In my last post, I summarized why I cannot be an atheist, based on all the arguments for and against the existence of God that I have explored on this blog over the past year. For me, the balance of these considerations leans towards belief in God – strongly enough to commit to what I see as the truth, especially in light of what it means for my life, and for everyone’s lives, if it is true.
I can say some similar things about why I am a Christian specifically, not merely a theist, and why I believe that what Christianity teaches is true.
Why I Became A Christian
My earliest reason for believing in what Christianity teaches is simply that this is what I grew up being taught. My parents believed in Christ, and my church community believed, and because I trusted them, that is what I believed as well.
Depending on one’s stage of life and the belief in question, this is a totally valid reason to believe something – but naturally, by the time you are grown, you are in about as good a position as your parents to know the truth about God for yourself, so relying on their authority is no longer enough. Which is why I now have other reasons for believing in Christ than just my parents’ faith. If I did not, I would not remain a Christian.
That being said, I’ll readily admit that this early belief and spiritual environment predisposed me to continue believing the teachings of Christianity, and that hasn’t changed. As I said at the beginning of this part of my blog, I have tried to look at the reasons for and against belief in God as objectively as possible, keeping my biases and predispositions in mind. But I cannot say for certain whether I would have evaluated these reasons the way that I did, had I not been raised to believe the way that I did.
In the end, though, I don’t think this is all that important. People who have been raised in much the same way as me have looked at the same evidence and rejected Christianity on that basis (though obviously I think they have done so incorrectly) – so at the very least my upbringing probably has not determined me to believe what I do. And people who have grown up very differently than me have looked at the same evidence and converted to Christianity on that basis – so even to those without a Christian background, the evidence has force.
My childhood may have biased me in the direction of Christianity, but even trying to take that into account as best I can, I still think there are good reasons to believe that Christianity is true. From my perspective, then, my parents raised me to believe the truth – and that actually makes me very grateful that I was raised the way I was.
Why I Am Still A Christian
So then, my parents’ faith is why I became a Christian at first, but I can give three reasons why I remain a Christian. Here they are.
The first is the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, which I wrote about in an earlier series of posts. I’ll summarize here (though of course the details are much more in depth). The origin of Christianity is difficult to explain without the disciple’s belief in the resurrection – and the existence of that belief is backed up by the textual evidence. Their belief is difficult to explain without the resurrection appearances and the empty tomb – and those strange occurrences are again backed up by the textual evidence. I see no good way to explain these things naturalistically – and even factoring in some doubt about whether I have correctly assessed the evidence (as I tried to do in my last post*), I remain convinced that the resurrection is the best explanation, and that it sufficiently outweighs the alternatives for one to be justified in believing it.
(*In fact, thinking again about the evidence for the resurrection, I have to admit I think I was underrepresenting its strength when I wrote my last post a month ago, in my attempt to be fair to the other side. I’ve edited the previous post to try to reflect my assessment of the strength of the evidence more closely.)
So, I find there is sufficient evidence to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead after being crucified. And this points to the truth of Christianity: if Jesus rose from the dead, the best explanation of this event is that God was vindicating Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. If Jesus rose from the dead, it is no stretch to believe that he empowered his followers to proclaim the true religion, and so we can learn the truth from what they wrote. Christianity coheres with the resurrection of Jesus as no other religion (or irreligion) can.
The second reason is my own religious experience. Namely, I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and those experiences have come in a Christian context and have affirmed key truths of Christianity to me, such as the identity of Jesus as God, the forgiveness of my sins through Jesus, the inspiration of the Christian scriptures by God. (These are affirmed via what you could call “spiritual intuition,” I suppose – a inner sense that these things are true.) And while my own experiences have not been so powerful that I could not doubt them, I also know people who have experienced the presence of Jesus much more closely than I have, and many others who have felt what I have, and their testimony lends me trust in what I have experienced.
All these experiences are, of course, subjective and undoubtably influenced by my upbringing and environment. But they cohere with the evidence for the resurrection, and with my other reasons for believing that God exists, so I still have some reason for believing that they are genuine.
The third reason is along the lines of what C.S. Lewis argues in his Mere Christianity. I have written in this blog about the moral argument for God’s existence. I believe we can learn through natural theology that God is the perfect standard of what is Right and Good; that the Being at the foundation of all reality has written a Moral Law on our hearts. But this has a terrifying corollary.
For we do not follow the Moral Law. We kill, we exploit, we lie, we steal. We have all sinned, all failed to live up to the perfect standard in some way. In fact, we humans have an incredible capacity for evil: those who study genocide have consistently observed that ordinary people perpetuate these horrific acts. All of us actualize that capacity to some degree, doing things we ought not to do.
In violating the standard of Right and Good, in disobeying the Moral Law, we have made ourselves enemies of God. And God, being perfectly good, cannot but hate what is evil, cannot but have wrath against us who impugn his goodness and hurt each other – us creatures whom he loves. We are in trouble, and it even seems like God is in a conundrum. How can his love for us on one hand be reconciled with his hatred for our evil on the other?
Christianity teaches that we have this distressing problem (to put it mildly) – agreeing with natural theology. But it also teaches the solution. In our imperfection and finitude we could never hope to get out of the problem ourselves, and so God himself has provided a way for us to be brought back into right relationship with him. The love and holiness, justice and mercy of God come together in the cross of Christ. And so, it seems to me that Christianity overcomes a potential contradiction in the perfect goodness of God in a way that no other religion does.
Of course, I would need to go into more detail about what exactly Christianity teaches, and how this all works, in order to fully show why I think the above paragraph makes sense. And I intend to do that, in future posts. Suffice to say for now that this Good News – this hope of salvation from our sins, uniquely displaying the perfect goodness of God – is a reason I believe that Christianity is true.
(All of that is to say that I believe Christianity is true; actually being a Christian – living from faith in Jesus and loyalty to him, obeying what he has commanded us – is harder. I’m still working on that part.)
That pretty much wraps up what I wanted to do with this section of the blog – explore the reasons for and against belief in God, and explain why I find belief in God, and Christianity in particular, to be rational. I will be taking a break from this blog for a while before starting the next stage (life has gotten busy lately). When I come back, I will continue exploring my beliefs and my reasons for them – this time, focusing on what Christianity entails.