What is your best reason for being a Christian?
Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is the most rational belief system. I make the argument in four steps: Christianity is 1) possible, 2) probable, 3) historical, and 4) good.
1) Theism provides a viable explanation for everything. Atheist philosopher Nick Bostrom, in his “computer simulation analogy” (i.e. we are living in a simulation and the simulation engineer is “God”), illustrates how theism can make sense. Even Sam Harris agrees (he doesn’t like it but can’t deny it either). There is nothing intrinsically flawed about theism, therefore it is a possible explanation for everything.
2) Given the other options (any other belief system) Catholicism is the most rational and therefore most probable. Most religions do not even attempt rationality, they just call for faith. Catholicism does not, it affirms rationality, and has done so since the beginning, as in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the logos” – the logic. God is reason, we live in a rational universe, and we have reason too. Atheistic materialism on the other hand makes life, mind, and reasoning incomprehensible (how can matter do any of those things?); which knocks out its own feet. Agnosticism is a possibility, but given the better explanation of Catholicism, the lesser answer of ignorance is unnecessary.
3) Historical: there is evidence that the Gospel accounts are true, and in particular that the apostles really existed and acted and left behind institutions (many of which still exist). If the apostles were real then Christ was most likely real too.
4) In the absence of incontrovertible proof one way or the other, “beneficial” evidence (the practical effects of the beliefs, not the rationality of them) can be taken into account. Christianity has worked very well at producing great works of art, science, culture, and most of all saints. The proof of an ethics is in how it is lived, and the lives of the saints prove Christian ethics works. These beneficial reasons do not prove the beliefs behind them, but in the absence of better evidence they present an argument in favor of adoption of those beliefs, at least insofar as we want to lead good lives.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?
The incontrovertible discovery of Jesus’s bones. The bones would have to be labeled as such and in such a way that a reasonable person could not doubt the reality of them. The “Jesus Family Tomb” TV show did not work because it relied on a lot of crackpot research and sensationalism. But if that project had been done right it could haven given me pause. And if their evidence had been much stronger it could have deconverted me.
The larger-scale problem would be that of the historicity of Jesus. Jesus has to be real and he has to be miraculous or Christianity is a bad joke, as Paul notes in his letters: without Christ and his resurrection we are the most pitiable of all peoples.
As a side note, a very strong personal experience that another faith was true might be able to convert me to that faith, if it were sufficiently powerful, and otherwise in accord with reason and so on. However, because atheism is in essence a nullity I see no way that it could positively create a conversion experience for me. What personal experience would lead incontrovertibly to atheism? I can think of none. Atheism works with lacks, not presences.
Why do you believe Christianity has a stronger claim to truth than other religions/On what basis do you reject the truth claims of other traditions and denominations but accept your own?
Of all Christian denominations only Catholicism has any legitimacy; all others are in schism or heresy. God did not leave his flock a book; God left us an institution, because humans work through social institutions. Books are great, but even the founders of our country knew that documents needed to be interpreted and so they created the institution of the Supreme Court. God is at least as smart as the Founding Fathers. Protestantism is also hopelessly genealogically flawed, being started by a drug-addled megalomaniac (Martin Luther) and a desperately corrupt king (Henry VIII) among others.
As for other religions I think they are poor explanatory theories for reality. This is based on “theory selection criteria” borrowed from philosophy of science. A good theory has: internal logical coherence, correspondence to truth known by other means, good consequences of belief (pragmatic effects or fruitfulness), and comprehensiveness. Most small religions, such as tribal mythologies fail on all counts. Of the large-scale religions like those of the East and West, only Catholic Christianity has made a concerted effort to be internally coherent, correspond to reality, and be comprehensive and fruitful. Neither Islam nor Protestantism hold reason in as high regard. And in Eastern religions rationalism is not really a concern.
Lastly I’d point out that despite many myths to the contrary, science is very clearly the offspring of monotheism, and Catholicism in particular. Wikipedia provides a good start. This genealogical connection helps show compatibility of the two systems.
How do you read the Bible? Do you study the history of its translations? How do you decide which translations/versions/books are the true Bible? How does it guide you if you have a moral or theological dilemma?
This question seems more directed at Protestants. To a Catholic it seems weird. Since I’m Catholic I basically leave it up to the Church to know all about the Bible. Thousands of people and 2000 years of reflection beat my few years on Earth. I’d be pretty presumptuous to think I was anywhere near as good at Biblical interpretation as a heap of minds that big.
The history of the Bible’s translations seems irrelevant to me. We still have the original language versions of it, so it’s not like an interested person couldn’t just learn the languages and get it in the original.
For moral/theological guidance I go through the Church again. What’s the point of re-inventing the wheel? The work has already been done. That said, one can look to the Bible in several ways for moral guidance: as a rule book, as a source of cases to analogize to current problems, or as a source of virtues and vices based on what good and bad lives look like. All three are fine ways of looking at the Bible, and they work together too.
Voting opens Friday afternoon