Why explaining faith is complicated

Often it seems skeptics want an answer for why we believe what we believe. And they snort when we aren’t able to give them an 2 to 3 sentence answer right away. Bah! As if complexity or variety somehow made things less true. That if God is real then he must be a simple God. How simple is love? Love for a wife, or for a child? They may be simple in some ways, and very complicated in other ways. That it can’t be explained in one breath in no way means it is weak or unfounded.

If I am asked as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and on old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.

Now, the non-Christiaity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences. I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it.

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch. 9, p. 143

I can hear by wife saying now “Well of course that’s how we come to believe things. That’s just common sense.” Oh, but so easily forgotten I think. I’ve been in many Christian circles where intellectual argument was promoted as the primary tool of evangelism. Beating down the devil’s strongholds in the mind and all that. Now that’s just great but it neglects how people came to their (non) faith in the first place.

Hitting them over the head with good theology and philosophy might make some headway, but that’s like assuming they believe what they do from reading four books, as Chesterton mentions above. But what if their hate of Christianity is a combination of many things (and it almost certainly is). Consider this young man:

1. His father was a “devout” Christian, but also a hypocrite who verbally abused him.

2. In school, he was regularly taught that man is simply a highly evolved animal. The creation myths in the Bible can’t possibly be real.

3. He has been living with their girlfriend for a couple years, likes sleeping with her, has a good job, and things are getting on just fine. Gettin’ religion would just screw that up. Why bother?

4. He had a roommate in college who converted to Christianity. He used to be fun to hang out with, but now he’s kind of a jerk.

Now, if he’s open to a long enough conversation, talking some good foundational ethics might undermine his beliefs in #2 above. But that’s about it. And that’s the bulk of our evangelistic endevour? Sorry try again. No wonder that has almost no effect.

A lot of Christians have realized this, and have tried to come up with something else. Call it “friendship evangelism”. Well, meeting several people who are Christians that are also friendly, intelligent, charitable, and have a good sense of humor could go a long way to undermining problem #4. That’s cool.

You’re still only halfway there at best though. What could you possibly do about #3? Probably nothing. Losing his job or having his girlfriend upset about something would probably be the best thing to shake that up.

And what about #1? He might become a Christian and STILL have trouble with this. Not uncommon, eh?

So why do we believe what we do? Lots of little things. Maybe 100 little things.

C.S. Lewis wrote The Pilgrim’s Regress as an allegory about how he came to faith in Christ. It was only later he realized that almost nobody could relate to his book. It turns out virtually nobody he ever met, even his close intellectual friends like Tolkien, had walked a long philosophical journey resembling what he had experienced. You’re unlikely to find this early work of his on many shelves.