Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

Shaking the Foundations of a Fragile Faith

I recently came across a great post by Lance at Ragged Edges, which was a reaction to an essay entitled Why I am Not a Christian from Leighton at Welcome to the Grind.

Leighton’s argument was well presented and respectful of those of us who do have a faith in Christianity. It was not until I started to read the (extensive) commentary to this post that I began to get frustrated. People began to issue a rebuttal by quoting scripture and telling him they would “pray that your eyes will be open.” One person condescendingly noted that he knew “the real reason” why the author was asking such questions in that the spirit was leading him…

I don’t doubt that people who make such arguments generally have good intentions, but I consider that sort of retort to be very counterproductive. Why not have some respect for people’s intellectuality and concerns by listening and then responding thoughtfully?

Quoting random Bible verses is of no persuasive value whatsoever to a person who does not believe in the authority of scripture in the first place. And the tactic of threatening them with the idea of eternal damnation is probably not going to fare much better. Yet, as I was linking my way through the blogosphere on this topic, I stumbled across another example of the strong-arm approach to Christian apologetics detailed above. In this case, Vincent instructs us to:

…reject such pretended humility, unfaithful spirituality, and asinine pseudo-scholarship in exchange for an approach to apologetics that is biblical, which is one that says, ‘We are right, and we are sure that we are right. You are wrong, and we are sure that you are wrong.'

Somehow he is arguing that this approach is actually humble. While I believe a person can, and should, have strong convictions, it is at best questionable to assert such a supreme certainty of one’s rightness in interpreting all scripture. Additionally, this type of attitude is disrespectful of those on the other side of the debate and, as such, it would seemingly never be effectively persuasive.

This is where Lance, in writing about the need for a Humble Dogma, really zeroed in on the issue:

What Christians often lose sight of is the fact that it really is ok when others hold beliefs contrary to what we hold to be True. In other words, if what I believe in is true, the fact that another doesn't hold the same belief doesn't make it any less true. I think the internal drive of many to convert (change through coercion by guilt, shame, and namecalling) is often born of an undiagnosed insecurity in one's own belief.

That last sentence really struck a chord with me. A few years ago the foundations of my faith nearly crumbled under the façade of a seemingly sturdy and long held spiritual belief system that I refused to question and examine. Fortunately, I did hone up to my own skepticism and the need for a solid intellectual understanding of Christianity as a prerequisite for a strong faith.

Consequently, I learned through a healthy, honest process of questioning and learning, that it is natural to have doubts and it is good to ask questions. I really cannot figure out why it seems so many Christians are determined to suppress all doubts rather than deal with them. Those who continually restrain their doubts are in danger of erecting a faith that amounts to no more than a house of cards.

I would not be at all surprised if the bullying/know-it-all tactics of “persuasion” utilized by some Christians is really masking an untested and insecure faith. Whatever the reason for it, I find myself cringing when I hear Bible verses quoted to justify a “head-in-the-sand,” anti-intellectual line of thought (ex: “I will destroy the wise…”) as a rebuttal to the arguments of non-believers.

It is assuredly a balancing act to maintain strong convictions while still remaining humble both in discussion and in the plethora of areas in which we do not have definite answers. I really hope the trend of justifying ignorance through scripture is fading. Otherwise, Christianity is going to suffer as a result.

So how should we be responding in such dialogues? Well, I intend to offer some less critical, more proactive thoughts soon, but for now I’ve found a couple good thoughts to consider. Along the lines of a need for humility, Phil at The Spirit Formed Life offers some good advice by suggesting that “We Need to Get Over Ourselves”.

Gaunilo asked a good question on his blog last week that is appropriate to this discussion: “Do we take seriously the responsibility of love for the body of Christ, respect for the other, and seek to embody the virtues of humility, civility, and sensitivity?”

Comments:
Hi Chad,

Thanks for coming by my blog. I think the only real "offender" that got under your skin was Roger; he and I have somewhat of a history, and I took no offense. (Just between us, I find the word-plays considerably more aggravating than the verse-quoting. It's a less transparent play for control over the discussion.)

What's remarkable is that when only one person decides to use the shotgun Scripture approach to discussion, it almost always seems like there are many of them at once, as though subconsciously I sense that it's expected or that it's the norm for how people ought to be conducting themselves in a discussion; conditioning, no doubt, from an upbringing in an environment where that was simply how people argued. Or perhaps there's more; I'm still looking into it.

Thanks again for coming by.
 
Actually, upon rereading my own thread, I found several drive-by Scripture quoters that I had forgotten about. You were absolutely right to refer to them in plural. Sorry about that.
 
Chad, this is Phil and not Paul, but hey I will take it as a compliment :). I wanted to thankyou for the link and especially your post. I totally agree with what you are saying, so a hearty Amen!
Blessings in Christ Jesus!
 
Chad,
I could not have said it better myself. Brilliantly written post. You are completely right that the vehemence of many Christians and their attacks on opposing belief systems is rooted in a deep insecurity about their own faith (I've talked about it here, apologies if I've referenced this post before).

It's interesting to read you talk about your belief system being tested and the experience of having to come to doubt and question, because I went through much the same process myself. It is even more interesting that such a similar process led to opposite results for us. Even being on different ends of the conservative-progressive spectrum as we are, I have nothing but respect for someone who has dared to undergo the examined life.
 
Leighton,

I may be in agreement with you that it is not the selective scripture-quoting that is most aggravating, but more the combination of various argumentative "techniques" that amount to a disrespectful and condescending tone in general. It certainly irrates me when coming from non-believers as well.

You have apparently had contact with people who have a clear and informed understanding of their faith, but my fear is that many people have not. So when all they encounter is the type of behavior detailed above, I am not surprised that they are turned off by their perception of Christianity.

Phil, sorry, your name is corrected. I think the Acts & Corin. text caused the slip.

Gaunilo, Thanks for the link. I remember having read a similar story on your blog so I'll check it out. And ditto for me on your sentiments re: spiritual examination, regardless of the end results.
 
I wholeheartedly agree with your post here, Chad, and I can definitely relate. I too, watched the facade of my faith begin to crumble when I began examining it more closely. It's not pretty to watch or experience that, but it makes us better Christians in the long run.

I have to admit I now have more questions than answers, and I'm not sure that ever changes for the person who lives an examined life. My mentor is a pastor, and even he admits there's a lot he's not totally sure of.

That's okay, I think. I mean, what is faith, after all, but choosing to believe despite doubt?
 
Chad -

Thanks for the kind words and a nicely written post. Few things frustrate me more than Christians who try to carry out Christ's mission by literally abusing others, all, of course, in "love."

That's why the aspect of Christ I love and identify with most often is this: to the lost and broken, he was full of love, mercy, and acceptance. On the other hand, it was the relgious leaders who used their knowledge of the Divine as a whip and shackles to force others to live as they saw fit.

I think this is the first time I've visited your site, but I'll be back.

God Bless.
 
No, wait a minute! I just realized that you're the author of the Christian Carnival post that I JUST linked to last week. Sorry 'bout that.

Obviously, I've been here before . . . and I will be back.
 
A very well written post, though I would posit that perhaps in a number of cases it is less of an "intellectual" insecurity about ones faith and more simply a lack of faith itself. And perhaps I'm not even making a useful comment here, but I'm one whose of the opinion that a person's faith preceeds their intellectual convictions; but of course I'm also of the opinion that no one is responsible for the existence of their own faith.
 
Chad,
You're on my Carnival favorites list this week. If you had trackbacks, I wouldn't have to say that like it is important or something...
 
I apologize if I came across wrong in my postings earlier. As I posted on Leighton's blog, these kinds of discussions are very tedious ... given all we know about each other is what we type - and I'm not that good at articulating my views sometimes as my thoughts can be disjointed. The end result is that my views (and intentions) are sometimes misunderstood - case in point the 'shotgun Scripture approach' reference. My heart sank when I read that as that is the last thing I want to do. I want to appeal to reason and logic so the reader can better understand Biblical truth and how it applies to our lives and the questions and issues we are all dealing with.

Roger
 
I apologize if I came across wrong in my postings earlier. As I posted on Leighton's blog, these kinds of discussions are very tedious ... given all we know about each other is what we type - and I'm not that good at articulating my views sometimes as my thoughts can be disjointed. The end result is that my views (and intentions) are sometimes misunderstood - case in point the 'shotgun Scripture approach' reference. My heart sank when I read that as that is the last thing I want to do. I want to appeal to reason and logic so the reader can better understand Biblical truth and how it applies to our lives and the questions and issues we are all dealing with.

Roger
 
Roger,

Thanks for the explanation. Sometimes as a reader of the blog, I can miss the context as well. So I'm not surprised by the fact that you guys having known each other would have an impact on how your communicate with each other. Sorry if I misunderstood and thereby misrepresented what you said as a result. I really didn't mean to single you out either as I had observed others as well in the same discussion.
 
Where did you find it? Interesting read » »
 
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