Why I’m a Christian
I heard a statistic the other day that Millennials are leaving religion in droves. According to Pew 36% of Millennials identify as unaffiliated with any religion. Further, whereas 25% of young Millennials ten years ago identified as unaffiliated, today it’s 34%. Young people are not only turning away from religion, but are turning away at an increasing rate.
Those statistics probably aren’t as surprising as it was for you to read the title of this post, especially for those who’ve known me for some time.
And who could blame you? I was never one of the militant atheist types (I never much liked militant anything). But I did wear my rationalism on my sleeve. I was what’s heinously known as a “high-achiever” in high school. College courses were always a breeze. Doing well at the things we’re told to do well at by those in positions of authority was me. It was my identity. Or at least a big chunk of it.
That got exhausting in graduate school. It got outright depressing being around others who also wore similarly styled sleeves, and who knew it, who were proud of it. Anything can be torn down by an intellectual who has weaponized his rationalism. Hyper-rationalism lifts you up, then demolishes everything it finds underneath.
And boy does that take energy! The thought occurred to me one day, for what? Why was it important to deconstruct whatever was guilty of existing? Well, that may be a bit much. No one actually wants to destroy everything, because it leaves nothing. This basic truism grows and evolves in the intellectual’s — or at least, an academic’s — mind into the perennial excuse for living the thinking life: “I’m just trying to discover the truth.” Somewhere along the line this innocuous motivation got mixed up with the notion that in order to achieve a positive goal, one must negate, and do so ferociously, or at least, passive aggressively.
I’ve come to the conclusion that truth isn’t a philosopher’s stone buried deep beneath mounds of lies and layers of deception. Discovering the truth isn’t a hero’s task, nor a martyr’s worthy cause. It’s silly when you think of it simply, if the truth is so great, why would it be the case that it’s so difficult to discover? Maybe the man mining for truth would find it all about him, if only he would look up from his deconstructionism and embrace the garden he’s so determined to dig his way out of.
I fought Christianity like that for a long time. I told myself, I’m all I’ve got, and if it doesn’t make sense to me, then forget about it. And to my former-self’s credit, that was technically a justifiable response. Those I met who were Christians typically had what I would call bad arguments as to why I should join their tribe. Arguments based on authority, tradition, conservatism, or gasp! faith! None of these passed scrutiny of a militant rationalist.
A couple things happened in the last few years that upon reflection chipped away at this intellectual vanguard I’d erected around my precious vulnerability. I attended a medicinal retreat in Peru and met some things that would only make sense to those who’ve met them, or should I say, her, too. A man who became something of a mentor quietly refused to advertise his Christianity. That was as affecting to me as was the prominence of those anxious to tell me how I should be more religious like they were. His quiet was blaring. I watched a YouTube series from a University of Toronto Professor on the psychological significance of the biblical stories. Imagine that, empirically valid, theoretically sound truths validated by centuries of experience, and encapsulated in a few words or sentences, one after the other, page after page, all written thousands of years ago.
Then there was my direct day to day experience. The happiest people I knew were either Christian or folks who had read the Bible and tried their best to live according to it (I still don’t know the difference between those two, but people can claim or reject labels as they wish). Conversely, the most miserable, at least to my eye, were quite proud of their atheism. For those who doubt that atheists are generally unhappy, well, you can either go back in time and talk to former-me, or go to meetup.com and find an atheist church group — er, should I say, “non-theistic gathering.” Obviously these aren’t hard and fast rules, so to the rationalists reading this, I promise, I know there are exceptions, and I’m perfectly willing to grant that you may just be one of them.
The combination of my deconstructionist fatigue, the synchronous realization of the inter-relatedness of my own spiritual experiences, and the eloquent Petersonian elaboration of the frank, albeit abstract, truths of the biblical stories hit me like an on-coming train. Why the hell am I resisting this?!
Those who know me know that once I make up mind, things happen rapidly. I’ll withdraw from college, I’ll quit a job, I’ll move across the country, or even the world, when something just clicks.
No, I haven’t read the whole Bible yet. No, I’m not an authority on how to live. But it seems to me that living according to the word of God just makes sense. If that means I’m following his word and the teaching of his son, then you might call me a Christ-follower. You might call me a Christian.
A comment for those who hesitate at the notion of following someone. I wish someone had mentioned this thought to me long ago, whether I believed them at the time or not. As it turns out: you will submit to something or someone in your life. A beautiful corollary to that simple statement is that we get to choose who or what it will be. To me nowadays, that’s God’s gift. To me a year ago, that’s a fact deeply intertwined with the nature of mankind. To those who reject free will: fine, but that’s a battle we should probably fight another time, on another post.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the essential implication of free will is that it really matters how we choose, or at least it does for me. The idea of Jesus the son of God is that he’s perfect. I figure perfection might be worth following, or at least trying my best to. In fact, it may well demand a following, so isn’t it marvelous — divine even — that he who is perfect, does no such thing. That’s right, even the son of God respects your sacred right to choose.
I was never a militant atheist. I won’t be a militant missionary either. This post wasn’t written to persuade you, but to explain me. I imagine only close friends and family will read it anyway, and it just so happens that a number of them are in the 36% mentioned at the beginning, hence my tone. Frankly, it’s just most efficient to explain this way, and if someone else outside my circle stumbles upon this, maybe it’ll speak to them too.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the objection that many of my proud atheist friends may have lingering in the back of their minds: how could you identify with an institution that has done so much damage in the past?! Well first, let’s find some common ground. No human is equal to another. Churches are no different. To argue that affiliating with a church is akin to affiliating with a source of death and destruction in the past is to say that if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, who happens to be human, you’re affiliating with someone who happens to share a characteristic of Hitler. After all, he was human too. The reverse of this logical fallacy is where the gold is: it’s not the happenstance relations that matter, but rather, the motivations that lead you to engage in those relationships.
As it turns out, the answer to that question, when addressed to Christians, is usually pretty cool. I’ve heard, “because it’s all about love” and, “because it makes me feel included” and, “because it just makes sense to me” and, “because it’s true.” Maybe those are factual statements, maybe they’re not (at least, to you), but they’re also not “because I really dig the Crusades.”
Everyone knows what happens when a Christian breaks out the “T” word to an agnostic or atheist: “wait, you’re saying he really rose from the dead, c’mon man.” And that objection really does end with a period, not a question mark. It’s meant to end discussion rather than start conversation. I know that, because I’ve said it. Wasn’t I justified to?! Last I checked, there’s no scholarly journal article demonstrating that resurrection is a legitimate scientific phenomenon.
Bear with me here, then I’ll address the objection that I’m just ignoring the objection. Questioning the literal reality of the resurrection misses the point. Maybe instead, the point of the resurrection story is to tell a tale of a man who lived perfectly, who was persecuted for his perfection, and at the moment of his death, rather than beseeching his persecutors to restore him, turned, even then, to his Father, his Creator, and asked “why have you forsaken me?” Maybe an act of incredible courage, deep in a time of incredible pain, could only be answered in an incredible, dare I say, divine fashion, like resurrection. Maybe the point of the story is that for man, absolute adherence to his own beliefs, especially in times of horror and pain, is the path to the good life. Maybe that’s true.
But I’ll keep my promise, maybe you’re still concerned with the literal fact of the matter. To that, I admit, there’s no scientific acceptance of resurrection. There’s no video evidence that He was risen. There’s not even any theoretical explanation as to how it could have occurred (even if there is, let’s dismiss it for the sake of argument).
There’s a saying in the legal world: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, lack of proof of innocence is not proof of guilt. Ergo, “innocent until proven guilty.” Ayn Rand famously said, “you cannot call on me to prove a negative” in reference to believers who would ask her to prove her negative claim that God doesn’t exist. Well, fine Ayn, but nor is the inappropriateness of demanding proof of a negative claim ipso facto proof of the truthfulness of the claim. In fact, in the legal world of Western tradition, juries are instructed to take the side of the accused when there is an absence of evidence. So at best, the lack of physical proof of the resurrection is, technically speaking, simply evidence of the lack of physical proof.
This is basically why I was never a militant atheist. The “you can’t prove it happened!” objection was never convincing, and for good reason. That someone can’t prove that something happened, doesn’t mean the thing didn’t happen, it just means that there’s no proof that it did. Now combine the (appropriate) neutral conclusion to which our little back-and-forth has lead us with the abstract truthfulness of the lesson of the resurrection story mentioned previously. When I did this, I came to the same conclusion Peterson does in his lectures: seems true enough. For me, the question became: what’s more important to me, that I’m demonstrably right, or that I learn lessons that help me live a better life? See the title of this essay for a clue to the conclusion at which I arrived.
This is where it gets really good. This is pure speculation, but entertain the thought for a moment (you’ve made it this far): what if the whole point of faith is that it requires departure from rationality? Suppose the abstract lesson mentioned above of the resurrection story is valid. The conclusion as I see it is essentially: with belief — with faith — humans can conquer anything. Faith, to my mind, is believed truthfulness of a given proposition in the absence of physically provable fact. Besides, if a proposition is provable, then you don’t believe it, you know it. You don’t believe that the sky is blue. You know it. You don’t believe that two added to two is four. You know it. Either empirically or theoretically, there is proof of those facts. Therefore, you know them to be true.
I think that is the fundamental point of the resurrection story. The good life is not a product of provable knowledge. It is a consequence of faithful belief. Take a look at Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Google “the power of manifestation.” Research the power of visualization. YouTube Connor McGregor on “the law of attraction.” Take a second to consider the proposition “belief motivates action.” Reflect for a second on a time that you did something, without a guarantee of the outcome, because you believed in the righteousness of your course of action. How’d that turn out?
I’m not actually instructing you to do those things. This is about me, remember? Those are things I did. And my conclusion was that there is such a thing as the power of faith; and therefore, that there just might be something to all this God stuff. After all, the resurrection story, all of the biblical stories, are some of the oldest in existence. Who was I to try to pick that apart? What good was that bringing me?
Maybe you don’t see the truth in what I’m talking about here. That’s alright. But I’m convinced. So I plan to read the Bible and to adjust my behavior as best I can to God’s word. To adopt a known phrase: I follow Christ. I don’t know what the appropriate term is for someone who does that, but it seems to me that “Christian” fits the bill.
Why write about this now? Well, there’s the practical reason I mentioned at the beginning. I imagine a good number of folks would be curious as to my motivations once I came out of the biblical closet. But you might check out the post previous to this one on the truth about truthfulness, as I see it. Or put differently, why telling the truth as you see it matters, and on what that implies for living a good life, and how that transforms society. My point in that post was that you have a choice in using your voice: you can either attempt to manipulate things in order to engineer a preferred outcome, or you can tell the truth about things as you see it.
This is me telling truth as I see it — in a faithful attempt to make life a little bit better. Maybe it was some fraction of the fun I had writing it as it was for you reading it.