Last week, I posted my terse and occasionally flippant responses to Ten Questions for Every Atheist. This was met with mixed reactions, but overall I found the exercise stimulating and worthwhile. Today I would like to turn the tables and direct a handful of interrogatories at my Christian friends and family. These will be patterned loosely on the original questions, whenever practicable.
- How did you first become a Christian?
Were you introduced to Christianity by trusted authority figures at an impressionable young age? If so, did they encourage you at any point to examine your faith critically? Were you ever asked to look into other faiths and strive to hold yours to the same evidential standard?
- Why did Jesus have to die?
Even among human beings of average moral capabilities, we find many who possess the ability to forgive their beloved children without demanding that any blood be shed. If God is omnipotent, then surely God must be able to forgive his children by an act of will alone. Why, then, does your faith center around the necessity of human sacrifice?
- What if you’re right about both heaven AND hell?
How could you possibly find yourself in a state of joy while knowing that some of your friends and loved ones are being tortured by fire? How could you willingly worship one who arranged for their torture to be both unendurable and eternal, one who sustains their torture in lieu of simply snuffing them out of existence?
- One person does good in fear of punishment or hope of reward, another does good when she believes no one is watching. Who is the more moral?
Like many other theists, Christians generally frame morality in terms of obedience to a divine father figure who hands down authoritative moral commands. This is the training wheels version of morality; it is something we give to children when they are too small to go forward and remain upright on their own.
- If there really is a God, how can you possibly have freedom?
The world described in Christian theology strongly resembles a surveillance state, a place where someone watches your every move and judges them all with an eye to reward or punishment. Unlike North Korea, however, you cannot escape this miserable condition by retreating into your own thoughts or ending your life. Given such an understanding of how the world works, how can you possibly think of yourself as free to act on your own desires and values?
- If there really is a God, how can life have any meaning?
Freethinkers may invest life with meaning in all manner of pursuits, from the profound joys of fatherhood to the small pleasures of casual gaming. We try to remember that each day on this Earth is a unique opportunity to move through the universe as one of the very few clumps of matter that is aware of itself moving through the universe, and that such days are few and growing fewer.
As a Christian, though, I was never free to create my own meaning; we were taught to see ourselves as “slaves to Christ.” We were assured that the one and only meaning of life is to pursue the purposes of a higher being. You are free to call form of servility meaningful, if you like, but it is difficult now to see how I ever saw it that way.
- Where did the universe come from?
Leaving this question unaltered from the original list, because cosmology is awesome.
- What about miracles?
If indeed there is a layer of reality operating above and beyond our mundane physical world, clearly intentional and teleological violations of natural law would be a reliable indicator thereof. For example, if Catholic hospitals (and only Catholic hospitals) could cure life-threatening illnesses such as HIV and cancer using nothing but the power of prayer, I would expect that most people would seriously reconsider the tenets of Catholicism.
The pattern of miracle claims that we actually observe, however, looks nothing like this. All faiths have reported healings, excorcisms, and all manner of bizarre otherworldly happenings. There is no evidence that miracles are being performed for the benefit of any particular group of believers, and this is precisely what we should expect if miracle claims flow from human imagination rather than superhuman agency.
- When was the last time you read a book about religion from a non-Christian perspective?
Not necessarily one of the well-known atheists, but really any author concerned with analyzing the phenomenon of religion while taking an outside view. If you don’t know where to start, I’d be happy to recommend a few.
- If there is just one God, then why does every society have a different religion?
It makes perfect sense that each culture would have its own distinct language and cuisine, since such things are known to be socially constructed over time rather than handed down as revealed truth. Why is it that religious doctrines also flow along cultural boundaries, rather than being as universal as laughter and tears? Assuming no constraints on divine revelation, the observation of geographically determined religious diversity poses a serious problem for any religion which maintains belief in a “Heavenly Father” who wants all humans to know Him.
Christians, feel free to answer any of the above, in as much or as little detail as you like.
Skeptics, feel free to add your own questions in the comments, naturally.