The question of unbelief 2

My last post dealt with a question John Loftus asked at Debunking Christianity, “Tell us why we don’t believe?” (Actually, it was not so much a question as it was a demand.)  As I said, it is an interesting question, that I think does tend to confuse Chsitians who believe that they can somehow argue someone into becoming a Christian.  The simple fact that some people can choose not to believe is therefore troubling.

John suggests 3 hypothetical reasons why there are atheists:

  1. Ignorance: If this is the only reason, then he is right in saying, “then show me what I’m ignorant of.”  If the lack of information is all that stood in the way of people becoming Christians, then evangelism would be quite simple.
  2. Sin: He didn’t put it that way, but that’s what he meant; willful disobedience to the truth.  He then goes on a mini-rant about how people will gladly sacrifice for what they think is true, so people would not disobey what they thought was true, especially if it meant going to hell.   However, I think he’s in part answered his own question: If God tells us to believe, and we don’t, then yes, we’re being willfully disobedient to the truth, even if we live our lives as living sacrifices to good causes.  Believing in a falsity, no matter how sincere our belief, doesn’t count.
  3. Failure to experience God: Again, a good point. If belief rested on experience, then God could just do a little dance and the whole world would believe. However, the Gospel accounts make the clear point that seeing miracles isn’t enough; a wicked people will still seek just one more sign. Perhaps the issue is not one of not experiencing God, but rather, recognizing truth (God) when we do experience it.

I still think that perhaps the best discussion of why some people choose disbelief (and I believe that it most certainly is a choice) is C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce.  While not a theological work by any means, he demonstrates the kind of thinking and acting that leads to unbelief, and points out that people who have chosen unbelief would not be happy at all in Heaven. Hell is not, then, a punishment, but rather, a lifestyle choice.

The choice to not believe can, I think, be influenced by factors other than wilfull disobedience, including ignorance, as mentioned above, or from mental programming we’ve received wtih conflicting and errant information. Much programming, I think, is actually emotional, either as a result of sins we’ve committed, or sins committed against us (which is why that section of the Lord’s Prayer is so important).  It’s not unusual for very vocal atheists to have a religious background, and it would not surprise me to find that some of their analysis is emotionally based. The point has often been raised that many of use choose the religions we were raised with; however, the opposite effect is also seen.

Another such factor are worldviews, which have everything to do with how we perceive and process information. Our worldviews, which are instilled in us from a very young age, are often difficult to identify and work around.  Modernism, the worldview of the West, is no exception, and can be especially difficult due to its anti-historical, self-aware nature. As Loftus has said in the past, modernism is the Achilles’ heel of Christianity.  He, of course, believes modernism to be true and good (as a good modern would say), so it’s effect on Christianity is therefore, favorable.  I obviously disagree.  However, I do agree with the “Achilles’ heel” statement, and think that in part, this answers Loftus’ question.

In part 3 of this discussion, I will introdue my “teacup” analogy.  I bet you can hardly wait…

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