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Relational Apologetics: “Overcoming Unbelief: A Safe Process for Those Interested in Christian Faith” Part II

May 19, 2011

II. Engaging the Heart and the Mind in a Searching Process

In my own life, I find that rarely do I sit and meditate on the beliefs that I currently hold.  Life moves rather quickly, and often many of my beliefs and assumptions about reality can go unchallenged unless I purpose to slow down and enter into a searching process of some sort.  I find Socrates’ famous two statements pertinent here:  “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and “Know thyself.”  While our beliefs are ideas that we come to hold rather than ideas that we choose to hold, we do have the capacity to examine them to find if they are in fact sound.  Further, as emotional beings, we may also “look into our hearts” and examine our emotional responses to certain beliefs that we already hold, and propositions that we may not yet hold.  We never investigate beliefs, truth, and knowledge from a purely intellectual vantage point.  Truth propositions will affect our minds and our hearts.  So, we are able, as rational beings, with emotions that are deeply connected to beliefs (at least the ones that count!), and a volition, to actively search ourselves to investigate the belief structures that we currently hold and the worldviews that are contrary to our beliefs.

Bearing this in mind, the first thing I would ask our seeking friend to do is enter into a Socratic method with his own heart and mind.  He or she would do well to begin thinking about his or her beliefs.  Perhaps he or she could take some of the following questions and begin to journal responses to them.  Each proposed question should be given ample time to reverberate in a person’s heart and mind.  These are some questions that I would hope any seeker would ask in order to find out why or how he or she has come to hold certain beliefs.

What doubts do I have about Christianity in particular?  What is it about Christianity that I do not or cannot (at this point) believe?  I think this set of questions is the right place to begin.  If a person has arrived at certain beliefs, through involuntary processes, then investigating the current web of beliefs he or she already has is important.  While we may not choose what beliefs we come to hold, we certainly do have some say-so in whether we can or should continue to maintain certain beliefs.  Put differently, coming to hold beliefs may be involuntary, but continuing to hold beliefs is something that may be in our control.  As such,  persons may never have questioned why they have come to hold the beliefs they do believe about Christianity.  For example, if they believe that miracles are impossible, why have they come to hold such a belief?  What evidence did they search out to draw this conclusion?  What experiences have they had that leads them to believe that miracles are impossible?  Perhaps this belief has been an unquestioned assumption that is not warranted by any evidence or experience.  Even more, perhaps those answering these questions will not uncover intellectual obstacles to faith, but emotional resistance to faith.  Maybe those searching this out find that the idea of the Old Testament portrait of God makes them angry.  This set of questions has the potential, when diligently attended to, to uncover many of the underlying assumptions and experiences that have led persons to their currently held beliefs.

If Christ were, indeed, God, would He be someone I consider worthy of worship?  Is Jesus someone I would want to follow?  This question gets us to the crux of the person’s view of the central figure of Christianity.  One needs to actively think about what he or she thinks of Jesus Christ.  Does the seeker consider Jesus to be a unique moral figure in history that one could build his or her life upon?  Does he stand head and shoulder above the rest of history’s moral giants?  Or, in the eye of the seeker, is he nothing extraordinary?  What beliefs we hold about the central figure of the Christian faith, when given an opportunity to be explored will greatly reveal much about what we really think about Christianity.

Who are intellectual, moral, and spiritual figures that I currently admire and try to follow or emulate?  How do they compare with Jesus Christ?  I propose that this question, following the one above, is quite revealing about a person’s faith.  It would seem that we all choose to follow certain individuals we think are worthy of admiration.  Whether that be Marx, Nietzsche, Richard Dawkins, or Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Siddartha Guatama, we inevitably choose people ancient or modern that we build our moral, intellectual, and spiritual systems upon.  This question invites the seeker into a process of determining who or what he or she admires and why he or she does so.

These are a few questions to get started, and without any commentary, here are a few more that will allow the seeker to engage in a explorative process where the beliefs he or she has come to hold may be examined more thoroughly.

  1. What do I consider to be the essential elements of Christianity?  In my current understanding, what do I understand Christianity to be?
  2. What do I believe about morality?  What do I believe about sin?
  3. How do I explain the presence of evil in my current non-religious belief system?  Is evil ontologically real?
  4. What positive or negative experiences have I had with Christianity that may have encouraged me or turned me off to it?  Do I think these experiences may be affecting my beliefs at this point?

Though a person completely set against Christian faith will find no value in engaging in such a soul-searching process, for the one who has opened up to the possibility of faith, I can think of no better way of locating where barriers—of the intellectual and the emotional type—are keeping a person from coming into belief.  While we may have no choice as to what beliefs we come to adopt, we do have the amazing capacity to place our beliefs on the examination table and engage in a process of dissection.  I am not arguing for a Cartesian process of doubt where skepticism is the guiding factor.  Instead, I am proposing a meditative dialogue with ourselves where we quietly and reflectively interact with our current belief structures and gently challenge beliefs that may have been embraced unknowingly.  In fact, this process of search could be a precursor to a more spiritual searching down the road.

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