For the doubting Christian

For the doubting Christian December 2, 2013

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Received the letter below. My answers to it in lovely bracketed blue.

Hey there. I’ve been a Christian for a while. I always seem to have questions about it. What does it mean to truly believe in God, besides loving and treating others the way you want to be loved and treated? What is the main purpose of believing in God? Can someone have a fulfilling life without God? Are there other paths to Heaven? Will someone go to hell for not believing in an afterlife? How can we be sure of God? I wake up some days feeling too anxious to see God. My prayers consist of “I don’t know, I don’t know.” At 18, am I too young and immature to understand God?

Wow. You do have questions.

So now I’ll do that thing where I’ll go through your letter, and insert my responses to each of its parts in lovely bracketed blue. So here we go:

What does it mean to truly believe in God, besides loving and treating others the way you want to be loved and treated? [Believing in God means … well, believing there is some eternal, intentional divine being who created and sustains all that is. (And you can live the Golden Rule without believing in a God—just as you can believe in a God and still be a cretin. Morality is hardly dependent upon theology.)]

What is the main purpose of believing in God? [“Purpose” is a tricky word to use just there. It implies utilitarianism: it posits believing in God as a means, rather than as end unto itself. If I believe in God as a means to get or become something, then my belief is certain to be a weak and flimsy thing—because then I’ve made it all about me. Don’t think in terms of a purpose for believing in God. Believe in God, or don’t, based on your own internal assessment of the evidential proof either way.]

Can someone have a fulfilling life without God? [Yes, of course they can. But, again, that’s a diverting question, and so not useful to you. The only question that does, or should, concern you is whether or not you can have a fulfilling life without God. That’s your money question.]

Are there other paths to Heaven? [I have no idea. I don’t even know if there is a heaven—or what it’s like if there is. Neither does anyone else in the world. I personally believe in the afterlife, which I expect to be beautiful and instructive and ridiculously awesome. But in reality I don’t know jack about it—and, again (since this can’t be emphasized enough) neither does anyone else. I am confident, however, that if there is a heaven, being a Christian will not be a prerequisite for entry.

About that I made the video below, which you might find helpful:

 

Will someone go to hell for not believing in an afterlife? [I have a group called Unfundamentlist Christians, for which I wrote the fourteen tenets. The eighth UC tenet, below, expresses my belief about this matter.]

There is no support in the Bible for the morally repugnant idea that hell is an actual place to which God sentences people to spend eternity in mortal agony.

So that would be a “no.”

How can we be sure of God? [Not to be Johnny One-Point here, but what you mean by that question is how can you be sure of God. And I can’t answer that for you. No one can. I think it’s safe to say, however, that if there is a God, and you sincerely ask God to make him/herself known to your heart, soul and mind, you will get back information that will go a long way toward your achieving the kind of understanding you’re after. Even if you hear back nothing, that’s something.]

I wake up some days feeling too anxious to see God. [We all do. Figure out what’s making you anxious (and trust that something is: anxiety always has a very specific cause, as difficult as it can sometimes be to track it back to its source), and take whatever steps are necessary to relieve yourself of that anxiety. Once you’ve cleared that fog God will again be visible to you.]

My prayers consist of “I don’t know, I don’t know.” [Instead of praying that, try sitting quietly, closing your eyes, breathing deeply and evenly, and simply listening to whatever it is that God might be trying to tell you. Spend a minimum of five minutes doing that. Do it every day for a week. Things will change for you, I promise.]

At 18, am I too young and immature to understand God? [Everyone’s too young and immature to understand God. It’s not about our “understanding” God. It’s about our allowing God to help us understand ourselves. (Tweet that.) ]

All right. Cool. Thanks for writing. Don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any more questions.


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