I think most people go through phases in which they question fundamental aspects of their beliefs. Some people don’t experience this at all, and just go on blissfully believing what they were taught in Sunday School all their lives; oh, how I wish I was one of them (sometimes). When questions arise, I’m the kind of person who tends to tackle them head on, but at the same time I’m very hesitant to commit to any particular answer. It can be exhausting, sitting on a fence all the time.
Let’s see… where to begin?
I guess I began to question certain aspects of my religion around the time I realised that women were beautiful (approximately grade 1?). Or maybe it was when I realized that not everyone believed what I believed, which might have been even earlier. Either way, my questioning “phase” hasn’t stopped since. I haven’t flat-out abandoned my faith, which is actually somewhat miraculous, but I’m about as skeptical as they come within the church. The thing is, when it comes down to it, I want to be a part of the church and to believe what I believe. And I have a pretty strong conviction that just about everyone actually just believes what they want to in the end, and backs up their position by selectively drawing from literature of a similar persuasion.
When I first learned the details of evolutionary theory (the origin of species by means of natural selection) in first-year university, I was unexpectedly impressed by its thoroughness. I thought it was going to be some shaky nonsense that would be easy to refute, but as I read through my textbooks I found it quite well presented, consistent, and even believable. This initiated a bit of a crisis of faith for me, since I found myself actually enjoying the study of evolution/geology, and more or less believing the content.
This experience led to a practically ongoing phase in which I’ve tried to reconcile belief in God/Jesus with belief in evolution, which the well-known atheistic evangelist Richard Dawkins has claimed is not genuinely possible, since the latter is fundamentally corrosive to the former. The more I think about it, the more I’m tending to agree with him. The problem is, at the same time, I’m not entirely convinced that I can accept 6-day creation (thus abandoning mainstream science).
It’s not that there aren’t enormous, physics- and biochemistry-defying holes even in the fundamental aspects of evolutionary theory. It’s actually too easy to identify them. It’s just that I empathize with both sides of the argument. I understand the odd sort of comfort that could be found in this life being all there is to it, no strings attached to a non-existent soul. But at the same time I find the evidence for the truth of the Bible (taken in context) and Jesus’ claims/actions to be stronger than what I’ve seen for an entirely naturalistic view of life. So what’s making me hesitate to hop off the fence and fully onto conservative Christian terrain?
Basically, it’s Hell. H, E, double hockey sticks.
This is the crux of my crisis of trust (to use a religious metaphor/semi-pun).
It’s not a crisis of faith, because to be honest I don’t have any difficulty believing in God. I think the evidence is abundant, in the existence of everything (anything), in my personal experience and that of friends and fellow believers, and in the fact that so many things in life are just so wonderful to experience without offering any conceivable survival advantage (granted, my mind may not be creative enough to conceive of the advantages…).
But I recently read this book on hell by Francis Chan, which was basically a rebuttal to Rob Bell’s latest book that stopped just short of stating that everybody goes to Heaven in the end, no matter what (apparently, although I haven’t read it since I couldn’t get into Bell’s earlier books). I think the book was designed to strengthen Christians’ faith or something like that, but it only left me convinced of one thing: if you want to believe the words of Jesus, you also have to accept his stance on hell, which is pretty clear; that it’s not just a destination for Hitler and priests who molest children, but for any individual who doesn’t accept that Jesus is the literal incarnation of God, who died on humanity’s behalf to justify us before God, and was raised from the dead to demonstrate his authority. Nobody else is exempt, even those who have never heard of him, or who are “good” people, or who go to church every Sunday out of habit/tradition but have never personally acknowledged him.
That is a tough pill to swallow, and that is why I’m having a crisis of trust. The thing is, I honestly think Jesus is fantastic. I love to read the accounts of his life (i.e. the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the things he said. I love the way he stood up for the disadvantaged, dished out relentless, scathing criticism on the selfish and overtly ‘religious’, and laid down his life out of love for his friends. He was amazing, really, a top notch kind of guy.
But why did he have to go along with the whole hell thing? Couldn’t he have clarified that it was symbolic? Does it really have to be this way? Perhaps worst of all, do I even WANT to believe in a God who is just letting this happen? I know there are answers (e.g. he’s letting it happen because his holy nature doesn’t allow him to be in the presence of sinners, so as a result hell exists. And people need to be allowed the choice to love or reject God freely, because love that isn’t a choice isn’t genuine, etc.), but I just don’t know if I want to trust him on this. I’ve been feeling like a victim of the holocaust who’s been offered an opportunity to operate the gas chamber his family and friends will be in. I’d say “No, I don’t want to be part of your exclusive group that’s been set apart – I’d rather die with the ones I love”. Kind of harsh maybe, but surely the holocaust is a mild analogy for hell!
If you’ve read all the way through this, I’m guessing you may have had similar questions. Have you got resources to share on the topic? Do you understand how I feel/think? Like I said, if only I could be one of those people who cruise through life on faith! Alas, it seems that personality trait just wasn’t in my genes…