What is your best reason for being a Christian?
Leave it to an atheist to choose a tough question.
There are so many answers I could give here: There’s the grace and mystery and beauty of the Church, and the way it courageously stands against the constantly changing vanities of the world. There’s the humility and compassion of the people who’ve devoted their lives to God’s service, many of them making sacrifices that leave me in awe. There’s the poetic unity of the Bible, which gives powerful testimony to the fingerprints of a single Author behind the scenes.
But if I had to pick the single most compelling reason, I’d choose the one that unites all these lesser reasons: the sense of the Presence of God. There are times when I feel especially close to Him: in the vast solemn spaces of cathedrals, in the stillness of prayer, and especially in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It gives me chills to think that I’m participating in a living tradition that’s still practiced just as it was in the days of the apostles, one where Jesus Christ Himself is present with us and within us.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?
The phrasing of this question assumes that belief is a conscious choice: that I could choose to believe in God in the same way I’d buy a car, comparing the different models and choosing the one with the best combination of price and value. But, as anyone who’s met the true and living God will tell you, it doesn’t work like that. After a personal encounter with the One who’s the source of everything, there’s no room for doubt in my mind. His reality is so awesome and overwhelming that everything else, including my sense of self, dwindles into insignificance. For me to deny Him who gave me everything would be an act so laughably presumptuous that I can’t even conceive of it.
That isn’t to say that we can only approach God through a leap of pure faith. Reason is also a creation of God, and reason confirms the basic truths of revelation: the amazing strangeness of our existence in a chaotic universe that by all rights should never have produced us; the necessity of a first cause; our consciousness of our own imperfection and inadequacy; and the basic longing in all human hearts for something eternal. But while reason points us in the right direction, it also shows us its own limitations by bringing us to the edge of the questions that can’t be answered by reason alone. Reason is the bones of faith, so to speak, but it’s revelation that clothes those bones in flesh and confirms that our hope is not in vain.
I see no reason to think that it’s impossible to receive grace through any religion other than Christianity. God speaks to all people, after all, and it’s reasonable to guess that every culture has gotten at least some glimmerings of who He is. This would explain the moral similarities among the world’s major religions, since they may at least have sipped from the infinite Wellspring of truth. It also explains why the morality of atheists as a whole, since they reject all this, tends to be significantly different from that of theists.
Nevertheless, what draws me to the Church, as I’ve already alluded to, is its unbroken chain of continuity. Ever since the kingdom of ancient Israel, the Church has been manifest in the world in one form or another, a seamless tapestry through human history proclaiming the message of God. Sometimes it’s strayed, as you’d expect of any institution run by sinful humans, but God has always protected it, shepherded it, and brought it back to the right path. The survival of the Church, and its courage and steadfastness even in the face of shifting cultural tides, bolsters my faith that God is working through it and means to use it as His herald to the world.
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?
Through the millennia, God and humanity have been having a dialogue, and I view the Bible as His side of the conversation. God’s message was perfect at the moment of revelation, and I believe its essential truths have been passed on without change. That’s not to say that a scribe might not have made an occasional mistake or a committee of translators might not have made a poor word choice, and it’s certainly not to say that humans haven’t tried to make their own insertions. (Sometimes they’ve even succeeded!) It’s essential that we have experts who can compare ancient manuscripts and read the original languages to find where mistranslations or interpolations have slipped in. In fact, God wants us to: He Himself told us to discern for ourselves what is good. We shouldn’t treat the Bible as a monolith, since that approaches bibliolatry, worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.
But the essential core of the Bible’s message can’t be doubted or denied. At some of the low points in my life, I’ve looked to the Bible for inspiration, and I’ve never failed to find a passage that seemed like it was written just for my situation. The moral issues that trouble the human heart haven’t changed through the ages, and God knows this and wrote the Bible to speak to them.
Voting opens Friday afternoon