Why I am (and am NOT) a Christian

Sep 13, 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve written a classical apologetics article that gives evidence for Christianity so I thought I’d get back into it, but with a little twist. Rather than just present arguments and explain the reasons why I believe Christianity is true, I’ll also explain the reasons that don’t convince me that Christianity is true or don’t bias me in that direction. In other words, I think there are good reasons to believe Christianity is true, but there are also a lot of popular reasons and arguments for Christianity that fail to show Christianity is true.

Please note that while this is a somewhat lengthy article, it is a very short explanation of each point. Entire books could be or have been written on each topic, sometimes even parts of each topic. Hopefully, the formatting allows you to scan for interesting parts and the content challenges you to think more robustly about the reasons for belief and unbelief.

Rejected Arguments

Let me start by explaining the reasons that did not factor into my conversion to Christianity and are not reasons that I remain a Christian. Even though they didn’t/don’t influence me, I still think some of these are good arguments, but for some, I don’t think they are good arguments at all.

  1. Upbringing: I am not a Christian because I grew up as a Christian. For most my life I would have been best described as an anti-theist, atheist, agnostic, or apathetic deist. I had times where I didn’t believe and times when I thought some sort of God existed, but I knew organized religion was stupid and false.
  2. Family & Friends: I am not a Christian because my family and friends were Christians and effectively evangelized me or made me feel loved. My immediate family did not believe and I had some relatives who were pretty self-righteous and I caused me to want nothing to do with Christianity. I never really had any Christian friends growing up, at least not committed ones. At the time of my conversion, the only real Christian I knew was my girlfriend and she didn’t put any pressure on me to convert. My teammates and closest friends were similar to me in that they didn’t really care about religion and if any of them believed, they didn’t act like it.
  3. Comfort: I am not a Christian because it is psychologically or existentially comforting to me. When I converted, I wasn’t afraid of death or in need of an ever-present friend. I was perfectly content with my life and the way it was headed.
  4. Spiritual Experience: I am not a Christian because I had a religious or spiritual experience. Since becoming a Christian, I have not had a religious experience, at least not in the way many people describe theirs, and so this is not something that keeps me in the faith either.
  5. Moral Boundaries: I did not become a Christian because I wanted moral boundaries. I was perfectly content with my moral values which allowed me to pretty much do whatever I wanted as long as it wasn’t illegal, or more precisely, wasn’t a major crime. In fact, I was always a bit rebellious so an external set of moral rules was a barrier to faith for me and something that I didn’t initially accept fully when I did convert.
  6. Ease: I am not a Christian because it makes my life easy. Being a Christian has caused me to give up a lot of comforts in my life so and do a lot of things that create additional work for me with little to no earthly benefit, but I do them because it’s a way to love God and others.
  7. Moral Argument: I am not a Christian because I was persuaded by the moral argument. I do think it’s a valid argument, but I don’t think that the premise “objective moral exist” can be supported without just blindly accepting it. Moreover, I was perfectly comfortable accepting that there is no objective morality so I felt no need to accept this argument.
  8. Ontological Argument: I am not a Christian because of the ontological argument and to this day, I still do not think it’s a sound argument.
  9. Arguments from Consciousness: I don’t remember if this argument played a role in my conversion or not, but I no longer think it’s a sound argument so it is not a factor that keeps me in the faith.
  10. Arguments from Free Will: Same as the argument from consciousness.
  11. Transcendental Arguments: I’ve never been convinced of these arguments and am still not convinced.
  12. Meaning: I am not a Christian because I needed meaning in my life. I had plenty of meaning in my life before I converted. Now that I am a Christian, I have shaped my meaning around Christianity, but I would have no problem changing the meaning of my life if I left the faith.
  13. Purpose: Same as meaning.
  14. Near-Death Experiences: There are some amazing near-death experiences of people seeing and hearing things they shouldn’t have been able to see or hear while they were dead. However, I think there are plausible naturalistic explanations for these, at least the ones I’ve read about. I’m not convinced the near-death experiences are naturalistic or supernatural events. I lean toward natural explanations as a default, but I’m fairly agnostic on them and admittedly haven’t studied them in great depth.
  15. Modern Miracles: Like near-death experiences, there are some amazing stories of modern miracles. When I converted, I don’t remember being aware of any convincing miracles that couldn’t be easily explained naturalistically. I am very skeptical of most miracles claims and think they’re just people being ignorant. Even so, there are a few I’ve come across that I think are actual miracles; however, I don’t really feel the force of them as arguments that keep me in the faith.
  16. Ignorance & Confirmation Bias: Most people just adopt their beliefs about God from their parents and friends with little or no attempts to learn about different religious beliefs, gain knowledge, critically evaluate their beliefs, or avoid confirmation bias. I explicitly tried to do avoid these errors before I converted. I admit that I was still rather ignorant compared to where I am now and what I still don’t know, but I have consistently tried to make sure I am equally critical of Christianity (which is why I reject so many arguments that others accept) and that I take the time to truly understand opposing views before rejecting them (which is why I speak more favorably about their views).
  17. Benefits of Religion: The science of religious belief overwhelmingly shows that religious belief is beneficial. There are some exceptions, as there are with just about everything, but that doesn’t negate all the positives. When I converted, I wasn’t aware of all this research so it didn’t influence me. Now that I’m aware of it and actually study it scientifically, I expect this result if Christianity is true, but at the same time, I think it can be explained naturalistically so it’s not an argument that keeps me in the faith. The one caveat I would add though is that religion does seem uniquely able to satisfy some human needs in ways that politics, sports, and other social clubs cannot. Therefore, I’d argue that even if a person doesn’t believe in God, they should participate in religion (ideally some form of Christianity because it meets a greater range of human needs but I can only support that theoretically at this time, not empirically) and even explicitly try to believe to avoid cognitive dissonance (see below for more on this).
  18. Pascal’s Wager: This argument, if we could even call it that, gets a bad wrap and is often misunderstood. It didn’t influence my conversion and doesn’t keep me in the faith because there is enough to convince me that Christianity is true without it. However, it’s still a valid statistical analysis of the consequences of unbelief, at least if the other arguments put Christianity anywhere in the ballpark of being true. In response to Pascal’s Wager, people often say they can’t make themselves believe, but this sentiment seems inconsistent with the psychological science on self-deception, confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, motivated reasoning, and in extreme cases, Stockholm syndrome. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. People shouldn’t intentionally try to induce some sort of Stockholm syndrome to induce religious belief because they fear hell. What I’m saying is that if you look at the evidence and arguments, yet still remain undecided, then the rational choice is to decide to belief and structure your actions in accordance with belief.
  19. Being a Christian: Obviously, being a Christian did not impact my conversion, but I don’t think it keeps me in the faith either. Seminary was paid for, and even if it wasn’t, it would be a sunk cost, I don’t make much money as an apologist, and I think the Bible calls us to give generously so there are no financial reasons for me to stay committed to Christianity. Going to church, meeting with other believers, studying the Bible and apologetics, prayer, and doing ministry all stake up a lot of time which I could use in more self-serving ways so that doesn’t keep me in the faith. I enjoy my friendships with other believers, but those friendships are no more fulfilling than relationships I’ve had with non-believers. On the other hand, considering my education and experiences, I could probably make more money as an atheist apologist and receive more accolades from a greater number of people if I left the faith. Perhaps there would be some strain on my marriage and other inconveniences, but overall, I think there are more worldly advantages for me if I were to leave the faith, which means the fact that I am a Christian likely doesn’t bias me to remain one.

It may seem odd that I listed and explained all these reasons why I don’t believe, but this is important for a couple reasons. First, this process is an important way to avoid bias, particularly confirmation bias and in-group bias. If a person is unable to show critical thought toward their own group, it’s likely they are ignorant of alternatives or have been blinded by bias. Specifically for me, I have a unique ministry and background. There are only a handful of other apologists with graduate-level training in psychology and as far as I know, none who do research related to the psychology of religion or bias. Because of my research emphasis, other people will likely be more critical of my ministry work and more likely to point out any hints of bias in what I write or say.

Good Arguments

Despite all the arguments for Christianity that I reject, I am a Christian because there are still good arguments for Christianity. I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because bad arguments exist (or because bad Christians exist, but that’s a separate topic). These are the arguments or pieces of evidence that I think successfully show that God exists or Christianity is true.

  1. The universe & its beginning: The universe doesn’t have to exist. There could be nothing instead of something. Obviously, it has to exist for us to be here to think about its existence, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require an explanation. Moreover, the universe could have started to exist and then ceased, but I’ll get into that in the next point. Not only does the universe exist, but it is finite and came into existence. The Kalam cosmological argument says that 1.) everything that begins has a cause, 2.) the universe began to exist, 3) therefore, the universe had a cause. I will admit that I don’t think this is the perfect, irrefutable argument that it’s often presented to be by many apologists, but it’s much better than alternative explanations which typically require the acceptance of an infinite regress of time or causes or they require magic. The Kalam has problems, but an immaterial, uncaused, (relatively) timeless, spaceless cause to the universe seems to be the best explanation, which means atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Latter-Day Saints, Pagan religions, Confucianism, Shintoism, and any other view that requires an actual infinite is almost certainly not true.
  2. Teleological Arguments: These arguments appeal to the design of the universe. I initially accepted them when I converted, became unconvinced, and after I gained a better understanding of the argument and the incredibly improbable odds, then I became convinced again. The conditions of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet all had to be precisely finely tuned and occur at the right time in the history of the universe to support life. Essentially, we won the cosmic lottery, which I doubt anyone would deny, but the probability of all these factors is so small that it might as well be impossible. Imagine every atom in the universe was black and one single atom was white. It would be like randomly choose the one white atom several times in a row. Moreover. the beginning of life and each stage in evolution requires us to win another cosmic lottery that is just as improbable. You would never believe I didn’t cheat if I won the lottery three times in a row by buying a single ticket each time, yet the comic lottery would be liking winning 100 times in a row. An intelligent, powerful Creator seems like a better a much better explanation than luck. Is this God of the gaps? Yes and no. No in the sense that this conclusion is based on inference to the best option in the same way that I can infer my computer was made by a mind even though I didn’t see it get made and it could theoretically have come into existence through natural processes. Moreover, as we learn more about the universe, the more improbable our universe becomes (i.e. the “gap” keeps growing). However, it is God of the gaps in the sense there are gaps in our knowledge regarding the laws of nature and the complexities of life. I don’t see this as a problem because we use the same reasoning process to fill gaps in our knowledge to convict criminals of crimes and posit other scientific theories.
  3. Moral Superiority: This argument is a bit of a different twist than the typical moral argument. If I were to develop a moral system apart from God, I would create a system that gives humans intrinsic values and respects individual rights while also expecting people to sacrifice for others and live virtuously. Atheists have proposed similar moral systems, and they are right for doing so; however, it is only a Judeo/Christian worldview that can give a rational justification for such a system. At some point, atheists are required to stand their moral system on a blind assertion that cannot be supported with reason or evidence but just has to be assumed. On the other hand, other religions can ground morality in theory, but the set of beliefs within these systems are inconsistent and/or conflict with science and reason. Additionally, Christian ethics seem to correspond amazingly well with innate biological and social human tendencies. Just one example is the secular science of sex seems to show that the biblical guidelines on sex lead to the best outcomes for marriage and mental health (not to mention the effects on the spread of diseases and parenting). To be fair, some of this type of research may be due to cultural norms so that the effects could go away if sexual norms change; however, we can’t draw conclusions on what might happen and the effects make sense of our biology, which likely wouldn’t be as flexible to change due to social norms.
  4. OT Prophecy: The OT makes some accurate predictions about the future, specifically about the Messiah, which has led some critics to suggest the texts were added to after the events occurred, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have made many of those objections obsolete. Still, the prophecies are not very specific and are shrouded in symbolic texts, suggesting maybe they weren’t really prophecies, but at the same time, it does seem that the first century Jews were expecting the Messiah to come during their time. These prophecies played a small role in my conversion, but after my increased skepticism over the last 15 years, I’m fairly agnostic about these. Maybe OT prophecies about the Messiah are legitimate interpretations and maybe they aren’t, but I just don’t know enough about this topic to have a firm conclusion. I do know that the text itself was not changed after the fact so it’s only a matter of interpretation that I am uncertain about.
  5. NT Reliability: Biblical reliability is a huge topic, so my emphasis here is on NT reliability (which is still a pretty big topic). Commons objections that the Bible has been corrupted, added to, has had stuff removed, and has been translated through multiple languages are easily refuted with just a little bit of basic research. The Bibles we have today, especially the NT, almost certainly match what was originally written. There are thousands of ancient manuscripts to compare to each other to see if there have been changes plus hundreds if not thousands of times where early church writers quote the NT as another comparison. Moreover, what was originally written has an excellent record of reliably recording actual historical events and was written within a historically short period after the resurrection. While it’s possible that some exaggerations crept in or some facts were misreported, the alternate explanations for the resurrection all seem much more implausible, especially when considering the above arguments.

I know that was a lot so thanks for reading or browsing. If you have any thoughts, I’d be happy to hear them in the comments or on social media. I’d be particularly interested to hear thoughts about the factors that don’t influence me to believe. Thanks again.

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