A play-by-play review of Leslie’s wonderful prose. Or as I like to call him: Simplicio.
Many years back, a friend told me casually, “God lives by faith.”
What difference would it make? (Hang on, just hear me out here!)
Here we see an opening attempt to characterise the non-believer. He who makes little witticisms that Simplicio will now proceed to destroy for the other believers, they who already know they are right.
Although I’ve been a Christian for a long time—and brought up as one—I must admit that I have occasionally toyed with the questions
In essence, I’m asking myself: How would I know whether I’ve been taken for a ride? What would it take for me to stop believing in Jesus?
Here he begins what René Descartes did 500 years ago and enters self-doubt and casting away all pretensions of knowledge. Or maybe he doesn’t. Because he suddenly says it’s too grand a task. He can only leave it to the theologians. He will only “see” if he can do the very minor task of suspending his belief. He’s not out to convince people! He can only convince himself, which is about as good as a reason for publishing this work I guess.
Oh, if only Rene Descartes stopped right there! “I am only a lawyer and mathematician” He would have said, “How am I qualified?” And every freshman philosophy course would have one less lecture. If only. (This post deals mainly with ifs) If only Blaise Pascal said, “Well, I’m only a gambler. Better stick to playing dice.”
Never mind, our Simplicio shall now “toy” with his questions.
First, I would have to prove that Jesus was lying.
Ah, the age old argument “Well Jesus must be telling the truth or else he would be mad or a liar!” repackaged only as a journalist can. A false dichotomy (trichotomy?) if there ever was one.
Many people throughout history have made claims of being a Messiah. But of course, there’s no way to validate the claim until the end times come. It could very well be that the Prophet Muhammad delivers us into heaven, inshallah. A popularity contest doesn’t determine who’s right or wrong.
Yet if our Simplicio could doubt his beliefs, he certainly can’t doubt all the beliefs of people who lived 2000 years ago. The appeal to ancient authority favored by fundamentalists. The ancient authority were of course the people who believed among other things, giants lived on earth and that Jacob fought with God.
Our Simplicio makes no effort to answers the many questions he raises but only hopes that their sheer number might make up for an argument. It could be that so many people were indeed misled. Our Simplicio knows he must find an explanation and ask the relevant questions which would take him down the dark path of Biblical History, Psychology and Sociology. But as he has mentioned these are all questions too big for him, he must relegate them to the relevant authorities, leaving the audience baffled as to why he had to raise these questions in the first place. The appeal to ignorance and incredulity is strong in this one.
Second, I would have to prove that the Bible is untrue.
What Simplicio dismisses here is an entire scholarly field that argues and determines what was historical and what was ahistorical in the bible. But of course, those who disagree are critics. But it’s ok, since he concedes it could be that “only some parts of the Bible are reliable or accurate.” Well, that’s fine and dandy. However, now I am confused. Because it sounds like as long as some relevant part of the bible is true, God’s existence is confirmed regardless of the numerous places where biology, geology and physics contradict the Holy Word. The cumulative knowledge of modern humanity is no match for a collection of texts written thousands of years ago. As long as a sliver of truth remains in the Bible, God is safe.
Certainly, as far as prophecies are concerned, our Simplicio is content and gullible to the fact that humans are notorious for fudging things especially with regards to predicting the future. Indeed, Simplicio ignores the existence of the Holy Roman Empire and the Orthodox Churches to press his belief that people will never, ever conspire together to maintain a belief system that is beneficial to them.
Third, I would have to dismiss all my experiences.
Lastly, our Simplicio retreats to his safe space. “It’s too good to be a coincidence. Therefore, God exists” Many people (who happen to not be trained in science or statistics but in media) believe that coincidences never happen. Our Simplicio now becomes an expert in statistical probability. One can only pray he does not puts his money to the lottery holding those thoughts.
Our Simplicio now becomes some kind of expert in neurobiology and psychology, claiming that something must have made him felt good and that it must have been God! Or Allah, or Zeus, or Thor, Guan Yin Ma… The same can be repeated for his experiences with changed people. Can Simplicio deny the good emotions that run through the Buddhist when he is under duress and begins chanting sutras? Does that mean Buddha exist? Do the good things that happen to people imply a necessary existence of God? It could be equally likely good things happen to people arbitrarily, regardless of the existence of the Christian God.
Have I been so greatly deceived or self-deluded? Have I somehow managed to be so logical in all aspects of my life except my faith?
Unfortunately, Simplicio asks the right questions but never answers them. Unlike Descartes who put forth a decent attempt, our Simplicio preemptively aborts his thought processes.
Sure, people can change on their own or turn over a new leaf, but it’s hard to see why they bothered to in the first place, if Jesus was not who he said he was.
Yes, the motivation to change on your own must come from Jesus’s necessary existence as defined by the Bible. Why? Only Simplicio can answer. But he does not.
But having questioned my own faith, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Christian faith—for me at least—is based on both biblical and personal conviction. I believe what I read in the Bible, rely on what I assess to be truthful, logical, and factual, and at the same time, remember what I have experienced personally. In other words, I believe with both my mind and my heart.
Except Biblical historians do find contradictions in the bible, that they find new material that were not included in the canonical Bible but were part of early Christian tradition, and that the contents are indeed a lively field of academic debate. However, personal experience trumps all for Simplicio for he said he doubted himself, but only superficially, so he can double down on them later.