The sermon at church this morning was about faith, which the pastor defined as trusting what God says on God’s authority. The pastor also told the story of author Jim Bishop, who was skeptical about religion for a long time, and yet recognized the limitations of his own intellect and embraced faith after the birth of his daughter. I’ve heard this sort of spiel by conservative Christians when they defend hell, as they say that, although hell may not make sense to many of us, we should not be swayed by our reason, but rather should trust in God, whose ways are higher than our ways. But the pastor did not say this. Instead, the pastor said that we should trust in God, who brings life out of death.
I struggle with the issue of faith and intellect. On the one hand, I don’t want my intellect to have the final say. I’d like to believe that God loves me and will take care of me, even when there are situations in life that appear to imply the contrary. On the other hand, I do not like how many conservative Christians expect me to throw out my reason to embrace a doctrine that, in my opinion, makes God look evil or psychopathic (i.e., hell), especially when there is no proof that this doctrine is right, while other conceptions of the afterlife are wrong. I said recently in a discussion with a conservative Christian that, although I am not an atheist, I can sympathize with atheists, who respond to Christian doctrinal threats with, “What’s the proof of that?” Would a loving God condemn people to hell because they rejected the Christian message on account of a lack of evidence?
A few weeks ago, I was reading the comments under Hemant Mehta’s guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog. The post was entitled Ask an Atheist (Hemant Responds). There were two comments that especially stood out to me, but I won’t be combing through all of the 609 comments to find them. Essentially, a Christian said that he believed in Christianity because there are things that he has seen and experiences he has had that convince him of its truth. An atheist then responded, and in a surprisingly humble manner, that he believes that some things in the Bible overlap with truth, but he doesn’t see why that means he has to accept the entire Christian message. Probably every belief system has a degree of truth, which is why people follow it, but that doesn’t make the entire belief system inerrant.
I actually found myself in sympathy with both comments, their difference notwithstanding. I believe in a benevolent higher power because there are experiences that I and others have had that convince my of his existence. And so, even when life appears to scream against his existence, I still try to believe that there is a God who knows more than I do, and is ultimately working things out for good. At the same time, I wonder why that means I have to accept the entire conservative Christian belief system—with its picture of God as a guilt-mongering psychopath. To what extent should reason shape my faith. And when does my reason have limits?