Friday, October 26, 2012

“I Just Believe,” the Anti-Intellectual Faith Barrier to a Reasonable Faith

by Rob Lundberg

A few weeks ago following a worship service, I had an opportunity to speak with a potential member for our Ratio Christi club at the University of Mary Washington.  The conversation moved from discussing Ratio Christ toward a discussion concerning her spiritual beliefs and convictions.  Talk about a divine appointment. She was at church for the first time in a long time, and considered herself a seeker; but not really a Christian in the biblical sense.   This particular morning, she had come to church as a way of her investigating the Christianity of her father.  After a conversation and sharing with her about her need for Christ, her father listening in, thanked me and told me that he had been talking to her about her spiritual condition for some time.  We both agreed that our conversation was truly a divine appointment being the first day back in a church and her openness to the subject matter of her spiritual condition.

The conversation between this gal’s Dad and myself carried out into the open area coffee bar, where I had the chance to introduce Dad and daughter to Ratio Christi at the University of Mary Washington.  As my conversation continued with the Dad, we started talking about how 75-88% of the kids coming out of Christian homes are walking away from their faith during the first or second years of university and that we were on the campus to show how Christianity has great reasons for believing it to be true.  So I can get into the crux of this essay I was surprised to hear “Dad” tell me that we don’t need any reasons, “I just believe Christianity is true.”

Here is a Dad, with his daughter, who is investigating Christianity, the faith of her father.  And here is a college student, who is finding it difficult to navigate her biology core, and needing help with some answers to why she should believe that Christianity is true.  The dilemma here is a father who is concerned about his daughter, and does not believe that Christianity needs reasons for believing why his daughter should believe it to be true.  Well, I respectfully disagreed with him and asked him some “what if” questions, like:

"What if you were confronted by one embracing Islam and you told them 'I just believe' how do you think that would go?”  Or "what if you were confronted by one of the groupies of the new atheism and told them that, what do you think would happen?"  And lastly, "what if they had convincing 'evidence' to embrace their ideology, and they were to rattle your belief, how would that hold up, 'I just believe?'”  His response was disturbing, “I don’t know, I just believe.”

Believe what?  Why do you believe what you do if you do not have a reasons to believe it?  Folks this is what is being called by many of my colleagues and mentors in apologetics as the new fideism in the church.  Really it is not new, as it has been around for a long time.  

What is fideism you ask?  Digging back into some of my resources, one being an outline I put together years ago on fideism from Norman Geisler’s Christian Apologetics book, I am convinced that this view which says, “I just believe” is seemingly the extreme opposite of the empiricism which led to skepticism in Hume.  To support this, I find Dr. Geisler posing the following question,

Does truth in religion then rest solely on faith and not on a reasoning process [1]?  Those who hold to this kind of blind leap of faith answer this question with a resounding “Yes.

Since the philosophy of rationalism failed to demonstrate its first principles, this kind of fideism becomes a more viable (so called) option for their religious epistemology.  Therefore the crux of fideism proper tells us that truth rests solely on faith and not a reasoning process.  Just simply believe in spite of the evidence.  This is the key to this anti intellectual response, “I just believe.”

Exposing the Reality of Blind Faith

Fideists confuse epistemology (the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related to the issues such as justifying how and what we know and truth [2]) and ontology. (Ontology deals with being and the equivalent of metaphysics [3]).  They think that since I have faith, that is all I need to know and what I need to know.  But faith must also have a starting point, when it comes to knowing how I know what I know, so that I might place my faith in what is ontologically real.

Fideists fail to clearly distinguish “belief in” versus “belief that” there is a God.  I believe in God. But that is not the same as I believe that there is a God.  The former deals with my direct belief in a being who is uncreated, infinite, transcendent and yet imminent, infinite in all His attributes, uncaused, and the first Cause of all we see in the general revelation, vis-à-vis creation.  The latter is just a general statement, like “Sure I believe that there is a God.”  There is no object of my belief in that statement.  In other words, there is no clear differentiation between the basis of belief in God (the location or object of that belief) and the support or warrant for the object or direction that belief.

If you can’t know with certainty, how can you know what to have faith in?  One cannot have a biblical faith if they don't know in whom or what they are placing their faith. 

Ripping Away the Blindfold.

By way of reflecting on conversations with fellow apologists at the recent National Christian Apologetics Conference, one thing is for certain.  This “I just believe” kind of faith is a form of cognate dissonance is about believing something without examining it to be true.  To give you an example, let’s say I were to ask someone, “Do you own a house?”  They respond with “Yes, I do.”  I then ask another question, “What is the address?” Their response is, “I am not sure.”  Then I follow up with, "What color is your house?"  They respond with, "I'm not sure." Does this make sense?[4] 

Of course not!  This whole issue reminds me of Socrates’ statement, “an unexamined life is a life not worth living.”  May I follow up, at the risk of drawing friendly fire from adherents to this blind follow-ship, and say that an unexamined faith is a faith not worth believing, let alone following.

So is there a way to respond to this?  Pondering on the fact of having to go back to work the next day, I found myself thinking while driving home on the five and half hour trip from Charlotte this past weekend. I think I have at least one analogy that might work, that I have yet to try.  Let me see if I can unpack it for us.

I work in the car business for a Christian owned dealership, and being a non-commissioned sales associate affords me to talk to folks, if the opportunity lends itself, about more than the car they just bought.  In this job I also do a lot of financial counseling with folks who are struggling to keep their credit above water and be able to purchase a car.

Sometimes we get responses from the bank where a customer with not so strong credit will need proof of income, or proof of residence.  This is due to the fact that the customer has not been at their job or at their home long enough for a sure approval from the bank.  In other words, the bank needs proof and the customer needs to provide that proof for the bank in order for the loan to be officially approved.

Now let’s take this analogy and use it with the question, “why are you a Christian?”; and using the fideistic response, “I just believe Christianity to be true.”  Here’s how I might follow up with this,

Me:  Can you give a reason why you believe why Christianity is true?”

Sir/Ma’am”  I don’t know, I just believe it’s true.

Me (cutting to the chase):  Can you prove where you live if I were the bank asking you for proof in order to approve your car loan?  Can you prove to me where you live?

Sir/Ma’am:  I am supposing their response would be a “Yes.”

Me:  If the bank were to ask you to prove your income, would you be able to do that ?  Can you prove how much you have in your checking or savings account?

Sir/Ma’am:  I suppose I could do that.

Me:  So you just told me that you are a Christian, and you say you believe and don’t need any proof.  Why do you think that proving where you live or how much money you make or have in your accounts is more important than giving proof for your spiritual beliefs that you tell me that you just “believe?”

I am working through this to make it a little smoother and more tactful, but I think you get the gist.  There are people out there, who profess to have a personal relationship with the living God, and cannot give a reason for the hope that is in them, for various reasons.  But that is another posting sometime down the road.


Let me say, that this is one of the biggest roadblocks for apologetics in the church and apologetics in the milieu of discipleship.  Perhaps we should just turn the fideistic believing folks over to the skeptics to see them “get crushed.”  As frustrating as it is, I can't allow myself to be silent on this issue.  I will try the aforementioned analogy to see how it goes.  For those of you reading this article, let me encourage you to use it or some other similar analogy that might speak the person you are dialoguing with in your setting.

Anti-intellectualism abounds, and we as apologists need to keep our boots on the ground and “stay alert, alive and oriented” to the wiles of the enemy in the church.  That’s right, I believe that this “I just believe” response is being used by the enemy of the church to draw and dumb down the saints for the coming delusion. 

Let us lovingly stand vigilant and continue in this warfare, not walking in the flesh but with the gospel in focus, and ready to tear down the speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” our Lord and Redeemer.

[1] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976): 47.

[2] C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002): 39, s.v. “epistemology.”

[3] Ibid., 85: s.v. “ontology.

[4] While I have received some "friendly fire" from some folks in the apologetics community on Facebook, I cannot recant the thought communicated in an earlier edition of this posting, concerning this epidemic in the church today.  That epidemic, because it seems such an adamant fideism, it boggles the mind to see folks not wanting to think about why they believe what they do.  The word I used was "cultic" in the context of the fact that when conversing with folks and we encourage them to think, they hold back and shut down.  This is very similar to when the mind shuts down with a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness when they begin to realize the liberty of thinking upon the truth of the historical Christian faith.  This might sound divisive. It might sound cruel.  It is not intended to be.  It is the perception that is given from a handful of conversations with fellow believers that embrace this non-thinking kind of faith.  It is scary to think that one does not think their faith is important to think deeply about.  It is not about how one is wired.  It is about one's obedience to loving God with all their heart soul and MIND.


Mark McIntyre said...

The "just believe it" mentality was what drove me toward apologetics. I had an untutored faith and a lot of questions. Fortunately, I found some who could provide answers.

I agree that this is a problem in the church and church leadership needs to address it.

Robert Leonardo said...

Good post...I deal with this same thing close to home--mom. I believe she intuitively knows God is true. But she would be at a full disadvantage in discussing it with a postmodern skeptic though.

In this culture corresponding evidences do not seem to matter...perhaps in my mother's time it was just accepted that Jesus was Lord and the Bible was true and that's need to give evidence for it.This may have been the reason that the culture began to fade away from biblical principles and has landed into this postmodern relativist nonsense

Marthomite Apologist said...

I was having this chat on a friend's Facebook page and after I began addressing some of the doubts that a friend had raised, another friend concluded "Come to think of it, what's the difference between Faith and blind faith??"
At which time I realized the anti-intellectual approach that my friend had and decided to write a small article itself to address it. Your write up seems to be along similar lines. Good to know that it is not as rare as I imagined it was :P

Wil McGilvery said...

I do agree with you somewhat, but not totally. I firmly believe that you should know what you believe,but your belief can't be based solely on what you know.

I am not a scientist or a philosopher and though I read as much as I can, I cannot be considered an expert and there are times when during a conversation, I don't have answer or the topic is one I haven't considered before and therefore cannot really comment.

At some point our level of knowledge reaches a finite end and yet there is so much more that just what we know. I also believe that we will never know everything there is to know. At some point I have to say I don't understand this or fully comprehend it, but that is what I believe.

As an aside I believe that every human being faces this problem whether you are a evangelical or naturalist. At some point our knowledge ends and we just believe.

John Moore said...

You ask, "How can you know what to have faith in?" Reason can't tell you. Instead, you must submit to the authority of church leaders and believe what the authority tells you. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Rationality is temptation. Remember what Paul wrote about marriage? (1 Corinthians 7:1-7) We engage in apologetics because we're not pure enough to avoid temptation otherwise, but it would be better not to think at all. Just submit to authority and have faith.

The good thing about apologetics is that it keeps you from being led astray by atheist arguments. But if you're already deaf to atheist arguments, then apologetics is useless.

Davegail45 said...

Thank you for your article. Logic and reason are important, but few are brought to believe "in" that way. There are notable exceptions like C.S.Lewis and Lee Stroebel and I am sure, others. However, remember that in Chapter 17 of Acts it stated that "a few" came to believe after Paul had his intellectual discussions in the square. there was no Church of Athens, like Corinthians, Ephesians, etc. Jesus said to Jarius in Luke 8:50, "Luk 8:50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.". I believe the threshold of true believing is a spiritual rather than intellectual event.
Having said all that, I strongly agree that once we believe, it is incumbent on us to learn all we can to be able to "be ready to tell" others why we believe as we do, that includes intellectual reasoning.

Rob Lundberg said...

Wil, thank you for your comment. I too am not a scientist, and I also read as much as possible. At the same time, never once in the article did I say I knew everything there is to know, nor did I say that reason is the end all. In fact, I agree with you where you said that "at some point our level of knowledge reaches a finite end... at some point I have to say that I don't fully understand this. . ." either.

Situations like tragedies, natural disasters, a job loss, the announcement of a terminal disease, an untimely death of a child or a loved one. All those things and many other things we cannot know fully why these things happen. So the purpose of reason is to take us IN THE DIRECTION of our belief, and where that reason stops is where we "step out of the boat" if you will or like Peter say, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief" and walk by faith. But faith has a direction, and faith has it reasons for believing; and the more we learn and know about God, the more we love Him. And that is where I am coming from in this posting. Thank you again.

Rob Lundberg said...

John Moore, thank you for your comment. However I find something disturbing when you opened your comment to this posting stating,

"Reason can't tell you. Instead, you must submit to the authority of church leaders and believe what the authority tells you. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

This comment is what is disturbing in that there are many people who have joined cults based on that kind of thinking, not checking what the authority was saying was true or not. In fact there is nothing wrong with that. Allow me to point to a particular instance that is found in the BIble, in Acts 17 where Luke records for us about the Bereans. He says of the Bereans, that "these were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica, for they RECEIVED the word with great eagerness, EXAMINING THE SCRIPTURES DAILY TO SEE WHETHER THESE THINGS WERE SO." (Acts 17:11).

Apparently these folks knew what they believed. They knew why they believed and they were checking out Paul's teachings to make sure that he was in line with the Scriptures. So unless I am misunderstanding you, I would have to say that your faith seems to be on blind allegiance and not pointed toward the object of faith, which is the fact that Christ died for our sins, he was buried and He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures (please see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

You also stated that "Rationality is temptation." No, rationality is not a temptation in that faith and reason are not enemies. I like the red herring you throw in regarding Paul's statement on marriage. Can you please tell me what that has to do with the context of this subject? I am not seeing it.

There are a lot of benefits regarding the spiritual discipline of apologetics, not just to keep one for being led astray by atheistic arguments. Your statement following that part of your comment confirms my concern for where your faith is directed. Being deaf to atheist's arguments is the proverbial ostrich with the head in the sand, and it is unrealistic. John, your faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed and if you are not growing in your faith, and in your knowledge and following blindly some church leadership, I think you need to re-evaluate your understanding of the Bible and what your understanding of the Christian faith. Also I want you to know that Muslims have the same kind of approach to the Qur'an and the Hadith. They do not scrutinize and analyze their belief. They too are deaf the falsity of their religion. If they found that there are flaws in Islam they would be leaving in droves. In fact I know that some are leaving. If Mormons and JWs were willing to look outside the context of the authorities of their respective cults, and see the truth of the Christian faith, they too would be leave the cults.

But apologetics also is used in giving reasonable credibility to the Christian faith. And that is why Christian apologists in the church make some pastors nervous. I guarantee you, that if you start looking at the reasons why Christianity is true and start being the Berean that we see exampled in Acts 17, you will come to appreciate who Christ is, what came to do, and what He accomplished in a deeper manner. You will grow. You will be a confident witness to "anyone who asks for the reason" why you believe the faith that you do.

Thank you again for your comment. I appreciate your zeal for your faith, as blind as I'm hoping that it is not. Please feel free to comment on this comment. Rob

Joe Foster said...

To the question about the difference between faith and blind faith, the simple answer is that there is no such thing as blind faith. Blind faith is merely a phrase which actually means "baseless presumption." True faith is trust, based on evidence. To see this, look at the second temptation of Jesus.

If you'll recall, Satan took Jesus to the top of the temple, and challenged Him to jump, quoting a Psalm to support his position. Jesus, however, knew there was no track record of God stopping suicides, and that jumping would be baseless presumption that stemmed from an interpretation of a single scripture taken out of context. It would not be faith, even if scripture was involved.

It is the enemy, not God, who demands this kind of presumption, even though it is called blind "faith." When God is involved, there will always be evidence behind faith. That is because reason is based in God's nature. This is His universe, and it is reasonable because He is reasonable. Blind faith is, in the final analysis, nothing but an oxymoron.