Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.
What was it about Christianity that made you feel hostile towards it before you read the Bible?
There were three childhood experiences that I think set the stage for the hostility that would manifest later. The first was an experience with some overtly Christian children in my elementary school. They belonged to a denomination that didn’t allow participation in any of the holiday celebrations at my school or celebration of birthdays at home. As a kid whose entire kid-existence revolved around holidays and birthdays, this got me thinking that Christianity must be pretty dismal.
The second was one of the TV shows my brother and I were allowed to watch. (Even though my parents weren’t religious, they carefully scrutinized everything we watched on TV.) The show was called Little House on the Prairie, and most of the characters were good, moral, church-going people. But I remember thinking these people were fairly wimpy when it came to dealing with the jerks and evil-doers who would appear in their community from time to time. Because of this, in my mind, Christianity came to be associated with weakness.
The third experience was with a friend of mine, who would occasionally lecture me that hers was the only true church and everyone who didn’t belong to her denomination would not go to heaven. I remember thinking, if God is that picky about his believers, he must be rather petty.
If those had been the only influences, I doubt I would have felt as hostile towards Christianity as I did later on. I strongly believe my hostile feelings were further influenced by popular culture and public schooling, both of which were already becoming aggressively humanist and propagandizing by the time I was a teenager. When I was about 16 or 17, I had also developed an interest in Objectivism, a philosophy that has some good principles, but is extremely hostile towards religion. This hostility is based on a very flawed and myopic view of religion, particularly Christianity. Foolishly, I believed some of the claims of Objectivists without investigating them for myself.
What is your colleagues’ biggest reason for thinking the Gospel is not worth believing?
There are lots of reasons many educated people reject the Gospel, but in my estimation the two biggest reasons are that they: (1) find Christianity philosophically weak or trivial; and (2) they don’t want any restrictions imposed on them.
With regard to (1), the problem is that many of them have not studied scripture in depth, and instead rely on myths and Christian stereotypes to form their opinions. Unfortunately, some Christians have fed the stereotype of Christianity as un-scientific and anti-intellectual, and this has tainted scripture by association. As Nobel laureate George P. Thomson once said, just about every physicist would’ve accepted the idea of God by now if the Bible hadn’t unfortunately mentioned it a long time ago and made the idea seem old-fashioned.
As for (2), I think even the most intelligent and educated people don’t object to the Gospel on purely logical grounds. Believing the Gospel means taking a narrow path in life, and few people enjoy having restrictions placed on them, particularly if those restrictions seem arbitrary. I think (2) is actually the root of most people’s objection to the Christian faith (or just about any religion)—it certainly was the root of mine. And, in my case, the ‘logical’ reasons for rejecting Christianity were mostly after-the-fact rationalizations.