It’s a question that will often be asked by the non-religious. It’s not a bad question by any means, it’s an entirely valid question and reinforces why all Christians should have at least some understanding of why they’re Christian beyond blind faith. Faith isn’t merely believing in something that cannot be proven by empiricism, it’s intellectually assenting to the truth of Christian doctrine by recognizing that it’s supported by the facts.
So how do we know Christianity is true? Well the first thing to recognize is that the question is usually asked by people who consider anything that cannot be proven empirically as simply something subjective, a matter of choice. I discussed this in my previous post about atheism and the naturalist epistemology where naturalism is so prevalent as a worldview that many people accept it as a given. Because no religion can be definitively proven by the scientific methodology many people will simply say it’s a matter of faith alone, that it’s nothing more than a blind choice and that reason doesn’t enter into it. Of course that’s complete nonsense. Not only is using our faculties of reason essential to guiding people to the faith the Catholic Church teaches that the existence of God can be known through the light of reason alone without any need for additional revelation.
So then how do we discern the truth of Christianity? Well there are several steps one needs to take. In order the facts that need to be accepted are:
- There is a God
- Monotheism is more reasonable than polytheism, pantheism, deism or any other alternative
- The God that exists is correctly described by Christianity
- Jesus Christ was a real person and the incarnate God
The first step is the main battleground in atheist vs theist debates. There are several compelling arguments for the existence of God to the point that many atheists are willing to concede that deism at least is a reasonable position, they then take issue with the idea that there are any instances in history at which this God interacted with the world or humanity.
The second step comes off the back of the first step. If we accept that the existence of God is reasonable and/or likely then we need to address why we believe it’s simply one God and not a pantheon or race of gods. Again this mostly boils down to philosophical reasoning such as the argument that any being with the attributes God possesses would by necessity be God, not a separate being. Infinity plus infinity simply gives one infinity, not two.
The third step is one of the most difficult. Even if people accept that theism is a reasonable position and that the philosophical arguments for monotheism are stronger than that of polytheism or pantheism, then we need to show that this “God of Philosophy” is indeed the God described by the Christian scriptures, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Personally for me the evidence lies in how sublime the scriptures are, how accurately they convey the human condition, the story of humans and what it is to be humans, warts and all, and finally the path to overcome and reunite with God. I’ve read other religious texts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching and the Koran. While each of them have excellent teachings I never got the sense that any of them were divinely inspired.
The last point is where everything hinges. Christianity is based around the teachings of Jesus Christ. That Jesus was the messiah, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead after three days then ascended into heaven. Even if everything before this was airtight if Jesus is not the incarnate Son, the Logos, then Christianity is false. As Paul put it:
“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
Again this is a difficult one because of all the points this is probably the one that largely needs to be a leap of faith. There are no strong philosophical arguments for whether Christ was raised from the dead, it simply happened or it didn’t as a matter of historical fact. Certainly the apostles themselves were convinced, even secular scholars largely acknowledge that. Does that mean it was true though? It’s here that perhaps we need to deviate from logic and appeal to sentimentality. Jesus was an impoverished carpenter from Galilee who was executed by the Roman authorities for stirring up trouble. 350 years later the empire that executed him worshiped him as the true God. Without a time machine none of us will know (in this life at least) whether Jesus was truly raised as a fact. For me? I believe he was. Reason can take you 95% of the way to Christianity, it can exclude almost every other religion from contention. If you want to make the leap from atheist to Christian that 5% all hinges on the question Jesus asked his disciples almost 2000 yeas ago.
“Who do you say I am?”