“Do you have any suggestions for finding faith? I see the necessity of religion, and Christianity in particular, but aside from history and cultural affinity I don’t have actual belief.”
While I am glad that Wright converted to Christianity [i] and wants others to do the same, almost every one of the arguments he makes in response to this question are ones I would not give.
Let’s look at some of the meat in Wright’s article:
…consider that the Christian worldview is more coherent, robust, and rational than any secular worldview.
Our model explains things such as why stars look fair and beautiful to our eyes when it serves no credible Darwinian purpose to do so.
Our model explains the naturalistic fallacy, that is, the gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ which secular philosophy cannot explain, and some cannot even address.
Our model explains how free will can exist inside a deterministic universe. A materialist cannot even formulate the question in a rational way.
Our model explains why humans seek beauty. Social-evolutionary explanations for this are less convincing than astrology.
Our model explains how creatures with free will capable of grasping intellectual abstractions can arise in a universe which contains no such thing as intellectual abstractions.
Our model allows investigation of final causes in nature, without which nature cannot properly be understood….
Our model explains the various miracles and supernatural wonders that are in the older history books, and which, for no scientific reason, were excised from being reported.
Our model explains both why there is a plurality of religions and why there are striking similarities between them.
Our model explains the origin of the universe. By definition, if the universe were all that existed, exists and ever will exist, than a material cause for it is impossible.
…Our model explains why you should not let your daughter whore around. She is immortal, and will outlast any nation, and language, any institution and human work on Earth.
Our model explains why you should not, once you have truly and deeply contemplated the vastness of the universe and the oppressive span of time to follow the death of everything you know, fall into despair, and end your meaningless life.
Our model gives something to live for nobler than one’s own pleasure seeking.
Our model avoids the logical paradox of asserting man can create meaning in life out of a vacuum. That would require an ability to create meaning out of meaninglessness, which is absurd.
Our model explains why men and women are different, and how we must arrange the dangerous mystery of the mating dance between the sexes to improve our chances to achieve joy rather than misery.
Our model gives rational hope of seeking the departed dead again.
Our model explains human psychology better than perverted old Freud dressing up old Greek myths in make believe, and far better than cranky old Thomas Hobbes and his cynicism.
Our model makes sense. Others are either incorrect, incomplete, or paradoxical, or lead ultimately to wrath or despair. Our model is the sole one which sees life as not futile and death as not bitter.
And, on an intellectual level, our model is the one to which to turn once your mind has become wearied with the reductionist, absurdist and postmodern models, which are in fact no models at all, but rather, are excuses why one should not make a model of the universe, nor seek any answers to deep questions.
It is the model to which to turn once you are heartily sick of hearing “It Just Happened” as the explanation for the origin of man, the universe, and all things.
Now I really don’t want to get too down on what Wright is doing here. These are some excellent things for anyone to think about. He is on target when he asserts, quite beautifully, that these points are meant to: “whet the appetite of intellects starved and desiccated after vain attempt[s] to feast on the shadows, dust and ashes of modern thought, and show the contrast.” Likewise when he says “All human reason can do is clear away false objections to faith. Faith itself is a supernatural gift bestowed by God to protect his own from the sudden, irrational loss of confidence in the self evident to which our foolish race is prone.”
Amen to that!
My main gripe is this: even though Wright wisely notes that each point in the list above “would require a separate and in depth conversation,” he also says that this is a partial list “of the intellectually satisfying fullness of Christian thought. It is the scent and savor of the feast of Christian philosophy, not the meat and potatoes.”
I disagree that the list has much to do with the fullness of Christian thought at all. After all, all the things above are points that can be credibly be made by Jews and Muslims seeking to reach secular persons as well. Not only this, but many of these points could also be made by informed proponents of other non-theistic religions! This should not surprise us, because in the book of Romans it says:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse…. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice [evil things] deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
In sum, even if people do not acknowledge the Christian God, everyone knows at some level that there is a powerful divine mind that lies behind the cosmos. Furthermore, while our conscience can be badly seared, we will continually understand at some level, existentially, that there is a real right and wrong and that humans are designed for some things and not others. Regardless of what anyone says they believe, all reveal in their actions that they believe in right and wrong — even if what they believe about right and wrong is exceedingly messed up. This is why atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens would get so offended when people asked him how atheists could be good without God: because he is (was) a human being who stood in moral solidarity with other human beings about a great many things which were clearly perceived, by many wise persons, as being either good or evil (this is also why there are, ultimately, no true antinomians in the world – the world hates God’s law but we will always, even subconsciously, seek to replace God’s law with other laws thought to be good, even as there will always remain some overlap with God’s law). Undoubtedly, these matters are highly complex, but human beings must think about them.
Wright goes on:
Our model explains the prevalence of so many theists throughout history. The theory that over nine tenths of mankind, including some of the most brilliant thinkers in their age, were raving lunatics who hallucinate about imaginary sky beings is not credible and not supported by evidence. (italics mine)
It should go without saying that many of those 90% are not theists. Of course, even cultures that practice polytheism also acknowledge the core importance of hierarchy and so do tend to have supreme gods, such as Zeus or Brahman. Of course, many of the sophisticated elites of cultures like these tend to get abstract when it comes to these notions, depersonalizing their countrymen’s deities. And, of course, as Jordan Peterson puts it, empirically speaking, human beings are the most complicated beings we are familiar with, and a spirit without any form isn’t intelligible.[ii] I’d go on to assert that when we are talking about some kind of a “divine mind,” it only makes sense that that we are dealing with a personal being here (what else has a mind? ; and how can the personal arise from the impersonal?), and ultimately, a supreme personal being.
Our model explains the current hegemony of the West and makes clear the meaning and purpose of what otherwise seems like insane and suicidal attempts by the apparently sober and sane men on Left to undermine and destroy it.
Again, enter the non-Christian Jordan Peterson, becoming more and more popular every day – who believes that the Bible is the thing needed to save Western civilization – though it seems he doesn’t necessarily have our eternal souls in mind…(more) Here, as useful conversation partners for Wright’s and Peterson’s audience, I recommend Vishal Mangalwadi’s and Alvin Schmidt’s work to chew on.
(here’s a bit of Mangalwadi):
This brings me to Wright’s first suggestion, which I have saved for last: “Pray.”
Again, I disagree.
Why? Because the Scriptures are quite clear that God does not invite unbelievers to pray, but rather to repent and trust in Him. God certainly could choose to use the prayer of an unbeliever in some way, but we are told time and again in the Scriptures that He does not listen to them.
I am sure that many Mormans and Jehovah’s Witnesses pray all the time. Furthermore, that they also not only find Christianity as they perceive it appealing and certainly see its “necessity.” Nevertheless, because of their faulty view of Christ and man, they end up being more pagan than Christian.
Sure, they might realize that they need to give attention to the figure of Jesus Christ reported in the Bible, risen from the dead and coming to judge the world[iii], but given that any individual’s assent here is sincere, it is one entirely based on fear and abject misunderstanding, not one driven by true grace, peace, joy, and trust. We grant that they, using the Bible, should be closer to the truth than many, but the fact that they can be so close and yet believe so wrongly – in spite of their prayers – does not assure.
Therefore, given the above, my first suggestion—given that you insist repentance and faith aren’t a possibility—is to think.
Ask yourself if it makes sense that in the midst of this cacophony of world religions and even this cacophony among those whose central book is the Bible whether God might still speak clearly today for those with ears to hear. Dive deeply into the Bible, preferably with some guidance (see Acts 10) – particularly when it comes to the passages dealing with just who Jesus Christ is. Further note that the Apostle Paul acknowledges the importance of divisions between those claiming allegiance to Christ: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”
By the way, of course God wants all His children (yes, I’ll call you that – see Acts 17, for example) to be those who pray (rightly). As the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther said:
“For those who preach, hear, and know God’s Word but do not pray, indicate thereby that they are still proud and secure, as if they did not need God’s grace everywhere, do not see their need and danger, think that they are now seated firmly and already have what they might request. The devil is right behind them, assaults them, and overthrows them before they even know what happened to them.” This is why Christ, by his own example, teaches us not to forget prayer in addition to the sermon lest the Word remain without fruit when it is used. (see here for more)
Prayer is certainly a critical part of a believer’s life. I am just urging you to first hear the Word of God and it’s most knowledgeable and devoted proponents, for we are told that “faith comes by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). That is why I am urging this – which means I am urging you to look to Jesus Christ, so wonderfully described in the Scriptures and well-summarized in things like the Nicene Creed.
“Taste and see tha the Lord is good!” “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!” And, I pray that even you might come to say: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12).
[i] From Wikipedia: At age 42, Wright converted from atheism to Christianity, citing a profound religious experience with visions of the “Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father, not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days”, and stating that prayers he made were answered. In 2008, he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, of which he approvingly said: “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”
[iii] As I have written in the past: “I do not think that we can start being “neutral” towards Christian claims upon hearing them. They demand to be taken seriously and demand our full attention and engagement. Why these claims over the claims of any other world religion? Why should Christianity and the truths it purports to preach get our attention? Well, does any other religion claim to vindicate its founder – who incidently, claimed to be God, via a resurrection from the dead? (not to mention all the miracles leading up to that final, crowning miracle – ponder, for example, Mark 2:9-11 here). Does any other world religion claim to offer proof, assurance, “faith” – that we can know who it is who will in the future judge the world? (see Acts 17). None. Therefore, anyone who does not take these things seriously – is, by definition, not being rational. Would most philosophers agree with me? I don’t think so. And even if some found it to be an intriguing argument, perhaps they may say, after looking at things, that there is “insufficient evidence” for what Christianity claims. Then what? Well, do they get to decide what sufficient evidence is? Might they be under any obligation to reconsider and look again? Who charges them to do so? How deeply did they look into it? Did they do so prayerfully?” These words should hit all like a hammer, and to the one who has not been made a friend of God, they should offer no peace.