A JOURNAL on DOUBT

* PART FOUR *

Go back to: Contents & Prefaces


ENTRY TOPICS in PART FOUR

1. Predestination

14. Other Truth-Systems

27. Hope

2. Logic Solves Little

15. Deism

28. Doubt Reigns

3. Apologetics and the Divine Nature of the Bible

16. The Taking of Communion

29. Other Belief-Systems and Apologetics

4. Satan and Demons

17. Calling on God

30. Relativism and Disagreement

5. A Pentecostal Exorcism

18. Other Possible Truths

31. Universal Truth

6. Demon Possession

19. Hinduism as an Alternative

32. Marital Separation

7. Conclusions Concerning the Problem of Disagreement

20. Nothing Satisfies

33. Christian Faith Will Not Go Away

8. Charismatics and Disagreement

21. The Reliability of the Bible

34. Christianity Still Making Sense

9. Apologetics and Starting from the Bible

22. My Personality and Intellectual Style

35. The Attractions of Christianity

10. Trusting Others

23. Christian Exclusivity

36. Apologetics and the Resurrection

11. Christian Disunity

24. The Problem of Evil

37. Probabilities and the Inevitability of Disagreement

12. Going Crazy

25. Which Gods Do Not Exist

 

13. Turning to a New Faith

26. Answers on Evil and Suffering

 

 

1. Predestination

WHY SHOULD THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION, or election, cause such problems for me, or for anyone. It's interesting that so many people find this doctrine inconceivable. They find it so hard to accept that they -- usually impressionable college students, doubters, and unbelievers -- reject Christianity because of predestination alone. And yet there are people, people I know well, who would defend this doctrine to death. To some, predestination is a monstrous idea, an idea that makes God a vicious and despicable tyrant. For others, the doctrine is a wonderfully comforting sign of God's love and care. Why is there so little agreement on this doctrine? And why, above all, is the strip of gray between the black of denial and the white of assent so narrow?

Could predestination, or election, cause me to repudiate Christianity? (I'm considering the two doctrines together because they both, to my mind, concern the same idea, that God decided what would happen before the world began. Predestination was his means for determining the course of all things; election was the means for determining the course of human salvation.) I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because I've had several discussions with Russell about predestination and because I met a graduate student recently who believes in it so firmly that we almost got into a fight about it when I said it's a sacrilege. This guy told me that I reject predestination merely because I have a "gut reaction" against it. I wanted to tell him that he accepts the doctrine only because he has a gut reaction for it. We got nowhere. But most notable is that the discussion was so upsetting. I was jittery and irate for hours afterward. Even my breath was short as I later went through the discussion again and again. I was ready to call that guy to argue some more; I'd thought of some new points against predestination. I felt, if he couldn't admit I'm right, I at least had to convince him that he's wrong.

I've got to look more closely at predestination to see why it causes so much anxiety. I'd guess something significant could be learned about doubt and faith in general just by studying this one divisive issue. After all, I've been upset by discussions of this doctrine, especially with Russell, many times in the past couple of years. It's probably so extremely troublesome for a good and telling reason.

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2. Logic Solves Little

I KNOW IT LOOKS AS THOUGH any day I'm going to reject orthodox Christianity. I've actually been weighing which new creed I should adopt when I decide to apostatize, though its still possible that I'll just adopt some new version of Christianity. But I'm really not ready yet to renounce the "fixed" form of the religion, the teachings of one of the "major" sects of the Christian church. I'm not ready yet to set up my own church -- my own branch-office of the faith. (Though setting up a new church might seem a deplorable blunder to Christians, many millions of Christians over the past five hundred years have been courageous and daring enough to establish new creeds. In fact, my own church, a Reformed Church, began as one more reformation of Roman Catholicism.) All I'm doing right now is toying with ideas, formulating hypotheses, looking at truth and doubt from different angles; I haven't called any Council of my mind, heart, and soul to draw up a new creed.

I'm still afraid, and I think this shows how indecisive and ambivalent I am, that my friends from church will spurn me. Obviously, I put a lot of stock in what they think of me and what they consider truth. I think my friends are the major reason I haven't reject Christianity yet: these people whom I know so well and trust so deeply, in fact my best friends, and who believe with such apparent conviction accept it. (Still, as I've said elsewhere, I'm still unsure why I want to trust these people or want them to approve of me. I could find friends in a group believing in any creed, couldn't I?)

Secondarily, I can't apostatize because I'm afraid of asserting that the beliefs of hundreds of millions of people whose faith appeals to me are utterly false and delusory. This motive, I realize, isn't logical: am I not willing to choose against, and thus declare wrong and deluded, billions of people who aren't Christian, wouldn't have anything at all to do with the religion, and confidently and unswervingly hold to other creeds?

I know it's not logically valid to credit Christianity for these reasons, but it is, in some other way, I'm beginning to think, rational. There might be reasons to believe other than arguments of deductive or inductive logic, which, it's turned out, have caused me to doubt every hypothesis. I've long been convinced that logic can't confirm any religion or philosophy! Thus, logic will never assuage my fears or resolve my skepticism. For if I choose a certain faith because I fear disapproval or fear having to declare others wrong, I won't believe or reject any creed whatsoever. It's been painfully unsettling to learn that no matter what faith I choose, billions of people will disapprove of me and that I'll disagree with and consider false thousands of creeds millions are fully persuaded of.

What does it matter, I've seen for the first time, that I'm afraid of disapproval or of haughtily saying most of the world is wrong? Whatever I believe at the end of this search, hundreds of millions of people will still disapprove of me. Whatever I believe I will still be siding against billions. It's time to put these fears aside and accept that trusting someone else is not a bad step to take.

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3. Apologetics and the Divine Nature of the Bible

REASON ENOUGH, SADLY, DIDN'T do much good. Not only did Clark Pinnock not try to prove anything, but he failed to show that there's reason enough to believe Christianity. Why? Mostly because he didn't devote one sentence to the most crucial question of all: is the Bible the Word of God? He made this oversight despite the fact that he busily quoted the Bible to back up most of his arguments.

However, I'm not going to give up yet. I'm the eternal optimist when it comes to apologetics; I seem to have this unshakable confidence that somehow, somewhere Christianity will be convincingly demonstrated. Somebody believes it, surely, with good reason! And I saw what looks like an excellent book at a bookstore a few days ago. I bought it last night, after hesitating because I was worried I was setting myself up for more disappointment again. The book is The Case For Christianity by an Englishman named Colin Chapman. I'm still wary, as well as trying to stay calm, but I think this book might have the answers to enough of my questions and doubts to bring skepticism to an end. It has long chapters on the alternatives to Christianity -- religions, "isms," and great non-Christian thinkers. These chapters, I think, are going to help me see better how Christianity is more obviously true than its competitors. If Chapman can help me knock a bunch of the chief competitors out of the field, that'll surely make Christianity much easier to accept. At least, that's my hope.

The book also has a long chapter on history and the Bible. I skimmed it and think it's going to make a satisfactory case. I'm excited that this might be the end of the line and I can get on with being a Christian. This is just the kind of book I've been looking for -- one willing to meet the competition and the objections head on.

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4. Satan and Demons

QUITE A FEW PERIPHERAL MATTERS in Christianity that seem pretty superstitious make the whole religion much more dubious to me. Besides the long list of mythical stories sprinkled through the Old and New Testaments, one that's particularly suspect is the doctrine of Satan.

So many psychological explanations for believing in angels, demons, and Satan, as well as so many scientific refutations of their reality, have been advanced in the past several hundred years that if a person wants to believe in Satan he must be ready to take a leap of faith off the cliffs of science. The Prince of Darkness is a Christian teaching so embarrassing and yet so widespread among my friends (they're always babbling about Satan worming his way into this or that part of life) that I'm always tempted either to disbelieve the teaching (which would contradict Jesus), hush the whole matter up, or reject the entire religion. After all, there's absolutely no reliable evidence for Satan. He hasn't made any special appearances at concert halls or on television. The only people who maintain they've seen him are crackpots. No respected scientist or thinker, or even theologian, so far as I know, has come forward to testify to meeting Satan or having a conversation with the Prince of Demons. Why then believe in him? The only reason is that the Bible says he exists. Should this be enough to accept Satan? And if a person must accept Satan -- a being we can't confirm and seems so questionable and mythlike -- should everyone not wonder about the divinity of the Bible and hence the truth of Christianity?

On the other hand, it's nearly impossible to disprove the existence of Satan, just as it's impossible to disprove all supernatural beings and events, such as miracles. Naturally, science can't help us; Satan exists in a world, if he exists at all, beyond the reach of scientific instruments or inductive experiments. It really shouldn't surprise me that I'd have to rely on theology or metaphysics to reveal Satan. Still, why is it always so hard to believe in him, despite hearing my friends always praying to God about being protected from his wiles, as if he were intervening in every event of their lives, my life, and especially every unbeliever's life?

(I'm not the least bit surprised, I should admit, that non-Christians are incredulous that any reasonable person -- there are millions of them -- would even try to believe in Satan. I'm almost incredulous that I'm willing to entertain the idea of Satan. I've come a long way.)

First of all, it's hard because he's been so thoroughly discredited in our secular and scientific culture. Believing in Satan is like believing in witches and sorcerers and fortune-tellers and astrologers. There's so little firm evidence for the dogmas of the occult that few intelligent people can persuade themselves to credit Satan. Neither can I, but the lack of evidence simply doesn't prove that Satan doesn't exist.

Second, Satan seems untrue because doubters and non-Christians have had no experience of him strong enough to suggest that he's more than a product of foolish superstitions. Of course, this argument would, by the force of logic, put an end to believing in many things I've had no direct experience of. But, though it isn't conclusive, that neither I nor no one I know has "experienced" Satan is compelling.

Thus, there's no clear answer. But I guess I'm arguing that if Satan must be accepted, he brings all of Christianity under immediate suspicion, suspicion not easily mollified. With doctrines like Satan polluting it, this religion appears to be made up of too many foolish superstitions and fanciful myths to be true. In my opinion, Christianity has to put a lot more effort into answering these questions than I've ever read. Satan is a supernatural and malevolent being Christians are always talking about but never giving much evidence for. Telling someone to believe in the Bible and he will find it easy to believe in Satan is not very helpful. Satan is one good reason to have great doubts about the Bible and the rest of its outlandish stories!

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5. A Pentecostal Exorcism

ONE MORNING SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I ATTENDED a church service that has caused many doubts ever since. I was attending a charismatic church (one whose congregation believed in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues as the manifestation that its taken place) regularly at the time. At the end of the service, a bedraggled woman came forward, shrieking in pain, screaming that she was possessed by the Devil, and pleading for deliverance. The elders of the church gathered around the woman near the pulpit as some of the congregation sang songs and others began to leave. I stayed to watch, fascinated, puzzled, and frightened.

The elders began to pray in earnest over the screaming and despairing woman, who went down to her knees in the circle of men. It was a difficult scene for me to watch, because it seemed clear to me that the woman wasn't possessed -- which a parishioner told me, as though it were an obvious and ordinary fact, she had been for quite a while -- but insane. She belonged, I thought, in a mental hospital, not here, with a bunch of superstitious, though well-meaning, Christians praying over her and unable to help her.

Belief in demon possession seems a superstition. Perhaps I don't know enough about madness, or about the inability of psychiatrists to cure madness, to make an authoritative judgement on the truth or falsehood of demon possession. But in our day and age it's a hard thing to believe in, that much is clear to me. The sciences of the mind and human behavior are steadily explaining, or have already come up with so many plausible or sound explanations for, so many of the mysteries of human life that the Christian explanation -- offered by people who selectively believe in all sorts of unfounded miracles and amazing (not to mention amusing) supernatural events -- seems thoroughly doltish.

What happened to that woman and the parishioner's explanation for it has always made me think that Christians are simply not willing to face up to reality. If they aren't, how can we trust any of them or believe any of the doctrines they hold so dear and true. If they're able to embrace outright superstitions with such credulity, why should anyone think they're any less superstitious and deluded in their theories about the character of Jesus Christ, the meaning of his death, his rising from the dead, or the truthfulness of their sacred books?

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6. Demon Possession

DEMON POSSESSION and doctrines like it don't disprove Christianity. Even Jesus, according to the Gospels, clearly believed in demon possession. If a person believes in him, and believes the Gospels represent his opinions accurately, isn't it reasonable to believe what he believed? But isn't it also true that a person should decide whether to believe in him based, at least in part, on what he believed in? How much would a Christian trust a person who believed that the Bagwan Shree Ragneesh was a prophet? Or who believed that Buddha was born with a full set of teeth? Or that Joseph Smith received a revelation from God that was written on buried tablets?

That there are Christians, and a growing number of them, who believe in demons, demon possession, and in the immediate activity of Satan and his cohorts in their lives and throughout the world, should cause us to take notice. Why, pray tell, do they believe ideas that are now so discredited, and discredited with good reason? Why do they believe doctrines that even many millions of Christians find unsophisticated and embarrassing? Any explanation brings into question the entire faith.

Demon possession is one more chink in the Christian armor. It isn't alone enough to endanger its warriors, but, for me, so many chinks have been found in the armor that I'm becoming more and more reluctant to keep wearing it. It's like challenging an army while wearing a t-shirt.

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7. Conclusions Concerning the Problem of Disagreement

WHAT DISTURBS ME MOST about Christianity is probably not what troubles most non-Christians and doubters. Debates on the divine origin of the Bible, uncertainties about Satan and demons, unresolvable doubts about eternal life, the incarnation, or the resurrection cause much less skepticism (though they generate their fair share) than all the disagreement throughout the world and in every age -- even on every subject of any importance within Christianity. Disagreement is one indisputable fact. Disagreement seems to abound to infinity. Even though each person's differences with everyone else might be, at times, only slight, it's still true that for almost every person born a new system of faith is created and adopted.

Let's get specific: just what do I conclude from disagreement? That if everyone disagrees and there can be only one truth (as I've said before, how can it be otherwise, whether pluralism or relativism or Christianity or nihilism or ecumenism is the truth?), how can I ever flatter myself that I'll become the one person to discover the final, incontestable truth that everyone will immediately recognize and assent to? It would be utterly arrogant and stupid for me to think, at any time in my life, that I knew, know, or will know more of the truth than any one else, more than someone like Hernan Cortes.

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from disagreement. And if it's the only conclusion, I can finally be certain that I can't be certain, on any grounds -- rational or emotional or theological or scientific or experiential or spiritual or mystical -- of any faith I might consider! Whichever grounds I choose to rely on have, in the past and in the present, led innumerable people, just as human and intelligent as I, just as ignorant and confused and thoughtful, just as wound up in their own ways of thinking and believing, to radically different faiths, everything from atheism to Satanic worship.

Therefore, I cannot ever trust myself or anyone else (no one has anyone else on his side either). The search for truth ends at this argument. I must give up on Christianity and every other metaphysical creed, must I not? Why choose Christianity, or any other religion or philosophy, when disagreement over truth is and will not be resolved either among idiots or geniuses? There's no reason to choose it, and I must be neutral, absolutely agnostic, toward every metaphysical idea and theory and doctrine. Transcendent truth is only a wish or a guess -- nothing more, nothing less.

Should I trust in a hope that, because of disagreement, can have no logical foundation? I don't yet see how. But what must I do? Isn't it senseless to ask such a question? According to my argument from disagreement, I must do nothing. Doing nothing, however, seems equally absurd as believing, because disagreement makes absolute agnosticism just as illogical as faith.

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8. Charismatics and Disagreement

I ONCE ATTENDED A CHARISMATIC church for several years. The parishioners, at least most of them, believed in a mandatory second experience in the Christian life. The experience, Holy Spirit Baptism, in some ways parallels conversion. After being saved, a Christian may pray for and will receive the Holy Spirit, who will take up residence in his soul. The baptism will be manifested by speaking in tongues and perhaps other wonders, and special spiritual powers become available after the baptism.

Someone at the church told me once that the late pastor of the church had been ordained a Reformed minister before he became a charismatic pastor. Before the switch, as the story goes, this pastor had been hearing a lot about Spirit Baptism, a doctrine not taught in Reformed churches; in fact, his wife had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and had become "full gospel" -- that is, she became a believer in a separate Baptism of the Spirit manifested by tongues and conveying special powers of the Holy Spirit. Because of this news, her husband decided that the time had come for him to make a careful, thorough, and unbiased investigation of the doctrine to determine whether it's true or not, and then either to repudiate or herald it.

For a few days, the pastor huddled in his office and studied the Bible day and night. He came to the conclusion, my acquaintance told me with delight and satisfaction, as if something were proved by this one man making this one decision, that Holy Spirit Baptism was a real, necessary second step in Christian life. He himself sought the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and was, on the spot in his office, slain in the Spirit. Then and there, he spoke in tongues.

This story, as well as the entire charismatic movement, brings up some troubling questions. Simply put, why do some Christians believe such doctrines? It's uncommon for the "mainstream" Christian denominations to give credence to the doctrine of Holy Spirit Baptism. The majority of modern Christians, and probably the majority throughout history, haven't believed in a separate baptism following conversion. I never heard about it until many years after I'd become a Baptist, which came many years after I was confirmed as a Lutheran. Yet, here are many millions of believers holding this doctrine true, a doctrine other Christians either hold false or disregard. The Holy Spirit, most say, is baptized to a Christian upon his conversion; no second baptism is necessary and tongues won't necessarily follow the baptism. To them, the charismatic doctrine is, at best, misleading.

Thus, some Christians believe in a vital second event in every Christian's spiritual life, and others don't. How can this be? That pastor, his wife, and almost all his parishioners believed with all their hearts, with the conviction and confidence of Luther and Calvin (not to mention Cortes), that a separate Holy Spirit Baptism, invariably manifested by tongues, is true.

More disagreement! Even among Christians! Even among those who, assuming Christianity is the ABSOLUTE truth, know the truth!!! (I'm being facetious; I'm well aware, as everyone should, that Christians disagree on every doctrine, major and minor, of the faith.) Why accept a faith that can't fix its doctrines? Why give credence to a religion whose adherents can't agree on what it is? Which faction is right and which wrong? Don't they all believe they receive the miraculous illumination of the Holy Spirit from the same true God? If I can't trust some Christians, how can I decide which Christians to trust when it comes to deciding issues of my eternal security? In whose hands should I place my soul? Which church? Which theology? Which creed? They all thoroughly and resolutely disagree with each other. Ad nauseam, I could add thousands of examples to the story of the Reformed pastor who turned charismatic. If some Christians are right and some wrong (how can it be otherwise), and if they all believe in and pray to the same God, and if they all believe with the same conviction and assurance, and if they all have good arguments behind them (and they usually seem to), then how can anyone, Christian or not, be sure he knows he believes the truth and not some heretical error that might cost him eternal life?

God sure seems to have failed to get his act together. Everywhere, it would seem, are people who aren't Christians, but call themselves Christians. If this religion were true, shouldn't this have stopped long ago?

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9. Apologetics and Starting from the Bible

I EXPECTED a lot from Colin Chapman's book, and so far it's delivered. It's helpful to have alternative answers laid out on many difficult questions -- about God, suffering, evil, love, human nature, etc. Chapman obviously isn't trying to steamroll anyone or duck difficulties and objections; I'm thankful for that. A book with this approach is what I hoped to find.

I must admit, though, that I think he's organized his case for Christianity badly. In the opening chapter, as he discusses the credible answers to questions about God, man, and the world, and then gives the general Christian answers, Chapman quotes the Bible often, sometimes six times a page, without ever defending his implied faith that the Bible is divine revelation and hence absolutely true. Later, with this statement, he starts a section about whether truth can be known, "The Bible makes the bold claim that the unseen God has revealed himself to men...." But nowhere in the paragraphs or subsections that follow does Chapman justify believing the Bible is the one, true, final revelation. Maybe I shouldn't be so impatient, but I think an answer to this question should come right up front, maybe even on the first page. Chapman shouldn't be so unreservedly quoting the Bible to make his case without defending the practice.

Chapman does this again in the chapter entitled "Understanding the Christian World-View," which contains sections with titles beginning with the words "Christian Assumptions About...." Quotes from the Bible fill every page of the chapter; yet Chapman still doesn't bother making a case for its divinity.

Nonetheless, I suppose I should be patient. I think the approach is doing me so much good that I shouldn't complain about its misguided organization. Still, the answers to questions about the Bible must come at some point, and if Chapman is going to make the case for Christianity by using the Bible almost exclusively, it should come sooner rather than later. It's the heart of the whole matter, as Chapman's extensive use of the Bible to make his case suggests.

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10. Trusting Others

THE STORY OF THE REFORMED PASTOR turned charismatic demonstrates that even the revelation of God, when and if it comes to man, can be misunderstood, misused, misapplied, or perverted. Whom should a person trust to interpret the revelation for him if he can't trust himself? And, in any case, if he can't trust himself -- which history shows us to be a strong possibility for everyone -- why should he trust another person shackled to the same human weaknesses and predicaments of mind and reason that he is? Every person, whether he acknowledges it or not, is untrustworthy. And if a person can't trust himself, should someone else hoping to know the truth and be saved trust him? When will God rescue us from this web of reason?

Why do I always find these ways of doubting? Am I nuts? Or am I on to something? Christians would probably think I'm possessed by the Devil. Maybe it's so.

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11. Christian Disunity

IT'S NOT THE LEAST SURPRISING TO ME that some non-Christians can't take Christianity seriously because of Christian disunity. A friend at work said to me some months ago that since every church preaches a different Christ, he saw no reason to consider Christianity seriously. This is exactly one of my own arguments against the faith; and it will always be a good one, even if I some day find a way to remain a Christian. The disunity of the faith is indeed astonishing and is unquestionably a profound predicament. Who wouldn't distrust a group whose members can't agree on the truth, whose members say those who disagree are heretical or misguided or foolish or evil, and whose members have been willing even to hate and kill each other because of disagreements? Even Christianity's most ardent and zealous followers can't settle on truth. What unbeliever would feel confident that he could determine the truth when believers obviously can't?

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12. Going Crazy

I'M BEING DRIVEN CRAZY. I can't see any way through the darkness my arguments cover Christianity with. The evidence against this religion is piling up. Is Satan, whom I doubt exists, filling my mind with destructive thoughts to get me condemned to hell? Is God just letting him do this contemptible work? Is he doing nothing to save me? Why won't he, if he's the Trinity, transform my mind to know the truth?

These questions bring me closer to despair than I've ever been before. God is letting Satan pollute my mind so that I'll be condemned?!! Can I believe this of the Christian God? Do I know enough about God to think it isn't so? I doubt everything just about equally, so I have to accept that I also doubt whether I really know what God's like. That God is condemning me by letting Satan have his way with me is certainly a possible explanation, one the Calvinist cheerfully trusts in. But, to my mind (is Satan cheering now?), that explanation is horrifying and grotesque. If there is such a God, he's not worth knowing. To say that I'm a pot that has no right to complain to the potter misses an important point entirely. Unlike any clay pot, I'm to be burned forever and consciously suffer the agony of being burned, even though what I want above all is to know the true God and live at peace with him.

If God hasn't allowed my mind to be polluted with doubts to get me burned forever, then why am I so skeptical and now on the verge of apostatizing? For any thinking person, the arguments I've advanced about disagreement and the unknown causes of belief make skepticism inevitable. But what should I believe and why? According to its own standards, skepticism is impossible!

I can hardly think about these questions lately; a blank stare often comes to my face, and I often anxiously shake my head in bewilderment as I try to think my way out of these quandaries. Christianity leaves too many things unexplained. Too many of its doctrines are incredible. Too much of its history reads like myth. There is too great a price to pay in absurdities to believe it true.

And the costliest doctrine is the doctrine of eternal damnation, as I've said before. If Christianity is true in one of its traditional forms, every person who doesn't believe correctly will burn forever. But he'll be condemned for not accepting a faith he couldn't accept, given all the forces influencing his beliefs and beyond, or nearly beyond, his control -- given, too, all the power of disagreement, which has scattered people across a giant world of ideas. Put together what I know about disagreement and about the mystery of faith, and Christianity, because of its standards of eternal damnation, can't -- or shouldn't -- be true.

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13. Turning to a New Faith

WHAT I'M NOW DOING, I've got to admit, is casting about for a creed I can live with -- that makes the most sense as truth. More every day, Christianity just doesn't look enough like truth should look for me to decide it is the truth. The Christian faith is so full of intellectual difficulties and inconsistencies that it fails the commonest test of truth -- the system that answers the most questions with the fewest contradictions is true. Christianity leaves more questions unanswered every day.

But, to sound like a broken record, I'm not going to reject Christianity yet, at least until I find the system I'm certain is the truth. It seems reckless to do otherwise. I have to stick with it as an interim faith because I've believed it for so long that I'm still, despite how skeptical I am, finding it difficult to discard it, that is, to declare it false. This shouldn't be surprising. How difficult it must be for, say, Pacific Islanders not to believe in the Cargo Cults, or Arabs to renounce Islam. It's the same for those raised with Christianity and steeped in Christian ideas. I still find some truth in the religion (what I judge to be true). I still even find it attractive. But I don't think it's THE TRUTH. Another creed or philosophy is truth, and I'm going to learn which one.

Saying these words gives me peace. A burden is lifted from my shoulders, a burden of fear and hope and uncertainty I've carried for so many years. Christianity has simply brought me no peace in the years I've been trying to force myself to believe it's the truth while I was acutely suspicious it's false. Today, I can accept that sometime soon I'll reject my faith. I have, after all, come so far. I've amassed so many convincing arguments against the faith that I don't see how I won't soon call it quits. It's a paradox that I still want to hold onto Christianity while I prepare to renounce it, but perhaps I'm just trying to cover all the bases or work up my nerve, like a diver setting himself and taking a deep breath before his dive off a hundred foot cliff. I do know it's now only a matter of time before the end comes. Christianity is not the truth; I shouldn't believe it is.

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14. Other Truth-Systems

SO, WHAT IS THE TRUTH? I've been making some guesses the past few weeks. Though I don't know whether any one of my suggestions comes any closer to the truth than Christian faith, they're at least the beginnings of a search for the faith that truly saves. Many systems tempt me to believe in them. But I want to and should embrace only the one I can be certain of, the one that's been proved. Christianity, I guess I've got to face at last, should be discarded because it can't be proved. Any system that can't be proved, though it might be the truth, can't be known to be true. How could a person know a truth that can't be proved? I must now resign myself to the task of finding the truth. I'd so hoped Christianity would be it.

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15. Deism

DEISM OFTEN APPEARS SENSIBLE and rational. Deism offers a God with a moral code that commands people to be good and an after-life in which the good and the evil will get their just rewards. On the negative side, deism doesn't have the superstitious trappings of Christianity, the nonsense, the perverse supernatural events and ideas. It's less susceptible to the uncertainty caused by disagreement, because it's simpler and much more comprehensible to most men and women. Many religious systems, though they'd hold it in contempt, fit deism well enough, because most religions have somewhat similar doctrines concerning goodness, ultimate justice, and God.

Significantly for me, deism maintains that people are held to a lower standard of conduct and damned only in extreme cases. Its doctrine of damnation sounds much more sensible than the contradictions of the strict and severe damnation of Christianity. Still, deism retains the idea that damnation is a final and deserved separation of the unrepentant and the evil from God. Maybe deism is true; I'll have to think some more about it. Though he didn't add them to his book to convert anyone, Chapman has quite a few pages on it that make a lot of sense to me.

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16. The Taking of Communion

I'VE GOT TO GIVE UP COMMUNION; there's no purpose in taking it. I don't consider the religion it's part of true, which means I don't or can't know whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead, which most probably didn't happen. I, therefore, know that his death was almost certainly not an atonement for my sins. So why celebrate his death? Nevertheless, though I've decided to stop taking communion, I'm going to keep going to church, despite how close I am to rejecting Christianity. Don't ask me why; I don't know.

In church yesterday I didn't go to communion, just as I had decided not to. I hoped no one would notice; embarrassingly, I'm still not yet ready to give up my friends. I don't want to see their expressions of dismay, sadness, condescension, and shame yet. I don't want them to start praying for me yet, as if I were making a bad choice rather than the very best choice -- the only sensible choice for me, and them, to make. I don't yet want to face them coming over to my house to try to persuade me not to go through with apostasy.

I was surprised how difficult it was to refuse communion. I felt torn. I wanted to be able to believe. Communion services are so profoundly solemn, the words are still so moving, the idea of God's dying for my sins is still so touching and full of promise. That God came to earth and died for me still entices my soul, despite writing earlier this week that I now feel peaceful about renouncing Christianity. Peace always quickly turns to turmoil. I can keep feeling it about as easily as I can hold onto a handful of water and several goldfish.

During the service, I sat in my chair near one of the communion tables, kept my head down, and longed to be one of those going up to take the bread and the wine. I longed not to feel so skeptical of the faith the people standing all around me (the tables are placed in the aisles at my church) seem to believe with confidence and security and finality. I almost stood and walked to a table. I began to feel tense and anxious; I began to feel embarrassed and ashamed, to feel under judgement, to feel afraid. I began to wonder whether the peace I felt just a few days ago was an dangerous illusion to make me feel comfortable and secure with the appalling choice I'm about to make against the truth. I felt as though I were under an obligation to stand and take the sacred elements. But I hesitated; with my eyes closed and my head bowed (yes, I was praying), I demanded of God that he pour enough faith into me to help me stand at a table, take the elements, and thank Christ for dying for me. This prayer changed things. I felt empty; a moment later I wasn't thinking about God's lovingkindness, but about how absurd the resurrection is. I actually had to suppress a chuckle over my foolish and superstitious friends.

I couldn't believe with any conviction that Christ is God, died to save sinners, and rose again. It simply sounds like a fable. I watched the people slowly and solemnly step forward to take the bread and the wine, the body and the blood. Soon, it was over. I hadn't gone. I was astonished I hadn't; it was the first time my doubt had kept me from a sacrament of the church; it's a milestone of sorts. I don't know yet whether I'm terrified or overjoyed. Is it over for me? Or is it finally and graciously beginning? Have I now risked eternal damnation at the hands of the Living God, the God of the Trinity, whom I've begun the process of rejecting? Or have I taken the first step toward the true God, not a illusory god of myth and legend, but the God who will truly love me and save me? O God, save me! Save me from myself, from this mind!

* * * * * * *

17. Calling on God

TODAY, I SAT ON THE COUCH IN THE LIVING ROOM and thought long and hard about refusing communion. I decided that I should find out -- why hadn't I thought of this before -- what the truth is from the source. I still can't find the courage to renounce Christianity, even though I'm intellectually decided it's false. In my pain and despair, I called out to God to reveal himself to me. I told him I'm unable to make a full commitment to a faith I can't be certain is true. I explained to him that Christianity is subject to countless absurdities and contradictions that show it can't be proved and is therefore not truth humans can know. Almost crying, I pleaded with him in a loud voice to show himself to me and speak with me, to tell me the truth. I must admit that I felt a little foolish. Crackpots who believe in cults and astrology and all kinds of esoteric nonsense do this sort of thing. But I kept praying, because I want answers and an end to this anxiety.

I opened my eyes and waited. The house was still. I waited for a minute more in silence. In tears, I called out to God again, as I looked up at the ceiling, and begged him to show himself to me. I waited for a few seconds more, and then hung my head. God wouldn't answer the prayer. I felt silly to have hoped he would. I even felt silly for supposing he exists. But I also felt that I had fulfilled my duty: I had at least tried for a miracle to convince me of Christianity's truth. There's that much to my credit. I've given this faith my best shot. I've considered a lot of evidence; I've waited and read; and now I've even prayed for a miracle. There's no reason why the good and loving God Christianity teaches shouldn't have spoken to me to save me, is there?

This thought wasn't comforting. If God exists, would he answer to my beck and call, like some obsequious servant, like the God of the charismatics, who believe assuredly that God is ready and willing to respond to their pettiest prayers, if only their faith be strong enough, for parking spaces or cars that start or safe travel or healing from headaches. I wanted a miraculous revelation to bring my struggle for the truth to a close.

I still, obviously, can't feel at peace about leaving Christianity behind. Why, O why, do I want to cling to this faith?! Why do I still feel anxious and discouraged that God didn't descend from heaven to have a chat with me on my living room couch yesterday? I feel betrayed and alone. Perhaps if I prayed to another god, to the real God, I'd get a different result; but surely God knew that I was talking to him even though I don't know who he is yet. How I long to know you God, how I long to know who you are!

* * * * * * *

18. Other Possible Truths

SO WHAT MIGHT BE THE TRUTH? Deism is high on my list. It's attractive to me: it has a Creator, one of whom seems to exist. It also has a moral code and a means by which ultimate justice is achieved. These ideas make sense to me. But to believe them, of course, I'd have to say that Jesus Christ wasn't God, didn't die for anyone's sins, and didn't rise from the grave.

So, can Deism be proved true? Its five doctrines are, admittedly, no more than speculations and opinions. There's no way I can see to prove any of those doctrines -- no way to prove God exists, exactly who he is, and what he expects. There's no way to prove he has a moral code, to prove there's an eternal punishment, or to prove that following the tenets of deism will help anyone avoid it. There's no way to prove that God has withdrawn from his universe to let it run on its own.

The only way to know anything very specific or firm about God is revelation, one of which deism doesn't have. This creed is, therefore, nothing more than speculation and wishful thinking, standing on shakier intellectual ground than the Christian faith, despite all its uncertainties. If deism might be true, I might just as well believe in Christianity. At least it makes a claim to revelation, however weak the claim is. Deism is just floating, ethereal ideas -- philosophical guesswork. I wish it were true because I'd like the truth to be as simple and clear as deism makes it out to be, but there's no way to confirm it, and wishing it were true doesn't make it sound. Deism doesn't even make any claims to be confirmable; it just makes assertions with no foundation other than Christianity. (How did deism get its doctrines other than by watering down Christianity?)

Still, deism might be true because it has the fundamentals of most human thinking on metaphysics -- God, morality, and justice. The simple ideas it concerns itself with do make sense. It's problem is that it has no arguments that demonstrate its simple doctrines are true. Thus, it has far less value than Christianity, though it does lack the profoundly disturbing contradictions and mythic nonsense of Christianity.

Sadly, I guess, taking all into consideration, it isn't worth pursuing. There's too little sound evidence backing it up.

* * * * * * *

19. Hinduism as an Alternative

HINDUISM, IN SOME WAYS, MAKES a lot of sense to me. Hinduism is so open-ended that whether you know it or not you're a Hindu. That's just the way it would make sense for God to make true religion in a world inundated with disagreement, confusion, and ignorance. No one is left outside the pail; no one is left uncertain of his fate; no one, no matter what his opinion, is treated unjustly because of ignorance or stupidity or the circumstances of his life. How can this be? Hinduism has karma, or merit, one part of the doctrine of reincarnation that holds that the quality of each person's life is the cumulative result of how good and true his previous lives have been. If one dies and is reincarnated a cow, one knows one's karma is bad -- one erred in previous lives. If one is reincarnated into the untouchable caste, one knows one still has some work ahead to achieve Bliss. If one is making big spiritual progress in this life, one might be on the verge of being dropped into Bliss, the ocean of God.

Now, doesn't that sound perfect. Whatever your beliefs are, you aren't outside Hinduism, because once you die you'll be reincarnated into the life you deserve based on your previous lives. Slowly, you'll learn through your reincarnations that you've got to pursue the good and the true, which are to put an end to all desires for self, develop your spiritual understanding, and renounce the world for a higher, more valuable goal -- enlightenment. And God gives you all the chances you'll ever need. He's not interested in condemning, but in slowly bringing you closer and closer to his Nirvana of understanding and freedom from desire.

As good as it sounds, however, I can find no grounds for believing Hinduism and disbelieving Christianity. Hindu doctrine is as uncertain as Christian doctrine, if not more so. The Hindu thinkers even admit to having no knowledge of God! To believe in Hinduism would be the equivalent of believing that God is a can of bacon grease. For how can Hinduism prove that reincarnation happens, that each life is deserved and brought on by karma, and that Bliss is on the way? It can't. It doesn't even have a revelation from God! I shouldn't believe in something so unsupported.

It's easy to understand why Hinduism is so appealing and makes some sense to me: there's no hell, no choice, no need of certainty, no predicaments because of disagreement, no fuss, no muss. Yet, it only makes sense when I want it to be true. At all other times, it seems to be just another case of wishful thinking. As attractive as it might be, what reason is there for believing its transcendent teachings? None at all. So why choose it?

* * * * * * *

20. Nothing Satisfies

IT'S ALREADY OBVIOUS THAT THIS IS what's going to happen every time I consider adopting another new creed: though some of its doctrines will make sense, the creed as a whole won't have any sound, compelling evidence supporting it, so I'll have to reject it. I might as well stop listing the alternatives; it's disheartening to realize that I'm not going to be able to prove any creed with metaphysical doctrines in it. A lot of the best and most popular alternatives to Christianity attract me as much as deism and Hinduism, but I can see now that I'm never going to prove a one of them.

What should I do? Going through my list of alternatives, from Islam to Buddhism, one by one, would surely be a waste of time and a big frustration. But what do I do next? Keep trying to prove Christianity?! That would be just as big a waste of time. Who'll rescue me from these uncertainties and indecision? Who'll show me the next step to take?

* * * * * * *

21. The Reliability of the Bible

COLIN CHAPMAN FINALLY got around to discussing biblical history. I've been waiting for this for more than a hundred pages. But when he decided to take up the crucial topic, much to my frustration, he didn't do much with it. Moreover, Chapman keeps on quoting the Bible to show what Christians think about God and man and nature and morality, but still hasn't even made an attempt to prove that the Bible is God's Word.

In the section "Verification In History," Chapman did nothing more than say that verified history is important to Christianity. He was trying, I suppose, to show that Christians are thoughtful, open-minded, logical, "scientific" people. But when he ought to have said something convincing about whether the Bible's history is verified, all he could say was this:

[The Christian] can point out that the documentary evidence for the resurrection is at least as good as the evidence for other events of the period which are never questioned, and very much better than some.

What does this prove? Nothing at all. Indeed, Chapman doesn't even try to back this statement up. The fact that there are four Gospels rather than one, which is what he means by saying the documentary evidence is very much better, doesn't demonstrate any more conclusively that Jesus rose from the dead. There's no assurance that the Gospels were independently researched and composed and are not four edited versions of the same oral tradition! Furthermore, the reason why other events in antiquity and the documents describing them aren't questioned is that they don't contain preposterous events and don't have eternal damnation riding on belief in them.

Chapman argues later that experience confirms history because each Christian's "relationship" with a living Jesus shows that Jesus died and rose. Well, as I've pointed out before, even if Christianity turns out to be true, countless billions have believed even more far-fetched nonsense in the history of the world. So why do Christians think they're immune from false experiences or human error?!

In this whole section, Chapman seems to be interested in showing merely that history is an important part of the case for Christianity. His concluding statement is: "Attempts to detach the Christian faith from history [as Bultmann wanted to do] have very serious consequences." I agree; Christianity is bunk without an historically risen Christ. But how does establishing its importance prove the resurrection happened?

I looked ahead and saw that more is to come in the last chapter of the book on this subject. I can hardly wait to get there. I hope this wasn't a sign of what's to come. Is this it, just around the corner? Proof?! Chapman can't let me down.

* * * * * * *

22. My Personality and Intellectual Style

WHY DO I THINK AS I DO? Why do I tend to be so skeptical? Why do I have so many reservations about the resurrection, the incarnation, original sin, the atonement, and hell? An answer I've come up with recently is that I think like my father. I feel a strong, natural attachment to him and a deep respect for his opinions and judgement. For some reason in the nature of kinship, I look up to him and love, esteem, admire, and -- most importantly -- trust him. I've always held him to be a kind and wise man, even though I don't approve of or agree with everything he's done, said, or thought. In short, he's got credibility with me.

My father is someone I can't just dismiss or ignore. Whatever he says always gains credence with me and often sways me. It's always difficult to disagree with him or to consider choosing against his ideas, advice, or wishes; I must consciously exercise my will to do what he wouldn't recommend.

My father isn't a Christian -- at least not by the standards of any Christian sect. (What God thinks, of course, is unknown and is probably a different story for him and everybody.) He's said that he believes Christ died for sins. He has deep roots in the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church, the church I grew up in. He believes in Christian morality. But he doesn't believe as a convert -- that is, in any way that would satisfy one of the creeds. He's a modern man, inclined toward religious pluralism, tolerance, and liberalism, none of which are, in my opinion, inherently evil, erroneous, or ungodly ideas. I have this opinion, however, probably because my father holds such sway in my mind and soul.

When my father makes the comment, for example, that he wonders about the rationality of Christians' maintaining that everyone who doesn't believe as they do will be condemned to hell forever, and that he therefore wonders whether Christianity might be false, I take notice and feel a strong, non-rational temptation to agree. For his ideas and questions profoundly influence me, whether I want them to or not. Many of my ideas are my father's reborn in me. Those ideas and theories make sense to me, I think, because I trust my father other than by reason. I've never tried, for example, to prove that my father is trustworthy or that his ideas are sound, rational, or even worth consideration; I've just always accepted them to be wise or true.

Are not many such influences, stronger and weaker, steady currents in every person's soul? Is not every Hindu and Buddhist and Jew pulled along gently yet inexorably by family and culture and custom? Is God going to condemn them all because they found it difficult to overpower the prejudices of their own cultures, heritages, and families dragging their minds and souls downstream? (Or, to entertain the ideas behind predestination and election, did God create them to be swayed by these forces just to condemn them?) Orthodox Christian doctrine teaches that God will condemn those who can't swim against these currents.

What an appalling thought that this might be the way God behaves. For in my life I see that I have little or no control over these intuitions. I didn't even become aware of them until a few years ago. Until recently, I didn't think I needed to try to govern them. Are they any less strong in anyone else's life? All these thoughts cause me to conclude that Christianity teaches a contradictory God. Supposedly, he compassionately gives life and sustenance and more, but cruelly condemns those who can't overcome the forces that lead them astray.

How can Christians accept this? What upbringing or training enables them to make sense of this? I can't think as Christians do -- probably mostly because of my father.

* * * * * * *

23. Christian Exclusivity

THE DOCTRINE OF EXCLUSIVITY makes it very hard to believe Christianity is true. The doctrine teaches that there's no room in heaven for any one of any other faith or any erroneous faith. It's virtually impossible for me to accept that God, if he exists, would institute such a system of salvation in this tragically inadequate world. Every person of every faith in every era (not even considering that so many sects have ripped Christianity apart) was wrong and is now paying for his error in the fires of hell. This is Christian doctrine. Is there an argument that shows us this isn't the truth and will make it possible for me to believe Christianity without it?

Well, the doctrine of exclusivity is so abhorrent as to be inconsistent with most of the Christian attributes of God. It's also supremely arrogant: if so many people are wrong, how can a Christian ever be sure that he's the one who's right. No one should even gamble on such a creed because the odds are always badly against him; a clear majority has already disbelieved Christianity, and a majority of Christians believe incorrectly at their own peril. Add to this that Christianity regards everyone who doesn't believe correctly as a God-hating rebel, and these ideas are so inconsistent with other Christian teachings about the goodness and love and provision of God that the entire religion just doesn't seem true.

People seem to believe (or at least there's a strong possibility that they do) for countless non-rational reasons. How can any one be so arrogant as to maintain that he knows the truth that billions don't know, can't know, and don't wish to know? Are Christians inhuman? Is God inhuman? The argument that Christians stand not on their own thinking, but proudly on the Word of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, begs the question? Who decides what the Word of God is, and whom should we trust to interpret it? Someone's maintaining with such bold confidence that he knows all the world is lost but that he and his select people are saved seems to be the result of glaring, self-indulgent pride. There are no grounds on which to take such a stand, and the stand itself is one of the reasons that Christianity should come under deep suspicion.

A Christianity like this makes almost no sense to me, nor to millions of non-Christians -- and with good reason. For who would make up such a system? Not a just and good God, surely. "All the world is wrong and I am right; thank God it is so," says the Christian. But of course the whole of human history gives contrary evidence. If it's true that people believe what they believe for a myriad of uncontrollable reasons and causes, and if it's true that they believe not just to rationalize their disbelief in Christianity (which some of the evidence strongly suggests), and if it's true that a good and just God wouldn't condemn people to hell for disbelief by making it nearly impossible for them to believe and yet requiring them to believe, and if this Christianity must teach that God does condemn people in this way, then Christianity is almost surely false. This isn't weak pluralism, which the secular man has brought forward to challenge the true faith. It's a terrifying inconsistency. The argument against Christianity from its doctrine of exclusivity is strong and distressing. It brings about great fears, as so it should in every Christian. It must be resolved before I can stay with this religion.

* * * * * * *

24. The Problem of Evil

AS I TRY TO MAKE A PRESSING decision about Christianity, I'm facing Cheryl's daily threats to leave me. What emotional torment! Out of the blue, she's thinking about nothing else but divorce; everything I say is more grist for her mill. I really didn't expect all of this to happen. The anguish is causing me to lose sleep and ruining my appetite. I've lost almost ten pounds in the last month alone, and I was pretty thin to start. I can't seem to find any meaning in this suffering. I'm very angry with God at the same time I'm still anxiously wondering whether he exists and whether, if he does, he's the Trinity.

Cheryl's behavior raises the question that commonly brings about so many doubts -- the question of evil and suffering. It's nearly a universal obstacle for doubters, but, strangely, I haven't struggled against it until now. Peculiarly for me, however, the question of evil and suffering has cast Christianity in a new light. The question has goaded me to reconsider whether the faith I appear bent on rejecting can in fact comfort me and give meaning and purpose to my suffering.

It's a sticky mystery for Christians to believe in a good, loving, and all-powerful God, who nonetheless allows or initiates so much evil in the world he created. It seems ludicrously incongruous for a God of infinite love to permit or produce evil on the scale it's been produced in human history. A skeptic instinctively thinks that if that loving Creator exists, he would've found some better way of conducting business. If the Trinity is the Creator and is omnipotent, evil is, ultimately, his responsibility, regardless of whether evil comes from Satan, man, chance, or natural forces. If God is all-powerful, it must be concluded that he deliberately chooses to let evil continue; he can do something about it, but doesn't.

Of course, God might allow evil to exist because he's using it, rather than causing it, in order to chasten or teach human beings for their own good. But would a good and loving God use evil as abominable as genocide or plagues or wars or oppression or typhoons or earthquakes, or, to put it on a smaller scale, as insanity or cancers or divorce or murder or robbery or rape or pollution or destitution to achieve his goals? It doesn't make good sense to most people. By what logic, then, could Christianity ever be deemed true, while harboring such a violent contradiction. There's no defense against this disproof of Christianity, unless one appeals to mysteries or paradoxes or the omniscience of God. (God knows, goes the argument, what man can't know -- that in some way it's ultimately good that he allow or cause evil this horrendously evil.)

Believers have written countless books defending, by one argument or another, that God, by some inscrutable rationale, is still all-powerful and good, but allows evil because he uses it for good. As difficult as this might be to accept, goes the argument, people must humbly resign themselves to seeing that God's purposes and methods are, by definition, beyond our knowledge, understanding, and judgement and are undoubtedly good and just. Well, it might be so. However, this contention has no proof in philosophy, in science, in the Bible, or in any other religious book. It's a theory based on the passages of the Bible about God's love. But never in the Bible, not even in Job, is God's love satisfactorily squared with suffering and evil. Thus, Christians, like unbelievers, like even atheists, are without answers to the question of suffering and evil.

* * * * * * *

25. Which Gods Do Not Exist

THE QUESTION OF EVIL AND SUFFERING casts more doubt on Christianity than atheism. Atheism has no good and omnipotent God to conflict with evil. I believe suffering and evil are sound arguments against Christianity. Would the Trinity permit evil to exist? Since it does exist, then shouldn't we question whether the Trinity exists? Would he allow me to go though this painful divorce, so damaging to me and my daughter and perhaps, unwittingly, my wife, if he could, or cared to, prevent it? The character of the Trinity implies that God would do something about my suffering and the much greater suffering of billions of human beings past and present -- but doesn't.

To those who are suffering, the Trinity appears evil. Simply put: he allows or causes too much horrendous suffering in the world to qualify either as good or all-powerful. So many people are suffering; so much oppression and poverty and cruelty and murder and war plod on. How can this God Christians believe exists be the real God? A different God (if any god at all), one either not perfectly good or not omnipotent, must exist to explain this situation. The question of suffering and evil can't tell us, this much is sure, which god does truly exist, but it can prove which gods don't exist. Reason demonstrates to most people, and certainly to most non-Christians, that suffering and evil are not compatible with the God of Christianity. (Of course, it might be that the Old and New Testaments need reinterpreting.)

For me, it has only now become as big a problem as it is.

* * * * * * *

26. Answers on Evil and Suffering

THE SUFFERING MY MARITAL PROBLEMS have brought about has compelled me to ask some new, tough questions in my investigation into whether Christianity is truth. For the first time, I've begun to search for a faith that's not only truth -- I still believe truth can be discovered -- but a faith that gives meaning to my suffering and will help me survive this time of confusion and desperation and despair.

This purpose is different, I think, from the one I've always had. I've been searching for the past few years for the truth to answer all my theoretical questions, that is, to tell exactly what is and is not; now I have a specific and practical question I need answered that has less to do with what really is than with its causes: I need to know why this evil is happening to me. Does it have meaning or purpose? Why is it so painful? Does God care about me? Does he want to bless me? Why is my wife falling in love with another man -- even though she maintains our marriage is in trouble only because she realized (it simply can't be true) that she's never loved me?

I've discovered that I don't just need to know the truth, what truly is; I need what truth can give -- peace and comfort and understanding and commitment and conviction. I've discovered too that evil and destruction and death, even on the small scale of a divorce, are only a moment away. Everything in life can be instantly undone. Most of the time, for example, I've been thinking theoretically about what happens to people when they die; now, I see death clearly before me because death could happen just as suddenly as divorce, couldn't it? Just as Cheryl can one day decide she's had enough and leave, I could be dead, my daughter could be killed, the world could explode in war or economically collapse. Evil and suffering can and do happen, I think I've really seen for the first time; and for the first time I've got to think carefully, earnestly, about what will happen if more of them descend upon me than already has.

I'm still going to wait for the faith that can't be disproved -- it's the only truth. I don't want to believe illusions just for the sake of my comfort. But looking for truth because I need it for practical answers to pressing troubles has changed how I think about truth and how I think about Christianity. It has, most importantly and unexpectedly, made me look more painstakingly at Christianity because it has, at least, a definite answer to the question of evil and suffering, an answer which makes a great deal of sense to me right now, though it's as perplexing as its implications are disturbing. Christianity teaches that God hasn't willed or condoned evil, but that he wants to produce good from evil through suffering, to use evil to show how good and kind he's been, and is willing to be, to everyone living in a selfish, ungodly, dangerous, destructive world, a world that mostly hates him.

Should I believe this? Does the idea breach the strongholds of skepticism in my mind? Can I trust that God wants to do this? Even to ask these questions is a new beginning for me. They blow away the rarefied intellectual air of deductive logic and inductive evidence I've been breathing for so long. I've had the illusion that the truth will be uncovered only by the detached, "objective" mind (as if detachment and objectivity were even possible). My pain and despair, and the condition of the world they've awakened me to, have caused me to see that truth should affect my behavior and attitudes, change how I live, satisfy needs and purposes and longings, give meaning, explain why things are as they are, and show whether evil or good or some combination will ultimately reign.

Most of all, truth must bring hope, because I can't accept hopelessness and dread. Truth might then be found and proved in part by the hope it brings to life and death, not only by whether it can be proved to a logical certainty. I've always expected that once I proved truth, I'd immediately decide how it should change my life. I always expected that it would immediately give me hope because its truth. But I now think I see that I've got to understand how my life should change, and what I can hope in, before I'll be able to discern the truth.

I've asked plenty of fearful questions about the beyond, the theoretical life to come, but I've asked few questions about this life and what Christianity might do for me, for others, and for a world of suffering people today, other than show them and me the way to salvation. Can Christianity answer the deep and painful questions of this day, questions about Marie and Cheryl and my despair and my suffering? Can it answer questions about the starving and the destitute and the oppressed and the evil and the lost and the fearful and the desperate? These are a new kind of question. I don't even know whether they can be answered in any way I understand, but they've changed the game.

* * * * * * *

27. Hope

WHAT I WROTE IN MY LAST ENTRY doesn't mean I'm ready and willing to stop asking questions about history or metaphysics yet. That would be premature and imprudent; my intellectual doubts need answering if I'm ever to rest secure with answers to questions about facing death and evil. Without ceasing, I feel certain that I must resolve my doubts about the identity and trustworthiness of Jesus Christ, about miracles, revelation, the interpretation of revelation, and all the rest. It's only, ultimately, by resolving each of these doubts that I'll gain confidence that the practical answers I find have any weight -- are anything more than illusions produced by desperate hopes and dreams.

On the other hand, the truth must unquestionably bring hope or it isn't worth knowing and probably isn't the truth. That much, because of all these troubles in my marriage, makes perfect sense to me, though I don't entirely understand why.

* * * * * * *

28. Doubt Reigns

AT THE SAME TIME I'M FACING the possibility of divorce, I'm now facing bankruptcy -- and the questions about evil are multiplying. Our store has been going steadily downhill for more than a year now. Recently, my father, who has an interest in the store, came to review the books. My father and I quickly learned that in the first couple of months the store was open, at Christmastime, it brought in a lot of cash. Ever since, however, it hasn't been generating enough income to build on the profits generated by the first inventory. The store has had a cash leak, a steady, unseen cash leak bleeding it dry. Now there is almost no cash flow, and there's little hope of adding to it without sales?

Naturally, this situation is causing a great deal of pain. It's adding to the pressure to find answers about truth -- immense pressure. I need security and safety. I'm afraid. I hear from creditors on the phone every day. They first call to cajole, then to warn, then to harass, then to threaten. These angry bill-collectors try guilt and fear and shame to get payments out of me -- money I simply don't have.

Why has God, if he's so good and powerful, put me in this situation? Has he done it just to make me see that I've been a weak, skeptical, lukewarm Christian for too long. Well, if this is his purpose, why doesn't he answer my prayers and give me certainty that Christianity is true? Why doesn't he answer my questions or show me the books in which to find them? No illumination or inspiration or miraculous revelation has washed over me, despite the number of times I've asked (all I pray for anymore is illumination) God to give me certainty so I can believe in him and do as he pleases.

But after all this pleading, here I am, still doubting -- still doubting with the same intensity and conviction I've always had. I can't get past the skepticism caused by all the disagreement in the world and within the Christian church. I still can't get past my doubts about miracles and the resurrection and the person of Jesus Christ. I doubt intensely that the Bible is the Word of God. I still don't hear or feel the Trinity. I still don't know whether I hear the Holy Spirit in my conscience, or my own wishes, my culture, or some demon. So much of Christianity, I've got to admit, still seems balderdash.

Despite all my prayers and hopes and faith (believe it or not, my determination and tenacity and praying show I have faith), I've made no progress toward resolving my skepticism since I started this journal. Why haven't I given up? That I don't know. Sometimes, I passionately want to give up. Other times, I want to hang on -- with all the strength I have left -- to this faith I can't stop doubting enough to hold firmly. I don't know what to do. I want answers, I want solutions, I don't want to struggle any longer against doubt. But doubt reigns; and now my failing business is making the doubts stronger and more insistent. To what or whom can I turn?!

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29. Other Belief-Systems and Apologetics

IN THE MIDDLE OF The Case for Christianity are the alternatives, the religions, the philosophies, and the ideas of the great thinkers that compete with Christianity for believers and credibility. It's been surprising and telling that so many of the ideas, theories, and doctrines of the alternatives either echo my own sentiments or sound very attractive and compelling. This shows, I guess, that I don't think as much like a Christian as I've always thought.

Here are a few examples. Animism's general view that God shows he loves all people by creating them makes a good deal of sense. Hinduism's theory of a silent and unknown God sure seems to have been proved by my own experiences and the lives of millions throughout history. Karma and dharma, the simple system of rewards and punishment in Hinduism, also makes a good deal more sense as a system of justice than Christianity's convoluted divine sacrifice and the required faith in it. Chapman's quotations showing how Muslims defend the Qur'an sound much like Christians defending the Bible -- they point to its unique character, they condemn those who doubt, and they leave it to Allah to convince unbelievers. There's lots more.

Among the great thinkers, Immanuel Kant's opinion that people can be certain of nothing beyond their direct experience is almost exactly the conclusion I've drawn after years of searching for certainty. And Soren Kierkegaard's description of the absurdity of the story of Christ's life and the difficulty of trying to believe it historical sound so much like my own words that I feel as though I've unconsciously plagiarized him. (I've never even read Kierkegaard before.)

Finally, among the "isms" Chapman describes, agnosticism has great appeal. Darwin wrote long ago that horrid doubts arise about the trustworthiness of our own minds because the mystery of existence is insoluble for us -- now, doesn't that sound like me?! The agnostics quoted rail on and on about uncertainty and that uncertainty must lead to pure neutrality. The existentialists, on the other hand, like me, are desperate to believe in God and become willing to take leaps of faith. Sartre is quoted that all decisions on truth begin with man because even man must judge -when he's hearing God, and not the Devil, speaking. It was at times uncanny to find my own thoughts while reading these chapters.

What does this affinity show? That I'm probably not crazy for struggling as hard as I do against doubt. Other brilliant men and countless adherents to the world's religions and philosophies have thought what I think. Still, I'm afraid. Am I going to wind up in hell for being comforted in my skepticism and giving in to it because of these chapters? This question shows that I still can't beat back Christianity in my mind. Why do I still fear hell so strongly if I doubt it so deeply??!!

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30. Relativism and Disagreement

I'VE GOT TO GET BACK to the real issue: what is true? All this talk about wanting to have answers to the practical questions of life and death isn't getting me any closer to the truth that'll give me those answers. So, if Christianity probably isn't true, what do I think might be? What makes more sense? Agnosticism? Judaism? Existentialism?

I guess one of the creeds I'm beginning to drift toward is relativism. Every creed is right and true for the person who believes it; every change of creed is right and true for every person who converts. Why this is so attractive hardly needs an explanation: because everything goes. No one will be cast into hell for making a mistake. No one can be harmed or derided for foolish notions, because there are no foolish notions. But why does relativism makes sense? What evidence is there for it? It isn't hard to find: relativism makes sense because there's so much uncertainty, so little convincing evidence for most metaphysical theories and creeds (and no proof), and so much disagreement about truth that it's logical to conclude that either everyone is right or we're all patently wrong.

Relativism, thus, settles one huge problem -- disagreement the world over and in all of human history. Relativism has no difficulties with disagreement or the arrogance of dogmatism; disagreement is even to be cherished and cultivated (though, sadly, the universalist religions and philosophies, naturally, will probably multiply at the expense of relativism). In fact, disagreement confirms relativism. What explanation for nearly universal human disagreement is there (other than a tyrannical God) but that everyone is right for himself?

The end of the problem of disagreement is so satisfying that it gives me a kind of comfort, an intuitive feeling that relativism makes sense. I don't have a feeling of certainty, but I think it's drawing closer. Relativism makes a great deal of sense simply because it outflanks problems with knowledge, certainty, and God's punishments. Whether God exists or not doesn't matter; he's willing to be kind to everyone, if he wants to show kindness. Nothing he does or doesn't do, nothing I do or don't do, weighs in any heavenly balance, if such a balance exists for me or any one else. This, to my mind, can be the only consistent explanation for disagreement, the single most prominent fact of human history.

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31. Universal Truth

IF, HOWEVER, RELATIVISM IS THE TRUTH, then, first of all, relativism is relative. It gets difficult to think about truth at this point. Facts never come clear because relativism has neither facts nor truths; and this problem can't be resolved, because in relativism even the "fact" that no facts exist can't be proved -- because it's relative.

Moreover, Christianity, along with most religions, appear odd from inside relativism. For if it's true, the relativist can't say to a Christian that he's wrong, because he isn't. He's right, and so is the relativist, though he thinks the Christian's wrong. The creed gets strangely slippery now: the Christian, who is right, believes the relativist is wrong. The Christian, however, is right only for himself; he's right for himself that the relativist is wrong, and the relativist is right for himself alone that the Christian's wrong. Therefore, if I were to believe in relativism I'd simply be asserting that someone who believes I'm wrong is right, which means I'm wrong, which means relativism is wrong. But wait, I've gone too far in that statement, for another person and I are only right for ourselves, not each other, which means that any assertion I make about the world is right only for me. But how can that be? In believing relativism, I'm asserting something about the world, the whole world.

I think I see the problem here: it's the words true and right, which carry the implication of absoluteness and universality. Truth is only truth if it's absolutely universal; rightness is only right if it's right all the time everywhere. How can it be otherwise? Thus, truth and right lose all their meaning when used in the relativist creed. The relativist unwittingly believes that truth doesn't exist. By definition, truth is whatever is. If something both is and isn't, which is the case for Christian doctrines seen through the prism of relativism, then nothing is, or, to be more exact, existence doesn't exist.

I've been trying to think my way out of this paradox, but can't. Even the relativist doctrine that there's one certainty -- that all is relative besides the certainty that all is relative -- seems impossible to prove by any means, because reason, the only faculty I or anyone else has to employ to establish, confirm, and understand relativism, is made defunct by relativism.

Finally, relativism isn't neutral, a wait and see faith. It's a proclamation that all other creeds are wrong; it's a choosing against. If I choose to believe it true, I'll be choosing against Christianity and risking the Christian eternity -- asserting in my mind and soul that Christianity's false.

Can I take this step? Does relativism makes that much sense? I have this strong feeling that I know it doesn't.

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32. Marital Separation

CHERYL HAS LEFT ME. I was stunned. She filed for divorce without telling me, left town for a few days, and then had me served with the papers while she was away with Marie. I don't know what to do about it. I don't know how our problems can be solved and our marriage saved now. I don't know what to expect from God. I felt like praying, and last night I did. I prayed simply, like a good foxhole Christian would (I was ashamed of myself during the whole prayer). This is about what I said: "Lord, I know I haven't prayed to you much in the past couple years, but I'm really scared, hurting, and worried about this situation. Please show me what I should do to help heal the damage that's been done and to take the steps I need to take to bring my wife back to me. Lord, give me faith to believe that praying and doing your will are important and that you exist. I want you to exist. But I feel so seldom that you do, and I have so many doubts. Will you not show yourself to me? Amen." God didn't show himself, as he never has. But it did feel good and sensible to pray. I didn't feel as though I was just covering all the bases in a desperate attempt to get God, if he exists and behaves as Christians seem to think he does, to bring Cheryl back. I wasn't just giving prayer a whack to see what might happen, to acknowledge that there's a possibility that God is the Trinity and the Bible is his Word. No, I felt that it might really be true that God has something to do with this, that God is out there, interested in us, and commanding us to live our lives in accordance with his rules and counsel. Perhaps he's even interested in doing us good.

Perhaps, on the other hand, these thoughts are just the old, obsolete, wishful beliefs creeping back into my doubting, distraught, and fearful soul for a few days. I have a suspicion that that's the case, but maybe it's not. Maybe Christianity -- the orthodox version -- is true, and maybe it can give meaning to this separation and impending divorce. Maybe it can give me hope that good can come from evil and the suffering it results in. Though that hope was strong last night, today the nagging intellectual problems I've been delighting and distressing myself with for the past four or five years are all crowding me for attention again.

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33. Christian Faith Will Not Go Away

A CHOICE MUST BE MADE. That's indisputable now, because I'm going through this time of suffering and despair. I know a few times in this journal I've written that it's impossible not to choose, because not choosing some creeds -- such as Christianity and Islam -- is an automatic choice against them. I've even learned to accept that neutrality is a choice against. To take an example: Islam requires belief and active participation. If someone says he's neutral toward Islam, he has in fact chosen against it because Allah, according to Islamic doctrine, will save only those who do as he says. Someone who's neutral isn't going to do what Allah tells him to do in the Qur'an. By the same reasoning, neutrality is actually an affirmation that Allah is false, that is, not deserving of the obedience and devotion his prophets say he deserves. Therefore, neutrality isn't neutral at all. Because of the religions of commitment and punishment, it's a deep misconception; to be neutral toward most religions, sad but true, is to decide against them. Furthermore, no one can be neutral toward every proposition; intentionally or not, people always inevitably have beliefs and opinions about truth, which are revealed by their words and actions.

And so, if we must choose, and if I can't avoid choices because pure skepticism is an illusion, if I'm still choosing every day no matter how hard I try to be tolerantly open-minded, neutral, and non-judgmental, then why not make a choice, even though certainty is impossible?! Is this as radical an idea as it is seems? Revolutionary or not, it's the crucial question right now. For how will I make any sense of this separation and of my anguish and despair and fear except by choosing the truth that seems true to me? How will decide what I need to do except by choosing truth? How will I have any hope except by choosing truth? And I must make sense of evil and death and suffering. I've got to know why we're alive and what happens when we die.

Perhaps I should choose to believe in atheism, or perhaps I should choose Islam -- I'll admit that I still don't know. But I am making choices as I wait, think I'm staying neutral, and can't decide on my choice. And so, because I've got to make a choice and because I can only make the choice that seems best to me, regardless of what everyone else might think, I've decided that I'm going to choose orthodox Christianity. Despite all my doubts of this faith, despite still being unable to decide whether I should choose to disbelieve because it can't be proved true, I still have a feeling, a dominant feeling, rooted deep within me, that orthodox Christianity makes sense.

I'm a bit sheepish about this, after all the times I've questioned Christianity, mocked its doctrines, and challenged its defenses. But I can't deny that many of my opinions are actually Christian opinions. And seeing this has made all the difference. It's from orthodox Christianity that I took my ideas about God and his goodness and compassion. It's from orthodox Christianity that I took my ideas about God's needing to reveal himself for us to know him. I've got to concede, finally, that it makes perfect sense to me that God exists. I've got to confess too that it makes good sense to me that if God does exist, and if he does expect people to be moral, and if he'll judge people in the after-life, then it also makes good sense that one of the religions with a god, a system of morality, and an after-life should be my choice for truth.

Which one? Christianity, Judaism, or Islam? They're the three biggest candidates. I don't now know and will probably never know for sure, but, for reasons I don't entirely understand, Christianity makes the most sense. And here's proof: despite all the skepticism I've suffered, I've all along been unable to reject Christianity while I was doubting every one of its tenets. Once and for all, I've got to admit, in spite of my steadfast doubts, that it makes sense that Jesus performed miracles; it makes sense that he rose from the dead after his crucifixion; it makes sense that he died for people to save us from our sins; it makes sense that God revealed himself and that the Bible is that revelation.

As I've said, though always embarrassed and bewildered that they did, these doctrines have always made sense to me. I can't prove one of them. I don't even know whether I can make a sound case for one. But I can't avoid making a choice. And I've discovered at last that I can't choose against Christianity, for whatever reason.

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34. Christianity Still Making Sense

CHRISTIANITY MUST BE MAKING MORE SENSE all of a sudden because I'm enduring these sufferings. Life's taken on a different color, different tints and hues, because I'm experiencing real suffering. I've seen how close evil is. I've realized that death is just around the corner. Anything, it's now obvious for the first time, can fall apart in a moment, like a sheet of glass shattering into a million fragments the instant a small stone strikes it. Life has come to appear not so much involved with the sheer intellectual problems that have twisted and turned and tormented my mind for years, but with living day to day on principles and with standards that prepare me for evil and give true hope. Even while I've been doubting, I've been living in this way. I've always chosen to believe in Christ, though I wasn't confident of my faith and discouraged that I couldn't be certain. It's a little difficult to describe how I doubted and believed at the same time. The doubts have certainly affected my faith, but they didn't destroy it. It's like the Christian at the moment he consciously commits some cruel sin. He knows he's sinning; he knows it's destructive; he knows he can't call himself a Christian as he does this; but he also knows that he's still a Christian because of what God has done, not what he's doing.

I've got to choose what makes sense. I can't wait any longer; the end of anything I might have counted on is always just a step away. And Christianity, it's a bit surprising, still makes the most sense. It takes much less for me to be a Christian than an atheist, a relativist, or a Muslim. And so I'm going to be one, even though I can't prove I'm right.

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35. The Attractions of Christianity

CAN I MAKE THIS DECISION when I take into consideration all the doubts I still have? Not one doubt I've been wrestling with for so many years has been resolved. I still doubt that the miracles of the Bible really happened. I doubt that the Bible is the Word of God. I'm skeptical that anyone knows or can know God. It still troubles me that so many people don't believe in Christianity. I still agonize that there's so much disagreement and fear what that implies. I'm still skeptical of most Christian doctrines -- predestination and election, original sin, the atonement, the resurrection, the exclusivity of Christ. I still consider the church's doctrine of hell grossly inconsistent. I still wonder why those who believe so confidently and unswervingly in other religions and philosophies -- many of whom are probably more intelligent and wiser than I -- feel as certain of their faith as Christians do of Christianity. I still anxiously wonder who's right. I still wonder whether pluralism and relativism might not be true. I wonder about skepticism and agnosticism; they, too, seem so true much of the time. I still doubt it all -- because of disagreement, because of the countless strong forces that seem to influence people's reasoning and choices and beliefs, because of the billions (imagine -- billions!) of people holding so many contradictory faiths -- that it's possible to know anything. I still wonder about the bare facts, and what they are, and whether the truth can be built from them. I still wonder about God's cruelty: the whole system of Christianity seems to be a damnation machine, monstrously hauling in truckloads of prisoners for God's divine Gulag. I wonder about all the great thinkers who have searched for the truth and haven't dug up anything in any way resembling Christianity.

Quite a list of doubts, no? But despite these nearly overpowering doubts, I still feel attracted to Christians who believe with such confidence. I'm attracted to the thinking of brilliant theologians who have argued so persuasively and eloquently for the faith. I'm attracted to people who pray and try to be good on behalf of and in obedience to Christ. And most importantly, only in Christianity is to be found the loving and merciful God who wants to be a father and friend to his creation. I still want to feel the power of God conquering sin and evil in my soul and helping me do good in the world, feel it rushing through me like a spring breeze. I want Christianity to be true. I want the truth to be good in these ways. I want to believe if there's any chance that it's true.

Lined up within me against each other are unbreachable doubts and immovable feelings. Today, a feeling that Christianity makes sense is holding the field. It doesn't appear likely that my doubts will ever be resolved; but I want to leap to faith! How can I justify taking this leap? How can I make the decision to believe in orthodox Christianity, or at least something pretty close to it, consider myself a Christian, and yet harbor all these doubts? Should not I wait until they're cleared up or God clears them up? Can I believe and doubt?

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36. Apologetics and the Resurrection

THE CASE FOR CHRISTIANITY won't help me much, I'm afraid; in fact, it's causing me to doubt more acutely. Colin Chapman failed to make a firm case for the historical validity of the Gospels and didn't even once bother to try to defend the Bible as divine revelation, despite using it alone to describe Jesus Christ in one of the final chapters.

Chapman gives only two reasons for believing the Gospels are historically accurate: 1) Jesus used rhetorical devices to help people remember his sayings; 2) the authors of the Gospels were Jews who believed in the ninth commandment and would have feared breaking it. How sadly feeble. Is this all a person has to go on?!! In answer to both contentions I say, "So what?" Jesus's use of rhetorical devices proves nothing. Secondly, have not billions of people who have believed in the ninth commandment broken it anyway?! Even Chapman himself admits that his reasoning can makes us only "fairly confident" that the Gospels are history (a contention I disagree with). God is going to punish people in a torturous hell forever for failing to be "fairly" confident?!!

The book ends with several long discussions of the alternative explanations for the resurrection of Jesus, all of which Chapman dismisses in favor of maintaining that the event as recounted is true. But Chapman's arguments against the alternatives are hardly sound, not because they aren't cogent, but because they prove too much. His principle argument against the disciples inventing the story (for some conscious or unconscious reason) is that their faith was clearly so strong that it must have had some event as compelling as a powerful miracle behind it. To be valid, this argument shows only that every person who has strong faith tells the truth; such an argument, of course, means countless creeds strongly believed are true, which is ridiculous. Chapman hasn't yet realized that people of all ages have managed to convince themselves of all kinds of tomfoolery and then believe in it with all their hears. He gives no reason to think the authors of these books were immune?

Chapman's principle reason for believing that the disciples met the risen Jesus are equally silly. Chapman bases his whole argument on the trustworthiness of the Gospels, which, though he thinks so, he never established. Chapman simply has no way of persuading anyone that the story of the resurrection is not a legend like so many, many other legends believed in so fiercely.

The book ends without even a glance at the rest of the Bible, and the central question for the Christian faith is left unanswered. If the Bible is not the Word of God, or can't be shown to be the Word, what does Christianity have going for it? Nothing, as Chapman's whole book makes terribly clear. Does he not quote the Bible again and again as his only evidence for much of his argument? Yet Chapman seems not to notice this problem and address it.

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37. Probabilities and the Inevitability of Disagreement

I GUESS I'M NOW LOOKING FOR THE CREED that's most possible to believe and most impossible to disbelieve as the truth. If everyone or the majority disagrees with me, one of my great fears, well, then, so be it. What can be done about disagreement whether I feel certain or not, whether I make a choice or not. Almost everyone disagrees with everyone else: almost everyone who's ever lived or is living would've disagreed or will disagree with whatever choice I make -- whether for Christianity, Islam, atheism, "scientism," Judaism, Hinduism, or Zen. Seeing this for the first time has made a big difference. I can make my choice without having to worry myself into fear and indecision because of the endless historical disagreements over truth in human history. All I have to work with, just like the men and woman of the past, most of whom would have disagreed with me no matter what I'll choose to believe, is the light I have.

For some reason, this has until now been virtually impossible for me to accept. I've been thirsting for the final and universal and incontrovertible truth -- a truth that no one can possibly deny without deliberately and obviously lying (he'd have to lie as though he were trying to convince the world that he's the tooth fairy) -- without ever realizing and comprehending that when I choose truth very few people will agree with me on very few points I might consider incontrovertible. If I were to become a confident, assured Christian, most of the people on earth will disagree with me. If I were to become a firm atheist, most people will disagree with me. If I were to become a relativist, most people will disagree with me. It's always been and always will be so. This said -- what will I choose?

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