Do you know what a straw man argument is? It is when you set out an opposing position in such a way that it is easy to dismantle that position. We can’t do that with unbelief. We must take with great seriousness and intellectual rigor the reasons people choose not to believe. There are four primary reasons people choose not to believe in Christianity. I will explore two of them today, and two more tomorrow.
ONE: The problem of suffering.
It is usually stated like this: How can a loving and all-powerful God allow suffering and evil? Either such a God is not loving or not all-powerful. Or maybe there isn’t even a God to blame!
The problem of suffering is a problem for EVERYONE. Every person, every religion, every faith, every spirituality, every philosophy, every political ideology … everything and everyone must deal with the problem of suffering. No one is exempt. Everyone needs to state his or her position and support it.
About a year ago I taught a group of people on the theme of suffering. Part of that evening included a brief tour through the main alternatives to Christianity and what they each say about suffering. Without creating straw man positions, the essence of those alternatives was pretty bleak.
Christianity has very good (emotionally healthy, intellectually robust, and spiritually fulfilling) insights about the problem of suffering, it is just that most of us don’t think about those things. We don’t take the time to study, reflect, converse, and believe the rich substance of the Christian faith.
I believe this is a main reason why many Christians who started out with real faith slowly become nominal.
At some point (maybe in 2018) we will do a message series on the Problem of Suffering. Until then, here is one of my favorite books on the subject: Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft (a very wise philosopher and pastoral theologian who gives a sensitive, compelling, and accessible explanation of the mystery of suffering).
TWO: Bad religion and bad experiences of Christianity.
Let’s take ownership of this one right away. There has been a lot of bad Christianity and a lot of bad Christians who have done bad things. There are a lot of bad things that have been done in the name of Christianity.
Sexual abuse by priests and other religious leaders.
Legalism along with judgmentalism.
Inappropriate politicizing of the faith to support particular policies.
Slavery (keep in mind that many of the original slave owners called themselves Christians, and they had pastors and theologians who supported those views).
This list could become quite long.
There should be no attempt to rationalize any of the above. These are examples of bad religion. A good case can be made that they are examples of distorted Christianity, even if they are done in the name of Christianity. But when someone is on the receiving end of bad religion I certainly understand why he or she chooses not to believe in that religion.
Kindness, acknowledgement of the bad religion, empathy for the bad experiences that came with that bad religion, patience, and a long, slow renewal of faith are needed.
In the next two days I will give you two more reasons why people choose not to believe.