The question of unbelief

How could you forsake the love of God that way
Don’t fade, you’re staying here with me
Don’t fade, I need to know that someone still believes

– Don’t Fade, Glen Phillips

A week or so ago John Loftus over at Debunking Christianity (a very interesting site) asked Christians to tell him why he didn’t believe:

But since you believe we will be punished by God in hell (however conceived) if we don’t believe, then you need to offer some explanations for why we don’t believe. Surely a good God like yours wouldn’t punish us if we weren’t deserving of it, right? And surely your God wouldn’t punish us for our disbelief without offering us a clear testimony with sufficient evidence to believe, right?

Now, John’s testimony is that he was a Christian, received a Th.M. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and studied under William Lane Craig. But, over time he came to unbelieve in God – an opposite response of what we’d generally expect. And, there are others who have similar stories.  John suggests three possible reasons for not being able to believe: ignorance, willful disobedience, and a failure to experience God – all good questions to consider.  Concerning the question of ignorance, is disbelief merely a matter of not enough information?  In John’s case, I would have to presume the answer is no; he’s got a theology degree, and I haven’t.

As far as disobedience goes, he asks a very profound question in response: “Who in his right mind would be willfully disobedient of that which he knows to be true, if the truth is that he will go to hell if he is?”  Of course, the question of being in one’s right mind is another issue. I suppose one could hypothesize that unbelief is a type of psychosis resulting from the inability to reconcile the sinful nature with a works-oriented theology, like Paul describes in Romans chapter 7.  It’s really an interesting thought, along the same lines as, “does OJ really think he’s innocent?”; but it’s not an idea I would pursue at this point.

I think that John’s 3rd option – a failure to experience God – deserves some real thought.  A hard-core double-predestination Calvinist would probably pick this option and write these atheists off as merely people whom God has rejected.  However, I’m not a Calvinist, and I don’t think the answer is that simple. On this question, John writes:

Have we just failed to experience God in our lives? Do we need to experience something that we didn’t? What kind of experience do you mean? A miracle? Well, whose fault is that? God knows what we need to believe, and if so, why doesn’t he provide it? If God did the greater deed, by sending his son to atone for our sins, then why doesn’t he do the lesser deeds by providing us the evidence and experiences we need to believe?

It’s somewhat interesting that John wrote this post last week, as I’ve been thinking about this question myself. Why, indeed, do some people appear to be blind to what seems to be the clear revelation of God?  I believe that God, indeed, has revealed himself, and quite clearly, as Paul writes in Romans 1:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Part of the answer, at least for some, might be answered by Loftus’ own proposition that modernism is the Achilles’ Heel of Christianity.  We differ, however, in that John believes modernism to be the superior worldview, whereas I take an opposite view.  Perhaps – at least in part – buying into modernism is tantamount to planting seed in a field of weeds; the clear result is that faith is choked out.

I began this post quoting Glen Phillips, who is perhaps my favorite singer/songwriter. He seems to understand faith and doubt in a way that I find quite remarkable, being he’s not a Christian, or even necessarily religious (per an interview in 2004; although, the song “Thank You” on his latest album implies he’s at least a Theist).  I’ll end this post with a verse from “Dam Would Break” that seems relevant to this discussion:

What is this ice that gathers round my heart
To stop the flood of warmth before it even starts
It would make me blind to what I thought would always be
The only constant in the world for me
And every hour of every day
I need to fight from pulling away
And if my mind could only loose the chain
The dam would break

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2 Responses to The question of unbelief

  1. me says:

    You’re right, of course; in that respect, the question makes no sense whatsoever. The question doesn’t really seek an answer, it’s intended to create doubt in those who think they should be able to answer it (which is why the hyper-Calvinist “he isn’t chosen” response is probably so tempting).

    However, I do find it an interesting question; when presented with the same set of facts, why do people reach such divergent convictions?

  2. Quixote says:

    Mr. Loftus offers an interesting challenge to believers: If we don’t believe, then you need to offer some explanations for why we don’t believe. This is quite an astonishing claim. Not only does this thoughtful atheist demand that believers give a reasonable explanation for why they believe, but he now claims that they are obligated to explain why he doesn’t. This is one of the most “unreasonable” demands I’ve heard from the non-theist camp (and I’ve heard quite a few). Mr. Loftus is setting up a challenge that simply cannot be satisfied. (Better to ask “Why do fools fall in love?”) Of course, if he is truly thoughtful, he already knows this, and is tossing a meatless bone to the ravenous reason-plagued theists among us. Worse, if he doesn’t recognize the utter illogic of his challenge, he is not as thoughtful as he plays himself to be.

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