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Why Bother with Christianity?
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
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
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,
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
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
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."
May God help every reader of this article to find
© 2003 American Unitarian Conference™