Written: 19 September, 2000

[This post was written in response to another poster who said that people are religious because they'd rather believe in a fantasy that makes them feel good, rather than accepting facts.]

Some people believe because they believe it is the truth, not a fantasy. And that to be faithful (no pun intended) to their view of reality, then they must reject Atheism. Do you accept that possibility, that believers like myself feel this way, and aren't believers because we want a "feel-good fantasy" without investigating the facts?

I mentioned before Lee Strobel's book "The Case for Christ." Strobel was a lifelong Atheist who had initially wanted to debunk Christianity. After researching the matter, he was surprised by the evidence in favor of Christianity. Finally, after nearly two years of research, he said that "the atheism I had embraced for so long buckled under the weight of historical truth."

Strobel writes that "the last thing I want is a paper-thin foundation of wishful thinking or make-believe. I need a faith that's consistent with reason, not contradictory to it; I want beliefs that are grounded in reality, not detached from it." He wrote down a list of all his questions concerning Christianity on a legal pad. Questions like, "Are the Gospels reliable?" "Does archaeology confirm or contradict the Gospels?" "Was Jesus insane?" etc., etc., and found that the answers that he accepted as the most consistent with the known facts were those that pointed to what Christians believe.

He says, "I had seen defendants carted off to the death chamber on much less convincing proof! The cumulative facts and data pointed unmistakably toward a conclusion that I wasn't entirely comfortable in reaching. Frankly, I had wanted to believe that the deification of Jesus was the result of legendary development in which well-meaning but misguided people slowly turned a wise sage into the mythological Son of God. That seemed safe and reassuring; after all, a roving apocalyptic preacher from the first century could make no demands on me. But while I went into my investigation thinking that this legendary explanation was intuitively obvious, I emerged convinced it was totally without basis. [....] In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth!"

Finally, after another round of checking to see if the explanations matched the evidence, Strobel decided to accept Christ. He writes: "Yes, I had to take a step of faith, as we do in every decision we make in life. But here's the crucial distinction: I was no longer trying to swim upstream against the strong current of evidence; instead I was choosing to go in the same direction that the torrent of facts was flowing. That was reasonable, that was rational, that was logical. [Upon accepting Christ], there were no lightning bolts, no audible replies, no tingly sensations. I know that some people feel a rush of emotion at such a moment; as for me, however, there was something else that was equally exhilirating: there was the rush of reason."

I also lived most of my life as an agnostic, and you can see how my views changed last year in my website's online journal. I had thought that Christianity was wrong based on my gut feelings about it, and the idea that nothing could be proved one way or another anyway. After becoming a Christian, I realized in retrospect how little I had previously thought and questioned various matters, both religious and side matters. I find that I question things more now as a Christian than I did as an agnostic, in a search for what's real and true, instead of whatever I happen to feel in my gut at any given time. I risked being thought of as weird even among my own family (who are not religious) and friends. I'd have to start going to church and giving tithes and sacrificing my Sunday mornings and change my behavior in other ways. I didn't do that because it "feels good." If I simply want to feel good, I can think of other ways to achieve that goal. No, I did it because I think it's true.

The apostle Paul had been a persecutor of Christians who converted to Christianity, so he knew what kind of punishment he'd have to take for his belief in Christ. He'd be a traitor to his former friends and he'd be viewed suspiciously at first by the Christians. And he went to his death, like so many other early Christians, because of his belief in the truth of the gospel. Did they do so because of belief in a fantasy?

How many people would be willing to be imprisoned for years and then executed (as Paul was, and other Christians were) for something they knew to be a fantasy? Did they do it because it feels good? Or, rather, did they do it because they were standing up for what they seriously believe to be the absolute truth? Does that make them crazy simply because they have come to a different conclusion regarding the facts than you? Doesn't the idea that they would die insisting on the truth of their beliefs make you pause for at least a moment to re-examine your own?