You are a Christian. You believe that Jesus Christ is your personal saviour and that through your relationship with Him, you will come to know His father in heaven, Yahweh, the King of kings, the Lord of lords.
You assert this on the authority of the bible, which you believe sets out a framework on how we should all live our lives and, in doing so, bear witness to its teachings, so that others might do the same.
These teachings, whilst they are in many ways similar to those contained in other equally motivating and historically relevant texts, are distinct in their validity on your faithful belief that those who authored the bible, were inspired by something far beyond that which inspired these other texts–and that in adhering to biblical teachings, a parable of the truth about God’s plan for humanity might be attained.
As a Christian, you do not discount the philosophy of other sacred texts merely on the grounds that they are not in keeping with the ideals of those who wrote the bible, but because other religious texts are not personally relevant to you. In doing this, you accept that to followers of other religions, in other cultures, the bible is as relevant as their sacred texts are to you.
Because of this, you rejoice in calling yourself a moderate. You want to live in a world where this acceptance of other people’s faith and theirs of yours leads to a peaceful coexistence, where the only concerns which arise from differing opinions, contribute to the overarching desire of all humanity for a true understanding about our place in the cosmos; where our passions and beliefs, as facets of that reality, are celebrated and preserved.
The tradition and ceremony in which you preserve Christian culture, which are conducted according to instructions interpreted from ancient texts have sacramental significance to you. You accept, on theological grounds, that this innately human desire to coexist; to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, is received from a higher power–whom your spiritual self shall come to know after your physical body dies, by contemplative and sincere observation of these rites: communion, confession, prayer, baptism, marriage and a regular affirmation of your creed.
You are not unaware of challenges to your beliefs, which are held by people who do not accept your beliefs are as encouraging to peaceful coexistence as you say they are; that you are in some way deluding yourself into holding these beliefs above criticism because you are afraid of sin. There are various labels for people of this opinion, the most common being atheist–and although as a follower of Christ’s teachings, you do not hate individual atheist and do not accept that certain biblical edicts on how non-believers are to be treated are in keeping with Christ’s compulsion to love your enemy, you do find some of what the irreligious have to say personally offensive.
You believe that the price non-believers will pay for their continued doubt, in the face of your witnessing to God’s truth and their refusal to accept this as their moral authority, is an eternity in the fires of hell once their physical body dies. You believe, as a God fearing Christian, that the very fear of this happening to your soul, when you die, is reason enough to distrust many of the things atheists say to you which directly challenge your faithful assumptions on a wide range of subjects.
You have, however, met and spoken with many atheists who are not dismissive of the impact religious faith has had in your life. These personal experiences, which you do not believe can be understood by those who do not share your faith, reinforce your belief that there is a higher power than that which can be described or understood by those who have closed their hearts to God’s word.
In keeping with Christian tradition, you pray for those who do not share your beliefs, so that they might come to understand what it is that you believe and why you believe it so that they too will be saved from hell by His forgiveness. You sincerely and genuinely believe that to offer thanks to Yahweh for His presence in your life, it is your moral obligation to hold Him above all other standards by which you view the world.
In doing so, you also accept that certain of your truth claims directly contradict observed reality. While you are occasionally troubled by this fact, you are also strengthened by it, because your faith tells you that some of the beliefs held by the irreligious are similarly paradoxical. For example, non-religious people who cite scientific methodologies as proof that there is no evidence for a creator god–or Prime Mover, will use mathematical axioms–things which are assumed to be true–to explain, not why the universe exists, just that it does and that it behaves as if there is no supernatural causality behind the anthropic phenomena.
By this light, you see what you would like to see; that while, in reality, this is not the same kind of logical contradiction as that which occasionally troubles your faith, you settle yourself that it is one which nevertheless requires a certain degree of faith by any other name; a faith in science, as opposed to God.
This transferred definition of the word ‘faith’, from one which means “without good reason” to one which honestly describes the uncertain origin of physical properties, is symmetrical and pleasing to you. It reinforces the idea that for all the godless might scoff at you for what you believe, they are just as reliant upon that which can not be corroborated by absolute evidence as you are; that the scientific method of ascertaining fact from opinion relies as much upon blind assumption as do those which occasionally test many of your religious convictions.
You take consonance from this and concentrate not on which side is “right” and which is “wrong”, since these too are absolute statements which can not be falsified. Instead you ascribe the teachings of your sacred texts to the language with which we explore human emotions. You celebrate this definition of Christ’s love with your fellow believers. This great feeling of group solidarity holds you close, like a mother’s embrace in a family of love and compassion. It is the warmth of humanity in an otherwise cold and complicated world.
I am an atheist and once upon a time, I thought like you. I did not lose faith, I gained reason.
I believed that the world was divided by evil people and good people. That the good people were on God’s side and the evil people rejected His love and embraced Satan’s false choices. I could recite, verbatim, every catch-all prayer and statement of faith in the book, to reinforce my beliefs. The money lenders in the temple became the message and the message became the church.
I believed that these certainties and statements of faith would provide for me throughout my life; that at no point in my adulthood would anything come into my learning so profound that it could challenge my belief that God almighty, King of kings, Lord of all lords could not guide me through and protect me from any challenge to my faith.
So when I read Christian apologetics, of the kind which linked you here, and I respond to them with what I have learned since I left behind simple, circular answers to the complex questions anyone interested in their own existence must surely have to confront at some time in their life, it is not to offend anyone, or call anyone a liar, that I cite contradictions in the bible or the arrogance of individual Christians.
Nor is it to score some end-of-level high score in a game of pedantic atheism; like some kind of race towards the ultimate density of an argument one can squeeze into a single paragraph. It is to point out the simple fact that, no matter how important you think it is, for you to go to that meeting next week, to discuss your church’s next move against gay marriage, or condom use, or the teaching of evolution, or any one of a thousand issues you feel entitled to an opinion on–NOTHING in the words of Jesus himself, gives you the right to impose that opinion on anyone else.
In ignoring that simple truth; your failure to take the log from your own eye, before removing the spelk from mine–you have left yourself nowhere to go, but even further away from the fundamentals of your creed. You have become the thing you feared the most.
“Dogma is a failure of cognition and a commitment to that failure” – Sam Harris