The Biggest Obstacles to Staying Christian: The Next Step

In the last 24 hours, my previous post has gotten over 100 comments and about half as many private email messages. The comments so far are honest, heartfelt, and I honor you all for taking the time to offer us all the benefit your experiences and your wisdom.

Over the next few days I will try to collate the comments under some general categories (mainly because I’m German and it’s what we do). From what I’m seeing so far, at the end of the day, the general ideas will probably not be news to most of you, even if your individual stories are anything but routine.

When I began this, I wasn’t sure where all this would go; my intention was to let it play out and see if a good next step emerges. I think it has, at least from my point of view.

After I collate the comments, I will post what I come up with. As part of that post, I would like to share some of my thoughts of how I approach many of these very real obstacles as I continue along the Christian path (without being “the answer man”–I respect the challenges too much). I’d would also like you to share your thoughts on what keeps you on the Christian path.

So, stay tuned–and I hope many of you will contribute.

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  • tedseeber

    Leaving a message here hoping somebody will reply, as I’m a Catholic and don’t regularly read you.

    I suspect my problem with belief will be different than most of your readers- especially as I see the seeds of moral relativism sewn with the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

    • linford86

      Do you think that moral relativism is a belief shared by many non-believers? Just curious.

      • tedseeber

        Not unless they were influenced by the dissolving of Christiandom, no.

        Modernists and postmodernists, yes. Neo-anything, yes. Islam has its own form of moral relativism now with the Muwahiddun. And of course, atheism is based on moral relativism.

        But for the most part, no, non-believers are NOT moral relativists. ALL of the ancient pagan religions were based on local objective moralities, that’s why their gods were also local and localized. Even the ancient Hebrews had to be brought out of this slowly; Jehovah in the Old Testament is pretty clearly a desert tribal God who slowly becomes the universal God we know today. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that any Christians or Jews were relativist at all; but between the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the Progroms of both Catholics and Protestants in Europe, many became moral relativists, especially after the pressure put on them by the Holocaust.

        Modern moral relativism in neo-paganism and even in atheism and the none spirituality, borrows much from the idea that each individual man has to work out his religion on his own, without help- and that is Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only authority).

        • linford86

          “And of course, atheism is based on moral relativism.”

          Actually, atheism is not based on moral relativism. I don’t know where you got that idea, but it seems to be pretty common amongst Christians and it makes me wonder why.

          • tedseeber

            Atheism is based on moral relativism, because when you reject the supernatural, moral relativism is all that is left. Without a moral authority based in a study of spiritualism and the supernatural, it quickly becomes impossible to have an objective moral code of ethics; it becomes instead a subjective moral code of ethics based on arbitrary secular law combined with something akin to the libertarian definition of personal liberty and freedom.

            This is of course clearly drawn from Freemasonic Protestant Christianity.

            The telling clue- it is nearly impossible to find an atheist who has NOT rejected some item of morality taught in childhood. Sometimes it is a good thing to reject from a reasonable perspective (Sola Scriptura is a pretty obvious thing to reject for anybody who can read with comprehension) , but quite a bit of the time it is something that is a teaching against Modernist America or Modernist European libertineism (on either the sexual or fiscal polarities of the political spectrum).

            From the Christian point of view- to have no relationship with God is to become God; without an outside reference point, your morality is all internal; and thus, subjective rather than objective. The very definition of moral relativism.

            For more information on this, check out Leah Libresco’s conversion story away from atheism due to her *lack* of moral relativism.

          • linford86

            “Atheism is based on moral relativism, because when you reject the supernatural, moral relativism is all that is left.”

            This is false and on multiple levels.

            1. Atheism is the lack of a belief in god. Sometimes, the term is used to describe the belief that there is no god. Either way, atheism is not the rejection of the supernatural; although most atheists do not believe in ghosts, they could still believe in ghosts and be atheists.

            2. Moral relativism is not what is left over when you reject the supernatural. I’m a long time follower of Leah Libresco’s blog so I am very familiar with her conversion story. Nonetheless, it’s philosophically naive on multiple levels; there are numerous secular metaethical realist theories; such theories include Ethical non-naturalism (such as David Enoch’s view in “Taking Morality Seriously”), Contractarianism, Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill), Neo-Kantian Deontology, naturalistic moral realism (for instance, Richard Boyd’s view in “How to Be a Moral Realist”), Humean Conventionalism, Non-theistic Virtue Ethics (God isn’t necessary, for example, in Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics”). It might be that you’ve already rejected all of these views, but that doesn’t mean that all atheists have rejected them. In fact, several atheists accept one of these theories and many of them originate with atheists. For a basic introduction, see Russ Shafer-Landau’s “Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?”.

            3. Even if atheists fail to have an explanation for morality, or a way to ground moral facts, it does not follow that atheism is *based* on moral relativism.

            4. You seem to have conflated moral relativism (the view that there are moral facts, but which facts those are is relative to culture or some other such nonsense) and moral nihilism (the view that there are no moral facts). These are two different views and are actually not compatible with each other. Which would you like to attribute to atheists?

          • tedseeber

            1. Why would anybody believe in Ghosts, an Afterlife, and the spirit world without believing in God? That seems ridiculous on its face. One implies the other, even if the only god involved is ancestor worship.
            2. Metaethical realism still depends on subjective experience. So are the rest of the others, even virtue ethics fails because it depends on subjective experiences.
            3. The rejection of theism is based on the rejection of morality- usually sexual morality, but sometimes fiscal morality, at least in the United States. All of these other forms of Metaethics, come down to rejecting some traditional objective moral teaching.
            4. Moral nihilism is a subset of moral relativism.

          • linford86

            “1. Why would anybody believe in Ghosts, an Afterlife, and the spirit
            world without believing in God? That seems ridiculous on its face. One
            implies the other, even if the only god involved is ancestor worship.”

            One does not imply the other. There could be ghosts without God and God without ghosts.

            Metaethical realism still depends on subjective experience.”

            That’s just not true. I don’t even know why you would think that so I have no idea how to respond.

            “3. The rejection of theism is based on the
            rejection of morality- usually sexual morality, but sometimes fiscal
            morality, at least in the United States. All of these other forms of
            Metaethics, come down to rejecting some traditional objective moral

            I can’t speak for others, but my rejection of theism has nothing to do with my morality.

            “4. Moral nihilism is a subset of moral relativism.”

            Again, that’s just not true.

          • ajginn

            3. The rejection of theism is based on the rejection of morality- usually sexual morality, but sometimes fiscal morality, at least in the United States.

            You certainly do like to speak in absolutes without any facts to support your assertions, don’t you? The rejection of theism is based primarily upon the dearth of evidence for a god. Certainly, there are probably some who reject certain creeds because they require sacrifice on the believer’s part, but I’ve yet to meet an atheist who rejected the idea of god because they just want to get rich or get busy.

          • tedseeber

            Funny, I seem to meet them all the time. Constantly using atheism to excuse things like gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, usury, fraud, etc.

            Then again, maybe it is just that most atheists I know are libertarians…of one sort or another. And are insisting on “Freedom From” religion because religions tell them to do things.

          • ajginn

            Atheism is not based on moral relativism, but it does affirm that that is no objective morality. In order for there to be an objective morality, there must be an agreed upon standard by which one can measure whether something is moral or immoral. If you eliminate the absolute lawgiver, then you are only left with preferences and behaviors which are permitted. Dostoevsky was right when he wrote that “Without God, all things are permissible.”

            I say all this as an atheist (and former Christian) myself.

          • linford86

            That’s false. In order for a fact to exist, there does not need to be someone judge that the fact is the case. It just is, regardless of whether we determine it to be so or not. Therefore, having universally agreed upon standards by which humans can judge x to be moral or not is irrelevant; there still could be a moral fact without anyone to judge it as such.

            I would actually argue that you need to do a little more work on finding out about secular metaethics.

            I say all this as an atheist myself.

          • ajginn

            Morals != facts. It is not factual to say that murder is immoral. The vast majority of mankind would agree that is is, but that does not make it factual.

          • linford86

            Well, I don’t know that there aren’t moral facts. Under a wide variety of metaethical views, there are moral facts. I don’t know which metaethical view (if any) is true, so I don’t have an opinion on the matter.

          • ajginn

            I think we’ll just agree to disagree on this. 😉

  • Speaking of “obstacles,” Randal Rauser is doing a series, “Why They Don’t Believe.” Two entries so far.

  • Thorn

    I was going to comment on the Obstacles post, but don’t feel I can add anything of value to it. On the question of keeping me on the path, the biggest thing for me is to be reminded that Christ is Christ, His followers aren’t.

  • Susan Gerard

    what keeps me on the path: 1) God in my life – not coincidence, not general grace – but God, in concrete, personal ways that defy all reason. I would very carefully hazard to say I’ve witnessed several miracles. 2) Science. In general, through Nature, and in particular, when I was practicing molecular biology, the complexity of life on a molecular level was so stunningly beautiful that I could only understand it as the work of an intelligent author. That carried over into medicine. 3) Grace. Lots of it. 4) Scripture and apologetics. Most of the story makes sense, and parts of it in particular were made clear through miracle. 5) The body of believers. As imperfect as it is, seeing God’s work through their lives and my own.

    • Ann Gingrow Corbett

      Thank you for this, Susan. Very affirming.

      • Susan Gerard

        I’m glad it affirms. (I fear being called crazy)

    • AJ

      wow Susan, you need to write a longer post. That was so refreshing. Please flesh out your 5 points more fully. If its too long for this blog, perhaps you have your own blog. I would visit it in a heartbeat

  • OrthoRocksDude

    Glad there is a second half to this. Very briefly, what keeps me Christian is prayer practiced in the tradition of the Early Church Fathers and the desert fathers. The Jesus Prayer and similar things are very important to me. In addition, the writings of spiritual masters like Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Gregory of Nyssa (currently reading The Life of Moses), St Theophan the Recluse, etc.

    Secondly, my church is a place where I can bring all my doubts openly to anyone and I won’t get shut down. Being Orthodox, my priest doesn’t believe in inerrancy, and accepts evolution. My subdeacon leans strongly toward a type of a qualified universalism in the vein of Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian that escapes the Origenist condemnations. None of my close friends in my church believe in inerrancy and they all human evolution. It’s a safe place to work through my issues and I’m truly blessed to be where I am.

    Secondly, keeping the big picture in mind. I have never had serious reason to question the divinity of Christ, his resurrection, or really any item in the Nicene Creed (although I’ve run into the Virgin Birth a few times, but always came away from it believing). If these things are true, then SOMEHOW, the messiness of the OT must make sense in SOME way. Yes, some of Ezekiel’s prophecies may not have been fulfilled, Adam may have never existed, the conquest accounts may be overblown genocidal accounts trying to show how BA (are we allowed to curse on here?) the Israelites were, Peter may not have written 2 Peter, Paul may not written Ephesians, but in the end, Christ is risen! Christos Anesti! Christos Voskrese! Krestos a uprisin!

    Also, going through GOOD apologetics books has always been helpful. Guys like David Bentley Hart, Richard Swinburne, Bill Craig (despite his belief in inerrancy), John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, Robin Collins and others have all been immensely helpful.

    One recent book that really helped me out was Craig Keener’s “Miracles,” which shows beyond a reasonable doubt how God is still working in miraculous ways today. Amos Yong, who endorsed Pete’s “The Evolution of Adam,” also had high praises for this book.

    Anyways, I’d be interested to see if I am one of only a few people on here that still believe apologetics has a legitimate place today.

    • Anna

      You are so very fortunate in your church! I am trying to understand more about this sort of prayer. I have never enjoyed prayer as it ALWAYS feels like I’m talking to nothing. It’s always been a chore and I hardly ever do it. I have recently been researching centering prayer etc. I wonder if that is the answer to my prayer?

      • OrthoRocksDude

        Anna, the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom might help, as well as some lectures by Kallistos Ware on youtube on prayer. The best thing to do though, would be to check out an Orthodox church. The services are the most beautiful model of prayer you could find. You may run into some fundamentalist Orthodox but for the most part, the ones in the Orthodox Church in America are very welcoming, and aren’t afraid of doubt.

        • Anna

          I live in a small country town in Australia miles and miles from an Orthodox Church. I have recently left a rather fundamentalist church where questions were certainly not welcome unless you came to a certain set of (pat) answers. I am trying out the local Anglican (episcopalian) church where minds and hearts seem a lot more open. I will check out the books. I think you are right about listening. But how can you be sure of what you are hearing?

      • tedseeber

        Also, stop talking, start listening.

    • tedseeber

      Doubt is a requirement of being Catholic, I’m beginning to think. Whether Latin Rite, Orthodox, or Eastern Rite; doubt is a sacred condition on the journey.

  • Michael Pahl

    “mainly because I’m German and it’s what we do”

    Das ist true, ain’t it? I spend half my life giving into these German tendencies (and enjoying it), and the other half trying to fight them off to enjoy ambiguity and mystery. I suppose that half is my English side, all that rain and lukewarm ale.

  • Barbi Kathleen Wright

    I emailed you my story (….the obstacles…but as I read the comments, there are no easy answers. For me it is only childlike faith. That He is my Father, and although I don’t understand, I trust for some reason. I guess I know I need Him, and there is no where else to go! Maybe too simplistic, as I read all the responses….but after the life I have had, I have had to have something to cling to. And He has made Himself real…there are real obstacles still, but He is the only hope I have had, and I am still here….

  • Anna

    I still believe because I cannot imagine how this vast universe could exist without purpose. There must be a god. And something about Jesus draws me to him, but it’s not really rational. There just isn’t anyone like him. Or maybe I haven’t been brave enough to read the dissenting books about him. I need my faith, although its not the same faith as 12 months ago, and it’s always changing, but I like that because I feel that somehow in all this doubt and reevaluation, I am getting closer to… Something?

    • tedseeber

      For an alternate search that led me back to Christ, I’d suggest starting with Godel, Escher, and Bach: The eternal golden braid. It introduced me to the sixth patriarch of Zen Buddhism, which curiously, led me to a love of paradox and a much deeper understanding of the parables of Christ.

  • Ann Gingrow Corbett

    “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will
    find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there
    remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for
    this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To
    that extent I am, in fact, religious.” ~Albert Einstein

    Clearly Einstein wasn’t a Christian–Deist, perhaps?–but this quote articulates how I feel about God. Even though I am now a lapsed Catholic, my understanding of the “intangible and inexplicable” works within the Christian framework.

  • Tiffani Fussner Cappello

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I think this was a great question to pose. I enjoyed reading the challenges other folks face, as well as commenting on my own.

  • Marshall

    The opportunity to make a practice of standing before the Lord is the main thing and what got me into it. Through study and contemplation, I find that it gives me a framework to understand my life, my experience, in ways that were not available otherwise. Rather to my surprise.

  • Bryan

    It is too difficult for me to believe that at the end of this life nothing awaits us. There are too many NDE experiences that offer this hope. Even if the God of the Judeo-Christian worldview is simply a construct, it does not negate the existence of “A” God.

    It is easy to “deconstruct” the problems of inerrancy, foundationalism, Biblical literalism, etc. but it is much more difficult to “construct” a theology which offers hope. In the end, many of the contributors here have been knee-deep in deconstruction and with everything taken apart and left in shambles, can’t we construct a hopeful way forward? Cold hard nihilism just doesn’t suit me.

    • tedseeber

      I find it very interesting how Tibetan Buddhism lines up with Catholic Theology on this subject- and it makes me wonder if the Dali Lama has ever bothered to read his own scriptures, especially The Book of the Dead.

  • Percival

    Recently overheard: “What if unbelief is simply a failure of imagination.”

    When I try to explain my faith, sometimes the story falls flat and it’s like one of those you-had-to-be-there stories. I hear the echo of Peter, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of life.”

  • Mark

    The way that we talk theologically must change to reflect an increasingly complex and refined worldview. Historically speaking, myth has been the preferred method of expressing the inexpressible. Today, science allows for a more refined understanding of the universe, and the laws that apparently govern it. The result being, that history and science have increasingly replaced myth, although myth making and storytelling are still very powerful tools, in constant use, even today; films, books,television, being prime examples. This is how we as a species make sense of it all. That the Hebrews did this should be surprising to no one.

    I understand that this a problem for biblical literalists. And,there is great comfort in “Knowing”. Faith, by comparison, simply isn’t concrete enough, at least for some. Faith, however, is the fundamental language of the bible. It’s also the language of relationship. Faith, more accurately means trust.

    Is the God of the bible a construct? I believe the answer is “Yes”! That doesn’t mean that God isn’t real, only that, by necessity, we must project something like an anthropomorphic vision of God as an expression of ourselves. After all, isn’t this what all children do? They look to their parents as guides in developing character, morality and in learning how to relate to one another. Should we expect God to do otherwise?

    For Jesus, the most important questions regarding Israel’s Law are always centered on relationship. Relationship is how we relate to God, and ultimately, how we relate to one another, excluding no one, not even our enemies.

    Jesus’ vision of God as Father is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Bible idea and is remarkably powerful. It gives us wonderful way of understanding who we are and where we fit in the story of creation. From that point of view, historical literalism
    seems far too small in its scope. One must use imagination, rooted in real experience to tell such a story. There’s every indication that the Hebrews did exactly that.

    This instinct for God and relationship seems to be inherent—and is shaped by environment, by family, friends and political and social institutions. All of which are a part of the biblical story.

    More importantly, the notion of moral accountability comes from the top down, and is incumbent on all living things, particularly humans. We are observably and radically different than the rest of material creation, at least the part we can see. To argue that we carry the code of God in our DNA, expressed as knowledge, wisdom, love, forgiveness, justice and mercy seems a completely accurate and appropriate metaphor.

    The bible could reasonably be viewed as the historical account of how one small group evolved a vision of God that became the God of much of the world. A fantastic, but true story. Against absolutely staggering odds, mind you. China, with more than a billion people, will become an increasing part of that story in the twenty first century.

    This brings me to what I believe to be the core question. Does the bible represent actual history? Absolutely! It is history the way an ancient Middle
    Eastern people would, and did, write it. Not the way that post enlightenment people would. And therein is the key.

    It will only be a matter of time before a new chapter is added to the “Great Book”. These discussions are, I believe, a part of that emerging story—and the role of faith or trust cannot be overstated.