What is your best reason for being a Christian?
Right now, it’s honestly through Jesus to God. The teachings of Christ resonate to me in a way little else does. When I was 17, my school gave me an Al Franken book as part of a book award where he relates his Rabbi’s words, “Jesus had a lot of good ideas, none of them new.” I don’t think that’s true. I think Jesus’s particularly teachings on self-sacrifice, forgiveness, universal brotherhood, purity of mind as well as obedience to law, et al were uniquely powerful then and still are now. (In some ways, using those words as summary doesn’t do their uniqueness in expression justice–Jesus was selling an active faith, not Eastern asceticism). In addition, even if I don’t understand the mystery fully, there seems to be something right and empathetic about a God who sacrifices as a Father would and experiences all the sufferings and limitation of his own creation, all the way to death and brief descent into Hell. At the least, that’s a God I wish to worship but it’s also a God that rings true. (Of course some of this is cultural context, but there are many Christian understandings of God’s nature that do not ring as true for me, including some by my co-religionists.) I actually think that the Trilemma (crazy, charlatan, or messiah) isn’t unreasonable–provided the Gospels are mostly accurate in presentation, which I think they likely are. Christ is fairly explicit about his nature and place in the context of his moral teachings (I like the “only God can forgive sins committed against someone other than Himself (not least because all sins are against Him” point on Christ.)
In my childhood, my reasoning was a bit different. God seemed to be very directly involved in the lives of my friends and family–apparitions, healings, what have you. While atheists might scoff and say these were merely correlated with, not caused by, prayer and worship, I try to use the analogy of a light switch. Someone tells you that when you flip the light switch, the light will turn on. You do, and it does, you do it a couple more times, and then you feel no need to question. It’s not quite that we’d flip the switch of prayer and we’d have what we needed, but it was close enough that I’ll leave that as the parallel. I moved away from this line of thinking as I left my Christian community and didn’t see such active work in the lives of all–I’m still hesitant to say “extent of faith” matters for prayer efficacy, even though Christ seems to reinforce it–but those memories often draw me back in when I have serious questions.
I think it’s hard to come to the divine abstractly. Obviously, many different beings/things/ideas could be called divine in nature, and it’s hard to lock down without a framework to explore the divine. Roman Catholic Christianity has been a lens that has seemed to clarify.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?
I studied “Jesus myth theory” for a while, which had the potential to seriously shake my faith, but I ended up rejecting it wholesale at 16; I’m happy to engage with anyone on the point, but I think there’s a reason most serious scholarship has rejected it (the competing explanations seem far more implausible). So attacks on the historicity of Christ are up there. Science progressing to the point that basically all the mystery of the world is gone wouldn’t necessarily deconvert me–I’m not really a God of the Gaps kind of guy–but it would certainly crowd out some of the hearkening for the divine.
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?
So everything experiential in my life has been in a Christian, and occasionally uniquely Roman Catholic, context. I haven’t felt inspired to look into everything; Judaism didn’t ring as true to me (which I know is weird, given that it’s our mother religion), and I’ve found something special in the Sacramental aspect of the Catholic Church (though I am still somewhat ecumenical by nature). My limited understandings of Islam, Buddhism and other faiths haven’t drawn me in yet either, though I’d love to learn more. I don’t really know what to do with things like powerful Mormon experiences; they honestly intrigue me, even though I’d have a very hard time accepting the truth claims of that faith given what we know about its historicity.
While I certainly wouldn’t say “no religion is more true than any other” or “we can’t know anything about God,” my worldview doesn’t suggest God could not be working in a supernatural way through the lives of others outside my faith. If I believed that multiple religions evidenced truth, that doesn’t suggest atheism by contradiction to me, even if it made me less Christian (as it would have to, as Christ is fairly exclusive). Going back to the main point though: it would be dishonest for me to say I have systematically investigated the truth claims all of faiths and found them wanting. Like most atheists, I suppose, I find my worldview satisfying enough to explain that which is around me, and the subset of other worldviews I have tested don’t do the same.
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?
Traditional Catholic answer–read the Bible in its historical context and the context of tradition. I don’t stress too much about the “true Bible,” believing divine inspiration, but within the context of normal men who were putting different books together. From all I understand, the Council of Nicaea basically made the right decision on the Gospels it chose, and that’s the most salient part to me. So I periodically study translations, read Christian and non-Christian Biblical scholars re:disputed books/passages (such as the woman whose stoning was halted), but I don’t do so in any systematic way and tend to defer to the authority of my Church due to its centuries of scholarship, unless I think the case evidences egregious error. (I had a nice little run-around the other day looking up KJV-only arguments re: very specific translations in Deuteronomy and Revelation–unsurprisingly, all the translations I looked at had reasonable rationales for their decisions) In terms of moral/theological dilemmas…I think the Bible gives both values to consider and laws to obey, and can be engaged with on both levels–Christ is most complete in giving both with values going beyond obedience and faith. I vacillate between which I emphasize–I think where law is particularly context-dependent, it makes sense to engage on the values level. Generally, the text pushes me toward greater charity and humility.
Voting opens Friday afternoon