Sunday, November 25, 2012

25 Questions for Christians

Below is a list of genuine questions I've found myself talking with Christians about over the years.  I promise this is not a list of zingers, which is what these sorts of things are often reduced to; those are useless.  If delivered in person rather than on-line, zingers are intended to be the end of a conversation rather than the beginning of one.  Talk about a waste of time!  But we're human, and it's hard not to think that way, i.e. signalling tribal loyalty, to others and yourself, to preserve your identity.  But if we want to make good decisions, we need true beliefs, and we can't squander our
opportunities to ask serious questions and build true beliefs.

On the other end, I've seen many otherwise genuine and intelligent Christians brush these off.  They're real questions.  I mean them, every single one.  If I were Christian, these would be the kinds of things I would be asking myself.  I promise that I'm not trying to offend anyone here, even though some of these questions may cut pretty deep.  As a rationalist I'm always open to changing my mind in response to new information, which is what I'm looking for here.  Some of these will seem weird or oblique but they're things I really want to understand.

1) I'm assuming here the Christian God exists. Can a machine ever be built that detects Him, like a thermometer detects temperature or a computer can recognize a face? We can't do it right now, but if this is forever beyond the capabilities of technology, why is it different?

2) America's scientific prowess is crucial to its competitiveness with other countries.  Fifty years from now science will be even more important, a hundred years from now, even more important than that.  If we want to be able to compete with East Asia, shouldn't more effort be placed on science education to keep America from falling behind?  And shouldn't we keep politics out of it and let scientists do it?

3) Lots of people try to get us to do things for not very good reasons (car salesmen, politicians, etc.) Very often when you try to ask them questions, they won't answer or might even get angry, and say that you can't or shouldn't question them about certain things. To me as a non-religious person, Christians seem to be doing the same thing by using faith or becoming offended at certain questions. Is there a difference? If so, what is it? Muslims and radical communists seem to do the same thing; how would they answer this question?

4) People who are dedicated to their sports teams oftentimes somehow don't notice violations that their own team commits, or they unfairly blame the other team for things that go wrong. Sports are just for fun, but Christianity is about how to live your life, so it's more important. Yet it often seems like Christians do this same thing. How should we guard against being blinded to our own side's misdeeds?

5) This one is about how you as a Christian think I as a non-religious person thinks. Muslims have sometimes tried to tell me that Islam is the only true religion and that I should convert. As a nonreligious person, what kinds of things do you think I do to figure out that Islam is false?

6) And another one:  when Muslims try to convert me as a nonreligious person by quoting the Quran at me, do you think that's a good approach?  Why or why not?

7) For something that's so critically important in the fabric of the world, it seems like there should be some way of figuring out the truth of Christianity, besides reading a certain book or having someone come talk to you about it.  For example, if a hunter somewhere in the undeveloped world was smart enough and thought about it enough, would he be able to figure this out on his own, before missionaries or Bibles ever came to him?  Would he be able to figure out that Islam is false?

8) Are you comfortable saying "Islam is a false religion, period." If not, why not? I know Christians who won't say this. Yet, based on my beliefs, I am comfortable saying this. So if you're Christian, aren't Islam and Christianity mutually exclusive? And why do you think some Christians won't come out and say that? Can there be a good reason to conceal the truth that way, especially if it's not about your own faith?

9) One thing that many Christians say is that pride and the senses can deceive us, and we have to have faith.  But isn't the experience of faith itself a sense?  And when we read the Bible or listen to a sermon, we're using our senses; is there a channel to our eyes and ears that's somehow protected?

10) Are there things that we have to believe for civilization to continue, whether or not they're true?  If so, how does that work?  Do we consciously know which ones they are?  Are there certain people who can know which ones are fake, and certain people who shouldn't?

11) Questioning basic things like this, even when it's done with genuine curiosity and without malice, is often uncomfortable. But if we want to know what's true and how to live, these are important questions, and we should "work out" our belief "muscles" just like we exercise to be physically healthier. Otherwise, our belief muscles atrophy and we aren't living up to our potential. Is this a good analogy?

12) One time I overheard Muslim and a Jew arguing about whose religion was correct.  Obviously this was a stupid argument, because neither is correct.  Why do you think they didn't realize this?

13) There was a committee chosen by the emperor of Rome that picked which writings would go into the Bible, and which would get thrown out.  How did they know?  Isn't it possible that they were influenced by political considerations?

14) Some Christians think evolution is false.  They also often say that our ways of studying the past (like with carbon dating and radioactive decay) are flawed.  Yet they go to doctors who believe that evolution is critical to understanding medicine, and they invest in oil companies that believe the Earth is billions of years old, and they live near nuclear power plants even though they think we don't understand how all that works.  What's going on with them?

15) Many Christians believe in the power of prayer, yet they buy insurance from companies that think prayed-for people are just as likely to get sick or hurt as not-prayed-for people.  Isn't this kind of inconsistent?  If there were an insurance company that included prayer, would that make you consider buying a policy from them?

16) Sometimes Christians get annoyed with pro-separation of church and state people when they want to remove a cross or other Christian symbol from a government building.  The feeling is kind of, "Isn't that nitpicking?  It's just ceremonial, it doesn't really mean anything."  This seems strange, because these Christians are saying that the cross and the ten commandments (or whatever it is) should stay, because they're just decoration, and don't mean anything.  Do you think that they mean something?  And if you think removing a cross is nitpicking, would you feel the same way about a taxpayer funded Quran monument on public land?

17) What do you think it's like to be a devout Muslim?  Do you think they really believe it?  If so, what keeps them from realizing they're wrong?

18) Can you think of a time you felt really sure about something, even something trivial, and it turned out you were wrong?  If not, do you believe you're infallible?

19) Imagine that a Christian friend of yours wakes up tomorrow and has lost his or her religion.  How do you think this person will behave differently?  How does this compare to all the other people who don't have a religion and maybe never did?

20) There are many kinds of Christianity.  Are Christians from different denominations besides yours just as wrong in their faith as a Muslim or Buddhist?  And when someone who's not a Christian prays, are they praying to the same God or completely "missing"?  What determines this, is it because they're saying the wrong name or they have false beliefs?  And isn't this a danger for someone even in your own church who doesn't understand the denomination's doctrines well?

21) When you look at how people in the United States actually behave in different moral situations, it's mostly the same, regardless of religion.  Many Christians say they get their morality from their religion, yet non-Christian people, even people from countries with no Christians, behave pretty much the same way.  Isn't that kind of unexpected?

22) Most of the Christians today are members of a branch of Christianity that hasn't existed for very long, OR is very different from the way it used to be.  Doesn't it seem strange that the kinds of Christianity people believe in today are mostly recent inventions?  Shouldn't the best form have appeared right away, during Christ's lifetime?

23) (Note:  for this one, I don't want you to think I'm implying that Christians are sick.  I'm really not.)  We all know that some people are sick and have really obviously false beliefs that no matter what you tell them or what they see, they just won't let go of, like for example that their neighbor is spying on them, or they're the king of France, or something like that.  They really can't tell that it's wrong.  What do you think is different about their thought process?

24) I know that a lot of my fellow science fiction fans are Christians.  But most science fiction movies like Star Wars show a world where, as far as anyone can tell, there is no Christianity and no Jesus.  Doesn't this bother you?  I know we all know it's fiction and we suspend our disbelief while we're watching, but it seems that to Christians, their religion is very central to their life, so I would think that a movie that takes place in a world where there is no Jesus is like a movie in a world where gravity goes in reverse or there is no color green; it would be such a huge difference, it would be distracting.  Is this not the case?

25) It seems like if you wanted to just make up a successful religion, you would copy the religions that already exist in the world in terms of how they operate, rather than what they say is true.  That is to say, you would try to make people come to your religion; socially exclude or threaten them if they don't; tell them they'll get good things if they do; tell them that they'll be rewarded or punished somehow based on their actions; and finally, tell them they have to just accept all the rules and they can't ask questions.  It wouldn't even have to be true.  It seems like the religions of the world are all doing this and just differ in the details of how they explain those rules.  Is Christianity different from the rest?  If I asked a Muslim the same thing, what would they say?

If you're Christian and you run across this post, please do comment.  If you're not and these spark a good conversation between you and a Christian, please come back and tell me about it!

1 comment:

david bloch said...

I'fe had many such conversations, and it usually boils down to a variation on the theme if "ya gotta have faith."
Interestingly, religious people sometimes point out to me that staunch adherents of a religion are happier than those who are not. This may be generally true, and probably is for religious people who point this finding out. However, that's no argument whatsoever for the validity of religion. It's like saying I believe in Santa Claus because it makes me happy to maintain this belief, and this is proof that Santa really exists. But if you think about it a tad, you can see what these folks are really saying is that by buying into this crock of nonsense they get to feel so good that they see suspending rationality as a small price to pay for such a great comfort, and they damn well don't want to have you upsetting their neatly arranged comfort plan.
Actually, they may have a point: what right do you have ripping off their security blanket?