An odd thing about our times: it is hard to agree with authority, at least if you have a certain personality. Thinking for yourself is good (often), but if you think for yourself and happen to agree with the experts, authority, or those in power, then there is a problem.
A critic can always question motives.
Let’s take the simplest example: children and parents.
When I was a boy, I had excellent parents. They taught me to read, wonder, and love. I have no complaints. At eight, I became a Christian, just as they were Christians.
I wanted to be like my Mom and Dad! I should pause, however, and say I also did not want to just be like my Mom and Dad. They had raised me to love truth. Mom would challenge ideas she thought true just to help me (as a boy) get to the bottom of my reasoning. I recall an entire Saturday where she took on my overly easy support for the Union in the Civil War. She agreed with me, but knew my reasons were shallow.
My parents did not want me just to agree with them: they wanted me to follow the truth. My Dad, now over eighty, has never (so far as I know) told an intentional lie. He would not have wanted me to be a Christian if I did not want to be.
Still, I am sure that at eight, my parents were a big reason I found what I found. Why doubt it? If my parents had money (they didn’t), then my inheriting money would be due to my parents.
As I grew older, I met new mentors, found new loves, and learned new truths.
I had been taught to examine my beliefs and so I kept doing so. As my education continued, I kept testing. Finally, my entire heart wanted to reject Christianity. I hated what it implied for my life and wanted (so far as I can tell) that it be false. The world in which I wished to live, the world of the faculty lounge, was not particularly Christian.
Yet Mom and Dad had said: “Follow the truth.” What if I was leaving Christianity so I could do what I wished and not what I should? On the other hand, what if I was staying to avoid hurting my parents?I had to pause, think hard, and do the best I could.
I recall the desk in the library of the University of Rochester where I realized: Christianity is true or at least I could not see why it was not true. I would have to be Christian. I did not like this conclusion, it was just logical.
Of course, I knew (and loved) people who had come to different conclusions. As a result, I had hoped my mind could be changed, but it was not. I could follow my heart into not-Christianity or my mind into the Faith once delivered to the Apostles.
I did, perhaps, what my parents taught me to do and followed best reason and experience.
An odd thing, and I knew it at the time, was that for the rest of my life some people would say that I chose as I did to “fit in.” Does it matter it made getting a job in the field I love harder? Does it matter that it associated me (in the minds of people I respected) with people that I did not respect?
I don’t know.
It was at that point I realized a truth: our motives are inscrutable. We must follow reason as best we can and not judge the motives of others. If I had rebelled from my parent’s faith, many would call me brave, but that would have been nonsense. The things I love (books, good conversation, ideas, friends) seemed easiest to find outside the Church.
As a result of this experience, I have hesitated ever after to judge motives. Why did my roommate become an atheist? I do not know, but I will not assume it was because he had bad motives. That is facile.
Instead, I engage his ideas.
This much I know: nobody is ever called brave for staying (anywhere), but sometimes staying is harder than leaving. If you have my temperament, this is true. I wish I could have gone, but I am glad I stayed.
Because of course all I really wanted, goodness, truth, and beauty are here. Christianity is hard, my church has martyrs every day, but also is full of civilizational splendor. I read atheist websites and they are endless negative natter while I get to read everything, love all, and see Jesus.
So it goes.