Hi and welcome back! For a few days now, I’ve been talking about the three major methods of persuasion I see Christians using. Today, though, let’s pull back. Those three methods differ dramatically from what might actually work–at least, on someone like me. I’ll show you what might work, and then–more importantly–I’ll show you why Christians don’t even bother asking about it.
(The three major methods of persuasion: What the Bible says about Jesus; apologetics; and feelings.)
The Gaining and Losing of Faith.
Faith is to belief what a working oven is to a pan of cake batter. Without an oven’s heat, that batter ain’t going anywhere. Thus, to discuss belief we must first discuss the faith that keeps us believing anything.
Typically, we gain faith through a number of different sources. We lose it through the same number of sources. When hucksters employ coercive elements to build faith in an idea, such as the terror of Hell or fears of execution or ostracism, then believers cling to their faith even harder because losing faith brings real or imagined penalties of its own. Last, what heightens faith for one person might lower it for another.
In short, faith can be complicated. So can losing faith.
The process of gaining or losing faith remains as simple as turning on an oven–or turning it off. We notice or receive observations that support the belief. Once we’ve got enough observations, the heat begins. This process operates in reverse as well: we notice or receive information that contradicts the belief. Once we have enough of those, we lose faith without even thinking about it. When we finally lose enough faith to support our holding the belief, it withers away. When it withers enough, then we no longer hold the belief–like it or not.
For everyone, their limits vary as well. If the belief isn’t super-important to us, then it won’t take much to arouse or destroy faith in it. But if it’s extremely important (see: coercion, above), then we deploy a number of mental safeguards to avoid coming face to face with contradictions to it.
If those observations keep coming, however, then eventually we hit our limit–and faith withers away, at which point we lose belief in the idea.
The Components of Faith in Christianity.
As with every religion, faith in it derives from several basic sources. I’ll outline them here, and then we’ll cover each of them in detail.
First, of course, whatever its source material might be. Sometimes, a religion contains a number of sources–Hellenic reconstructionist paganism boasts almost a dozen, many ancient. In this case, however, Christianity’s main source material is the Bible. Occasionally, Christians consider other sources definitive, particularly some books called the Apocrypha, and others throw in what they erroneously believe to be contemporary writings that corroborate the events depicted in the Bible.
Second, the supernatural claims of adherents. Christianity features a lively wealth of these: an overarching god, angels and demons, possession of humans by those beings, miracles, souls, an afterlife consisting of Heaven and Hell (usually; sometimes they add other realms), prophecies, etc.
Third, the earthly claims of adherents. These usually consist of the social system that those adherents practice, which they attach to their ideology. That varies considerably by the religious group, particularly within such a huge and sprawling religion as Christianity. Evangelicals love to claim that their alarmingly-theocratic, authoritarian social system produces happy, functional, harmonious societies and relationships. More liberal Christians emphasize the performance of charity work and social-justice agitation. Most Christians across the religion issue claims regarding peace and contentment, as well as the raising of well-adjusted children–though the practices leading to both happy states vary wildly from group to group.
Fourth, the adherence level and behavior of adherents. Yeah. What it says on the tin.
1st Component: Source Material.
I used to believe that the Bible contained true and accurate information about a god, his history, his power, and his demands of and promises to humankind.
Unfortunately, the Bible does not reflect reality in any appreciable way. It is, at best, a record of what one ancient group of people imagined about their origins, their god(s), and the universe around themselves. They knew very little about science–and even less about their own history beyond the immediate past, plus their legends and myths.
Every time I learned something new about the Bible, that new information only served to destroy a bit more of my faith in it as an accurate source document. Even today, I learn new things about the Bible–not only its history, but its actual contents–and just marvel more that I ever used to believe in anything it contained.
Rekindling my faith in the Bible as a document would require it to be a whole other book than what it is, or else for this universe to be something other than what it is.
Neither of those can happen, so this is a non-starter.
A Note About Source Material.
Since deconverting, I’ve come to accept that no religion contains source material that accurately describes reality. The Greeks might once have believed that their gods lived atop Mount Olympus. Well, we know what’s up there, and it ain’t any gods. But today’s pagans suffer no discomfort because of it (and yesterday’s pagans probably didn’t either). They consider their source documents more like works of literature than as literal, inerrant history books.
What matters to me way more than the Bible’s lack of veracity is how Christians react to it. All but the most out-there “Christian atheists” have some line-in-the-sand that they’ll defend to the death about the Bible being true-and-literal history. Usually Christians happily acknowledge that a lot of the wilder, wackier Old Testament stories are mythological–but then will insist that Jesus Christ existed, that the Gospels more or less accurately describe his life, and that he really died and was resurrected and floated away into the sky and now stands by to communicate with his followers and find their car keys. It is ridiculous.
Of course, they’d also need to react to the horrific, inhumane elements of the Bible–like the atrocities their god ordered, committed, or condoned. If more Christians acknowledged the serious shortcomings in their holy book–and better still, used it to strengthen their own commitment to truly ethical behavior–then I don’t think they’d have half the problems they do right now with churn.
2nd Component: Supernatural Claims.
I lost faith in Christianity in large part because I discovered that the supernatural claims made by Christians simply don’t hold water.
From answered prayers to prophecies, from angels and demons to signs and portents, from divine miracles to protection from misfortune, absolutely nothing Christians say about the supernatural world holds up to even cursory examination.
Rekindling my faith would require that Christians make only supernatural claims that they can support through credible, objective evidence–or at least acknowledge that they know their claims are unsupportable.
I don’t see that happening any time soon, though. Few indeed are the Christians going that route. As with their defense of the Bible’s veracity, their defense of their supernatural claims bugs me far worse than those claims being untrue. It tells me that they’re happy to defend stuff that isn’t true. And that tells me their grasp of reality is shaky.
3rd Component: Earthly Claims.
I lost faith in Christianity because Christians’ earthly claims aren’t true either.
For many years, Christians have insisted that their religion produces more good, honest, decent, functional people than any other religion or ideology could. They insisted likewise that their social systems created harmonious, law-abiding, functional societies and communities. And they quivered in their knitted booties and clutched their pearls over the idea of a world where Christianity didn’t dominate the cultural landscape.
In reality, of course, it turns out that Christianity itself seems to do more harm than good when given that kind of dominance over an entire society. Christian-dominated societies suffer more dysfunction, violence, and inequality than secular societies do. Even Christians themselves have slowly begun to recognize the harm that “cheap grace” and “instant forgiveness” do to people, though they’re still coming around to the harm that violent punishment and rigid indoctrination both do to children. And even the “nicer” flavors of the religion leave me totally cold.
Rekindling my faith would likely happen easily if Christians began following social systems that lived up to their claims about it–or at least adjusted their claims downward to what they can actually support.
(Though man, that’d be one very short sales pitch. “Come join our social club! It’ll do absolutely nothing for you to make joining it worth your while, but it is, in fact and by any technical definition, a social club!” I’m sure the guy who marketed Pet Rocks could help them out there. Well, he could if only he weren’t dead. And if he would have been okay with helping terrible people do terrible things. Speaking of which:)
4th Component: Adherents’ Behavior.
I lost faith because Christians themselves represent exactly what truth their religion contains. Namely, the people who should take their religion’s claims and demands the most seriously instead embody its complete lack of truth. They cannot help but leak from every pore their unstated understanding that it’s not actually true.
As I’ve mentioned, Christians themselves try very hard to exempt their behavior from the components of faith. They keep trying to dictate that rule because their performance by that measure is abysmally, hilariously, nonexistent. Alas, ever since some anonymous dudes invented their entire religion in the late 1st century, people have been noticing exactly how hypocritical Christians are–and how genuinely nasty they are even to their own tribemates.
Rekindling my faith would require Christians to be something they simply aren’t and never have been. It would flutter to life by itself if they actually behaved like they at least believe their own hype.
But the same observations apply to how they handle the lack of objective truth in their own source material. If Christians were anybody but who they actually are, and if they behaved like anything but what they have literally always behaved like, then they wouldn’t have half the problems they have now.
If Wishes Were Horses Then Cas Would Ride.
That’s a helluva lot of ifs, maybes, and sortas for anybody’s taste. If Christianity weren’t exactly what it is; if Christians weren’t exactly who they are. Yes, and if our universe was a completely different one.
No wonder Christian evangelists don’t care what people actually care about in terms of what is actually persuasive. They could never in a billion years meet that burden. So they chase their tails on stuff nobody ever found persuasive. So often I think they’re not even talking to me. Rather, they’re talking to themselves. If they offer enough nonsense, will it all add up to a binary 1, a cosmic YES?
However, these four components go into kindling or withering any kind of faith for any ideology. And there are a lot of those out there. If anybody came up to me and wanted to sell me on any religion or philosophy, those would be among my evaluatory tools:
- What relation does their source material have to reality? How do adherents handle it if the answer is mostly, very little, or none whatsoever?
- How accurate are the supernatural claims, if any, that these adherents tend to make?
- For that matter, how accurate are the earthly claims they make regarding belief, mores, and membership?
- And how well do they live out their religion’s demands upon them?
I suspect most folks utilize something similar, though they might not articulate it quite like that.
A Final Observation.
This post began as the answer to a simple question: What would it take to make me a Christian believer again?
And the answer, though boiling down to if it was actually true, turned out to run along several axes. I decided not to fuss with its unspoken corollary, what it’d take to make me want to rejoin Christianity, though that’d probably take much the same route.
More than anything else, Christians slam up against the wall of urgency, for me. I’ve simply got no time any more for stuff that isn’t true. Religion wastes what is unspeakably precious. I feel time pressing in on me like the walls of a garbage masher on the detention level. I have no time anymore to spare for what Christians sell.
Friends, life is short. Once those hours are gone, they’re gone. We will never be here again. So I say: let us LIVE. Let us follow the truth wherever it leads. Let’s spend our finite days on what is true, what is real, and what is good.
Let’s ride it
NEXT UP: Oh my lol, that LifeWay survey. Oh my. Oh! Come and see what Christians would rather hide.
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