back to Mainly for Non-Believers
A host of believers Iíd suppose would like to think that they have come to faith by the path of thoughtful reflection, reason and objectivity. I donít doubt that there are devoted believers who have wrestled with questions that stood in the way of their accepting Jesus Christ; but when they came to him it was via the gospel and not logic. But I suspect that the vast majority of us were shaped by family and friends and came to saving faith without a lot of serious "questioning".
There are those that dismiss such faith as if it were unworthy of respect. Many non-believers are certain that Christian faith is the result of our wishing it to be true, of our wanting a brighter future than reality clearly offers. They seem to think that what a person wants to be true is therefore untrue or that if they hope for a happy ending that the ending they want is manifestly merely wishful thinking. Thereís not a lot of logic there. Often we wish things to be untrue and they turn out to be true. A personís wishes or emotional state donít alter the reality. Often what we wish to be true turns out to be true and our deep pleasure at its truth is only a response to the reality.
Itís true, of course, that if weíre anxious for something to be true it can affect how we see reality. We believers can kid ourselves so to dismiss healthy reasoning is silly and to pursue truth with rigour (those among us that are capable of that) is part of our claim to love him who said, "I am the Truth." Many of us arenít intellectually brilliant and we quite rightly receive truth from the mouths of those that are. None of us lives without "authorities" and weíre happy to receive their testimony in the areas in which they have expertise and experience.
Some non-believers talk as if their non-belief was the result of inescapable logic and unanswerable difficulties. It isnít only believers that kid themselves. Iíve met many a non-believer who once had faith in God through Jesus Christ and walked away. I had one man tell me, "I used to believe but I went too deep in study and lost my faith." Hmmm. There are times when on the surface study seems deep but when you look deep into it you see it was surface.
I recall a young man that was losing his way in his relationship with Christ and he was telling me the difficulties were intellectual. Perhaps they were. But I helped him move and came across literature that was of such a nature that it led me to think maybe the intellectual difficulties arose out of prior moral difficulties. Rather than just own up to the truth that he was having a horrific moral struggle and was losing, the smokescreen was that there were "questions" he couldnít find satisfying answers to. I said just a moment ago that his difficulties might truly have been intellectual. I believe that. But in light of what I saw I couldnít (and canít) help thinking he was kidding himself. He would have been too ashamed to confess the moral swamp he was wandering in and my guess is that he felt hypocritical and wanted out of the fellowship. An interesting sense of nobility operates at such a point. There was enough of that in him that he told himself he didnít belong among those who claimed to belong to Jesus Christ, so he was leaving. And there was enough moral fineness still in him that made it impossible for him to say, "The truth is...Iím a moral chaos." [There are other reasons why poor souls are loathe to confess they are losing great moral battles. And many of those reasons donít reflect favourably on Christians because they often make it nearly impossible for fellow-sinners to confess.]
All the above to make the point that it isnít only believers that are capable of self-deception. I know many non-believers personally and only now and then do I find them utterly savage and arrogant in their non-belief. But once in a while you listen to or read someone that takes the intellectual high ground. Believers are stupid, the faith is groundless nonsense, if believers had half the integrity our non-believer had, like him/her, they would dump the entire proceeding. That sort of thing. They arenít just shrill at the intellectual level; we hear from that kind of person a moral pomposity that could hardly be outdone by some right wing fundamentalist.
Several generations ago the physicist Tyndal confessed that his atheism seemed more persuasive to him when he was rather down in spirits than it did when he felt the world was a bright place. It made him muse a bit. And it wasnít thirty years ago that I heard the former atheist, Anthony Flew, say that those that called themselves agnostics were "shifty". In truth, he said, theyíre Stratonician atheists but havenít the backbone to confess it. [You might know that not too long ago Flew turned from atheism to a weak form of theism. He said he had to go "where the evidence pointed."]
All of that to say that unbelief may be the outcome of moral or emotional elements as surely as some perceived intellectual difficulties. And of course, non-belief may be the correct stance to take (I say that with no conviction)óit may be the correct stance to take even though it is triggered in a person by non-intellectual experiences. I simply want to say that that class of non-believers whose speech is one long sneer have no reason to feel superior when they hear a jeering theist rant on. Non-believers (like believers) donít know themselves very well and to find all the roots of our present understandings is beyond us.
I know I read a non-believerís piece recently that had all the undesirable elements in it but it was shrewd enough that the writer left himself room for moral reflection and moral judgement on others (especially believers). I think had I been an unbeliever he would have embarrassed even me. My strong guess is that this manís problems werenít intellectual.