Not all barriers to Christian faith are intellectual; some barriers are moral. Lawrenz begins his chapter with the brief story of philosopher Mortimer Adler, who had come to believe in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, but hesitated to embrace Christianity because "[h]is hesitation was about moral choices he wasn't yet willing to make" (208). Lawrenz highlights Adler as one who was honest about why he struggled to accept Christianity. Such honesty is required, otherwise reasons not to believe become excuses.
Yet, in one sense, as Lawrenz points out, all human beings are without excuse, according to St. Paul. God has revealed himself in what has been made. Creation implies the existence of a Creator as a work of art assumes the reality of an artist. Instead of acknowledging God's existence and acknowledging God's ways, human beings went their own way. "That's how you explain the Third Reich and Stalin and Pol Pot. but it's also how you explain the frequent waywardness of human beings on a less severe scale-- the rancorous marriage, the estranged sibling, the gambling addiction" (210).
It is in this context that Lawrenz reflects on five common excuses for not believing:
Excuse #1: "I don't know if I can believe in God when I see all the suffering in the world." Most of the time this is not a philosophical barrier as much as a barrier put in place because of someone's personal encounter with suffering. Lawrenz reminds us that God is grieved at the suffering of the world, particularly when human beings use their God-given freedom to inflict pain and suffering on others. Jesus himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. But to reject the existence of God because of suffering solves nothing. "We are no better off facing hurricanes or terrorism or disease alone than facing them knowing that a good and compassionate God is right there with us" (212).
Excuse #2: "I think there must be many paths to God, so I don't know whether I can commit to one way." Some people take this position because they are afraid of offending someone who believes differently. The problem with the no offense approach is that it stifles the all-important search for truth. If one is not willing to search for the truth, then one in no way will find God. Christians should not criticize people who are searching for truth along other paths. "We human beings are, by nature, spiritual bushwackers. That is why there are so many different religions in the world, all attempting to define a pathway to God" (214). But we cannot avoid the question of what paths may point us toward the search for God and which path will actually complete the journey.
Excuse #3: "If God wants me to believe, He should show Himself." God may have revealed himself in creation, but it is impossible to know and be in vital relationship with that God by observing creation alone. Those who use this excuse are in actuality saying "If there is a God, he should show himself in a way that I cannot deny." The assumption is that God has not revealed himself in a decisive way, but it is the Christian claim that God has done precisely that in Jesus.
Excuses #4 and 5: "I'm not bad enough to need God." "I'm not good enough to deserve God." These two excuses are obviously two sides of the same coin. The former excuse is a denial of the diagnosis so that no treatment is necessary. The latter is the denial of cure because the disease is too far advanced. Lawrenz tells the story of the late country music artist, Johnny Cash, whose life prior to his conversion hit rock bottom. Later in life Cash owned two dogs, "[o]ne was mostly black with a little white and the other was mostly white with a little black. Cash had named one Sin and the other Redemption. Cash explained that he kept the dogs as a reminder that none of us is completely good or completely bad" (219).
There are plenty of individuals in our world who have nothing but excuses for their failure to embrace Christianity, and those persons should read this chapter. Lawrenz has done a nice job of highlighting some of the more significant ones; and he has reminded us of St. Paul's reminder that in a theological sense, all human beings are without excuse for their failure to believe.
Yet, at the same time, it must be said that there are also unbelievers who are not simply making excuses. They have honest intellectual and moral barriers when it comes to faith. Some of them actually want to believe that someone or something exists that transcends this material existence, but no matter how much they may want to believe, they cannot. I personally know of some folks in this situation, and I count them as my friends. They are not ignoring the faith because they want to live life their way, or because they simply have other things they would rather do. They have wrestled and struggled and have attempted to work through their doubts in an honest way.
We must be careful not to insult an individual's lack of faith by simply grouping her or him into the category of excuse-makers. We Christians do not like it when we are insulted by unbelievers who view all religious persons as woefully ignorant.
I would like for everyone to believe and become a Christian, but if there is one thing that believers and unbelievers alike must allow for it's honest faith and honest doubt. Not only is such honesty necessary to keep reasons to doubt (and sometimes to believe) from becoming excuses; it is only in such a context that real dialogue can begin and take shape.
"Excuse #2: "I think there must be many paths to God, so I don't know whether I can commit to one way." Some people take this position because they are afraid of offending someone who believes differently."
I don't think I have ever heard anyone take this position. Generally speaking, many critically-thinking Christians themselves struggle with the assumed superiority of their own truth claims. Christianity requires the same sort of religious presumptions of other religious paradigms without articulating why Christianity should actually be considered "truth" and others should be designated as "false." Genuine truth-seekers admit that they know very little about other faiths and often find that if they engage with people of other belief systems, it will more often than not challenge previously held religious tunnel vision.
This really doesn't have much to do with offending others. The concern for not offending others happens when a believer finds him or her self arguing for a inclusive soteriology.
Yes, your comments are well taken, but I do think some folks do not want to offend others with their views. It is almost as if offense is caused by a differing point of view instead of expressing that view in an insulting way.
I am one who believes that serious discussion and dialogue cannot be had if people are afraid to express the perspective and argue for it, no matter what it may be.
The issue of offense is not based upon one's views exclusive or not, but in how those views are unfortunately expressed at times. I am not offended if a Muslim tells me that I am going to hell. What I want him or her to do is to make the case, and of course, allow me to respond so that we may truly have some fruitful dialogue.
I guess I need to go back and read your series here to get a sense of this, but what would you say now about this book to someone who was considering buying/reading it?
Can you give me an Allan version of what you might put on the back cover if asked?
Yes, Allan. I agree. We must help those who really have problems and issues. I think oftentimes people become amoral because after a time they give up resolving such. Rather than the opposite way, though I'm sure both are in play in the world. Just reading from a recent post on "Jesus Creed" by RJS on "Finding Faith; Losing Faith." Very thought provoking there and right in line with the thoughts here.
Gosh! that's a good question.
I would say the following:
"Lawrenz gives to us a clear, readable, and interesting account of the reasonable nature of Christianity. Lawrenz is not a rationalist, but he beleives Christianity is reasonable; he is not an emotivist, but he understands that emotion, desire, and beauty are pointers to the divine. It is a thought-provoking book, but its style is not intimidating. The arguments are, at points somewhat oversimplified, but that is to be expected in a book of this kind. Any good facilitator will utilize that in friendly critique."
"It would be a great book for a small group discussion either at church or at the local Starbucks, and not just among Christians, but atheists, agnostics and individuals from other religions as well."
I hope that helps. Thanks for asking!
Post a Comment