“God’s alright when he isn’t making bears eat children, you know?”
I didn’t. But this was just one of the arguments that would be lobbed at me by my new atheist friend, Tyler.
Tyler used to believe in God. Though I didn’t know him at the time, his theology degree and sleeve of artfully ambiguous Christian tattoos suggest he took the whole thing pretty seriously, so when we began discussing his recent de-conversion, I paid attention.
We considered the aforementioned story from 2 Kings. Elisha curses a group of boys for calling him “baldy,” so the Lord sends bears to maul a few dozen kids. After debating how feasibly the story could be implemented in a Rogaine commercial, I conceded that it seemed a bit harsh.
We talked about how a loving God could allow the immense suffering in the world, discussed Balaam and his talking donkey, and crunched some numbers on the six-day creation.
As Christians, it’s easy to view this approach of picking apart Scripture and doctrine as cynical and unhelpful. For many of us, our experiences with God are enough to cultivate genuine belief. For others, the thought of accepting something as true without being certain of it’s intellectual credibility seems absurd.
But is this intellectual approach to Christianity a faith killer?
The University of Rochester recently published a review of decades of research demonstrating that “religious people are less intelligent than non-believers.” A summation of 63 studies on the subject, the Rochester report cannot be dismissed by the religious community. We must recognize as an objective fact that people with higher IQs are turning to atheism.
Atheist author Richard Dawkins points out that, according to a survey of the National Academy of Scientists, only 7 percent of American scientists believe in a personal God.
So why aren’t more of our best and brightest minds believers?
It’s a complex question, but I have two theories. First, there is an incredible bias against theism within higher education. In 2009, Dr. Brent Slife published a study of this “pervasive, implicit bias,” and demonstrated ways that the anti-God mentality is a systemic part of academia.
The result of this bias is that the most intelligent people (since they are likely to attend college and grad school) are exposed to tremendous negative pressure from both mentors and peers regarding their beliefs.
Secondly, I believe the present Church culture in America is unfriendly to intellectual scrutiny.
I have experienced firsthand the judgmental glares of church ladies who didn’t take kindly to me polluting their potluck fellowships with tough theological questions. Once the conversation gets messier than the Sloppy Joes, it’s time to wrap it up with the catch-all “His ways are higher than our ways,” or “If we knew everything we wouldn’t need God now, would we?”
This has to stop.
We must stop pretending that Christianity doesn’t make any claims beyond our personal experiences with God. The it’s-not-a-religion-it’s-a-relationship rhetoric sells short what Christianity is—a series of significant truth claims.
Yes, if accepted as true, these claims are simply the jumping off point for a profoundly intimate relationship with a powerful, loving creator. But when we discourage members of the body of Christ from challenging the status quo or even the fundamentals of our faith, we limit their own discovery of truth. By testing the claims of Christianity, we substantiate them in our own hearts.
If what we believe about God is true, no genuine discovery can ever contradict it. If we are to bolster the perception of Christianity in an increasingly secular world, we must welcome the skeptics, and we must be willing to answer their questions. We can be confident that the same God whom skeptics are trying to disprove designed the minds that seek to disprove him.
Still, the atheist seeking a dialogue is not the biggest issue here.
A fact we must face with American atheists (since their growth has been primarily in the last two decades) is that most of them were raised in Christian, or at least theist homes. Thus, these disproportionately intelligent people are rejecting Christianity based on their experience within the Christian community.
What attitude do we have toward other Christians who question the fundamentals of the faith? Typically, we tend to view them as less solid in their walk or unconnected to God. This mindset is incredibly damaging.
Christ’s call to have a childlike faith has been bastardized to a point that encourages blind acceptance of whatever we happen to have been told. So let’s examine the reality of this calling. I believe the faith of children carries with it two significant qualities. The first is that kids are remarkably uncynical. The skepticism that plagues our generation is a learned trait, one that desperately needs unlearning.
Secondly, they are annoyingly inquisitive. An inquisitive mind asks why the sky is blue. It asks why the grass is green. It asks why Arrested Development got cancelled but George Lopez still has a successful career. There are some things we will never know, and that should drive us crazy.
The Berean Jews were commended in Acts because they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed.” How far we have come from church leadership that commends those who question their teachings!
As followers of Christ, we must not only make the Church a place that is open to the questions of others, we must ask tough questions ourselves. Our faith should be based on what we are certain of, not just on how we feel. If our belief in God is rooted solely in the shallow soil of human emotions, this shallowness will be evident in the fruit that our faith produces.
We are not called to blind faith. We are called to let the Spirit “guide us to all truth.” And when you know the truth, the truth will set you free.