Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Pandora’s Box

The other day I started thinking about what would have happened if I had stopped looking critically at Christianity after reading those articles that first made me question the Bible’s legitimacy. What if I had turned from them and decided to never look at anything else that might cause me to doubt my faith? If I had, I’m sure I’d still be a Christian today.

But would that really be good enough? Obviously, the things my faith were built upon weren’t solid enough to withstand scrutiny. So if I had maintained faith only by refusing to investigate my reasons, would that kind of faith be pleasing to God? I think that’s a question believers should consider. If that level of faith is good enough, we’re essentially saying, “oh, if only you hadn’t taken your faith so seriously!” But that seems crazy.

The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith. Of course, that’s not how it worked out for me. If God’s real and Christianity’s true, then I think this view makes the most sense. However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question. I’ve had several tell me that they won’t read anything an atheist has written, or don’t want me to point out the passages that I found problematic because they don’t want to lose their faith. How does that make sense? If their faith is worth keeping — if it’s true — then further investigation should only support their beliefs, not call them into question.

I’m not trying to pick on Christians here, we can all be guilty of this from time to time. It’s essentially an extreme case of confirmation bias — one in which we realize we’re being biased and we even think of it as a good thing. In fact, it’s extremely dangerous, and if we feel ourselves thinking along those lines, it should be a red flag. What’s wrong with our current position if we have to hide from information in order to keep it?

And in the end, I’m glad I didn’t stop looking. The journey out wasn’t easy, but I feel like things make so much more sense with my current worldview. Even if I’m still wrong, I’m closer to the truth than I was before, because I’ve learned new information and corrected some past misunderstandings. That can only be a good thing.

329 thoughts on “Pandora’s Box”

  1. Nate, I was thinking about this the other day and posted this on Nan’s Blog. Thought it might bare repeating here. This is an analogy to Fowler’s Steps of Faith given by author Gretta Vosper in her book , “Amen”. I may have posted this on your site long ago.

    If you still believe Santa is going to drop down your chimney and bring you presents, you’re in Stage Three. ( Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.)

    If you have found out there is no Santa and you’re still mad at your parents for lying to you, you’re in Stage Four. (As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.)

    If you have started playing Santa for your children, you’re in Stage Five. (The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.)

    If you’ve set up a national charity through which parents are able to access gifts and necessities for their children, called it Santa’s Workshop, and donated your income to it, you’re in Stage Six. (The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.)

    Like

  2. That’s cool Ken, thanks for posting it. You know, the Santa analogy works so well when talking about religion. I kind of get why some people don’t like it, but it’s just such a perfect comparison.

    Like

  3. I can understand when someone might say “I feel like I’ve read all I can from that point of view and it just doesn’t make sense to me so I don’t want to waste any more time with it.” But you are right it seems there are some people who don’t want to read things which oppose their beliefs because they want to remain safe in their current beliefs. I wish more of us would be brave to venture out which would help us all understand reality better.

    Like

  4. Thanks Howie, and I completely agree. I do think it’s okay to finally stop looking at a particular line of argument once you’ve learned all you can from it. I just don’t really understand the people who run from it before they even know anything about it. It’s unfortunate.

    Like

  5. I think they run from it because it’s not safe for them. Belief for many is about being safe and about being saved.

    Thanks to KC up there I’m trying to figure out what stage I’m at. Not sure if I want to know anything about it. Might better run from it. 😉

    Like

  6. I think you’re right Zoe, but that’s one of the things that never made sense to me. It’s obviously a false sense of security, and the fact that they don’t want to learn more because it might change their mind shows that they sort of know it’s a false sense of security. If they really think that the stakes are as high as eternity, I don’t know why they decide to close themselves off from information. Maybe this is just one of those areas in which people are sometimes wired differently.

    Like

  7. Hi Nate, interesting thoughts. I tend to think the same as you about being open to new information and truths, though obviously I came to the opposite conclusion about christianity. CS Lewis was the same, famously saying that he didn’t expect anyone to believe in Jesus if they thought the evidence indicated otherwise, and less famously saying that if God and truth seemed to be diverging, we should follow truth – for he believed we would find that was where God was all along.

    But I think we have to recognise that people choose their beliefs in many different ways, and “our way” doesn’t always work for others. In America you may associate “unthinking” belief with christianity, but in a secular country like Australia, the “unthinking” default is more likely to be a vaguely hedonistic agnosticism.

    We may think it would be better if they chose more evidentially like we try to, but it wouldn’t necessarily be better for them. For example, studies show that many people make better decisions (where they can be factually checked later) intuitively than they make analytically.

    So for some people, who have chosen more intuitively and believe they have been guided by the Holy Spirit (a claim that you and I can neither confirm nor refute), it may be quite right not to venture into the reading and thinking that you or I have done. It’s not my way, or yours, but people are very diverse.

    Best wishes and happy holiday/Christmas/New year/whatever to you!

    Like

  8. Thanks unkleE! I appreciate the comment. I’m not surprised that we tend to see this one similarly.

    You make an excellent point about the possible motivation / line of thinking that might cause some people to avoid information that makes them uncomfortable. And thanks for sharing that Lewis quote — I don’t think it’s one I’ve run across before, but I like it.

    And happy holidays/Merry Christmas to you too! 🙂

    Like

  9. Thanks lagniappe! After glancing through your blog for a second, I’m a little surprised you liked my post, but I appreciate it just the same! 🙂

    Like

  10. maybe the very religious spend so much time trying to have a “personal relationship” with a being that they only read about, never mind that they dont really know if it’s real or not, that the religion becomes part of them.

    And I mean that they want so badly to know jesus and god and for jesus and god to know them, they unconsciously create much of these beings with their own heads, thereby making their personal jesus and god hybrids between their own minds and the bible.

    i’m not saying this is it, or that this is even part of it, i’m just positing this thought as I try to understand why people close their eyes, ears and minds off to things like this.

    and I guess they also have lines in the sand which they cannot cross, and losing faith is one of them. I think in their minds their not avoiding information as much as they are contending for their faith in way, fighting every way they know how to preserving it.

    In a way it’s sad, because they don’t realize that such efforts could keep anyone from leaving or reconsidering anything, to include Muslims, atheists, gang members as well as members of ISIL.

    I’m just rambling today, sorry.

    Like

  11. Nah, William, I get what you’re saying, and I think it’s a great point. The first time I heard someone talk about the problem of evil and say if God causes natural disasters, then he’s a bastard, I was completely shocked. I couldn’t believe someone would say such a thing — not just because it was such a strong statement, but that they had the audacity to judge God. But when you stop to think about it, they’re absolutely right. I just didn’t realize it was okay to think about God and religion in that way. And maybe that’s what a lot of believers are dealing with.

    As several of us have said now, this is not just a problem believers contend with; it’s something we all face. But I think believers in particular probably struggle with whether or not it’s okay to ask certain questions, and non-believers don’t really deal with that.

    You’re also right that having certain questions that are unaskable means that even when you have the wrong beliefs, you probably won’t find your way past them. And so anyone who has this mindset, even if they happen to hold the correct beliefs, aren’t holding them for the right reasons. I thought about this when I was a Christian just beginning to struggle with doubt. I believed that only Christians could be saved, but I was also troubled about those Christians who seemed to be Christians for the wrong reasons. Could they still be saved if they wound up with the correct belief set by accident? I didn’t see how they could, which meant the actual number of saved was even much smaller than I had already thought it was. It was pretty depressing at the time.

    Like

  12. The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith.

    I thought that was a great statement, especially coupled with this one:

    However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question.

    I would change the term “evidence” to “differing viewpoints” and that could be many conversations I’ve had with fellow believers.

    I don’t have it all figured out. I’m comfortable with the fact that I don’t have it all figured out. And it just bugs the crap out of me to try and hold a conversation with a believer who feels they do.

    IMHO, that’s not the way faith and belief, most especially Judaism and Christianity, is supposed to be. Jesus was a rabbi. Rabbis use rabbinical teaching as their primary tool in deepening the faith of their ‘disciples’. Go back and read your NT. How many questions did Jesus really answer? Or, did he merely answer these questions with other questions? We’re never supposed to stop asking questions. Doubting. Testing. Deepening our faith. Some will grow stronger, as Nate points out. Some will grow away, as Nate, and others on this site, are proof. In a way, that too is stronger. I understand where he’s come from and how he got to where he is today. As a believer, I may not agree with his conclusions, but I understand how he arrived at them. Questions. Doubting. Testing. Growing.

    I’ve done plenty of the same thing, but have come out stronger within my faith. Oddly, I think he understands that about me, too 

    Like

  13. I can relate.

    On the god/bastard thing, I get that too. It once flew right overhead that when people said such things that they weren’t really even calling god names, but pointing out the absurdity of the bible’s claims, that a perfect and loving being is exactly opposite of what much of the bible claims he did.

    who looks at ISIL and thinks they’re diligent servants of god? no intelligent or sane person, yet they are doing what the bible says god told the israelites to do in canaan.

    i feel like i’m rambling again…

    Like

  14. kent, I’ve wondered before if jesus was really the son of god, maybe he wanted people to bear fruit by searching and striving for truth, and they were the saved ones, not the ones who sat back and thought, “i’ll let jesus do it all for me.”

    “No one comes to the father except by me.” maybe he wasnt referring to faith in him, but that he opened the door to the fruitful whether they realized it or not.

    “if and buts,” I know… but really all a person can do is their best. It could be that their best isnt good enough, i suppose. many things are that way. maybe some people dont have to work as hard to believe in jesus, and maybe god’s cool with that.

    but if god wants workers and effort, why punish a sincere person who worked as hard as they could (if their best didnt bring them to jesus) and reward lazier person (as long as their apathy kept them in jesus)?

    I agree, though, stagnation is the problem and one must keep searching, fighting and striving forward. I’ve changed my mind before and likely will again. To those who believe they know all they need to know, you’re no longer looking and are justifying lazy stagnation – that is not to be commended and could be the pinnacle of arrogance as you’re stating that your understanding and your reasoning and your beliefs are perfect and no longer need education.

    Like

  15. Kent, I’ve seen you express many times on this blog a generous and respectful view toward Nate (as well as others who don’t believe). And as you said you don’t have to agree with the other person to have this kind of attitude. I think we could all learn from that. Maybe blog conversations would go a lot better if we had your kind of perspective toward people who see things differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. home to humanity, bridge builder for diversity.

    Hey, if I ever get tired of the Thomas Jefferson tagline, this one would be great! 😉

    Thanks for the comment, Kent! Yeah, I’ve found that the important thing is to just keep asking questions and keep searching and hold onto the humility of recognizing we could be (and likely are) wrong. That even falls in line with what Jesus says in Matthew 7 (the searching part). I think it’s a great mantra to live by, and I have nothing but respect for fellow truth-seekers, no matter what position they end up with. That’s why I like interacting so much with guys like you, Josh, Ryan, and unkleE (just to name the Christians) — we may disagree on a number of things, but we all value the quest for truth, and we value one another.

    Like

  17. I totally agree that, as a general rule, Christians simply don’t want to consider differing opinions (I like that, Kent!) as this might call their beliefs into question. It’s much more “comfortable” to just believe and live by what they’ve been taught in church and Sunday School.

    I know this is the case with my family. They’re not uncompromising believers, but they strongly believe God is real and Jesus is their savior. And since they know I no longer feel this way, any discussion on faith and/or religion is verboten. I’m sure it’s because it makes them uncomfortable … for the very reasons you have mentioned.

    But, like you, I have to ask why? As I quoted at the beginning of my book: If you’re going to put all your faith into something, you need to thoroughly examine it to make sure your faith is justified.

    I think confirmation bias definitely sums it up.

    Like

  18. In response to Nate: I agree, a false sense of security and they know it but it’s better than no security at all. It’s the lesser of the two evils, so-to-speak.

    Like

  19. “If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood, or persuaded of afterward, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it…the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”
    — William Kingdon Clifford —

    Like

  20. “Jesus was a rabbi. Rabbis use rabbinical teaching as their primary tool in deepening the faith of their ‘disciples’. Go back and read your NT. How many questions did Jesus really answer? Or, did he merely answer these questions with other questions? We’re never supposed to stop asking questions. Doubting. Testing. “

    I strongly agree with this Kent. In the old musical Godspell, Jesus is doing a soft shoe routine with one of his disciples, and asks (taken from Matthew’s gospel) “How can a man remove a speck of sawdust from his brother’s eye when all the time there’s this great plank in his own?”

    The disciple replies that he doesn’t know, and Jesus replies: “You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye and then you can see more clear to take the sawdust out of your brother’s eye.” ” ‘ere, ‘ang about,” the disciple replies, “that wasn’t an answer to the question!”

    Jesus replies: “Did I promise an answer to the question?” and the song and dance goes on. I always thought that saying (and that musical) got Jesus more right than many christians do today.

    Like

  21. I think a bunch of you have nailed it. It’s all about mental comfort and not wanting to go through the agonizing mental effort of having our beliefs questioned. It also goes both ways. Someone could be an atheist all their lives and never want to read anything about religions because they find it uncomfortable.

    Nate, you probably would have been much more comfortable if you had stayed away from the tough questions. You would have remained in that church you were in and never would have been shunned by your family and friends. I’m sure you’ve played that scenario out in your mind many times. But mental comfort is not what most of us are after.

    People say that ignorance is bliss and I sometimes wonder if they’re right. Then I realize that some of us are just not wired that way. We have to dig deeper and find out as much as we can. The fact that it may be uncomfortable is not a deterrent for us – it is a challenge that we dare ourselves to take.

    Like

  22. I think that one thing many of us have in common is that when we began to have questions we didn’t assume it was because God didn’t exist or that the Bible was wrong. I think each of us in our own way probably tried to turn and twist and contort what we knew in some way to fit our beliefs. A common misconception is that we just set out to prove God doesn’t exist. The questions I started with should have been met with evidence to confirm what I ha believed all along. The opposite thing happened. I had no idea I was opening Pandora’s Box until she was out and I was consumed.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s