Why Do Christians Believe?

I don’t believe Jesus arose from the dead. I don’t believe the historical evidence is enough for a fair minded person to believe this either. I don’t think Christians believe in Jesus’ resurrection because of the evidence anyway. They believe it because someone they trusted told them Jesus arose.

Several thinkers have offered reasons why people are believers. Marx argued religion is a numbing drug that the rich and powerful use to manipulate the common person. Freud argued that people believe because of a longing desire for a heavenly father figure. Nietzsche argued that religion is for weak people who feel the need for it. These are psychologically based reasons for why someone may believe. What I want to do here is different. I want to trace why a person became a believer--a Christian--in the first place. I think the mind is so impressionable that we have a very strong tendency to believe what we are first taught to believe, and with that belief as our presumption, we have a very strong tendency to argue that it's correct. In doing this, smart people can find reasons to continue believing even if the evidence is against what they believe.

From my own experience and that of nearly every Christian I know, this is the case. Think about this for a moment, Christian. Think back to when you first became a Christian. Someone you liked, or cared for, or trusted, told you about Jesus and his resurrection. With me I never heard anything different from people. Everyone who ever talked to me about it believed. The people who told you about Jesus were believable. And if necessary they pointed you to some books which you read which confirmed what they were telling you, including the Bible. The Bible confirmed some things for you too, that you felt the need for forgiveness. It also tells a wonderful story about a God who loved you in that he became a man and died so you could be forgiven. The gospel offers hope, forgiveness and peace. It also offers a relationship with God. You also seemed to notice that when you prayed, things happened, which confirmed for you God answered your prayers (although people who regularly read their daily Horoscopes claim they are accurate too). Then you got involved in a community of believers who encouraged you and suggested other books to read, which further confirmed your faith.

At this point you had adopted a set of control beliefs which subsequently filtered all of the evidence you were presented with. You wanted it to be true. You wanted to meet this God of yours in heaven. And you were comforted in believing you would be spared from hell when you died.

Now there are people like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton who started out being skeptical and became believers, but I’m not talking about these people. On the other side of the fence there are plenty of others who started out as believers like me, and then became non-believers. This shows people come to their own conclusions, that’s all. It says nothing to you about whether those of us who changed our minds had good reasons for doing so, apart from looking at our reasons. As such, the fact that people change their minds can’t be used as evidence for you to believe or not, apart from looking at our reasons. But I’m speaking to the overwhelming number of Christians in this world, not the exceptions.

You believed prior to examining the evidence. You believed because someone you trusted told you a wonderful sounding story. Never mind for a moment that the person who told you this story neglected to tell you of the ugliness to be found in the Bible. Nevertheless, you believed based upon what someone told you whom you trusted. And that best explains why you are in the denomination you are presently in too, although you might be in one because of someone else you trusted, or something you read too. But this is merely switching rooms in the same house.

And that person whom you trusted believed for the same reasons. Someone he or she trusted told him or her the gospel story which was also believed prior to examining the evidence. I argue this chain of one person passing on that story to the next generation stretches back to the first century, too. But as we get back into the ancient superstitious past, people believed in lots of divinities and miracles based upon no evidence at all—none.

Okay so far?

Here’s the deal. You believe based upon a person you trusted and in the story itself. In doing so it brings you a comforting (but delusional) relationship with God, which includes forgiveness, friends, and saves you from hell. And from that day forward you filter all of the evidence through your faith.

With such a wonderful story you want it to be true. You’re afraid to doubt for fear that you might end up in hell. So you look for ways to confirm that it’s true and that it can be historically verified, even though history cannot verify such things. So you read books that mainly confirms your belief, and surprise, you find that your belief can be justified. How many times when you doubt will you read what a skeptic writes? Not many Christians I know will do this. Instead, if they are having doubts they’ll turn to the trusted writings of a Christian apologist.

Only a few Christians will bother to read blogs like this one because they know in advance what we’re arguing for is false, of the devil, and that we are willfully in denial of the gospel truth. Christians don’t trust us to learn the truth about such things. We’re just wrong. When Christians read what we say here at DC they only do so to prove us wrong. They already know in advance we’re wrong. Christians simply don’t trust us to be correct.

So when it comes to the evidence of the resurrection, Christians think the evidence shows Jesus arose because they are already predisposed to believe it, and they likewise overlook the evidence against the Christian faith.

An article Former_Fundy stumbled across by Lewis Rambo gives four major components of religious conversion:

1. Religious conversion is deeply personal and takes place almost always through interaction with another human.

"people who convert or change religions usually do so through personal contact, and not through impersonal methods of communication, although that happens sometimes."

2. Religious conversion involves being identified with a whole new sociological group.

"Secondly, what is very clear is that virtually all religious groups emphasize the importance of relationships with the leader of the group, and with members of the group. One of the things that is very striking when you go into a religious group is that there is enormous affection. People in some groups will even address one another as brother and sister, or other terms that communicate that relationships are very important."

3. Religious conversion involves a completely new way of viewing the world.

"they now have an interpretative system that applies to anything and everything."

4. Religious conversion involves a totally new way of viewing one's self and one's role in the world.

"Role is very powerful in shaping peoples’ perceptions and behaviors. When people become a member of a new religious movement, or when they become a passionate Roman Catholic, they have a new perception of themselves that often empowers them to do things, to believe things, and to feel things that they have not have been able to prior to that time."