I often refer to a class I had as a senior in high school as a pivotal point in my spiritual journey. I’d been raised to believe in God and put my faith in Jesus at a young age. My parents split up when I was in elementary school and after that we stopped going to church. I started going again in high school (to a new church called Crossroads) and it started to impact my schedule and my life. During high school I started to assert myself more as a “Christian” and it impacted some of what I did and when I was available to hang out with my friends, none of whom were Christian. My friends were all pretty good guys so we never really got into any sort of trouble; they weren’t upset because I wouldn’t go get drunk with them because they didn’t do that sort of thing. Still, my increasing religiosity did not go unnoticed. It raised the curiosity of some of my friends and the ire of others.
During one art class, which consisted of about six of my friends and I sitting around painting models and talking, we had “discussions” about all kinds of things. Once we had an argument about whether or not all the ants in the world, if they organized under the leadership of a single hive-mind, could kill humanity. More often, however, the discussion would center around my faith or the Bible or what I said I believed. More often than not it became more of an argument than a discussion. There are a few reasons for that (among them being the fact that we were all high school students) but high on the list was the fact that I was being challenged in ways I’d never been challenged before. I grew up believing in God and while I had doubts from time to time they were never serious or particularly complex. My friends were smart, however, and they asked a number of questions I had no real good answer for. Rather than admit I didn’t know (that would mean I was wrong!) I’d argue and get defensive and it was generally unfruitful.
These discussions helped to further the natural teenage process of figuring out who you are (a process that continues to this day, though for a while I thought I’d figured it all out). I had my parent’s faith, not my own – and it was time for me to start sorting out what I believed and why for myself. For the first time I genuinely considered the possibility that there was no such thing as God. I genuinely thought I might be wrong, that my faith in God and trust in Jesus was unfounded. This prompted me to go on a search for the truth and attempt to develop my own convictions.
I read books by Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Pluralists – anything I could get my hands on. I read arguments for the reliability of the Bible and those against. I read books telling me why the Earth is 6,000 years old and that evolution is a Satanic lie, and books telling me only crazy people contest the validity of Darwin’s theory. I emerged from this period of time with a stronger commitment to follow Jesus and more conviction that the Christian worldview did the best job of explaining the world.
I think most people who know me now would describe me as a critical thinker. This was the time period where I think I developed that mindset. I’d like to think I’ve always been that way but I think I’ve just always been prideful. But starting in high school and for a period of a few years I really didn’t know what I believed. I wasn’t sure if I was just unwilling to admit that God was a lie and I’d been believing a fairy tale my whole life. As I did my research and thinking, I developed a more skeptical (at the very least, a less credulous) mindset. I’m sure my friends who consider belief in God unwarranted might take issue with my description of myself as a skeptic, but that’s still how I try to think. Just about the only thing that bugs me more than someone making unfounded assertions or using faulty logic is someone who does those things and tries to argue that they’re right. Listening to someone argue who wouldn’t know logic if it hit them in the face (all the while claiming to be logical) infuriates me. It probably has something to do with my pride problem. I generally think skepticism is a better path to tread than being too credulous. We shouldn’t believe something just because we hear it, or because someone we trust told it to us. Everyone should be a critical thinker. Anyway, my point is this: I think I became so skeptical that it became impossible for me to see God doing anything in my life or the lives of others.
When people would say “thank God I didn’t get into that accident” I would think (but not say to them) “that’s stupid.” When people would thank God for getting a job or a raise or whatever else, I chalked it up to sloppy thinking and superstition. Just about everything has an alternate explanation; I viewed attributing something to God or supernatural means as just unnecessary and believed it bred a kind of simple-minded superstition so it should be avoided. I think I reached the point where I was practically a Deist. To this day I am more skeptical than your average person, and I probably don’t see God acting in the world as much as He does, but my viewpoint has continued to evolve over the years, which is what this post (and the next) are about. Still, for a long time I viewed the world only through the lens of skepticism. I had faith, but I didn’t look at the world through it. It was something I had and something I did, but I did my best to explain things without and and in the end discarded any “spectacles of faith” that I might have used to look at the world.
My next post will about about looking at the world through the lens of faith while still being a critical thinker.