Sunday, October 4, 2015

If I wasn’t already a Christian, what would convince me to give it a try?

Recently I’ve been thinking about this question:

If I wasn’t already a Christian, what would convince me to give it a try?

Many people and churches take the easy route: Fear.

“What will happen to you when you die?”
“Do you want to go to heaven or hell?”

This is a terrible strategy. The bible rarely mentions hell. Jesus constantly talks about ‘His Father’s kingdom’ but never resorts to threats of damnation. This approach exploits the fears and anxieties we all have about death and morality and is unlikely to win over critical thinkers.

If we leave out the "fear of hell" angle, there’s a rational, objective approach: 

We exist. The universe appears to have a discrete ‘beginning’ (the big bang). It is plausible that there is some extra-observable entity which brought about our existence. 

That’s nice, but taken alone this only gets me as far as a loose, flying-spaghetti-monster level agnosticism. There might be a God. Where is God now? I have no idea. Why can’t we objectively demonstrate that God exists? I don’t know.

Instead, the best reason to consider Christian faith is its central message:

We're all broken and we're all loved.

It's important to state this a couple of ways:

Those people you don't really like - They're broken. They're loved.

The man asking for change on the street - He's broken. He's loved.

The celebrity it's easy to make fun of - She's broken. She's loved.

You're broken. You've loved.

This message provides groundwork for interpersonal empathy in a unique way. You cannot become 'better' than anyone else. Nothing you do can make you "successful".  No amount of hard work can make you "good enough". You'll never do enough, and that's OK; stop trying.

Think about the goals you have in life. I imagine talking to a six year old:

I want to publish a paper in a major academic journal.


So I can get name recognition in my field.


So I can feel proud of myself.


So I can be happy.

Try this exercise with a few different goals. Where do you end up? Mine frequently end up at "I want to accomplish XYZ because I want to be happy".

This thinking puts me in a cycle of work --> reward --> work --> reward. I find brief moments of satisfaction, then I dive into the next task.

This cycle works fine until something breaks.

Sooner or later I fall short at work. I have an argument with my wife. A friend dies young. My pursuit of happiness ends in a feeling of brokenness. From this broken place I have two options. I can work, strain, and search search until I find something else to bring back happiness, or I can break the cycle:

I am broken. I am loved. 

The compelling message of Christianity is that everybody is intrinsically valuable. This mean I can love myself even when I fail. It also means I can love others when they fail. It doesn't mean I will always be happy. It doesn't mean I don't need to work hard. It just means that I can stop striving to be enough.

I can't objectively demonstrate the validity of the story of Jesus, but I can argue that Christianity provides the best basis for a moral framework through which to view myself and interact with the world. I can't prove that experiences I believe to be spiritually driven were the effect of supernatural intervention, but I can show the positive changes which have come about in my life as a result of my faith.

There's far more to faith than what I've written here, but this is why I think it's worth giving it a try.