The underlying assumption in this question is that religious experience is merely psychological. It exists solely in the mind, so it must be totally subjective, without any objective data to substantiate it.
This objection rarely presents itself so antagonistically, usually appearing far gentler, as in “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”
Either religion is a subjective experience that has no objective reality, or it is an experience that has an objective basis, and its truth transcends personal preference.
While the broader objection often focuses on all religions, we’ll focus on the case for an objective basis for Christianity (the objection probably holds up against some religions).
If Christianity can be relegated to the state of total subjectivity, we will be hard-pressed to prove the validity of our claims. Many critics have found the corner of subjectivity a comfortable one into which they can sweep opposing views when faced with an uncomfortable decision.
Christianity Is Subjective
For centuries, religion in general and Christianity in particular have been categorized as emotional crutches. According to this view, a religious person operates strictly from emotion to meet his needs and overcome his weaknesses.
The major skeptics of religion have often portrayed religion as something for the emotionally weak and those who can’t cope with the future on their own.
In conversation with others, it helps to acknowledge that religion can be a crutch. Some people seek solace in religion because they are too insecure to face the future on their own.
They invent their own gods to assist them through life’s burdens and woes. Christianity is often caricatured as an escape mechanism for emotionally needy people. But the fact that religion can be a crutch doesn’t mean that it always is.
Statements often made to dismiss Christianity assume a subjective basis for belief. We’ll examine a few of them.
Some try to invalidate the Christian’s claim to be objective by stating that Christians were preconditioned to believe in Christ by their family and culture. They make two false assumptions:
1. All Christians were raised in a Christian environment. While it is true that those born into Christian homes are more likely to be Christian than those born into Hindu or Muslim families and cultures, many have come and are coming into Christianity out of religiously hostile or neutral environments.
2. If a person is preconditioned to believe something, his position is not valid. Though preconditioning doesn’t make a position true, preconditioning doesn’t make it false, either.
The things that we were taught as children are not necessarily true, but they are not necessarily false, either.
Preconditioning does not validate or invalidate a position. An investigation of the validity of Christianity’s claims should lead to a search for objective answers.
Another objection is the claim that religious beliefs are based solely on personal experience, and experience does not determine truth. The misconception here is that most Christians assume the truth of Christianity based solely on their experience.
A belief or an experience does not prove a position, nor does a lack of belief or experience disprove a position. The real question is whether there is any objective reality to one’s belief or experience. If not, then the Christian position might be a psychological crutch.
Critics may raise this objection: Christians want Christianity to be true because they have an emotional need that it fills, but belief and emotions do not determine truth. They assume that Christians declare Christianity to be true solely on the basis of their own beliefs and emotions.
But Christianity is true because of Christ and who he is and not because Christians want to believe in him. One’s belief in something does not make it true, and conversely, one’s lack of belief does not make something false.
Take the case of a patient with a deadly bacterial infection. When this patient receives a dose of morphine, the symptoms of her disease are erased because of the numbing effects of the drug. The patient believes she is cured, and she feels much better.
But believing she is cured and being cured are two different things. Now, suppose the patient receives penicillin instead of morphine. She still has her pain, and thus, she believes that the medicine is having no effect, but she is actually being cured.
Her lack of belief does not alter the reality of her cure. We must remember that one’s belief is only as valid as the object in which it is placed.
The Christian does not attempt to validate Christianity on the basis of his subjective beliefs and emotions. Instead, he turns to the objective data regarding Christ.
C. S. Lewis and others have turned this argument completely around. Rather than dismissing our desire for the eternal world as a form of escapism or wishful thinking, he argues that our unfulfilled desires, hopes, and longings may be evidence for another world.
He notes that every other desire in nature corresponds to a real object that can satisfy that desire:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing (Mere Christianity, 1952).
It should be noted that all of these criticisms leveled at religion in general and Christianity in particular can also apply to atheism.
A growing number of people are being raised without religion, and many spend their formative years in a culture, both online and in the classroom, that preconditions them to believe Christianity is not true.
Many people quit believing in God when they encountered life experiences that were incompatible with their perception of God.
As for an emotional basis for atheism? Aldous Huxley on the foundation of his former atheistic views:
For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. Similar tactics had been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reasons (Ends and Means, 1937, p. 273).
Many men and women like the idea of not having to answer to an almighty God for their actions. Could it be that the atheist eliminates God so that his own fear of having to face such a being can be reduced?
The very character of God is disturbing to men in rebellion against him. He is holy, unchanging, all-powerful, and all-knowing. The ability to dismiss this kind of God would alleviate a great deal of guilt in people’s hearts.
Be careful, however, when explaining the psychological reasons for atheism, and don’t caricature the viewpoint. The goal is to level the playing field, not to make all atheists look like scoundrels.
Everyone needs meaning in life. It is not a matter of if we seek meaning, only a matter of how and what we decide to put our faith in. But faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed.
Christianity Is Objective
To establish an objective basis for Christianity, we must examine the person and work of Christ. The most critical historical event in the connection between Jesus and his works is the Resurrection.
The Resurrection is the jugular vein of Christianity — if it is true, so is Christianity. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is a farce, and our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
As shown in other articles, the evidence is strong enough to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus rose from the dead.
Those who reject the resurrection usually do so either because they have not examined the evidence, they have assumed it is impossible and therefore reject the evidence, or they simply do not want it to be true.
For further reading, Rewriting Your Broken Story: The Power of an Eternal Perspective
For further reading:
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Kenneth Boa equips people to love well (being), learn well (knowing), and live well (doing). He is a writer, teacher, speaker, and mentor and is the President of Reflections Ministries, The Museum of Created Beauty, and Trinity House Publishers.
Publications by Dr. Boa include Conformed to His Image; Handbook to Prayer; Handbook to Leadership; Faith Has its Reasons; Rewriting Your Broken Story; Life in the Presence of God; Leverage; and Recalibrate Your Life.
Dr. Boa holds a B.S. from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in England.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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