Monday, September 19, 2016

Belief and choice

Romans 10:9 says:
"If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Basically, I've been taught and always have believed that those are the two things you need to do to be a Christian. Just believing, without the declaration, is no good. Likewise, declaring without the belief just doesn't get you there, you need both. 

I've been reflecting recently on these words, and the implications of them. The two things detailed in that statement are not the same. Declaration is an action, it is something that we can choose to do, or not. Belief is not an action. You cannot choose to believe something or not. You need persuaded into belief by evidence or authority.

Belief is not a choice.

Don't believe me? Surely you can choose to believe me? If you're not prepared to do that, how about believing something that doesn't matter? Can you believe that, for example, the moon is made of cheese? If belief is a choice, you can choose to believe that, right?

No matter, how hard you want to choose to believe something, if there is contrary evidence, and you honestly consider the evidence, and believe the evidence, you simply can't believe something that goes against the evidence you have accepted.

That's where I am at with regard to being a Christian.

I was raised with a set of beliefs that I accepted on the basis of the authority of who told me the things in the first place. People I trusted, and who were demonstrably correct in some other things they said, taught me to believe in God, to believe in Jesus, to believe in the bible, and I did.

Part 2 of the Romans 10:9 criterion was built into me from an early age. From my childhood I was halfway to being a Christian.

Part 1 came later, when I decided to follow Jesus for myself. From the age of 17 I fulfilled both of the parts of Romans 10:9. I have never subsequently given up on that choice.

However, I have looked at the evidence, and I have been persuaded by much of it that my childhood belief in God, Jesus and the Bible was misplaced. There are not good grounds for believing that. Indeed, there are very good grounds for not believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. The evidence points against that belief.

I didn't want to, but eventually I had to be honest with myself and accept the fact that the evidence was compelling and that Jesus (if he ever lived at all, which is a separate question) if he died on a cross (which is far from historical fact), did not rise on the third day. Having considered as much evidence as I could get my hands on, I found that my belief in the resurrection melted away. I can't simply choose to believe in it. I don't believe in it any more, because of the evidence.

So by the Romans 10:9 criterion I have stopped being a Christian. Not because I chose to do anything. I didn't choose to stop being a Christian. If anything, I would still choose to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, if I could actually believe that he is. But I can't believe that.

C.S. Lewis once (famously) wrote of his conversion:
"In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England"
I seem to have done the opposite. Eventually, having considered the evidence, I admitted (to myself) that God was not God and Jesus was never raised, and slowly (over a transition of several years) I have now become a somewhat reluctant de-convert from Christianity. I don't claim to be dejected though. There is much relief and satisfaction in reaching a conclusion that is in agreement with reality.

The cognitive dissonance I have been wrestling with for a decade or more has now gone.

I guess that should be the end of this blog, but I'll probably keep posting away anyway.