Hope in existential dread: why I am a Christian

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It is late.

 

I lay awake in my bed, asking myself:

 

“What if I fail this exam? What will do with my life? What can I do with my life?”

 

For context: I have recently sat for an exam that would allow me to start the process towards full registration as a pharmacist in Australia, if I pass. If I fail, I will incur another significant delay to the start of my career, “wasting” the “energy” of my early adulthood as I approach my mid-20’s.  Oh and I also had an agreement with my current employer that I’ll have to leave the job if I fail.

 

I think about how virtually all my peers have already begun their careers and I dread to be left behind. I worry about being looked down on even more, as I learn the bitter truth that people attach value to our careers and income even in a generation that preaches “you do you”.  I mull the possibility of heading back to Malaysia, realising that coming to Melbourne might’ve been a “mistake” after all.

 

But then I close my eyes in prayer, telling God to give me the faith I need to trust that whatever happens, I can take comfort in the hope that I have knowing that I have a right relationship with Him, and that’s all that will matter in the end anyway.

 

It is 8pm.

 

I catch up with a friend from home about the challenges that he is facing in his life. X has always been a dear friend to me despite my disagreeing with his recent life choices. X tells me that he, too, is struggling with life. He tells me about the purposelessness he’s been experiencing with his work, he tells me about his painful longings for a companion. X is discontent with his life; there is an emptiness in him that constantly drains him.

 

“Hmm, I’m pretty anxious about my future too. But I know that Jesus loves me, and that’s all that really matters in the end anyway!” I tell him, trying to remind him of the joy and hope he once found in Christianity.

 

“But isn’t it such a useful fiction? Isn’t it more likely that religion is but a made up fairy tale for adults to cope with the anxieties of this life?” [1]

 

That conversation reminded me of particular time in my life. Back in Uni, while my peers were developing useful skills for their future careers, I was busy being in a nearly incapacitating state of existential dread; I was wrestling with questions about the foundations of reality; I wondered if, perhaps at the bottom of reality there is nothing but blind pitiless indifference; I wondered if morality was but a social construct; I wondered if hedonism (the ethical arch nemesis of Christian ethics) is actually the best way to live life. If my friend was right, my hope is futile- not just in dealing with the anxieties of the young adult life, but also in dealing with my existential dread.

 

But to this day, I am convinced that my hope is not futile. I am convinced that the Christian worldview is the best explanation of reality. While I still get anxious about the uncertainties of life, I am still convinced that the hope that I have in Jesus is the best, and only, hope that I have to face them.

 

The following will be an essay “briefly” outlining a defence of these beliefs. I will sacrifice depth for the sake of space and time, but I’ll attach relevant links in the footnotes for those interested in pursuing a certain line of thought further.  [2] My aim for sharing this is simply to provoke thoughts (even if you end up disagreeing with me!) and to hopefully show that the Christian worldview is one that is more robust than people make it to be. More selfishly, it’s also a useful journal of my thoughts that I can refer to when I am older and start to forget stuff.

 

If you are less interested in “logical” (I am using this term colloquially, will elaborate later) arguments for the existence of God or Christianity but are more interested in the “personal” or “existential” reasons for my faith, you can skip all the way to the final section- not that I think the “logical” and “personal” reasons can be easily separated though.

Laying the ground work: How do we know what is real?

“I am a man of science; you are a man of faith.”

 

After reading my introduction, a skeptic’s first reply would be to scoff at the obvious bias I have for Christianity. I was raised as a Christian, so obviously I would be really uncomfortable (e.g. experiencing existential dread) if I ever questioned its truth, and so I would obviously want Christianity to be true and so make up ad hoc rationalisations to justify my belief in it.

 

Two things.

 

Firstly, this line of argument is one of the most common I find among Malaysians- given that we have been raised in a multi religious background. Their conclusion is not that “all roads lead to God”, rather that the sheer diversity of religious beliefs is evidence that people just believe in things because of their upbringing. “You are only a Christian because your parents were Christian!” So they complain.

 

But this objection commits the “genetic fallacy”. [3]

Here’s an analogy: Sean was raised by “progressive” parents. His parents taught him that without a woman’s consent, it is always wrong to have sex with her. Bob on the other hand, was raised in a “rough” environment: His father taught him that when a woman says “no”, what she is really saying is “yes”- and that they always enjoyed sex, even if you “forced” it on them.

 

Sean meets Bob in uni and they go out for drinks with a mutual female friend. She gets tipsy and passes out. An argument ensues: Bob tries to have sex with her but it was to Sean’s disgust. “It’s rape!” Sean argues. But Bob disagrees: “You only believe that having sex with a girl without consent is wrong because your parents brought you up to believe that!”

 

If you, like me, find Bob’s argument utterly unconvincing, then you should also find the parallel argument against Christianity utterly unconvincing. The idea is this: just because you’ve identified a possible source/contributor towards the formation of a belief (e.g. the belief that consent is essential for sex, the belief that God exists), you have not shown that said belief is either false or irrational.

 

It may very well be that some Christians believe in Christianity simply because their parents told them to. But for many others, this is only part of the story: many Christians have also reflected on their beliefs and formed their own beliefs about what is true. Also, I’m not sure if upbringing is always an irrational means to obtaining beliefs: why would a parent teach their kid something that they (the parents) believe to be false? The sane parent would always teach their kid what they think is true. My parents taught me that “1+1=2”, “it is wrong to murder”, “it is wrong to rape” etc. Does this necessarily mean that my belief in these propositions are automatically false or unjustified because I was brought up with those beliefs? Surely not.

 

“But it still means you’re biased because of your wishful thinking!”

 

Sure. But that doesn’t necessarily imply that I am being irrational. In fact, this argument, if correct, is too powerful: most people are comfortable with their beliefs; some atheists find the ethical implications of Christianity appalling (e.g. the belief that sex is designed for marriage), and so do I have an “argument against atheism” by simply accusing the atheist of wishful thinking (because they don’t want Christianity to be true since it would have implications that they will not be happy living with)? No, I do not. Such arguments put the attention on the people defending a view rather than the actual content of the view itself. [4]

 

Secondly, what does it mean for a belief to be justified?

 

Apparently this is a huge topic in philosophy. We ascribe a set of judgements on someone’s belief with words like “rational”, “justified” and “logical”. But what do we mean? Popular critics of religion charge that religious belief is irrational because it is “belief without evidence”. The idea is that belief in God is like belief in Santa Claus; If we agree that belief in Santa is irrational, so too should belief in God.

 

But we have compelling arguments against believing in Santa: We know that there is no elf factory in the North Pole, we know that the story of Santa (and the flying spaghetti monster, Harry Potter etc.) were intentionally created fictions meant for entertainment etc. While there are arguments against the existence of God, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the force of these arguments are anywhere as strong as the arguments against Santa.

 

“But you still haven’t given us evidence for belief in God!”

Well many have tried and I myself will, but notwithstanding that, I think there’s plenty of ambiguity in these debates that need to be sorted out before moving on. First, I’m not sure if people are on the same page when defining what they mean by evidence. Some atheists mean this:

 

(1) For a belief to be justified, it must be substantiated by scientific evidence for it to be true.

 

Clearly if (1) is true, any form of theism is irrational. By “scientific evidence”, we are talking about evidence that can be replicated via the scientific method (via observational studies, replication etc.). I doubt theists can produce that type of evidence to justify their beliefs.

 

But (1) is false. We just have to ask ourselves whether there is empirical/scientific evidence that (1) is true. And it is obvious that there is not, because (1) is not a claim about the laws of nature and matter (stuff that science is REALLY GOOD at studying), but it is a claim about a “right” way of knowing things. So it seems like (1) is self-defeating. [5]

 

Notice an interesting implication of (1) though: if it were true, then a belief like “rape is wrong” is irrational (and every other moral belief), because there is no way of using the scientific method to prove moral claims. Science might tell us that rape causes severe psychological and physical trauma to a woman, but this data doesn’t tell us how to act. Science is really good at telling us what is, but not how things should be. We also don’t need science to tell us that contradictions like a married bachelor or a squared circle cannot exist, we can just infer these truths.

 

The point of this exercise is to show that “evidence” can come in the form of intuitions that we all have that help us make sense of the world, and not just in the form of a peer reviewed scientific journal article. [6]

Something instead of nothing

You return to your car after catching a movie with your new date. You realise a huge dent on your car.

 

You immediately wonder what the explanation for the dent is. Could it be a hit and run? Was this the work of your date’s jealous ex-partner?

 

What you wouldn’t do is conclude that there simply is no explanation as to why there is a dent on your car- that it was just an act of pure randomness.

 

Explanations seem to lie at the heart of human reason and science itself. When scientists spot a possible causal trend, none of them throw up their hands in surrender and conclude that things happen for no reason at all. They might not know what the best explanation is at the moment, but they work hard to find one.

 

Yet there seems to be a rational “stopping point” to explanations. Take these propositions for example:

 

(1)A man cannot be both married and be a bachelor at the same time

(2)It is always wrong to torture babies for fun

 

When asked to explain why facts like (1) and (2) are true, we usually end up simply restating or rephrasing the statements instead of appealing to an external fact to explain them. And intuitively, it seems perfectly reasonable to accept that there are some facts that don’t require explanations because they just don’t seem like they’re the type of things that require any explanations. We seem to be satisfied that there isn’t a further “why” that can be reasonably asked of us. Let’s call these types of facts or things, necessary facts / beings. Remember, these are facts or things that don’t require explanations for their truth or existence.

 

But the vast majority of things or facts require some sort of explanation. Let’s label them dependent “things”

 

Observe that the relationship between an explanation and its explanandum is one of some sort of dependence. The dent in your car is dependent on the blunt force applied on it by the jealous ex-boyfriend: If there were no blunt force applied on it by him, the dent would not be there.

 

Given all that I have said, it would seem intuitive to accept the fact that dependent “things” always have an explanation for their existence; either by another dependent thing or by a necessary “thing”. Because reality is made up of dependent things (humans, atoms, planets etc.), and because all dependent explanations have to terminate somewhere, we can conclude that there exists an independent and necessary being that can explain why all of (dependent) reality exists; this necessary being would be the foundation of all reality, it cannot not exist and must be so powerful as to be able to explain all of reality. [7]

 

One quick objection might be to appeal to a chain of infinite chain of dependent explanations, so that we don’t end up running into an explanatory stopping point that would require the existence of a necessary being. But then this dependent whole would still be itself dependent, and we would still require an explanation for the existence of the whole.

 

Essentially, the answer to “why is there something rather than nothing?” Is because it is impossible for nothing to exist. There is a necessary foundation; a “prime mover” or “first cause” of all that exists.

 

“But you have not shown that this “foundation” is the God of Christianity!!” Someone might complain.

 

And I concur. But we have narrowed down the possibilities: if I’m right, then reality couldn’t have poofed into existence out of absolutely nothing, with no explanation at all, as some seem to think. It also means that we can coherently start asking questions about the nature of this foundation. [8]

 

Morality: a divine signpost

 

We’ve established that there is a necessary foundation to all of reality. It is an explanatory stopping point. What else can we notice in reality that might give us more clues about the properties of this foundation?

 

Recall that I gave moral facts as an example of necessary “truths” earlier. It seems that truths like “it is always wrong to torture innocent children for fun” or “rape is wrong” or “we ought to love our neighbours” lie at the foundations of reality.  Some might argue that these facts are merely social constructs; they are not facts that can exist apart from the existence of human minds.  They point to the fact that human beings disagree all the time about moral issues, that there is no scientific “proof” of morality [9], to argue their point.

 

But human beings disagree all the time about scientific and logical facts; yet no one complains that therefore there is no such thing as objective truth [10]. As to the point about science not being able to “prove” morality, the same circularity problem that I brought up earlier arises: what scientific “proof” do we have for the claim that we should only believe what can be proven by science?

 

That these moral truths exist does not rule out the fact that human beings can be mistaken in their perceiving of them, yet morality dominates most people’s lives; it is the standard by which people judge their own decisions and the decisions of others by. The feminist activist is driven by the moral maxim: “women should be treated equally to men”. The socialist is driven by the moral maxim (or something like it): “wealth ought to be redistributed fairly and equally.”. The humanist rationalist who campaigns for the abolishment of religious education in schools are driven by the moral maxim: “children should only be taught what is useful and true”. You might not agree with all of these maxims or with how they have been interpreted, but the point is that (almost) everyone is driven by some moral maxim, whether they are aware of it or not.

 

So moral facts seem to be built-in into the fabric of reality. But notice something odd about these facts: These facts are about how people should behave, they do not simply describe the way things are.  Moral facts are prescriptive, not descriptive. That rape is wrong necessarily implies that you must not rape- it is action guiding in a way that scientific facts (facts that are really good at describing things). So how do we explain these prescriptive facts? [11]

 

My thought is that the prescriptive nature of these facts are a hint that they are facts that have some sort of connection to a personal, conscious being. Prescriptions of the moral sort are like the sort of requirements you find in man-made laws and regulations. That you are required to stay within the speed limit implies that someone (or in this case, a large group of legislators) have the intention and desire of wanting you to keep to the speed limit. You can still violate this requirement by speeding, but by doing so you go against the intentions and desires of the legislators and are therefore at odds with them. If I am right, then the best way to make sense of these moral facts are that it expresses the intentions and desires of a personal being (because only conscious beings can have intentions and desires). This explanation fits in very well with our earlier conclusion: these ethical laws ingrained in the fabric of reality are expressions of the intention and desires of the “prime mover” or “first cause” that I mentioned above.

 

I’ve wrestled with one alternative; maybe the “prime mover” is some mindless body of matter or law of nature that explains all of reality and it is independent of these moral truths; which are simply brute facts that are just mindless facts. There are some issues with this combination of views. If morality is this abstract truth that just exists out there, why do we care so much about morality? If there is no mind behind the universe, it means that the universe doesn’t care about what we do. Yet the sheer force of these moral truths in motivating human action seems to say otherwise- we seem to care a lot about whether we (and other people) live our lives according to these laws. [12]

 

So after plenty of thinking about the foundations of reality and of ethics, I was convinced that there was some sort of higher being who is the creator of all physical reality and who also cares about how human beings behaved.

 

Looking at the historical data, I was also quite convinced that Christianity as a religion would not have grown at all were it not for the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection was what convinced his earliest disciples that he was who he said he was despite being crucified on a roman cross, that it was a group of disciples (along with an initial enemy like Saul of Tarsus) who all suddenly and rapidly came to the belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead counts against alternative hypotheses like a conspiracy theory or that they all had joint hallucinations.  I acknowledge that literally any other explanation would be better than the fact that a dead man rose to life 3 days after dying, but only if you believed that the universe was a closed system and that there is no external power that would ever contravene the laws of nature.  [21]

 

One might object that every religion makes miraculous claims to support the truth of their religion. Growing up in a multi-religious Malaysia, this always was a problem for me: all the other religions have stories of religious figures performing miracles- what was so special about Jesus? To my mind, the difference is that Christian theology stands or falls by the historical event of the resurrection: yes, one might equate the gospel narratives of Jesus turning water into wine to stories of eastern deities performing equivalent miracles; But the earliest Christians were adamant that the resurrection was central to their faith, if Jesus was left hanging on the cross or if his body was left in the tomb, there would’ve been no Christianity. And this was not a miracle that could’ve easily been ‘misunderstood’ or believed by hearsay. One might excuse the people of Jesus’ time to have confused what we call “magic tricks” for a miracle because of their lack of scientific knowledge, but that dead men stayed dead (at least physically) was something that they would’ve known for a long time. Sure, belief in the afterlife or “ghosts” might have been far more common back then, but what seemed outrageous about the resurrection is that it was a physical one! This would’ve surely been outrageous to Jesus’ contemporaries, and I think this is why Jesus’ own disciples, who were supposed to be the early founders of Christianity, expressed so much surprise at the resurrection. In fact, if Jesus’ disciples made up the whole thing, one has to wonder why they were willing to include such embarrassing facts about themselves in the founding documents of the faith (like having Peter, probably the “lead” apostle among the 12, be addressed as “Satan” by Jesus for understanding his Messianic role wrongly)? Much more can be said about this, but for the sake of brevity (lol) I’d have to refer the interested reader in checking out the links in the footnotes.

 

 

In spite of all this, I have 2 reservations:

1) There are really really smart people who would disagree with me- and I can see where their objections are coming from. So I don’t think that they’re being irrational by not being persuaded by these arguments. Reasonable doubt can still exist in the case of these arguments, and to think otherwise is foolish, I think. So I reject claims that believing in Christianity can be simply reduced to simply being “smart enough” to grasp these arguments. [13]

2)For many people, it would seem that these “dry” and “logical” arguments are insufficient in convincing anyone that Christianity is worth believing in. My younger self would simply object to these people by arguing that they are just being irrational. But I’ve grown to appreciate the complexity of our cognitive faculties and can start to see where some of these people might be coming from. Firstly, as I grow older, it is becoming clearer to me that for the vast majority of my peers, their problem with Christianity is not so much the “logical” aspects of the faith, but rather the practical implications of it. To many of them, if Christianity is true, then Christian ethics must be followed; an ethic that they find to be outdated, boring, and devoid of any happiness or meaning. It is to this charge that I will be responding in the next section. [14]

 

The best story

 

 

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis

 

 

If you are not a Christian but have plenty of Christian friends, I might not fault you for thinking that we are the most miserable lot; we believe that sex before marriage is wrong, we have to give our hard earned cash to the Church, we won’t break “small” ethical boundaries in the workplace (like making a false declaration to increase revenue, giving out medicines that we know won’t work for profit, breaking the law because “they can’t catch us and we’ll be able to make money”), we can’t date non-Christians (massively reducing our “pool” of  potential mates) etc.  The Christian life is charged for being childish: it leads to a joyless and deprived life in the real world. The Sunday school stories of a loving father (who some discover later to be strangely silent in our times of need/vulnerability), cannot possibly fulfils our deepest desires for intimacy, happiness and purpose.

 

 

In this section, I’d like to argue otherwise. I’d like to argue that the Christian worldview not only provides all that, but that it best explains the source of our deepest longings.

 

First, consider the moral law: notice how most, if not all, of these laws are about how we ought to put the needs of other people first. e.g. your need for emotional satisfaction cannot trump another person’s need to live (i.e. don’t murder out of anger). Morality seems to be “other” person centred. [15] So maybe a helpful summary of the moral law is to love. By love, I am not referring to a mere description of the feelings attraction felt toward another, but the act of putting the needs and desires of the other person first.

 

So if I’m right, that means the moral law-the law of love- lies at the foundations of reality. I also think there’s something intuitive about this idea: we all think love is one of the highest virtues; it is one of the the most fundamental needs of  human beings (animals included!), though we might disagree on how it looks like in practice. It seems like love is intimately tied to the purpose of our existence as human beings.

 

But then consider something else: humanity sucks at abiding by this law of love. We murder, steal, rape, pillage, manipulate others. History testifies to this time and time again. Let’s call this the “human condition”: we acknowledge the existence of the law of love, yet we constantly fail to abide by it. Many different narratives seek to explain it and some offer solutions to it; some argue that the root of the problem is poverty and inequality. Others argue that it is a systemic problem caused by the patriarchy. There’s no denying that there’s some truth in what they are saying: misogyny is arguably a source of many sexual atrocities, poverty causes people to rob and steal out of desperation… But these explanations seem to be susceptible to glaring counterexamples: women are capable of violating the law of love too, some of humanities most deplorable crimes have been committed by the rich and powerful (not the poor and uneducated). The solutions fall short for the same reasons: if giving everyone money makes people love others better, why do the rich still do evil? These explanations don’t seem to do justice to the scale of the problem, let alone get close to solving it. [16]

 

Maybe the problem is with all of us-not just some- but all. Maybe it’s because we all tend to want to elevate ourselves above other people, wanting to become our own kings and queens having no one above us, but everyone else below us. In other words, maybe misogyny, inequality and all sorts of horrendous evils are simply the result of the pride and arrogance that lies in the very nature of humanity. The problem is with the human heart.

 

But if pride is the chief vice, then humility (which is intrinsically loving!) is the chief virtue. [17]

 

Consider then, the narrative that lies at the heart of the Christian worldview:

 

 “There is but one God, who created all things (including multiverses, energy, matter etc.). This God also created human beings (be it ex nihilo or via some clever mechanism like guided natural selection). He created us to have a relationship with him, but we wanted to be gods over our own lives, so we pointed our ‘middle fingers’ to Him and rebelled against Him. In doing so we have not only caused enmity between us and our all-powerful creator, but it has also led to enmity among ourselves, because we all want to one up one another in our desire to be gods over our own lives. We rape, kill, steal and pillage because we love ourselves more than anyone else in the world. God, being perfectly good and just, would do no wrong in punishing us for our anarchy. But God is also infinitely merciful and loving: in our rebellion He takes on human flesh to pay the penalty for our offences by dying on the cross for us. Jesus is then raised on the third day as a display of God’s victory over sin and evil. Those who belong to Jesus have now been reconciled to God are no longer at war with God. “[22]

 

Here, God’s ultimate love and humility is displayed. Jesus humbly and lovingly submits to God’s (the Father’s) will to save sinners. So humility and love are not just “free floating”, “platonic” abstract truths that just exist, but they are properties of a person.

 

But what does this have to do with the charge that the Christian life is unfulfilling?

 

1) We seem to find some fulfilment in doing good i.e. abiding by the law of love. If I’m right that these laws are transcendent (I.e. not manmade fictions), then it seems like we were created with the intention to love and be loved- to form relationships. This explains why some of our deepest desires as human beings are for other persons (i.e. intimacy, romance, friendship). The Christian story tells us that creation started with a relationship: God’s loving relationship with his creatures- us.

 

So maybe all our desires for the love and intimacy from other humans are just an expression of a deeper desire for union with God. Because it certainly seems like human relationships, however satisfying it may be, are temporal and often times imperfect; they seem incapable of satiating our deepest longings for love.

 

One might argue that romantic love can satisfy these longings. Perhaps the sheer dominance of romantic themes in modern film and literature are expressions of this line of thinking. It’s quite a powerful one: I’ve had many Christian friends who all spoke of this “God-shaped hole” in their “hearts” back when they were passionate about God in high school, only to have renounced their faiths after being in romantic relationships that were not in line with the commandments found in the Bible.  So maybe these deep longings are actually our desires for romance.

 

The Christian affirms that romance is a beautiful thing. In fact, marriage is described as an analogy for Jesus’ love for his church. But it is never depicted as our ultimate ends, for good reason!

 

Firstly, the euphoria of finding romance almost always seems to fade away with time. Think of the couple who declares their “eternal” love for each other on Facebook, only to fall out of love in 2 months. Or the celebrity couple with the fairytale wedding who were described to be “made for each other” but have a very public divorce only a few years later. It seems like romance doesn’t have the clout to provide this lasting contentment that everyone seems to be striving for. Secondly, if we say that romance is what ultimately fulfils the human life, then what are we suggesting about the many great people of history who were single all their lives? Are their lives any less fulfilled than those who have found romance?

 

If Christianity is true, we are all very lonely because we are all separated from God because of our sin; the ultimate relationship for which we were created for has been severed. We are all broken and sad creatures, severed from the only being that can bring us true comfort and true joy. But Jesus gives us hope, his death on the cross meant that we can be reconciled to God and have our deepest longings met. [18]

 

2) Remember that the charge is psychological in nature- the argument is that the living out of the Christian life is one that leads to a lower quality of life in a psychological sense (i.e. we will be more depressed, anxious and unfulfilled). [19]

 

Before I begin, I think it’s helpful to distinguish between irrational mental states and rational mental states. Take anxiety for example: someone who gets extremely worried that his house might be set on fire by some random stranger is experiencing an irrational fear (this is probably more akin to mental illness, where people cannot suppress irrational fears and cannot help but to act on them. Their reaction to their fears are way out of proportion with the actual risks involved). Contrast that to ‘rational anxiety’: the lone woman walking back to her car while a group of man catcall her and tail her- she is right to be anxious in such a situation. When someone says that the Christian life is one that is depressing, they often mean it in the ‘rational sense’ i.e. Christians have a good reason to be depressed because of what they can/cannot do.

 

Firstly, I think the Christian worldview provides the believer with a myriad of tools to deal with these negative mental states. Take my own personal example at the beginning of this essay for example: If Christianity is true, then being successful in my career and accumulating wealth as fast as possible isn’t of utmost importance to me- my standing before God is. According to the Christian narrative (what we Christians call ‘The Gospel’), my biggest problem- my status as a rebellious human being before a holy God that ought to justly punish me- has been solved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Because my biggest problem has been solved and my most important needs met, the worries I have for things of this life need not be overwhelming.

 

Furthermore, the Christian believes that God is in absolute control of the future and that He will guarantee that all things will work together for the good of those who love God [20]. If things of this life do get out of hand (e.g. getting blind, losing your job, war breaks out), the Christian can be comforted that God has not forsaken him and give him strength to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

 

Contrast this to the resources that the secular humanist has. With only the blind forces of nature to appeal to, what comfort can this worldview actually bring? In the context of our present discussion, some people might answer that non-Christians, by virtue of their more “liberal” ethic, can earn more money, have more sex and have lesser restrictions in general. Yet don’t we have plenty of live examples of people today who have earned lots of money, become “worshipped” by their fellow man, had plenty of sex, yet are still the saddest of people? Maybe it’s easy to think that these things will give us a fulfilled life given that we are privileged and optimistic twentysomethings with unrelenting sex drives, fueled by a culture that promises that romantic intimacy is the only true way to true fulfilment. Such a view is myopic; not all of us will have successful and fulfilling careers, biology tells us that with age our desire for sex will decrease (and so will other people’s physical desire for us!)…

 

Maybe the secular humanist might agree that this picture of materialistic hedonism is one that will ultimately lead to futility. Maybe they will argue that it’s all about living the “good” life and being content with whatever you have. While I see more promise in such a view, it invites us to ask deeper questions about what exactly the “good” life is, and more relevantly, the original argument they had about how the Christian life leads to psychological harm is robbed of its force- a more “liberal” ethic doesn’t necessarily lead to a more fulfilled life.

 

 

Closing thoughts

I hope I’ve presented and summarised most of my most important thoughts behind my reasons for finding the Christian faith both intellectually and existentially satisfying. Not only do I find the claims and teachings of the Christian faith to be the best explanation of reality, but it’s the worldview that can best satisfy my personal existential worries; it quells my feeling that nothing in this world is going satisfy my restless soul by pointing to something beyond this world.

 

Of course, this is far from even a comprehensive summary of the debates involving Christian theism- I have not even touched on the big problem of evil and many “negative” arguments against the Christian faith. But that was not my intention for writing this anyway. Some of the resources that I’ve linked here will give you an opportunity to dig deeper into some of the issues I’ve discussed here and beyond.

 

Ultimately, I believe that I wouldn’t have come to the beliefs that I have if not for the grace of God. My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you too will come to know God and will find peace, comfort and joy in being united to Him.

 

 

 

 

My thanks to Tim Xie and Cassandra Chung for going through the hard work of reading early drafts of this essay and giving me helpful feedback.

 

Also, the idea for this essay was inspired by a similar piece of work by Aron Wall, a Christian theoretical physicist who, I think, is now working at Cambridge. He wrote an incredible series of essays about his thoughts on the existence of God in a systematic way. It’s quite deep and detailed, but I’d encourage anyone with a philosophical bent to read it. He also has insightful posts about ‘God and Science’ that I’ve found to be really helpful. You can read his series here: http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/fundamental-reality-index/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] This is not an actual reconstruction of the conversation. My real-life catchup’s with friends has far more senseless banter inserted between these deep and meaningful conversations.

 

[2] Almost all of my thoughts are borrowed and/or inspired by other great people, so I hope that this essay will not be a space for me to “flex” my intellectual muscles but as a demonstration of God’s faithfulness in my life in providing me with helpful “teachers” who have been essential in helping me navigate the complexities of philosophy, science and theology (and life too!). While there are many, I would like to use this space to personally thank Randy Everist, Joshua Rasmussen and Aron Wall for patiently dealing with my many questions and for making difficult concepts easy to understand.

 

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_fallacy

 

[4] To be clear, I do think that there are cases where wishful thinking precludes rational belief in a proposition. But it would require an almost perfect access into a persons mental state (i.e. his desires and intentions before forming said belief), an access which I think is impossible to have. Unless you’re God.

 

[5] Some might reply by citing the great achievements of science as a “proof” of (1). But this misses the mark of the objection: no one is denying that science is an incredible tool for knowing things about our world, but we are denying that it is the only method of knowing anything at all!

 

[6] As an important side note, most people hold to a more tenable position of (1 *): For a belief to be justified, it must be supported by evidence.  Where “evidence” is loosely defined as some external, non-question begging reason for believing said truth e.g. a philosophical argument for the existence of God that doesn’t presuppose God in its premises. I’ve started to doubt even (1 *). For what external evidence do we have that (1 *) is true? This doesn’t do justice to both (1 *) and it’s objectors of course, so I will leave a link to a long but helpful article fleshing out what I mean here. Theologically, I’m getting more and more convinced that belief in Christ is not a belief that is founded on mere probabilistic arguments that I’ve had to offer here, rather it is based on a “sure and certain” hope. Alvin Plantinga has, I think, developed a really rigorous argument defending the rationality of such a view that denies (1 *).

Helpful summary of the view(but by no means exhaustive): https://www.bethinking.org/truth/religious-epistemology

 

[7] I’m not sure if this short summary of the contingency argument is a testament to more rigorous and in-depth presentations of the argument. It took me awhile to understand the force of the argument because of my unfamiliarity with the heavy philosophical concepts like contingency and necessity. The most powerful objections to the argument are often complex as well. Here are some helpful resources for deeper understanding of what I’m trying to portray.

http://capturingchristianity.com/updated-contingency-argument/

http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/LCA.html

 

[8] Josh Rasmussen has spent some time trying to develop some supplementary arguments in favor of this. Try: https://www.academia.edu/630287/From_a_necessary_being_to_god

 

[9] Science can explain how we come to have the moral beliefs that we do, but it cannot prove that these beliefs are grounded in some external reality.

 

[10] Maybe the postmodernists do, but they do so at great cost: for then their own postmodern beliefs will be invalid!

 

[11] Some might argue that these facts just have no explanation at all and they might be onto something: just like how the explanation of dependent things has an explanatory “end point” (as demonstrated in my argument above), the explanations of moral actions find their explanatory stopping point at some moral maxims. e.g. when a child asks you why it’s wrong to steal, you’d probably end your explanation with something like “it’s just wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you”. I see merit with this view, but I also think we can offer explanations even for necessary facts- and some explanations can be better than others.

 

[12] Here’s another argument: suppose we think that the Prime Mover is this mindless law of nature that randomly spawns universes, and it exists independently to these mindless ethical facts. What a coincidence it would be then, for it to have generated a universe with rational beings who have evolved to come to perceive these ethical truths? Under the theistic explanation, we have a neat answer: God is both prime mover and divine legislator, so he can create a world where there are rational beings that can perceive his will and commandments.

 

[13] I especially think that Christians of the Reformed tradition should be careful holding to a similar belief about religious epistemology like the one just mentioned. The Bible is clear that the main obstacle between a non-believer and faith is an unregenerated heart, not mere intellectual incapability. To be sure, I think the effects of the fall were noetic, that it did not just affect our morality but also our cognitive faculties. But I’m not sure if mere philosophical argumentation is enough to undo the effects of the fall.

 

[14] To be clear, I do think that it is irrational to think that a believe is false only because you don’t like it. But I think something deeper is going on: the logical proposition that “Jesus is the risen Lord” is not just a “dry” truth claim, it has follow-up implications about e.g. who you can have sex with (because of what Jesus says about the topic)- this is an ethical claim. A non-believer might be convinced that this ethical proposition is false and therefore conclude that the logical proposition that precedes it must also be false. So the Christian can have two approaches: 1) demonstrate the veracity of the “dry” truth claim and/or 2) shake their confidence of their ethical beliefs.

 

[15] I’m not sure if we have moral obligations to ourselves that don’t involve other persons (God included!). Maybe you might argue that the prohibition of suicide is an example of a moral obligation that we owe to ourselves- not even to God. But even if this sort of obligation (or virtues) exist, I still think it doesn’t take away from the  heart of what I’m arguing here.

 

[16] There are those who don’t think it is a problem at all- a radical naturalist might think that the moral law is just an illusion given to us by evolution. Human evil is simply an example of the randomness at work in our brains-. The only reason why someone should “solve” it is so that it will maximise their own chances of survival (or something along these lines).

 

[17] maybe love is the chief virtue, but humility is a precondition for love

 

[18] This does not mean that the Christian cannot be sad or lonely in this world- The Christian believes that while Jesus has already reconciled us to God, we are not yet rid of the suffering and longings of this world. Our hope for ultimate satisfaction lies in the future!

One might argue that this defeats the purpose of my argument: but I think there’s a difference between having a “this worldly” hope in romance and an “other worldly” hope. If your hope is in this world (e.g. romance), then all I need to do is to point out that even people who have experienced romance are deeply lonely and dissatisfied. But if my hope is in another world, the same strategy doesn’t work, because I am saying that ultimate satisfaction simply cannot be found in the here and now (at least not yet!). Your only strategy is to show that it is either irrational to believe in this other world, or that this other world simply does not exist.

 

[19] Well as a side note, there might actually be empirical data suggesting quite the opposite. It seems that there are studies suggesting that people who are more involved in religious communities (christianity included!) are associated with lower risks of depression and anxiety, lower incidences of divorce etc. [Religious Service Attendance, Marriage, and Health | Institute for Family Studies   While I tend to be quite skeptical of sociological studies like these (too many variables, not sure how to prove causation etc.), it certainly doesn’t help the person making the opposite case!

 

[20] Note: “Good” here does not mean health and prosperity in this life. The best thing (hence, the “most” good thing) that can happen to the Christian is to be united with God (fully known and fully loved) in eternity.

 

[21] For a comprehensive summary of this argument from the historicity of the resurrection see: http://capturingchristianity.com/fact-fiction-resurrection-jesus-comprehensive-case/

 

[22] Not the clearest definition of “The Gospel” that I can come up with, but I was advised (rightly so), that I needed to simplify my summary of the gospel such that it doesn’t confuse the uninitiated with complex jargon.

 

 

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