Letter to atheists

This is my first post, and it’s really long! It’s written as a letter to the atheist community and tries to maintain a conversational style and hopefully make interesting and engaging points. Enjoy!

Dear atheists,

To all that love and hate me, who do and do not know me, who approach life with care and concern, to the arrogant and humble, to friends and foes. Thanks for being interested in my letter. As I am a theist, let us discuss the source of our contention. No proofs will be offered. Instead, let us ask, which belief about God is most rational? The three major options are atheism, agnosticism, and theism.

To begin, a few words are in order regarding belief. How should we define rational belief? Hopefully you will agree with this definition: a belief is rational when it is supported by sufficient evidence. For example, having never visited the ocean, believing in its existence is rational because of abundant documentation and testimony supporting its existence. Consider the case when sufficient evidence is lacking, yet a belief is held. This is often called “faith” by certain groups, both theist and atheist, and is irrational by our definition. Another group of theists insist that their faith is rational as defended by arguments. No shortage of detractors have challenged these arguments. The result is arguments and rebuttals that seem to carry on endlessly. When the final word is dealt who has assented to rational superiority?

In my pursuit of truth, a journey in which we share, I was disgruntled with religion for numerous reasons to the point of becoming an atheist for several years. Still, Christianity had remained an intellectual curiosity and often a source of frustration for me. In keeping with this curiosity one night I was listening to a debate about the resurrection of Jesus and was somehow convinced Jesus really did rise from the dead and this event led to the rise of Christianity. Given the degree of skepticism that I had developed, a deep questioning of everything, I was greatly surprised by being convinced! This new belief in Jesus created a spirituality in me. On top of this, to make sense out of Jesus I believed in God. I partook in this spirituality unencumbered for some time. During this time, however, my mind had not turned off. With constant reexamination it began finding flaws in the argument that convinced me. Things began to fade.

Maybe I should have expected something like this would happen. Ever since understanding the importance of seeking out the very best objections, all arguments have been susceptible to being judged flawed. One day I was revisiting the arguments for the existence of God. I had heard of this idea that one does not need an argument to believe. I thought to myself, then why do I need something more than an argument, a flawless argument? Why do I even need an argument at all? Why not simply believe in God? And at that very moment, something occurred within me. I believed in God. . .

Returning to the question we set out to answer, let us frame the question around my belief in God. How rational is my belief in God? Honestly, this question has become absurd. It is neither rational nor irrational; it cannot be categorized as such. It was not reached by the persuasiveness of arguments or force of algorithms. Consequently, I can never claim rational superiority over you whether you are an atheist, agnostic, or theist. And, this is not for lack of want. My ego relishes in an outward show of rationality and intellect, it is one of my deep struggles. But now my belief in God does not rely on a construction of rationality, and this is humbling. The taste of humility is freedom. It is freedom from the slavery of the ego and freedom from feelings of inadequacy when a proof is not kept in the back pocket.

Now, should our conversation about God discontinue? By all means, no! There must be some sense of rationality involved in my belief in God, despite not finding its base in what we typically call argumentation or evidence. In what sense though? There are two answers I would like to submit. First, consider how I came to believe in God. In other words, consider the preceding events which seem to be necessary conditions. I found myself compelled by the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. There is something within me, that when I had seriously considered Jesus and the very beginning of Christianity, testified to the truth of the resurrection. What is within me? It’s not just an emotion, although it may involve emotion. It’s not a sense like sight or hearing, although it may seem analogous to such perception. It’s not a Eureka moment or an intuition, although these phenomena bear semblance. Indeed, this inner testimony is not something that I can grasp onto for analysis beyond what I have said. This is a unique phenomenon and seems to be ongoing, I will call it the spirituality of Jesus. If this spirituality died within me, I would have to wonder what had happened and this would certainly not preclude questioning the existence of God. In this way my belief in God is linked to a sort of internal rationality, but not based upon arguments or evidence that I can directly present to you. Secondly, it is not as if my belief in God is totally protected from external rational objections. If these objections would compel me, then I would disbelieve. I seek out the very best objections I can find, not only because of my interest in truth, but because these objections are put forth by sincere people and I have respect for their concern and criticism. I was with them, and I am with them. Indeed, I love them. So, let our conversation about God continue.

You might already be considering the objection that internal rationality is a flawed method for determining truth. Do not these internal methods, however they work, produce a variety of contradictory religious beliefs? Can a method that produces contradictory beliefs be considered reliable in any way? I take this concern seriously. For me, I came to understand whatever had happened to me cannot be categorized as a method. A method is something employed to reach a certain objective. Its employment is volitional. For example, one may use scientific method for discovering the workings of nature. One may use historical method to build a rational construction of history. But, whatever happened to me was not the result of employing a method. It simply happened, I did not “choose” it in any ordinary sense of choice as in the fact that I am choosing to write this sentence. Of course, there was some volitional behavior along the way. I was actively seeking God trying to see if God exists and for me that meant mounting a serious effort to study the world including advancements in science and religion, always digging as deeply to find the best possible arguments and counterarguments, never being satisfied but not giving up hope of the possibility of God.

Also, consider the difficulties early Christianity had to face. If Christian belief contradicts modern atheism and modern religions, then how much more did it contradict the range of philosophy and religious belief in the ancient world? When the apostle Paul traveled to Athens, he was deeply distressed by the idols. Despite what probably felt overwhelming, Paul debated with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers and spoke to the polytheists. Considerate of the diversity of ideas and religious belief, Paul crafted an argument that the Athenian “unknown” deity was actually the Creator of the universe even quoting Athenian poetry. Paul’s approach stands against intellectual arrogance and triumphalism. And, the Athenian response was within the range we would expect: some scoffed, some were interested to hear more, and some believed. So, what can I say about these things? How can I make theological sense of the diversity of religious beliefs and routes to adopting them? The complexity here may well be beyond sufficient analysis. When all the discourse is boiled down, and this is not to diminish the importance of sincere and engaging discourse, the good news of Jesus does not come with “plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [one’s] faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (verse) Here, a spirit is not necessarily something supernatural; the supernatural did not exist as a category in the ancient world when scripture was penned. A spirit is something within the mind. Though it is unseen it is a compelling force like the wind. The Spirit of God is just that and a gift out of the rich generosity of God. Still we can ask, why does the non-Christian monotheist not convert? Are they not seeking God? What about the atheist who wants to believe but must refrain due to intellectual honesty? I do not know. I do not know their desire and their heart. I do not know their pain and their struggle. I do not know their pleasure and their joy. As it stands, I am not in position to judge you as to whether or not you are seeking God, whether or not you have lost all hope in the possibility of God. If anyone can fairly judge your heart, it is God and not a human.

Finally, what about natural explanations for belief in God such as evolutionary psychology? The capacity to believe in God seems to be hardwired but as a “glitch” of evolution, or belief in God may ultimately be an adaptive trait that was selected for during biological and/or social evolution. I do not, prima facie, reject any such natural explanation. God could have designed this capacity to believe through evolution by setting the initial conditions of the universe which would eventually provide the environment for hominids to evolve the capacity to believe in God. Evolutionary psychology does, however, pose ontological threat for lesser beings than a Creator such as angels and demons. I do not pretend to offer a comprehensive analysis, especially not in so few sentences, but it’s worth commenting that natural explanations for belief in God do not make God’s existence any more or less likely.

More could be said, however I will leave it at this for now. My hope is that I can help inspire in you what you have inspired in me: a renewed interest in the journey for truth and especially to consider and reconsider the possibility of God.