A JOURNAL on DOUBT

* PART FIVE *

Go back to: Prefaces


ENTRY TOPICS in PART FIVE

1. Belief in Certainties or What Makes Sense

10. Divorce and Bankruptcy

19. Faith and Skepticism Together

2. Trusting Oneself

11. Divine Revelations

20. Disagreement and Skepticism

3. Credibility of a Thinker

12. Lack of Certainty

21. Other Ways to Salvation

4. Choosing a Faith

13. Orthodox Christianity Doesn't Make Sense

22. Disagreement Always Persists

5. Believing What Makes the Most Sense

14. Proofs

23. Trusting One's Own Mind

6. Wagering

15. Betting Against Certain Doctrines

24. Living with Doubt

7. The Willingness to Wager

16. Old Objections Laid Aside

25. The Faith of Other Believers

8. Personal Reasoning

17. Telling Christians of a Skeptical Faith

26. Believing with Believers

9. What Has God Revealed?

18. Sinister Skepticism

 

 

1. Belief in Certainties or What Makes Sense

THIS IS WHAT I MUST RESIGN myself to: skepticism will forever be part of whatever faith I eventually choose to adopt. I've always longed for certainty and been willing to withhold belief until I arrived at it. Skepticism, however, helped me to see that many religions and philosophies have persuasive and valid claims to the truth. And it showed that many creeds are clearly false (though never to a certainty and never to a everyone). I've learned that certainty isn't possible. As a consequence, I now know that I must learn to accept a faith disfigured by doubt.

But I've learned something important from skepticism: that I still have to choose. Perhaps making an uncertain choice isn't necessary at all. Perhaps I've been lying to myself that the truth isn't as intelligible to me as to those who claim to know they know it (disregarding for the moment the number of different faiths such people hold). Perhaps I know the truth already. Perhaps. To my mind, however, it's probable that making an uncertain choice is unavoidable and necessary, and more probable when I remember a world full of error and confusion and disagreement that ruin all certainty and make even mild confidence seem somewhat arrogant. It makes sense to me, for some reason, that each human being can choose only according to the light he has. This is, in my best judgement, part of the human condition, the condition of hundreds of millions of other people past and present: that the truth is unknowable by reason and must be chosen. Can I be certain of this? No. But uncertainty should no longer hold me back.

The question to answer, then, isn't the one I've been asking for years, "Which creed is true to a certainty?" but "Which creed makes the most sense to me as truth?"

I've already reached some conclusions about the standards that creed will have to meet: first, I should affirm as the Truth the creed that's least impossible for me to believe and, second, most impossible to disbelieve. A faith chosen according to those two standards isn't going to bring me to the blessed land of certainty, but it might help me to be at peace and feel secure with my beliefs. In fact, they're the only standards that for me give any hope of peace. It's least impossible for me to believe that I must make a decision without proof and certainty. I'm going to try to make that decision on the standards that make the most sense to me according to my best judgement or to the light illumining my mind from above.

Pure skepticism, I think I've finally realized, crushes itself; but I must live. I must have a faith; I can't and don't want to believe nothing. I don't want to be skeptical of everything. I want and need true and sound principles for living and thinking and acting. And, most pressingly, I must have hope.

This approach to truth and faith isn't producing the anxiety and paralysis and fear I've suffered the past several years, probably because it has a place for the skepticism I can't rid myself of. Yes, I'm turning on pure skepticism, because I'm skeptical of it. Skepticism as a way of life no longer makes sense. But I also know that I'll never be completely unskeptical. Now is the time to play my hand. To my mind and soul, there seems to be no other way.

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2. Trusting Oneself

THE FIRST STEP IN CHOOSING the truth is deciding how much I should trust myself. Over the years, I've often asked myself this rhetorical question: "Who am I to judge the rightness or wrongness of ideas and opinions and beliefs?" But I must now at last accept that there is no one else to judge! I have to stand and decide. I'm making decisions whether I appear humble or arrogant. But it's not arrogant to make them. Clearly, God, if he exists and whoever he is, has required everyone to choose the truth for himself. Proof and certainty and universality and finality God has not allowed. And now I must make a choice. Skepticism is not possible; certainty is not possible; choosing with the light I've been given must do. So get on with it. I've toyed with pursuing certainty long enough. I've wallowed in doubt long enough. I want to believe. What can I believe?

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3. Credibility of a Thinker

I'LL ADMIT THAT MY CREDIBILITY with myself has been damaged because of all the established non-Christian religions and faiths and philosophies I've been tempted to believe. Because of this, I'm proposing some more standards for choosing truth: first, I feel I must believe in a creed that has a significant number of adherents and a long history. I don't think it would be wise to adopt a new faith of my own or another's making. It no longer makes sense to me that if truth exists it would be discovered at this late date in human history (not to mention that it would be discovered by me), especially if God judges people's lives after death according, in part, to their knowledge of truth. Billions have people, if truth is yet to be found, have already died without it. If God exists, he wouldn't allow that to happen, would he?

Second, I'm going to remain willing to make some adjustments in the established creed I choose to believe in order to make it intellectually acceptable to me. Let me make this clear: I'm not going to try to create a new faith, but I am going to search for new ways to interpret an old one to give it more sense. Just about all the major creeds, the religions and philosophies with large followings and long histories, I know already, have too many untenable doctrines. To believe any one of them, I know I'm going to have to do some refitting and retooling.

These two standards force me both to bow to authority -- that is, agree to the ideas of people with greater intelligence than I and to beliefs of greater tradition and more history than any I could devise -- and tinker with that existing faith. Searching for truth with these standards, I think, is wise. In fact, it's what I must do, for skepticism is forcing me to do it.

I'm not willing, as others might be, to start over anew. I don't have the confidence, because of all the evidence I've introduced for human inability and my own intellectual deficiencies. I'm certain enough of this: I must believe true a creed that already exists and must not believe something newly proposed. Because I'm certain? No! Simply because it makes the most sense to me that the truth has already been discovered, and because I can't believe I'm the person to make the discovery if it hasn't.

Skepticism is also forcing me to search for ways, if they're needed, to make more sense out of religion or philosophy I choose to affirm. For some reason, I'm skeptical of most everything. But I'm no longer willing to reject everything and become a relativist. Therefore, if I see the need and can find a way to do it without jeopardizing the entire creed I find least impossible to credit (unless I feel I must put it in jeopardy), I'll make some adjustments in it.

Though I might be wrong, I'm willing to stake an eternity in eternal torment on these principles, one of authority and tradition, and the other of reinterpretation. This decision obviously gets me one step closer to Christianity. It clears the way for me to accept one of the traditional Christian creeds and permits me to reinterpret the one I choose as I see the need.

Faith in Christ, nonetheless, is still a long way off because hundreds of established faiths have been believed by millions of people over many centuries. How am I to choose among them all?

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4. Choosing a Faith

ONE OF THE REASONS MY WIFE has left me and is planning to divorce me is her private interpretation of a passage of Scripture. She maintains that Christ's command that no man should put asunder what God has joined together doesn't apply to our marriage because God never joined us. Therefore, in her mind, she can put us asunder because God doesn't care. In fact, God approves. He wants his people, she says, to be married to the people he joins them with. When she uses this argument on me, she often adds that because I'm a doubter I have no right to question her interpretation or the decisions she made based on it.

For my part, I can't seem to deny the traditional Christian position that divorce is wrong except in cases of infidelity. My wife's willing to bet she's right. But no matter how intellectually skeptical I might be of my own opinion -- and I'm skeptical and always will be -- I can't bet against the traditional Christian morality of divorce. That morality makes more sense to me than any other. It makes the most sense to me because I've discovered that most of the fundamental doctrines of conventional Christianity, despite my doubts, make so much sense that I can't bet against them.

I should admit that I have a conflict of interest. I want to find a way to make Christianity true so I can prove to my wife that she's wrong, that divorce isn't fine with God. This, I know, is a selfish, non-rational motive for holding a doctrine true, but is it senseless or evil? I don't think so. We must all gamble as wisely as we can, using the best light, the best discernment, and the best evidence each of us has. I'm not willing, I guess I've got to admit, to assert that just about everything goes with God, which is what my wife's argument logically leads to in my mind. I believe, and I recently told my wife that she should believe this too (she laughed), that God considers divorce a sin, and we know he does because he's given us and the rest of mankind a revelation -- the Bible.

I want and need to believe this, and want my wife to believe this, because we must both have grounds for our thoughts, words, and actions. Pure skepticism not only frees my wife from any responsibility but also frees me. With skepticism, we can both do whatever we please. Everyone else can do whatever he pleases too. Now, I don't believe that. What I mean is that I'm not willing to bet my life that pure skepticism, which leads to moral chaos, is the truth, even though I can't prove it isn't and even have many reasons, and some excellent reasons, to conclude it is.

I'm willing to bet that truth and moral standards exist, that human beings must search for them, choose them with our best judgement, and live according to them as well as we are able or enabled. I'll undoubtedly feel acutely skeptical of whatever I eventually choose to accept as truth, but a choice must still be made with whatever rationality, intelligence, sincerity, and humility I've been granted. I must choose according to what I think I know and what makes sense. Pure skepticism leads to chaos, and that's one of the best reasons I can think of to reject it.

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5. Believing What Makes the Most Sense

I'VE BEEN WAITING during the past couple of years to believe what I knew to be true. Now, since there's no way to know what's true, I'm going to take my best shot and believe what makes the most sense to me, even though I won't ever have absolute proof. It's become more apparent in the past couple weeks that I think in ways that push me toward particular conclusions. I can't claim to be completely objective or logical in my search for truth. I think according to my experiences, my learning, my intelligence, my purposes, my prejudices. Employing all of these adds up to what makes sense to me. Can I be certain that what makes sense to me is truth? Certainly not. In fact, the statistical chances, as all of history shows us, are slim.

But what makes sense, after I've used all my powers of reason with as much honesty and wisdom as I have, is all I or anyone else has to choose the truth with. So, why worry any longer about not being certain of what makes sense? I keep writing these entries, trying to convince myself, despite my inclinations, not to worry.

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6. Wagering

WHAT I SAID IN MY LAST few entries implies that Pascal's Wager, in modified form, is the way to choose a truth. Everybody, whether he knows it or not, is gambling on the truth, because he must gamble. Certainty is an illusion. All supposed proofs are ruined by disagreement and the manifest weaknesses of the human mind. Therefore, irrefutable truth can't be discovered. Still, we must all choose. Why? Because neutrality and pure skepticism are impossible. We must choose because when we don't choose, choices are made for us by our predispositions, though without our knowledge or consent. Just by thinking and acting each day, each of us shows what he's chosen, whether it's a thorough and coherent system or a set of disordered, contradictory, and vague notions.

How, then, are people to make the choices they feel they should make? By wagering: what is each person most willing to bet his life on, and most unwilling to bet against? That's where faith will come from.

Pascal thought it wiser to become a Christian than to risk damnation by remaining an atheist, as if Christianity and atheism were the only two competing "truths" in the world. What I've added to the wager is the awareness of what's being wagered against by affirming Christianity or another creed. By choosing any one creed, one not only wagers on that particular creed, but against all the others. It's crucial to be conscious of that, because whenever I remember that by choosing faith in another creed I'll haver to renounce Christianity, I can't go through with renouncing Christianity! I can't bet against it!

So what do I wager? I'll believe first of all that God the Creator exists. I'm not willing to wager that there's no after-life and no judgement to come. I'm not willing to wager that God doesn't expect a great deal of man -- to love God, follow his commandments, to pursue righteousness purely and zealously. I'm not willing to bet that God isn't watching how we think and behave and wants us to live according to his laws and recommendations. I bet that he urges us to behave selflessly, compassionately, mercifully, charitably, dutifully, diligently, perseveringly, courageously -- that is, pretty much according to the advice and commands of Jesus. On the other hand, I bet also that God's just, compassionate, and merciful. I bet that he understands why people have so much trouble thinking clearly and reasoning coherently and consistently. I bet that when people fail to keep his commands and repent, he's willing to forgive the truly repentant. And I bet that he'll welcome into fellowship and the Kingdom anyone who's willing to admit his sins and receive his mercy as a gift, whether in this life or the one to come.

This is my Christianity, the beliefs I've actually held true for years and years, even during this long period of skepticism. These are the beliefs I can't renounce. This is what I'm willing to bet for and unwilling to bet against as truth, even though I don't know fully why I do and can't be certain I'm right.

Most of this "truth" is obviously based on Christian doctrine derived from the Bible (which is the weakest link in my faith), but adjusted for human disagreement, uncertainty, and intellectual weakness. I have almost no doubt that most of these doctrines are true. I'm willing to stand before God penitent and hopeful and faithful to him in these beliefs and disbeliefs.

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7. The Willingness to Wager

SO HERE ARE THE BELIEFS I'm willing to wager for and against. I'm willing right now, I'll be brave and decide, to gamble that Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism and Judaism and atheism and many, many other systems are not true, and that Christianity, as I understand and conceive it, is true. For whatever reasons (it really no longer matters to know what they are, because I can't seem to gain complete knowledge or control of my motives anyway), I can't repudiate Christianity. I can't rest assured in the deepest part of my conscious soul that it's false.

I've made many bold statements the past couple of days about what I'm going to wager on, but I've got to slow down a little. I want to start with this question: is there any rational defense for believing Christianity? Well, first of all, I believe quite surely (that is, I'm willing to bet my life) that God exists. In my opinion, there's no proof (at least that I've discovered yet) that he exists, and I don't feel certain of his existence; but I'm willing to wager for and unwilling to wager against the belief he exists because his existence makes clear sense to me. The natural world -- the human body and mind, trees and plants, water and crops, and much more -- seems to have been designed with such remarkable, miraculous intricacy, harmony, purpose, beauty, and profundity that I feel compelled (by my mental and spiritual habits, prejudices, and proclivities) to believe surely that it was created by someone or something infinitely great, extraordinarily good, and unimaginably powerful. The argument from design, as this reasoning is called, doesn't pass muster with millions of agnostics and atheists, and, if I'm going to be honest, I'm often extremely suspicious of it too. There are other arguments for the existence of God, but they only convince me when I'm reading a theologian using them to prove his case. As soon as I read a refutation, I doubt them. Though the existence of God can be both successfully refuted and supported, his existence does make the most sense. Because it does, and because I must and want to make my own choice, I'm unwilling to bet that God doesn't exist and quite willing, I can admit for the first time since all these doubts began, to bet against atheists and agnostics and pure skeptics. This is how Pascal's modified wager works.

God seems to have made it fairly plain that he does indeed exist. To me, the evidence is clear, so clear that I've rarely struggled with doubts about the existence of God. Nevertheless, I'm not going to start judging everyone who disagrees wrong; I don't and can't know the reasons other intelligent don't see what is fairly obvious to me. I'll leave their opinions and what they're able to see and not see to God. I'll also hope God is merciful, if he exists, to atheists and agnostics, because their arguments for their "creeds" often make good sense to me and cause me to doubt my wager. Those arguments, however, simply don't make enough sense to make me willing to bet against God's existence.

This is the wager I'm willing to begin with -- God exists. The next question to consider is this: who is God? Is there any way to know him?

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8. Personal Reasoning

I'LL ALWAYS BE AFRAID that my reasoning on these matters, the matters of the greatest consequence for everyone, atheist and agnostic included, won't ever be sound or complete. I'll never know for sure whether my arguments are cogent, that I've properly weighed all the evidence, that I've been willing to consider every counter-argument and refutation fairly.

But I'll also never know any of this whether I remain skeptical or not. Even when I choose a truth, I'll always be uncertain that I've logically weighed every piece of evidence. So what else can I do but give my best shot at choosing truth. I know this kind of thinking is often derided by Christian pastors and theologians. I've often heard it said that simply doing your best in thought and deed will get you nothing but the worst -- hell. Is not the road to it paved with good intentions? Well, I'm just glad, as I've said before, that they're not in charge of the universe, or of assignments to heaven and hell.

I think the way I do -- whether for good or ill I can't know for sure -- but I must try to think my way to the truth. There's nothing else to be done. Fearing other people who are, in my opinion, wrong and worrying that I don't have enough knowledge or intelligence to make valid decisions will only lead to pure skepticism, a choice I don't want to make.

Christians can say what they will about proofs and certainty -- just as I do, they have to take their best shot. The fact that I, and so many millions of others, for all kinds of reasons, disagree with them should persuade them that they shouldn't be as cocksure of their "truths" and "proofs" as they have been. Zealous, even fanatical, infidels and heretics are good evidence that such feelings of certainty can go strangely and frequently awry.

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9. What Has God Revealed?

IF GOD EXISTS and has created conscious, reasoning, and moral creatures who have the urge to know him, it's reasonable to surmise that he'd reveal information about himself to us. Learning about God's character and attributes from the creation has, however, never been very fruitful, because the creation, though it gives us some general knowledge of God, doesn't give us enough information to know definitely what he's like, whether he expects anything of us, or whether he wants us to know him. It's likely, then, that God, if he existed and cared about letting his creatures know him, both of which make sense to me because of the way human beings have been made, would give a revelation to his creation. There's no way to be sure, but it's a fair possibility that God has revealed himself, which is the only way to learn anything definite about him.

I think I believe this not only on these shaky grounds, but also because so many sacred have been thought to be divine revelation. Many millions of people, some of them the most brilliant thinkers who have ever lived, have believed, rightly or wrongly (they might, of course, all be wrong), that God would and did reveal himself. This fact, combined with my own sense that God would reveal himself to conscious, personal, and moral creatures, if he existed, means that I should be keeping a watchful eye out for that revelation.

Now -- to be sure one misunderstands me -- I'm not certain there's been a revelation. It is possible God chose never to reveal himself. He might have chosen before he created us to leave us ignorant of him, or to let us speculate about him from the evidence of the natural world and through deductive logic. But because people have believed in revelations that warn the world of hell and other punishments, I'm not willing to gamble that he didn't reveal himself, despite my uncertainty. To my mind, that's the least impossible of the alternatives to be true. Because I'm so firmly convinced that he exists, God seems much more likely to have revealed himself to creatures he created with such wondrous and magnificent powers of mind and soul.

But which revelation is God's? Whom has he spoken to? Whom should I trust, of all the people who have claimed to have received revelations and believe in revelations, has truly heard him? Obviously, I've come to the heart of Christianity -- the biggest gamble of them all: is the Bible the divine revelation?

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10. Divorce and Bankruptcy

AS I TRY TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS about faith, my marriage and business are still falling apart.

Though my father and I put on a couple of sales to sell off our dead inventory and to get some cash for new inventory, the bookstore is getting ever closer to failing. We're trying to generate enough income to buy enough new books to make it to the big Christmas season that's just ahead, but the sales haven't helped. The books on the shelves, even at sale prices, aren't valuable enough to bring the cash we need to pay enough of our bills to open new credit so that we can buy new books for Christmas.

Add to these problems the condition of my marriage: my wife has filed for divorce; she's ever less inclined to reconcile; she believes quite firmly that she never loved me; she also believes that divorce, in our case, is more than acceptable, it's God's will; she has a boyfriend more than ten years older than she whom she's virtually living with. Nothing I say to her, nothing any other Christian friends say to her (and her brothers and sisters have been trying hard to get her to see the light), makes any difference. She's convinced her actions are right, are even godly.

My doubts are pressing on me at the same time I long to turn to faith for comfort and for hope. Every time I try to make a final decision to believe, I start doubting again, mostly because the Bible just seems like a lot of bunk and the miracles, particularly the resurrection, seem like fairy tales. And so I can't believe in Christianity with a wholehearted commitment yet, even as I'm desperately trying to use my new ideas about faith and skepticism to choose a truth.

Bringing doubting to an end, however, is more possible now than ever before. I want to bet on a faith and let it give me hope. I care very little any more whether I can be certain. I wouldn't mind if the truth were Christianity. I wouldn't mind if it were another creed. I just want to be settled on and confident in some creed. But I still don't know how to overcome my doubts of so many Christian doctrines, not to mention the doctrines of just about every other religion and philosophy. Despite the suffering my doubts inflict on me, I still let skepticism twist me in torment every time I try to affirm God the Trinity.

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11. Divine Revelations

IS THERE ONE REVELATION OR MANY? I know that many, many modern thinkers believe that tolerance and pluralism are the answer to this question: all religions, it's often said, are gifts from God. The world's religions are like different stony paths leading up one majestic mountain or the spokes of a single wheel. God has many "truths" and everyone should learn that God brings people to himself in different ways.

That answer, attractive as it is, much as it has influenced my thinking, sensible as it seems because it skirts the problems of universal disagreement, human error, irrationality, and ignorance, still doesn't make a lot of sense to me. All religions and faiths and philosophies simply can't be equally true; they contradict one another on most essential points of doctrine. It's more likely, in my opinion, that they're either all wrong, or that one of them is right. Pluralism is, to my mind, ridiculously untenable. To maintain that everything, even contradictions, are equally true implies that there's no such thing as truth, some existing thing that's absolute and universal. Yet, I believe in "religion" -- in knowing and serving and God. Thus, I'm faced with the requirement of choosing one of them.

Two thousand years ago, a man named Jesus of Nazareth preached throughout Galilee and in Jerusalem. Some of his followers wrote books about him decades after his death. It's difficult for me and many other sensible people not to be very suspicious of those books because they tell so many implausible and myth-like tales. But it's also clear that an astonishing number of people, in comparison to the absurdity of the tales, have believed ever since the books were written that the events they recount happened -- that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he performed wonderful and sometimes strange miracles; that he said he was God; that he was crucified by the Romans at the request of the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. Many millions of people have also believed that the story that Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the grave is true. The books say that Jesus appeared in body to many of his followers and told them why he had let himself be killed, even though he was God.

Ever since these extremely dubious events are supposed to have occurred, Christians have sincerely believed with deep conviction that Jesus was the Christ and was divine. They've believed that he died on the cross as a substitute for every sinful and condemned man and woman -- that is, to take the punishment for the sins everyone commits against God's moral laws. Christians have believed for centuries that by repenting of those sins and believing in (that is, by acknowledging in the heart of the soul with complete assurance) Jesus as savior, he becomes their savior. God forgives every person who believes in Jesus in this way. God the Father accepts Christ's death as a payment for each believer's sins once the condition of repentance and faith is met. The believer is then forgiven without having to receive punishment or do penance. Amazingly, the believer is regarded as if he had never committed the sins, for which the penalty would have been punishment in hell.

These are all marvelous and wonderful ideas (except hell), if true; they're a foolish, absurd, cruel hoax, if false. Are the books that tell the story a revelation from God? And how do I know? Because it makes good sense to me that there's a God, that he'd reveal himself, that he has a moral code, that human beings always fail to meet the standards of nearly every moral code man has ever adopted or believed in (even ones they believed are God's) and thereby sinned, that God would still want his special creatures -- conscious, rational, and free human beings -- to know and enjoy fellowship with him, that there's a chance that there's life after death, that sin should and will be punished, that God might provide a way to save us from the punishment our sins deserve, that God's dying for us seems a matchless means of salvation, and that so many people (even so many I know) have believed in this salvation for two millennia -- because these propositions make good sense, I guess I believe, despite all my doubts, doubts of everyone one of these beliefs and most of the rest of Christian teaching, that it happened, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, which is the confirmation that his death was the payment for my sin and that what he said is absolute truth.

In my opinion, the historical question is indeterminate. There's no way to prove by historical investigation that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. History can't be confirmed to a certainty. I hold that it happened not because I see incontestable historical evidence for it -- which there isn't, though there is enough firm evidence to make a case and argue about it endlessly -- but because along with the suggestive evidence of history, I believe many other ideas about God that point to the resurrection.

How can I say this? Do I yet have any answers for all the questions I asked about the resurrection so long ago? No. Is there yet any justifiable explanation for its incredibility? No. Does it seem any less absurd? Sadly, no. Does it seem any less fabricated or mythical? No. But I've got to make a choice, and I've learned in the past couple of years that I simply can't take the risk of believing that the resurrection did not happen. It has always seemed compelling to me, and now I'm just trying to explain why.

Because I believe he rose from the dead, I can have confidence that he was telling the truth when he claimed to be God. Hence, I can believe everything he said is truth. Most importantly, he said that the Old Testament is the Word of God and that he would give his disciples, the Apostles who were his special chosen servants, through the Holy Spirit, subsequently understood to be the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, more revelations so that the purpose of his death would be understood, his teachings would be remembered, heeded, and spread, and the kind of life he was commanding people to live would be comprehended. These revelations, the church attests, became the New Testament. (I got all this, which is an argument I'd never considered before, from a little tract by John Stott, The Authority of the Bible. It's made a difference by giving me some reasonable argument to establish the divinity of the Bible.)

Though I'm still so uncertain, though the story of the resurrection (not to mention the other miracles that seem so much more dubious, such as the incarnation) seems so ludicrously preposterous, I guess I believe this. It seems like a house of cards, an amazingly intricate structure built on a foundation so fragile it would come down with the touch of a fingertip. I'm so far from the original uncertain decision that God exists that I'm becoming a little nervous, feeling a touch of vertigo, about the faith that I've constructed upon that one uncertain belief. I'm not, however, I must now admit, willing, for whatever reason, understood or not, to bet against it. And I've found that I am willing to bet against everything else. I'm willing to put my own soul in peril by denying Islam and Buddhism and Mormonism and Judaism and atheism countless other faiths and philosophies.

On the other hand, to state it again, I'm not willing to choose to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen and in the doctrines that follow from that historical event -- that is, not willing to choose against the Christian religion. I'm not willing to choose against the atonement through the death of Christ taught in the Bible. I'm not willing to choose against believing that Jesus of Nazareth was God and must therefore be listened to if I want to know what truth is and what I must do. I'm not willing to choose against the life of thanksgiving and service that the Bible, which Jesus said was the very Word of God, calls me to live in gratitude for God's great gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and the promise of eternal life.

I've discovered, much to my own amazement after all my skepticism, that I believe, as billions of others through the ages have believed, that the least impossible position to take -- of all the positions that have been proposed and then accepted by billions across the world -- is that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, that he is God, that he died for our sins to save us, and that he rose again to confirm his divinity and show us there's a resurrection to come that will lead to eternal life.

My wager is on the table.

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12. Lack of Certainty

MAKE NO MISTAKE, I'm not certain of this faith. I'm not willing to assent to many of the doctrines some Christians think are essential for salvation. I can't, for example, accept original sin as it's taught by the church. I'm not willing to bet on it yet and feel I have to bet against it. I can't accept predestination or election. I can't accept, perhaps, that the whole Bible is infallible or inerrant. I can't accept many of the common positions of the evangelical church, from such matters as the role of women and the justice of war to the efficacy of prayer or the experience of God.

But I do accept that I have no way to pay for the sins I assuredly believe I've committed against God and people -- sins of selfishness and hate, of cruelty and blasphemy, of ignoring God and of being indifferent to His will, of ungenerousness and discontent. Why list my sins? I could go on and on. I can confess them in my prayers. What I want to say here is that the idea that God the Father would've been willing to send his son to die and accept his death as a payment for my sins so that he could meet out justice and also show mercy to me and all makes clear sense. For all the uncertain and unprovable reasons I've given above, I believe -- in spite of all my doubts of what seems true and all my fears of being wrong, fears and doubts I'll probably suffer for the rest of my life, in spite of all the uncertainties about truth and the Bible and Jesus and history, in spite of disagreement and the weaknesses of human reason -- that Jesus was God's Son who died and rose again.

I'm not willing to bet, to wager my eternal condition, that Jesus was nothing more than a man. I know that innumerable intelligent people have been more than willing to bet that he wasn't. They don't suffer the slightest fear that they'll be condemned to hell, whatever the after-life turns out to be, for failing to believe in Christ. They don't even fear that hell exists. But Christianity makes so much sense to me, even in the midst of my fiercest struggles against skepticism, that I can't gamble on believing it's not true. I'm not worried as deeply any longer about the billions of people, even thousands of great thinkers, every one of them more intelligent and wiser than I, who don't flinch when they take a gamble I can't take. They're more than willing to bet against Christianity; they're positively flabbergasted and amused that anyone would bet on it. What a ridiculous waste of time and energy, they think.

It might be asked: do I really understand them? Do I really see the rationality of their opinions? Do they understand me? Do they clearly see the logic of the arguments for my faith? Each of us probably thinks that if everyone else truly understood him, everyone would naturally believe just what he believes. Hasn't it always been the case: each of us is sure he's right? (Isn't this what we all have to think we are; who would knowingly believe falsehoods at his own peril? Who would not try to avoid hell if he knew it exists?) No one thinks anyone else understands him, and that's probably true, at least partly. But is there anything I can do with people who have chosen to believe what I don't? I can only say what I hold true and why. They can do the same for me, and I hope they do. They must make their own judgments, as I must make mine. The apologies for other creeds and philosophies I've read and heard seem sensible and are often attractive; often, they cause me to doubt my own faith deeply. But they don't make enough sense to me to make me willing to bet against Christianity.

So, am I right? I don't know. But I have to make a choice, and I have to use the light that shines on and in me in the best way I know how in order to make the best choice I can. I'll keep looking for more evidence; I'll keep considering refutations and counter-arguments; I'll keep reading and learning about other proposals for "truth"; and I'll keep making choices, day by day, new ones and old, if I must. The light I have says Christianity as I conceive it is the truth. Does that faith render it "The Truth," the one universal, final, uncontestable TRUTH? No. Nevertheless, I'm willing to bet on it its being the truth, at the peril of my own soul! That's all I or anyone else can do, even if someone else thinks he's proved his truth. Someone of every faith already has and always will think that.

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13. Orthodox Christianity Doesn't Make Sense

IF I'M SO WILLING TO BELIEVE, why don't I want to swallow all of Christian doctrine whole as my bet? Because so much of the orthodox faith, from original sin to predestination, makes so little sense to me; I can't bet on it. And I have to believe what I can and think I must believe.

I have little fear of not believing a lot of Christianity's nonsense -- from believing in Noah's Ark to God's commanding the slaughter of the Canaanites, from Jesus's cursing the fig tree to Paul's handling poisonous snakes, from original sin to predestination, from the incarnation to demons. God couldn't have revealed these stories and doctrines; they're probably neither divine nor historical.

To me, however, it seems infinitely dangerous to bet against Christ. It would feel ridiculous for me to wager that he didn't rise from the dead. Nonetheless, I understand how non-Christians think and why they reason as they do; I hope the best for them. I could some day reach the same conclusions they've reached for the same reasons they reached them; I often think just like them. It always remains a possibility, and I feel I must acknowledge it, that I could some day become willing to bet against Christianity. Who knows what I'll think of any new evidence that might come along? Or new arguments that might be made? I could decide -- until recently this was frightening to admit -- that Christianity doesn't make sense; I've already almost made that scary decision several times just in the past couple of months. Just like Muslims hostile to Christianity, I'm willing to reject Islam with as little fear as they reject Christianity. With as little certainty and proof as non-Christians have, I'm as nonchalantly willing to reject hundreds of creeds as they are to reject Christianity. How could I, then, dupe myself that it's impossible for me to change my mind, as terrifying as that possibility is?

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14. Proofs

APOLOGETICS? THE FIRST THING I'm going to do is give Christian apologetics another chance. A few nights ago I bought a book that seems pretty interesting and gave me pause. It's entitled Testing Christianity's Truth-Claims, by Gordon Lewis. What the books I've read so far have proved is that there isn't any proof. It might be, nevertheless, that I'll find clear and convincing reasons giving me more confidence in Christianity because of this book, which tries to lay out several different ways of confirming the Christian faith. Deep in my heart, I suppose, I'm still hoping that I'll find proof and feel that sense of certainty. I'm not going to get my heart set on it, though; I've learned that lesson, especially after the disappointment of The Case For Christianity. Right now, everything looks unprovable and I'm still quite skeptical, even when I read apologetics; but I'm willing to believe because this faith seems true. Maybe this new book will strengthen those beliefs. Maybe not. I've got to keep investigating and thinking, though I think it's telling that I still spend most of my time investigating and thinking about the evidence for Christianity but not any other creed.

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15. Betting Against Certain Doctrines

THERE ARE, OF COURSE, STILL MANY troublesome and doubtful doctrines in orthodox Christianity. The doctrine of election is one example. But I'm not afraid to believe that the doctrine as it's taught isn't true. (Just as with the doctrines I hold true, my decision about it doesn't make it untrue.) Christians, it seems to me, have been toying with this doctrine to protect God's sovereignty -- a noble cause I'll admit -- at the expense of his goodness and justice. Why, I wonder, do we have to choose between God's being all-powerful and God's being good? Can't God be, beyond our understanding, both good and all-powerful? Are there no truthful options to election and predestination other than sovereignty. Perhaps not, but I'm not willing to bet on election's being true and very willing to bet on its being false.

(I don't think I've ever made an important definition. What "betting on it" means, I think, is that I'm willing to stand before God sitting on His throne, the Judgement Seat, and tell him that I believed, say, election false and tell him why. If he tells me I'm wrong, I suppose I'll change my mind quite quickly. If he tells me that I'm condemned forever to hell for not believing in election, well, I guess I'm willing to take the chance that he won't do that, just as I'm willing to take the chance that he's not Allah, that Mohammed wasn't his prophet, and that by not believing in Islam I won't be condemned. That's what I have to do with each doctrine when I try to decide whether to "wager" on it.)

The doctrine of election, to get back to what I was talking about, once brought me to the edge of apostasy. It seemed for a time that my fear of rejecting Christianity was withering just because I thought I had to believe this doctrine to be a Christian. I was on the brink of choosing against Christianity because of election and predestination alone. I was so deeply skeptical (though I was not certain) of those doctrines that I was willing to declare Christianity false and put aside my fears of its threat of punishment in hell and discard its offer of salvation as illusory. Christians are to be pitied who believe in this nonsense. God doesn't elect in the way some Christians believe he does. On this, though I'm not certain or even especially confident that I'm right, I'm willing to stake my eternal life.

Christians who believe these doctrines can believe as they wish; what can I do about it? As with non-Christians, I can only calmly lay out my faith and the reasons for it and calmly listen to them do the same -- and then weigh the matter one more time. But I won't assent to election right now, and hope, if I'm wrong, God is merciful to me. It's the best light I have.

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16. Old Objections Laid Aside

WHAT ABOUT ALL the other objections to Christianity I've vociferously and indulgently given my support to? What about the incredibility of the Bible's miraculous history? What about human uncertainty shown in the story of Cortes? What about endless disagreement? What about higher criticism? What about the foolishness of the resurrection? What about suffering and evil? What about miracles? What about building faith from the bare facts, which Christianity doesn't have many of? What about Christian disunity, original sin, deism, relativism, and all the rest?

I suppose I should spend some time in the weeks ahead thinking about each one of these in turn and considering whether any one of them is a strong enough objection to make me willing to bet against Christianity. I don't entirely understand why, but even though I'm still very doubtful of and still feel very embarrassed by so many Christian doctrines (and feel so comfortable with objections to them), I can't give up on Christianity. Perhaps my belief in the existence of God is so powerful that, like the earth, its gravitational pull draws every tiny objection toward it.

I can't explain what happened to me, but my separation and my bouts of skepticism and my impending bankruptcy have changed the way I think about matters of faith and doubt. Perhaps I've learned that life is too precarious to waste too much time with skepticism. Perhaps I've just been brain-washed, which would probably be the conclusion of many a modern, scientific person. Perhaps I've seen things happen in my life recently that I can only explain by invoking God. Perhaps I'm just the product of my upbringing -- steeped as I was in Christian teachings.

These are all just guesses; the true explanation lies hidden, as most explanations do. For whatever reason, I've decided that because so many of the most important answers to the most critical and pressing questions lie hidden, I've simply got to make a choice -- and the God of the Trinity, as it has always seemed, looks too good to take a chance on passing up, no matter whether the doubts continue to plague me to the end of my days.

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17. Telling Christians of a Skeptical Faith

I'M PRETTY SURE that even after I settle more firmly into the faith I've been describing, I'll still be very reluctant to reveal both this faith and my continuing doubts to my Christian friends. Russell is certain that election is the truth, and I know I'll always find it hard to say to him that I fully and fearlessly reject the doctrine. Some Christians, even some of my friends, perhaps even my pastor, will decide that the "skeptical" faith I'm convinced of and determined to adopt shows, in fact, that I'm not a Christian. That judgement is, of course, anyone's prerogative. Someone who thinks I'm not a Christian because of this faith might be right, and it might be good for them to try to save me from myself by persuading me to the truth. I'm not going to ignore well-meaning zealots, but I'm also not going to worry about them much any longer, at least in secret. (I still do want their approval and friendship, which I might not get if were seen as an excessive doubter.) As irritating as their attitude is, I must accept that it exists and will always exist everywhere -- and that I'm not certain they're wrong.

Nonetheless, I have to believe what I hold true, not what they think they know is true. I realize, of course, that they're only afraid for me. They want me to believe as they do because they wouldn't wager on my kind of faith. However, I can't and wouldn't wager on their kind, because having to accept their kind of Christian faith would force me to reject Christianity.

I always wonder, still, whether all my Christians friends actually suffer no doubts like mine. (I'm still afraid to ask, because I think I'll be labeled and doubting has such a bad reputation. It's like a terminal disease or a severe mental illness.) They certainly never appear to question whether the faith they've adopted might be untrue or is, at least, impossible to prove. So it's understandable that they might be unsympathetic to doubters. As well as being helpful, doubt is dangerous. Just look at how close I came to apostatizing. They recognize its danger, even though it isn't so dangerous as they think.

Surely, however, there are others who doubt as much as I do. There are probably others who've apostatized because of unanswered questions and unending skepticism. Who are they? Why do skeptical Christians not speak up and declare themselves? Why?! Because we fear the ridicule and the condemnation. We fear we can't defend the doubtfulness that makes so much sense to us (just as most Christians, I might add, fear that they won't be able to defend their faith to non-Christians). But why, then, do these confident Christians and all the firmly believing pastors have no compassion on us? Do they theorize that if they give us any credibility a movement will start that will destroy Christianity with doubt and uncertainty? Do they fear that we're a challenge to the faith, just as we fear their sidelong glances and raised eyebrows, which promise damnation and the breaking of fellowship?

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18. Sinister Skepticism

THERE'S SOMETHING SINISTER about skepticism, any skepticism at all, in the eye of a Christian. I suppose it's because he worries that if he lets any trace of doubt linger in His mind and soul, he isn't believing loyally enough to qualify for God's forgiveness through Christ. A Christian seems to fear there's some threshold of belief; drop below it and he'll wind up in hell.

That's not altogether superstitious; people instinctively know that at some point doubts will drown faith. On the other hand, it's now my opinion that doubts are an inevitable part of faith. I'm sorry -- this might be unsettling and angering to most Christians -- but Christianity is simply not provable by any means -- history, mystical experience, deductive reasoning, or any other argument. This situation is easier to accept if one considers a similar situation within Christianity: the difficulty of faith coexisting with suffering and evil. A Christian is usually able to face the mystery of a good and omnipotent God who allows evil. In the same way, one can believe in spite of skepticism. I don't believe God is looking for people filled with certainty to populate his kingdom, because, if he does exist, he obviously created our minds incapable of ascertaining it. It's time Christians faced that and learned to believe in the midst of doubt, and even serious doubts.

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19. Faith and Skepticism Together

SKEPTICISM'S COEXISTING WITH FAITH has some big problems, though. First, no question is ever closed for the skeptic. It's always been inviting to believe as many Christians seem to: they know they believe the one and only truth never to be refuted by any argument. Rest assured, belief that steadfast would be wonderful to experience. It's called certainty. But I know I'll never achieve it (it's probably an illusion for those who feel it). My faith will always be subject, for good or ill, to the possibility that I'll learn about some idea or theory that tips the scales against Christianity, or compels me to accept a creed Christians abhor, or that brings about so many doubts of Christianity that I'll become unwilling to wager on it. I've come close to choosing against Christianity several times already. What's to keep me from coming close again (or next time going over the brink)? Nothing, if I must resign myself to skepticism.

This realization makes me want to stop reading and thinking, now that I've made the decision to believe. When I read and think, I always let some new idea subject me to the torments of skepticism again and force me to decide what to wager for and against all over again. Though this sounds like a risk too dangerous to take, I simply must accept that skepticism is inescapable -- in my faith and probably in the faiths of millions of others, Christians and non-Christians alike. Everything might be thrown into disarray by some book I read or speech I hear, but there's no other way for me to believe except surrounded by skepticism. Trying to be certain of what I wasn't certain of, I should remind myself often, drove me further and further from Christianity. Telling myself over and over that I know I believe the truth won't do any good. I know I don't know. I can't ever conscientiously dismiss my doubts; they're here to stay.

Before all this doubting began in earnest and I began to consider renouncing Christianity, I placed a high value on reaching a final conclusion -- perhaps too high a value. A sentence from Gibbon about how Christianity was adopted in the early Roman Empire applies to me:

A state of skepticism may amuse a few inquisitive minds, but the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision.

I'm part of that multitude -- except that I longed not for a "pleasing" vision but a true one. Here's my fear: if a vision, any creed, is always subject to the possibility of revision, how can I ever think the vision I now have is true and good?

For me, there's no answer to that question. I'm not even going to try to answer it any longer. I'm no longer trying to find the truth by trying to devise proofs to achieve certainty, though skepticism doesn't amuse and never has amused me. I've long wanted reach certainty and skirt the insecurity of a "revisable" faith. I once believed firmly that I could, that I could reach a final conclusion, uncover proofs, and kiss the ground in the paradise of certainty. That was my first faith, the faith of an absolutist.

I now think, because of all the skepticism I've suffered, that a final, indisputable faith is most likely unknowable (after all, something must be, and that something is truth). For the skeptic, much as it might be lamented even by skeptics, other creeds that will seriously challenge Christianity will always from time to time come on the scene. But allowing each one to make its case and evaluating them one by one, and then placing my wagers, all makes it possible for me to believe in Christianity or any creed at all.

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20. Disagreement and Skepticism

AND WHAT ABOUT, SOMEONE MIGHT ASK, all the doubts I've had because of human disagreement. Well, I guess I've come to understand and accept that no matter what I do -- stay neutral to every creed, believe one of them, bet on another, feel absolutely certain, etc. -- won't settle one intellectual or philosophical or theological or religious dispute. If the past is any measure, people are going to disagree with me and with each other on most every idea and doctrine and proposition and interpretation from now 'til the apocalypse (which not even a majority believes will occur). I might be wrong that truth can't be found, that only choices can be made, and that those choices can only be made on the grounds of what makes sense to each person, but what other conclusion can I draw from the ideas and evidence I have and the way I think -- with the light that's been given me by God? None. I can't, I've decided, risk not affirming what I think I should affirm just because everyone does and will disagree with me and everyone else.

Can I do anything about someone else's choice of truth, even if he thinks that he knows the proved and incontrovertible truth? No. But I have to make my choice, one that's especially important because it's Christianity, a religion with an after-life of either punishment or forgiveness for all people.

After all I've said about the doubts disagreement has given rise to, I know that this might seem a modest idea to learn. But what I've learned from disagreement -- that we can only choose rather than establish a truth to believe to a certainty -- also makes my skeptical brand of Christianity the only kind of Christianity I can have faith in right now. It also frees me to let God worry about who is and isn't believing the truth, and even about what the truth actually is. It lets me forget about all the fears I have for those who might be condemned unjustly, because I can accept a just and loving God who knows why people, even me, believe as they do better than any theologian, however great.

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21. Other Ways to Salvation

I KNOW I'VE CALLED INTO QUESTION with these statements another supposedly essential doctrine of the Christian religion -- that there's only "One Way" and it's faith in Christ. This is the doctrine of exclusivity, which when combined with other Christian doctrines, such as hell, has caused me so many doubts.

A Christian might first object that if God forgives people for "extenuating circumstances," the purpose of believing in Christ is ruined. Won't God forgive everyone, whether he believes or not, does good or not, seeks God or not, because extenuating circumstances cloud everyone's life? If belief, goodness, and spirituality don't matter, why believe?

This is a troubling objection. It's reasonable to wonder why I must receive forgiveness and live my earthly life in grateful obedience to Christ, but someone else doesn't have to because he was supposedly "unable" to know Christ. That objection is also, to my mind, proud and foolish. Why would we begrudge anyone God's mercy, no matter how he might grant it? If we believe in Christ, do we delude ourselves that we're being shown any less mercy? How ludicrous if Christianity is true! For doesn't Christianity teach that men have been graciously saved from wrath? Who would be foolish enough to think himself more deserving of that salvation because he has received it in the "right way"?

Moreover, I'm not suggesting that there are other ways to Christ, only speculating that there might be other ways of getting to the way. That might be doubletalk, but I don't think so. Man finds the Way -- faith in Christ -- by a way. We choose him, choose to believe in and trust him, choose to call him Lord. (Some say that God chooses us, but such a doctrine doesn't change the argument in the slightest. God could choose any means to do his choosing, and those means might not be fully described or explained in his revelation to us.) Upon our deaths, no matter how we find or are led to the Way, the saved will be equals -- we'll all bow down before him, all trust him as our Savior, all proclaim him Lord. If a person is unable to bow down to him in this life because of his ignorance or his fear or his confusion or his culture, why should his inability release us who can believe from the obligation, not to mention the longing, of doing what we cherish as better than all else? It's obvious: we should believe if we can. If we can believe, why wouldn't we? What could keep us from believing in and knowing the God of the universe? If we were to secretly suppress our belief in the hope that God would think we were ignorant or confused, could we hoodwink God?

But why, on the other hand, wish the damnation of those who can't believe? Because it's taught by the Bible that unbelievers will be damned, and all people should be warned of their coming doom? Perhaps, but once they're warned, we must leave their eternal fate in God's hands. Christians believe their happiness and peace and true prosperity are with Christ; why would they decline them now because God might be merciful by other means to those who are afflicted? We should rather lament the person who is unable to choose the best way in this life than consider not choosing it for ourselves to try to get away with something. What would we be getting away with? We'd be losing everything -- in our own opinion!

Some might argue that such an attitude is very dangerous because it'll put people at ease and hence in peril: non-Christians will think there's no need to believe and obey because God is going to be merciful to them in some way. To me, this danger is no different than the danger of the One Way, which can make Christians feel that there's no need to try to be righteous because God will always forgive the penitent, once a prominent problem for the church. Just as the Christian who believes he'll always be forgiven the sin he's intending to commit sins at his own peril, so a person who sees in his heart and mind that faith in Christ is the true salvation and waits to convert waits at his own peril. Just as the Christian knows that God's mercy is not to be toyed with, so does the person who knows he must convert.

What I'm most worried about is people who do not see that Christ is the Way. It isn't ours to determine who sees and who doesn't see. Maybe we all see, but it doesn't seem so to me. And it's in our interest to hope that God will be merciful to them in spite of their errors: we hope that he'll be merciful to us when we learn our errors. (Does any of us really believe we are without error?)

But what about those who persecute him and despise him? Perhaps God sees -- in fact, if he's God, he does see -- what we do not see. He sees what causes the persecution and the hate, and is able to judge it accordingly. So, Christian, leave judgement to him, and hope that others are shown the mercy God has shown you.

Somehow, even though I still suffer so many destructive doubts, I can hold onto faith because of these ideas, which have no other basis than the tenor of the Bible. It's the only sacred book with a sweet tenor of mercy, love, and concern of the loving father in heaven, of our Creator's longsuffering and sacrifice. And that tenor is one of the reasons I both must wager for and can't wager against the divinity of this strange book.

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22. Disagreement Always Persists

WHEN I STARTED WRITING THIS JOURNAL, I'm sure I actually believed that all the problems of disagreement and disunity in the world would be solved. I was flush with the optimism of youth. I thought first doubting and then diligently and passionately pursuing an investigation into truth would yield, sooner or later, the truth that no one in his right mind could contest without deliberately lying. That attitude wasn't only, I now realize, the result of optimism, but of pride. I desired and foolishly believed that I would be the one person in all of human history to settle all metaphysical disputes -- to make it impossible for anyone to argue and dissent on a question of religion. Disagreement has, thankfully, ruined that proud and childish dream.

Disagreement will probably always keep me from being arrogant. I can never flatter myself that I'm so certain of my faith that I can forget why I believe in Christianity and other people believe differently -- we all adopt our creeds according to the best light God or the forces of nature or the dispositions and capacities our minds have given each of us. These points, which comfort me so deeply, are the result of recognizing and accepting the undeniably wide reach of human disagreement.

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23. Trusting One's Own Mind

DOUBTING CAUSED ME TO DISTRUST MYSELF for a long time. At the same time I was calling into question every religion and philosophy, I was also desperately afraid that I hadn't properly evaluated every shred of evidence for and against every creed and philosophy. I was afraid I hadn't been honest in my judgments. I was afraid I was secretly and unconsciously hiding information from or lying to myself. I was afraid I was purposely making false judgments. This distrust was a great burden to bear. Several years ago, I started questioning the doctrines of a single faith, Christianity, about which I had some doubts I wanted to resolve. I wanted to become certain of the faith I'd already adopted but was struggling to hold onto. By trying to answer the questions and resolve my doubts, I plunged into doubting the questions themselves, doubting my doubts, doubting my thinking and reasoning, doubting all my knowledge, doubting my intentions and motives, doubting even my experiences, doubting the bare facts, doubting all truth.

Just a few weeks ago, I couldn't see how this was going to end because my skepticism did, and still does, make so much sense to me. My state of mind and soul were terrifying and sickening. I spent my days fearing the wrath of God for not being able to be certain or confident of the faith I wanted to believe and suspected was true. At the same time, I was afraid I was missing out on the "real" truth, the one that would save me by spending all my time considering Christianity. Day after day, my stomach was knotted with fears and restlessness and anxiety, and my brow was furrowed with apprehension and hopelessness.

But now I can at least trust my own mind again because these decisions about choices and doubt and faith let me trust God, even if I can't be very sure he exists or what he's like. If I believe falsehoods, I can do nothing about it right now other than to continue to gather information and evidence about my creed and others and keep believing true what makes the most sense and I'm least willing to bet against. I've seen that no one can do anything else (though they might not know it or acknowledge it), especially the skeptic; learning this has been an momentous liberation for me. I can trust myself, and hope that whoever God is, whether he's the God I believe he is or not, I can leave even my foolishness and doubting and stupidity and willful denial in his hands. If God is Allah, will he reject a man who wanted to believe in the true God but couldn't find him despite his best efforts? If Allah won't, I guess I'm willing to take the risk that Allah doesn't exist and is a false god. I'm not willing to risk that with Christianity.

Though I tried for so long to find one, I have no desire to find a way around these ways of thinking. Now I can rest that if God wants to condemn me for believing in my skeptical Christianity, then I'll just have to accept his will. I've often wanted to abandon me, like a crew abandoning a listing ship on a stormy sea. But I can't abandon me, nor my mind and my soul. Doubting has let me see that I have no choice but to make my own decisions. This is terrifying, I will admit. But there's no escape from its terror, and I've simply got to learn to live with it.

* * * * * * *

24. Living with Doubt

DON'T BE DECEIVED. I haven't made much "progress" with all these decisions about wagering and choosing. I can read an attack on the historical accuracy of the Gospels and crumble under the weight of my doubts. I still agree with most of what I've thought about Christianity during the past couple years I've kept this journal. What's changed is that I've discovered how to live with doubts, not to overwhelm their defenses with a valiant charge. It might be that I'll look back on what happened during these years and conclude that I was certainly a foolish young man. The point, however, is that there's no means by which I can see that now. And that's the heart of the matter, for good or ill. I believe and I doubt and I don't really care much any more who might not like it or who thinks its heretical or dangerous. This change of heart makes faith possible.

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25. The Faith of Other Believers

BECAUSE OTHERS I TRUST BELIEVE, I believe. This is one of the most important reasons that I kept believing during this long period of doubting and that I'm now willing to risk my eternal condition on faith in Christ. Trusting others has never before seemed a logical foundation for faith, because I couldn't discover a way to choose the group to trust -- Christians, Muslims, atheists, etc.

Trusting in others has, however, always been one of the unacknowledged reasons I've believed in Christianity and is a unsurprisingly strong reason for most people's beliefs, whatever their faith. I think I do believe enough like other Christians, in spite of the "skeptical" tenets of my faith they might find reprehensible, that I'm comforted that they believe and in part convinced by their belief. They have minds just like mine and have found reasons, perhaps that I haven't seen or will never understand, to have faith, even confident faith, in the Bible and in Christ. That makes me feel, and rightly so, that I'm not crazy or childish for believing in evangelical Christianity, despite Christianity's sorry reputation with much of secular society, most scholars and scientists, and a world full of non-Christians.

I've never wanted my friends who believe to disapprove of me, and I'm hoping that they won't call me a non-Christian for the various ways I've made my faith different from theirs. I consider myself enough like them that bringing it up hasn't seemed necessary; I can live with our disagreements in secret. Their approval is very important to my faith. I'm willing to bet against them on many things, but not on what I see to be the fundamentals.

I still don't understand why I trust these people and not others who believe different creeds. Their are many possible explanations, all of which usually cause me to doubt; so I'm going to forget about them. I thirst for the approval and fellowship of these Christians. I used to think it was pathetic and insipid to base my faith in any way on my desire for the approval and acceptance of these Christians. I no longer think so. I can hold to my faith as least partly because others I know and respect hold to the faith. They show me that the same creed I feel I have to assent to makes even more sense to other human beings, who don't think it's mad that it makes sense. Concerning those subjects on which I disagree with most Christians, I'll just have to accept the fact that I'm not willing to gamble on everything they're gambling on (and think they have proof of), for whatever reason I choose against them, uncertain or not. That's enough for me and should be enough for them too.

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26. Believing with Believers

THE ATTITUDES AND OPINIONS of other Christians have always pressed on me. Just a few months ago, I tried to reject Christianity because I thought it wasn't the truth. One of the first thoughts I've always had to consider in times of darkest doubt, when apostasy seemed imminent, was that the Christians I know and love and trust will look at me and judge me with sadness and sorrow, shake their heads in disbelief, begin earnestly praying for me, try to persuade me to come back into the fold, try to convince me that there's proof for the Christian faith. I've always realized that if I renounced Christianity, they will think they know I'd made a terrible error -- a costly, eternally costly, error. I've realized that they would've treated me as though I'd died. It makes sense for people who believe that salvation is available exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ to treat an apostate in this way. I don't want to be treated in this way; I want to be treated as if I were one of them, an assured Christian, someone saved by God.

I still can't understand why the opinions and the actions of these people matter so much to me that they influence what truth I affirm. This whole state of affairs is puzzling and upsetting. I've often wanted to be free from the influence these people obviously have over me. I've wanted to throw this crutch down and stand on my own for what I believe, not for what others I trust believe. But I've also learned during these past couple of years that these feelings will never cease. Even if I become an agnostic, I'll still look for other agnostics who agree with me, whom I can trust in, and whom I can receive the approval of. So why not accept the opinions of people whom I trust now? I've decided I will.

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