“It only strengthens my faith”

There is a slightly irritating genre of religious writing in which a faithful person takes a superficial look at some infidel literature and emerges loudly proclaiming that the experience strengthened their faith. Michael Coren’s “Their Disbelief Is My Strength,” for example. Indeed, a particularly smug and clueless example.

There’s nothing wrong with the basic idea. If you take a serious look at arguments opposed to your own convictions, work through them, and find out why they are unpersuasive, your original views should damn well end up being strengthened. But the popular religious “it only strengthens my faith” theme doesn’t seem to be about intellectual issues at all. My impression is that of pious people going into their task with the determination that the whole thing is going to be a faith-strengthening exercise. The stronger the challenge they face, in fact, the greater the tooth-gritting required to reaffirm the faith. And hence the greater virtue. The outcome (reinvigorated faith) is never in doubt; the object is just to give faith a good workout.

I’d be tempted so say that people are strange, but this sort of faith-based behavior seems to be normal. I have to keep reminding myself that doubt and nonbelief are the strange behaviors for humans.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17047791198702983998 bpabbott

    Taner wrote: “I’d be tempted so say that people are strange, but this sort of faith-based behavior seems to be normal.”

    Good point. It does appear (to me) that those who are willing to question long held cultural indoctrinations fall outside the norm.

    This if further complicated by often misplaced and overuse of “political correctness”, which stigmatizes the questioning and discussion of such things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08048394765796741834 Rocketstar

    great point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    Coren’s reference to “the banality of atheism” seems to me to be saying–I read these books, and they didn’t make me *feel* like my religious experiences are any less valid. There’s no engagement of rational argument, just a feeling but unthinking rejection.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    “There’s nothing wrong with the basic idea. If you take a serious look at arguments opposed to your own convictions, work through them, and find out why they are unpersuasive, your original views should damn well end up being strengthened.”

    And it looks more or less like this is what Michael Coren is trying to relate. He does deal with the objections his faith: Why doesn’t He make Himself more obvious? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is evil committed in the name of religion? And he does come up with reasons why he finds them unpersuasive. Now whether those are good reasons is a whole other story, but he seems to do more than just grit his teeth.

    Maybe this says a thing or two about how good atheists have been at disseminating the problems with Coren’s answers

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11967707883565162538 cipher

    I wouldn’t even be as generous to him as you are all being. He begins by saying “The more I dealt with all this, the more I realized that the very belief being attacked was absolutely and abundantly true. More than this, the reason it was under attack in the first place was precisely because it was true.” Right. Because we’re all completely depraved and we automatically attack the truth whenever we see it.

    Then he goes on to say, “God makes himself just sufficiently evident to allow us freedom. If He were easy to find, we’d all believe and thus have no real choice.” This is the Christian’s ultimate rationalization and refuge – free will. A concept most of them understand poorly and are ill-equipped to defend becomes their excuse for everything. If I could outlaw just one thing that they say, this would be it.

    And they all seem to think that an obscure middle-aged English professor, who was a mediocre apologist at best, had the answers to any objection any skeptic or non-believer could ever raise.

    He ends by calling us “God-haters”. Of course. Anyone who disagrees with him, by definition, hates God.

    There’s certainly nothing new here, just the same tired old Christian apologetics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    cipher: “There’s certainly nothing new here, just the same tired old Christian apologetics.”

    Oh, I certainly agree with that. The thing is, he actually seems to think that the Christian apologetics are good answers to atheists’ objections.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11967707883565162538 cipher

    I know. They always think that, don’t they?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09258076638127927788 JD Walters

    This may be the case with some people, but certainly not for all. When I started reading the skeptical literature in philosophy of religion and biblical studies (including Taner Edis’ book, “The Ghost in the Universe”) I really thought for a while that the best arguments were on the skeptics side and that I would lose my faith. But I came away genuinely convinced in the end that Christian scholars had produced more than adequate responses. I still think that atheists produce some good arguments and I am more than willing to engage with them. But this kind of psychologizing can go both ways, you know. I think many atheists I’ve met are guilty of exactly the same thing, simply skimming the theistic literature in philosophy of religion, etc. and coming away thinking that those theists are a bunch of idiots or ‘unwilling to face the truth’.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485509846775012081 Hari Seldon

    Several comments:

    With respect to the “it only strengthens my faith” theme, the suspicious bit is that they have the need to assert it again and again.

    Christians should promote atheism, after all, it only helps to strenghten their faith.

    The fact that Corens arguments are so muddled makes his faith statement laughable. It seems that lack of clear evidence for God guarantees our free choice. But if we care, he says, we will find the evidence … and lose our freedom, it seems. The actual issue is not whether there is evidence for God, but whether you want to follow such a God, or not, once you are pretty certain that He exists. THAT is your free choice.

    However, God Himself does not give a damn about free choice. After all, this alleged being has set up an eternal hell for those who choose not to follow Him. So much for free choice.

    I’d be more impressed about the free choice argument, if there was no eternal reward or punishment, if believers could follow God for its own sake. “Hey, there is a God, but you will not get anything out of this”.

    I guess that social pressure for christian belief must also be fatal for our free choice. No matter, the main thrust of the christian fellows is not loving their neighbours, but to destroy this state of freedom—enhancing faith by converting everybody to their particular religion, by thoroughly indoctrinating their children, by funding political parties akin to their cause, and so on and so forth. So much for free choice.

    Corens arguments are incredibly silly and superficial, and yet here he comes with the “thanks to atheists for strenghthening my faith”. It makes me puke.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11967707883565162538 cipher

    I’d be more impressed about the free choice argument, if there was no eternal reward or punishment, if believers could follow God for its own sake. “Hey, there is a God, but you will not get anything out of this”.

    I agree wholeheartedly – and they seem never to see this. They’re obsessed with the idea of God’s “sovereignty”. When confronted with non-belief, their ultimate rationalization is always, “You don’t want to be held accountable.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09258076638127927788 JD Walters

    Are you guys even human?

    When was the last time any of you entered into a relationship which you didn’t get anything out of, but stayed in it just because the other existed?

    Choices have to have consequences if they are to be meaningful, and those consequences can be good for you or bad for you. That’s life. Deal with it.

    And I thought theists were the ones who wanted everything to be convenient and turn a blind eye to the ‘real’ world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11967707883565162538 cipher

    Choices have to have consequences if they are to be meaningful,

    Firstly, I would disagree with this. That’s Christian baggage. Who are you to define what’s “meaningful”?

    Secondly, even if you are correct – consequences in human relationships don’t involve eternal damnation. “Deal with it”? Please.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485509846775012081 Hari Seldon

    “When was the last time any of you entered into a relationship which you didn’t get anything out of, but stayed in it just because the other existed?”

    Please, read what I said (and what Corens wrote). I meant that eternal punishment for those who reject God does not guarantee free choice about following God or not.

    I’m astonished by your answer, though. So, even if you were perfectly certain that God existed, that He loved you, that He wanted you to behave in a particular way, etc. … even so, you couldn’t care less if eternal life was not the price at the end????

    “Choices have to have consequences if they are to be meaningful, and those consequences can be good for you or bad for you. That’s life. Deal with it.”

    Can we stop using cliches, please?

    Ok. Here is your choice: either follow God or not. Consequence: there is nothing for you at the end, but you will have God’s love during this life. Not enough?


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