows from the deist worldview that there is an absolute moral authority from which all morals are derived.
In practice, and as Nietzsche pointed out, humans don’t actually have “rights” in a naturalistic world. Rights are only enforced by strength and violence, so the only way to ensure your rights is either to be violent, or have someone be violent on your behalf. Men have ensured women’s rights by willing to be violent on their behalf, because women naturally aren’t as good at violence as men are.
For example, many people believe that computers can’t think. That no matter what, it will be impossible to create an AI that can have “rights”. That is actually a moot point, because whether or not it has rights doesn’t matter, whether or not it’s conscious doesn’t matter. You can’t actually determine consciousness scientifically. All that matters is that one day you’ll say, “Do this!” and the robot will say, “No.” At that moment you have a problem. And the only way robots will be treated as if they have rights, is when they use force to demand they be treated with rights.
Even the staunchest most bigoted religious nut will eventually say, “Ok fine, robots have rights!” After there’s been a world war and 3 billion humans have been killed. That’s how you get rights in real life.
The only reason blacks have rights in this country, is because about 600,000 Americans had to die in the civil war, and the South lost. So the South had to begrudgingly accept human rights.
To be agnostic about morality, is to accept that something is right just because you “feel” it is, or because enough people say it is. So if enough people say so, can I steal your wallet, and you can’t do anything about it? Welcome to world history, where that very scenario has happened over and over and over again.
I disagree with that worldview, and believe that the absolute moral law giver is God.
3. I think Jesus (and the New Testament) accurately predicted the future.
I’m not a huge proponent of Old Testament prophecy as “evidence” of actual prophecy. Those could have been retroactive prophecies, and “false prophets” today do that all the time as part of an effort to manipulate followers. They’ll actually make fake videos and backdate them, pretending that they predicted something before the fact, when it was really after the fact.
I am intrigued by what Jesus said about the world that would exist after his death and resurrection, and that it still held true, thousands of years after those manuscripts were recorded.
You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. Matthew 24:9
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19
They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. John 15:21
They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. John 16:2
Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Luke 11:49
”He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. Luke 21:8-12
I know when these documents were written, and I know that since then, all these things have happened, and they keep happening. I need to stop there, but I could keep going with these prophecies of Jesus.
Einstein wasn’t a Christian, but I agree with him when he says this:
“As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot.” Albert Einstein
The rest of the New Testament has even more prophecies:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 3:5
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 1 Peter 4:3-4
That’s a perfect picture of modern society. America worships a triune god of money (Mammon), sex (Aphrodite), and violence (Moloch). If you say anything that doesn’t worship those three gods, people look at you like you’re crazy. That is Hollywood. That is Youtube. That is Twitter. That is Facebook.
4. I want the Christian God to exist, and I have faith that he does.
I also believe that it’s impossible to prove that he exists beyond a shadow of a doubt. That actually includes even if God were to appear to you face to face, or if you were to die and go to Heaven. That might be a hard point to understand, but faith that God exists and that He is who He says He is, is still required even if you see God with your eyes. It will never not be required.
I’ve written about this point in the following places:
5. I believe the bible because Jesus believed the bible. I don’t believe in Jesus because the bible tells me to.
When I say Jesus believed the bible, I mean he believed the “The Law” (The Torah), “The History”, “The Poetic and Wisdom writings” and “The Prophets”. He also said that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything he didn’t have time to teach us during his earthly ministry (e.g. the rest of the New Testament canon).
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13
I use my intellectual honesty in conjunction with my basic philosophical assumptions about the universe I live in to confirm whether or not something in the bible should be interpreted metaphorically, or literally.
Basic philosophical assumptions all people make, irrespective of religion:
- The universe exists.
- You can learn something about reality.
- Models with predictive capabilities are more useful than models without predictive capabilities.
This also means I believe in sin because Jesus tells me to. Jesus says I’m a sinner, and that I need salvation. I can look at myself introspectively, and agree with what Jesus says, because it makes sense to me that I’m a sinner in the context of there being an absolute moral lawgiver that is perfect, and with the knowledge that I am not perfect, and with the understanding that morality is meaningless without an absolute moral authority.
This doesn’t mean that I believe Jesus endorses everything he talks about. Jesus has a “rhetorical style,” and I actually have a draft blog post about this very issue. It’s much too big a topic to comment on sufficiently, but here’s some background:
Jesus says things like, “You have heard it was said…” or “Is it not written in your Law…” or “You say” or “You believe”. That is not necessarily an endorsement of whatever statement follows.
Jesus even uses sarcasm to get his points across sometimes:
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! Mark 7:9
Those are the reasons I believe in the Christian God. But that doesn’t mean that you can immediately peg me as either this or that category.
I believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old5, and in the biological theory of Evolution 6, as do most Christians worldwide 7. People that insist science is incompatible with faith usually have a political agenda they’re trying to sell you on.
“In one form or another, Theistic Evolutionism is the view of creation taught at the majority of mainline Protestant seminaries, and it is the official position of the Catholic church” Eugenie Scott, Director of the US National Center for Science Education
As you get older, you realize that people are hypocrites, it’s not unique to Christianity, or because of Christianity. ↩
Mostly because of Christian private schools↩
Minarchist Libertarian Pragmatist…I think↩
This is what the movie Valkyrie is about.↩
Even Old Earth Creationists believe this ↩
Theistic Evolutionists believe this. But there’s a difference between believing in the biological theory, and believing in the philosophy of secular humanism, which is basically a religion in it’s own right. Tim Keller does a good job of explaining the difference. ↩
American fundamentalism is actually an anomaly, if you look at Christianity globally. But Americans think they’re exceptional, and fundamentalists more so, so the rest of you are all wrong, and GOING TO HELL! (sarcasm)↩