Christians often say to Withteeth and I that we can’t properly understand Christianity intellectually and that we just have to believe. We often get told that we should simply believe. I can’t for the life of me figure out how anybody can think that this is a convincing argument.
Withteeth and I understand full well that our not being Christians means that we cannot fully comprehend Christianity as a believer would. However, we do not think that this is a handicap for us. After all, a Baptist and a Mormon both accept two different versions of Christianity (don’t tell me Mormons aren’t Christians: I don’t care), but that doesn’t mean that a Baptist can’t understand Mormonism. The Baptist will not understand the way the Mormon does, and will likely not understand why the Mormon is Mormon rather than a Baptist, but that doesn’t mean that the Baptist can have no understanding of Mormonism. So the argument that we can’t understand Christianity without being Christians is merely a way to invalidate the problems that we bring up without actually addressing them.
But let’s just think about this idea that we’re supposed to just not worry about the problems and ignore what we actually believe and force ourselves to accept Christianity. As I’ve said before, I never chose to be an atheist. I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I didn’t want to believe in God anymore. I also never chose to be a Christian when I was one. I was born to Christian parents. All my relatives were Christian. As far as I knew, all of my classmates were Christian. At the time, Christianity seemed self-evident. When I became an atheist it was because I could not force myself to continue believing in Christianity. I simply found it no longer convincing. I also didn’t find any other religion convincing. As such, I accepted that I was an atheist. But I’m supposed to ignore all that and just make myself believe? For those of you who are Christians, could you make yourself be an atheist? Could you simply chose not to believe in God and succeed? If so, do you truly believe?
A while ago, Withteeth and I discussed what it would look like to make ourselves believe and how successful we thought we would be. And, of course, how we thought people would respond. It all began when Ryan Bell announced that he was an atheist. I think both Christians and atheists reacted much the same when Ryan Bell first announced his intent to live a year without God. Many atheists wondered if he was some evangelical who was trying to prove that atheists can’t be moral or something, though many were convinced that he was in the process of deconverting (which, of course, ended up being the case). Many Christians, however, were afraid of what the experiment would mean for Ryan Bell. They were afraid that he was condemning himself to hell, or that he was lost and needed to be found. This reaction tells Withteeth and I a lot about what we could expect if we did something similar. If we decided that we were going to live as Christians for a year to fake it till we make it as a number of Christians have suggested, how would people react? Wouldn’t a number of Christians assume that we were being dishonest and deceitful? Would many Christians really welcome us with open arms knowing that we didn’t truly accept their beliefs? I’m sure a number of you would like to think that we would be welcomed in such a way, but we’ve dealt with the disdain that many Christians feel towards atheists. We’ve experienced the mistrust and the personal attacks. As such, I can’t imagine that we would be as accepted as Christians think we would be. We’d also have to deal with how other atheists would respond, but I’m not worried about that.
However, how people would react isn’t the real issue, it is merely another hurdle to our actually believing. Neither Withteeth nor I believe that we actually could believe. Even if we spent a year living as Christians, even if we read the Bible, went to church every week, joined church groups, and only associated with Christians, we do not think that we could “just” believe. Why? Because we don’t find it convincing. Surrounding ourselves with the community wouldn’t make Christianity convincing, it just makes it more difficult to leave Christianity once you already believe it. The only way Withteeth and I could ever believe would be to be convinced intellectually. As such, telling us to stop looking at Christianity intellectually, and that we can’t possibly understand it that way, isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s counter-productive (unless you just want us to stop questioning your beliefs, in that case it’s dishonest and I’d like to know what you’re so worried about). It’s unlikely that Withteeth and I will ever become Christians (or, in my case, become Christians again), but, if we were to do it, it would have to be because we were convinced through intellectual pursuit.