Last time I explained how the world is filled with many religions, all seeking to make sense about life and the reality (or lack of reality) beyond death. The word “religion” means what a person believes, so in a sense everyone has a religion. Even atheism is a religion in the true sense of the word because it fits the broader definition of belief. It all comes down to what that religion is and, more importantly, is it true? Does it reflect reality or imagination? The moment you look below the surface, you’ll find that different religions hold sharply different ideas of what’s true. The only way you can believe that all religions are basically the same is if you don’t really know what they stand for (or don’t care to look). And since no series of opposite ideas can all be true all at the same time, this leaves us with a question. Two questions, actually: Does any religion make more logical sense than any other? Is it worth the time and trouble to find out?
Back in the early 1980s, Lee Strobel was a hard-nosed newspaper reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was also completely convinced that life was only what he could see and feel and measure. “There is no God”, said Strobel flatly and loudly, and the fact that other people believed in the foolishness of God made him angry. Since I started this series, I expected to find at least a few people who get angry at the mere mention of anything beyond the here-and-now, and I have not been disappointed. Some of these angry people remind me of what Lee Strobel must have been like in his earlier life. Lee got especially angry at his wife, Leslie. Over time she was moving closer to a life of faith, and this threatened Strobel and the kind of God-free, atheist marriage he’d signed up for. Proving Leslie wrong was what got him looking closely into the ridiculous claims of faith in general, and Christianity in particular. He wanted to prove Leslie wrong, so he set his very logical, very educated and very discerning mind on this problem. What Strobel found is the same thing that a surprising number of other people find when they take the time to honestly explore the facts, instead of operating on the kind of preconceived notions that cause knee-jerk reactions whenever faith is discussed.
Strobel may have been an atheist, but he was also committed to following the truth, wherever it might lead. That’s a rare combination in my experience, and it’s why, over the course of two years, Strobel interviewed dozens of people who might have something substantial to say about the question of God – scientists, philosophers, professional religious people and historians. In the end, in the interests of honesty, he was forced to admit that there is such a thing as God, and that this God is more than just some fuzzy idea that can be made to fit whatever anyone wants. Strobel was also very much convinced by the beautiful new love and kindness he saw in his wife Leslie, as her faith grew and as it transformed her from the inside out. Strobel went on to write books about his discoveries, then to appear in three full-length videos recounting his investigation.
Strobel’s approach is unusual because it was so energetic. He actually took the time and trouble to pursue truth, even if it did contradict what he always believed previously. Laziness is more typical when it comes to ideas of faith than vigour, and that’s why religion is so often just what you were born into, or reacted against as a teenager. But is an accident of birth or teenage rebellion really a reasonable way to find out what’s really true? Or does it make more sense to take a little time away from life’s distractions, invest some honest efforts, then try and discover what makes sense on its own merits?
C.S. Lewis, the author of the now-famous Narnia stories, started out his adult life as an atheist English professor at Oxford University in England. But like Strobel, an appeal to the facts (as opposed to his old feelings that he’d rather there not be a God), led Lewis to change his mind completely (and reluctantly). That’s why he grudgingly altered his views, and in “1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
For almost 30 years I’ve watched funeral cards appear and disappear from store counters in the small town where I shop. They’re placed there by our local funeral director and announce the death of a person. The cards always include a photo, and they say a few words about their life. I’ve read dozens of funeral cards over the years, and this always makes me wish everyone would spend more time talking about, thinking about and chasing after topics like life, love, eternity and what it all means. During my time pursuing truth, I’ve been fortunate to meet key people who have patiently led me to an understanding of things that I used to be wrong about. But not everyone is patient and kind.
One angry man that I’ll call Tom, sent an email last week, after I published the installment immediately before this one: “If you insist on sharing your god beliefs while claiming to be “pursuing truth”, at least provide the EVIDENCE pro and con for your claims and let your audience decide.”
My response to Tom was the same response I give to anyone who asks. I’m always happy to offer more details and evidence (you never know, maybe Tom will become the next Lee Strobel), but this only makes sense for people who want to move beyond sound-bite theology. It involves work, reading, watching videos, quiet thinking and, most importantly, humility and a willingness to let the most logical arguments and explanations win. No one stumbles upon the truth because it does not let itself be discovered accidentally. You need to want the truth more than you want your own opinion, and that’s a big hurdle sometimes. Too big for many folks.
Tom is like many people these days in that he’s suffering from an extreme deficiency of humility. He didn’t yet respond to my invitation to look at things more deeply together, and that’s pretty typical. I don’t know Tom, but if he’s like many people he probably spends more time and effort selecting a new shirt or a new car than he does attempting to discover the truth about much more important things. Why is truth more important than a car, a career, even more important than friends and family (as important as they are)? Simply because truth is the only thing that endures. The cares and pleasures of this world often lull people into a sense of contented ignorance, but they all go away eventually. And, unfortunately, that’s where the pursuit of truth ends.
I’m more than happy to discuss the pursuit of truth with anyone, angry or kind. For what it’s worth, logic, science, a clean intellectual slate and more than 25 years of study has convinced me that there is a God. He has revealed himself in the Bible and nature and he freely offers all human beings something that makes the best things about this world seem like cold leftovers.
Although solid, logical evidence from history and science are part of the reasons I believe these things, I don’t expect my ideas to convince you of anything. What I do hope is that this series will leave you with an urge to search for yourself. It’s worth an honest try. Your efforts won’t be in vain. Will you take the time to chase after truth, wherever it may lead, before you get a funeral card of your own? I sure hope so. I’m always happy to hear from honest seekers.
Click for instalment 6 of 6 of this series: “Delusions of a Crackpot?”