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Why Bother with Christianity?

Steve Jones

Atlanta, Georgia


A legitimate question. And one that merits an answer. After all, we're on this earth such a short time and have but one life. Why spend such fleeting years following after unprovable religious dogma? Such a concern is understandable.

The initial response to such a question is to affirm Christianity as a life replete with new beginnings and purpose. It is a daily discipline that makes us more completely human. It is not, first and foremost, a collection of doctrines.

To be sure, there are some foundational assertions, such as this one: There is a God. That is the most basic tenet of Christian faith, its starting point. Is it unprovable? Yes, but not unreasonable.

My parents taught me to believe. I didn’t arrive at faith by going out one night, watching the stars, and constructing faith out of cold-steel logic. From earliest childhood, I learned to pray and regard God as a benevolent being who possesses all power, wisdom and goodness.

Some may argue that such belief is worthless, a kind of brainwashing passed from one generation to the next. I argue that a thing is not necessarily false just because one’s parents teach it. My parents also taught me the value of honesty, friendship, courage. Are these values to be doubted because I learned them uncritically from childhood? Who would argue so?

But it is true that a hereditary faith is insufficient. We can’t run our lives for long on the convictions of another. The received knowledge of childhood must be tested, then either accepted or discarded. I have tested my parents’ teaching, and am convinced that it passes muster on both philosophical and experiential levels.


An Experience, Not an Argument

I won’t belabor the reader with the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Much ink has been spent, from Thomas Aquinas on, arguing for the reality of the Supreme Being on rational grounds. The problem is, I doubt that anyone has ever been convinced through this exercise. Logical equations are hardly the foundation of profound, heartfelt conviction.

Having said that, it makes a great deal of sense to me that the order and design of the universe suggests a Designer and Orderer. The functionality of the human body, its organs, tissues, cells, the miles upon miles of blood vessels, neural activity, the five senses – all are too complex to have arisen by blind chance. Let the atheistic scientist say what he will. A roll of the dice can never produce even the most primal human being, let alone a Socrates, Shakespeare, Beethoven or Einstein.

The problem, as stated earlier, is that arguments like these really don’t produce faith. After all, faith is not an argument. Faith is to be experienced. This is true with mundane things as well. How can you be convinced, for example, that Disney World is the best resort in the United States? Is it through argumentation, rational discourse –- or is it by actually going there yourself?

And that is the point. It is in the "going there," with or without doubts, that God authenticates His being to us.

However, God has veiled Himself enough so that those who wish to ignore Him or the imperatives of faith can find reason enough. They can point to the pain in the world and argue that because God doesn’t put a ban on it, He must not exist. Their argument can be unsettling to believers. It is certainly not to be dismissed glibly -– the suffering in the world truly is a vexing difficulty for us.

Skeptics can tell us that if God really wanted us to believe in Him, He would make His reality unmistakable. The evidence would be so powerful, so compelling that no one would be able to maintain the slightest degree of agnosticism.

Our reply is that God has chosen faith –- often mixed with some uncertainty -- as the avenue of knowing Him. God does not compel us to believe through irrefutable proofs. He has hidden Himself enough so that unbelievers can be unbelievers still, if that is their wish.

On the other hand, there is enough evidence for His being so that those who earnestly seek will find.


Jesus of Nazareth

Throughout history, we are confronted with people who have claimed to live near to the divine. No such figure deserves as much consideration as Jesus of Nazareth. The very fact of his prominence in history –- our division of history is based on him -– is amazing in itself. As others have aptly pointed out, he held no public office, had no formal education, taught for only three years in a remote corner of the world, yet has had more influence on humanity than "all the armies that have ever marched."

But what if the entire story is a hoax? Why throw one's life away on something that may or may not be true? A valid question. Here's the answer: The proposition that Jesus or his disciples made up the whole thing is preposterous, given what we know about the early church. Suppose the first Christians — the Twelve — invented the story. Why would they have done it? For financial gain? Most were missionary beggars who abandoned any prospect of making a decent living when they undertook the way of Christ. For power? The apostles called their converts "brethren." Rather than commanding the churches under their charge, they wrote letters pleading with them, reasoning with them, always appealing to the motive of love.

Now let's look at what they did get in exchange for preaching Christ. Beatings. Stonings. Shipwreck. Insults. Courtroom trials. Ridicule. Paul, a man of eminent learning, got up to preach to a sophisticated crowd of philosophers and was laughed off the stage. Instead of quitting, they kept on and urged their brethren to do the same, to suffer for the sake of Jesus.

Does anyone really think that these people endured all of this pain for the sake of a false story they knowingly foisted upon the masses? What folly! Who would run this gauntlet of misery over nothing more than a practical joke of the highest magnitude? If it were one man, we might attribute it to madness or unmitigated evil. But it was a body of men and women, people who amazed the Romans with their joy and their fearlessness. That these disciples were neither lunatics nor deceitful misanthropes should be obvious to any rational person.

The Christian faith rests on a historical foundation, but it also transcends history. It reaches us today and makes the same appeal that it did twenty centuries ago. It offers us a life worth living.

I'm not going to dangle "heaven" in front of anyone here. Too many evangelists see post-mortem bliss as the main object of Christianity. "Follow Jesus and you'll go to heaven." That may or may not be a draw for you. It may be too ethereal, unreal, too much like pie in the sky.

Here's what I will set forth: Follow the Lord and life can be something supremely significant. You can leave a mark on this planet that endures — a legacy of goodness that the rolling ages can't efface. You can pour yourself into something that matters. Isn't that what you and I really want, after all? We may think we want to fill up our lives with pleasures and comforts. But there comes a point where we say, "Is this all there is?"

At this point, some may admit that it all sounds inviting. "But I'm not a good person," you might say, "or particularly religious." Read the gospels and you will find that Jesus spent most of his time with sinners — the worst sinners. He spent much of his time introducing them to God. They were so bad that the religious leaders wrote Jesus off. He couldn't possibly be a holy man while in the company of such losers, could he? But he turned around and told his critics that the sick, not the healthy, need a doctor. "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Then he told the religious leaders, the self-righteous experts, that they were the real losers because of their conceit, their loveless arrogance. He told them that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom of God before they ever would.

"Follow me," was a sentence often on the lips of Jesus. That sentence still reaches us over the centuries, renewing lives, overthrowing evil and establishing the kingdom of God. The proper response to "follow me" is to tread in his steps by faith.

Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)

May God help every reader of this article to find freedom.


© 2003 American Unitarian Conference