National Catholic Register

Commentary

Pride and Prejudice

One of the reasons skeptics reject Christian arguments is that they think the arguments are meant to withstand even the most rigorous skepticism.

BY Melinda Selmys

June 17-23, 2007 Issue | Posted 6/12/07 at 9:00 AM

 

One of the reasons skeptics reject Christian arguments is that they think the arguments are meant to withstand even the most rigorous skepticism.

They see God’s existence as so unlikely and so disagreeable that it must be proven beyond all possible doubt if it is to be given a serious hearing at all. This must be undermined before any fruitful discussion can begin.

We must show that we are aware of the weaknesses in our arguments. Otherwise, the skeptic will almost certainly fail to appreciate their strengths. Admit that there are no absolutely unanswerable arguments proving God’s existence, but that there is more than sufficient evidence that belief is not unreasonable or stupid. Then try to move God out of the realm of the abstract and into the realm of reality.

Although the argument from authority is weak if you want philosophical certainty, there are a million things that we take on authority, and we act as though they were true. The existence of China, for example, if we don’t happen to have been there.

Of course the good skeptic will point out that there is a difference: If it became important enough, they could buy an airplane ticket to China and confirm that it exists. Fortunately, God is in the same category — and the ticket is reasonably priced.

All that is necessary is an open door — a prayer of willingness to have God prove himself on his own terms, and a readiness to look ridiculous in front of yourself (for who else is going to see you praying in your basement?). It is the prayer that started me in my faith, and I have seen it bear fruit in the lives of others. It works because it relies on God, not human cleverness, and it is the first step in building a relationship.

The actual wording of the prayer doesn’t matter much, so long as it expresses a desire to know God and his will. No one has faith on their own power, but the one thing we are all able to do is to turn to a God who might really be listening, and to ask him to help us know if he really is out there.

The skeptic will likely say that they have already done this: The vast majority of people have, at some point, in their hour of trial, called upon God. They begged his help, asked him to reveal himself — and yet, in spite of all those texts about seeking and finding, asking and receiving, “Nothing happened.”

It is difficult to say precisely what the skeptic expects to “happen,” and, beyond the ill thought-out scenarios that I treated in detail last week, he probably doesn’t have a very good idea either. This is reasonable. The request for God to show himself is more open than a demand for him to do his water-into-wine trick at the upcoming secular humanist’s convention. It remains problematic, however, when we fail to recognize that God works in his own time, and his own way — he is God, and he will not allow us to call the shots, lest we fall into that most absurd modern heresy and imagine ourselves to be “equal, adult partners” with the Creator of the universe.

We must be willing to petition instead of merely asking — not because God is a fascist control freak, but because our hearts and minds require time to become able to recognize his answers. In my own case, I prayed to know God regularly for three months before I understood what he was telling me.

In retrospect, I could see that he had been answering me all along.

The problem wasn’t that God wasn’t paying attention; it was that I needed more than a hundred repetitions of the same prayer, and a hundred divine responses before the message could get past the walls of skepticism and prejudice that I had built over the rest of my life.

It is also necessary that the potential convert be willing to become an actual convert. There’s no point in knocking at the gates of heaven if you’re going to flee the moment you’re invited in. Unfortunately, those who start praying in the expectation that nothing is really going to happen, tend to be scared off when they realize that there is a real Divine Person listening to them.

It can help to discuss this in advance, to talk about the changes they might have to make if God were to enter their life, and to build up a realistic portrait of Christian life. In some cases they will still choose to reject the God they find.

Then there is little you can do — except to keep them in your prayers, and to trust God.

Melinda Selmys writes from

Etibicoke, Ontario.