What hangups do you have with Christianity?
I originally titled this blog “The Christian Rationalist” because both my faith and what I hope is at least close to rational thought together form the basis for how I live my life. It’s true that it sounds a bit pretentious, but “A Christian Rationalist” just didn’t have the same ring to it.
More subversively, though, I’m implicitly claiming that Christianity and rational thought are compatible. This cuts both ways: obviously some usually nonreligious folks find Christianity irrational, but there are also Christians who find rational thought antithetical to their faith. In the larger context of the blog, I try to push on both misperceptions, modeling a successful synthesis. Here are a few examples:
But that’s only the beginning. I’d like to write more about this synthesis, at the very least to be able to bring my friends together from these different camps and articulate the core of our disagreement. It strikes me as rather strange that so many thoughtful people would firmly fall on one side or another without some sort of means of resolving that disagreement.
At some point when I’m better able to articulate what rational thought entails, I’ll ask the reverse question, but for now, I’d like to ask my rationality-minded non-Christian friends what holds them back from joining the faith. What hang ups do you have with Christianity?
Let me drive this home a bit further by sharing my experience. From being a Christian, I’ve gotten a natural community almost anywhere I go, a robust ability to process both success and failure, and a sense of purpose bigger than myself. In just the last five years, my church has been literally my favorite part of living in Boston, and I met my wife and many of my closest friends through the Graduate Christian Fellowship.
If that’s a possibility, why not learn more? What stops you, or what would stop you if you thought about it, from looking into becoming a Christian?
The idea of a literal interpretation of every word in the Bible is one of my hangups. If Abraham really lived to age 175, and assuming that children were well on their way out of the house by age 25, does that mean he sired 7 generations by himself? On the other hand, if he only had one generation of kids, his grandchildren were 125 years old when he finally passed. Assuming a doubling of family at every generation, that’s 2^7 = 128 by the end. That would be an interesting calculation to consider if you assumed he personally sired 7 generations and each generation doubled itself every 25 years.
4^7 = 16384, which assumes each daughter brings a husband to the family, son brings a wife, and each has two kids. Did he have 16384 grandchildren?
Then there’s the other take on it – he had multiple “wives”. The math is beyond casual thought as I’m headed out the door.
Thanks for sharing, David! I do agree that proper exegesis is essential to figuring out what God is meaning to convey by various books of the Bible, and the long ages of figures in the early part of Genesis does raise some serious questions about what that was like, if we’re meant to understand those numbers literally.
Hi Sam, I just found your blog and it’s interesting because what you’re asking has been a question that has been resonating through my mind for the past month. I was raised by a Catholic father and Buddhist mother, I was baptized and went to church up until I was around 13 years old. Now at 25 yrs old, my mother and father are neither very religious and I would even say my father is closer to atheist. To answer your question, I think what I find hard to believe is the idea of a greater being, an afterlife, or souls/spirits when I’ve been in a very science-heavy field. As much as I’d like to believe in these things, it just doesn’t seem to be compatible with “science”. As of now, I would say I am agnostic, but I just can’t find it in myself to have faith in something where there is no hard “proof”. I think the only thing that is keeping me from completely not believing is the idea that there is still so much to be discovered and that there are way too many “coincidences” that I can no longer simply attribute to chance. Long story short, a lot of recent soul-searching and questioning religion and the afterlife has in part been because of the recent passing of my uncle. I’d like to know that he is somewhere safe and happy.
Glad you found my blog, and thanks for opening up so personally! I’m sorry to hear of your uncle’s passing, though; I know that can be tough, and I too certainly hope he’s in a better place.
I definitely hope to address questions related to the supernatural and how to think about it in light of the success of science in understanding our world. I think that’s actually one of the key cruxes to this whole discussion: Did (and do) supernatural occurrences actually happen? The claim of Christianity is yes, centered around the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
I simply cannot exercise blind faith. I have to be convinced that something is true, rather than believing it to be true because I want it to be. I consider this a good thing about myself. Christianity (like some but not all other religions) requires faith, and has thus far failed to offer me convincing evidence.
Thanks for sharing, Isaac! I too grimace whenever I hear anyone ask for a blind commitment, “You just gotta believe!” I obviously hope to write more about this in the future, but for now, I’d recommend my post on Doubting Thomas for a bit of my perspective on this: https://thechristianrationalist.com/2015/04/07/insufficiently-updating-thomas-and-the-true-nature-of-faith/
I agree you are correct in not exercising blind faith. Blind faith leads people to blow up buildings, drive cars through crowds and commit mass suicides.
However, life in general requires some level of faith. I flew home last night. Getting in a metal tube and traveling 500 miles an hour at 34,000 feet where any one of a number of things could cause instant death required an act of faith. But that faith was grounded in some very reasonable assumptions and proven repeatedly by experience. I had faith that the pilot was well trained and wanted to get home as badly as I did. I had faith the plane was well maintained. This faith was reinforced by the experience that commercial airliners rarely crash. But I was still undertaking a very unnatural act where my life was in the hands of other people and I gave up any control. I exercise many acts of faith every day as I eat at a restaurant, make business deals, or even drive my car.
This is similar to how I view my Christian faith. Christianity provides the best explanation on why the world works the way it does. The promises, stories and challenges in the Bible have played out countless times in billions of lives (including mine) over the past several millennium with amazing consistency. So to me, the revelations of God and life of Jesus are both rational and validated through real human experience. There are a few areas things I still have to work through, however if reasoning and experience convinces me that 95% of the Bible and tenants of the faith are valid, I am willing to have faith that through reason or revelation the remaining questions will be resolved.
I don’t think this represents blind faith, but rather a well-reasoned worldview that is repeatedly validated through both personal and overall human experience.