Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Choice to Believe

Here's the question of the day: Is belief a choice? I ask this because according to most people's interpretations of Christianity, salvation is based on belief in Jesus.
It seems to me that people have no choice as to whether they will believe something or not. There are lots of decisions that lead to a belief, but the actual choice to believe is nonexistent. For instance, say you're sitting in your living room, and someone comes up to you and claims that there's a dragon squatting behind your couch. Do you have the choice to believe this claim? Could you if you desired strongly enough believe it? Of course not. It's not a choice, because your brain will not allow you to think that this is true based on your prior knowledge and ability to reason. The choice that is presented to you is to ask for evidence or to look for evidence yourself of this claim, but there is no choice to believe. This is a significant conclusion when applied to Christianity. If the popular view is correct, then although we have no choice as to whether or not we will believe in Jesus, we are told to do so, and told that if we do not believe, we will not receive eternal life. The choices we actually do have are to ask God and others for evidence of the claims of Christianity and to look for evidence ourselves. Beyond this we are powerless. We will believe what our brains can rationalize based on the existing evidence. So, if someone looks with all their ability for Christian evidences, but doesn't find enough to convince oneself, then can God hold this person accountable and damn him? Either the answer is yes, or belief is not what God bases salvation on.
The things that seem reasonable to be held accountable for are for lazy thinking, unwillingness to search for truth, and apathy. What seems apparent is that God should look with scorn upon these traits, yet here's the clutch point: while many non-Christians do not believe because of these traits, many Christians are believers due to these very things. Which should God reward, those who believe God because that's what they were told to believe, or those who didn't believe in God because that's what they were told to believe? Which should God reward, those who blindly accept Christianity without reason, or those who assume Christianity is false without reason? Which should God reward, those who believe in God because it's easy, or those who are atheists because it is easy? Neither would seem to be the fair answer, yet in judging these two categories of people, popular Christianity of course favors those who happened to be raised in a cultural or family setting where the suppositions of Christianity were assumed to be true, and belief is accepted and expected in others.


Chad B. said...

I think there is a choice involved when evidence, as far as hard, physical evidence, is not available. There is no physical evidence proving the exsistance of Heaven or Hell. There is also no evidence proving they don't exsist. In court, if there is no evidence to convict a murderer, he is let free, but this is because of our courts' belief in "innocent until proven guilty." He has not proven that he is innocent, nor has the prosecution proven that he is guilty, so the court chooses to believe that he is innocent. I cannot prove, through physical means, that there is a heaven. Athiests cannot prove that there is not a heaven. Therefore we have a choice. I choose to believe because of evidence presented to me, leads me to believe that Jesus was who he said he was, therefore everything he said was right and true. Therefore, having faith in his teachings, I believe in Heaven.

gigere said...

I agree that assuming that people who go to church because they are too lazy to research and decide for themselves the truthfulness of Christianity are automatically saved is not necessarily a correct assumption. (that was a really convoluted sentence...I hope you can follow it!) That is a hard question to which I don't have an answer. The only thought I had was the idea that is only hinted at in the Bible that there are various levels of heaven or salvation...but that is another discussion for another day! As to your other points, HOWEVER...

Chad has a good point, that you can only prove Christianity up to a certain point. And that is where faith comes into play. You CANNOT prove that the Bible is true to the point that people HAVE to believe. They can examine all the evidence, but then they have to make the decision to believe and have faith that the rest of it is true too, or to disregard what they have learned because it was not proved conclusively and they don't want to obey what is true. So I would argue with your idea that the Bible and Christianity CAN be proved completely and totally. All things INDICATE that it is true, but all things do not PROVE that it is true...and that is a huge difference.

Also, don't forget to take into account the ability of the human mind to self-deceive! We are very good at convincing ourselves of what we don't want to believe. Even in Bible times, with all of the miracles around, this happened. When Peter and the apostles spoke and all languages understood them at Pentecost, people asked why they were drunk. Now, the next time a drunk person is able to speak in languages they don't otherwise know, then perhaps I'll believe those people weren't being self-deceptive!!

Dan Sewell said...

Self deception certainly takes place. However, there are also those who want to believe, or are looking objectively at evidence and yet remain unconvinced on a particular issue. If God judges us based on our belief, shouldn't he cause enough evidence to exist that should convince those seekers? I'm not talking proofs here, simply evidence. In the silly illustration I used in the original post, you wouldn't believe there is a dragon behind your couch due to a lack of evidence for it. Same thing could be said of religious issues. There simply is a lack of evidence for many things. Just to clarify, I DO believe that there is enough evidence to believe in the creation event caused by moral God for absolutely everyone to see. It's just the Jesus issue. As an extreme instance, it seems that people who have never even heard of Jesus' name should hardly be held accountable for their belief in Him.

Marline said...

there are so many factors that go into the total person, that i don't feel i can judge weather others can consciously believe or not. there are schizophrenics out there who believe that they are the chosen Messiah come to save the earth. however fervently they believe, they are not right. there are wives whose husbands cheat on them, but they believe the husband when he says we won't do it again. neither of those decisions are based on logic, but people cling to them for whatever reason.
most people are given the ability to think through things logically, but that does not mean that they can understand the Bible or the concept of the supernatural easily. i know i get frustrated when i read that reflection will bring understanding (2 Tim. 2:7), and then read other verses that just don't make sense no matter what angle you take on them!! then there are places like Genesis 1 where i feel that i'm getting somewhere. i can match archeology and cosmology with God's word- and that is such a good feeling. when things mesh and you feel the relief of knowing that what God said is true by means other than just faith.
when you talk about Christian's ambivalence, it reminds me of what God says about the church in Laodicea- they were lukewarm, and thus spit out. they had believed once, but lost their fervor for God and lived for the temptations of worldly wealth. God stands at their door and knocks, because He wants that relationship with them, if only they would open that door (Rev. 3:14-22). opening the door would mean extra effort.

Chad B. said...

I agree that it is hard to swallow that someone who has never even heard of Jesus (the whole "raised in the jungle" thing) should be condemned for their lack of beleif in something they have never heard of/encountered. It's not fair. At least as far as we understand fairness. But, as far as I can tell, it is laid out pretty plainly in scripture ("he who believes will be saved...he who does not believe will be condemned; Jesus the only way to the Father, etc). Maybe God is willing to save those who have not been reached (after all, He is God, I am not, and He can do whatever He decides is right). But if that is true, then why evangelize? Why put more people at risk of hearing and not believing, when we can just let them play the ignorance card? To take it a step further, why did Jesus come at all if we could be saved by ignorance? Well, maybe he came to die so we could be saved through his sacrifice, but if that is the case then why did he preach? Why did he heal? Why did he LIVE among us? He did this because we have to come into a relationship with him. We can only be one with the Father if we are one with Christ, who is one with the Father. Whoa, that got a little preachy. My bad. But I stand by it.

gigere said...

psst...dan-man...i'm interested in your thoughts on my thoughts on your thou...err...i mean on your Feb. 21st post. :)

Anonymous said...

I had the same thought as you, I googled it and came here. I think you did a great job explaining it all in a reasonable way.

I'm an atheist, though, so I really do have no problem with whether or not it's fair for people that has not heard of God believe in him or not.

It's the topic that interests me. It's really a very new approach to what a belief is.

When you convince someone you change their beliefs, but it still is not a choice they make. It's your way of explaining your view that makes them think "that actually is a better explaination than my own". People who are in doubt are of course the easiest to convince.