I have just attended a Christian gathering where I listened to a talk given by a friend of mine. He is a great speaker, he brings energy, passion, humor, to all his talks, he engages the audience, always shares an interesting story, uses great visuals, a great speaker by all means.
Yet, the content of the talk wasn’t so great. Although I heard numerous talks on a similar topic, it was as if for the first time I truly listened to what was being said. It was a talk that revolved around the Gospel, following God, relationship with Jesus, placing God on one’s throne, letting Him rule, all the good Christian stuff you would talk about to unbelievers and recent converts.
As I listened to the talk a frown began to form on my face. I pulled out my phone and started to note down some thoughts on what was said.
The more I listened, the more I grew in concern.
I felt as if I was watching teleshopping on Sunday morning.
“We all search for fulfillment/meaning/happiness [whatever the speaker chooses to use]. We search for it in philosophy, religion, relationships, and it all fails. But God never fails!”
“I tell you, I tried everything, all that philosophy stuff, all that religion stuff [Christians don’t speak of religion, they speak of a relationship with God,] all that ultimately failed to bring me fulfillment. But then I found God …”
That’s how the Christian persuasion often goes.
In my experience, many Christians go even further, and they claim nothing else can ever satisfy you apart from God. It is the old saying of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee,” rephrased.
Although I feel much more sentiment to Augustine’s words knowing his rational tenacity, I have to disagree at least at the level of possibility, both with Augustine and with the Christians who pronounce such maxims.
I ask, how do you know?
Have you tried living according to the Stoic principles, while you worked as a cosmologist, trying to unveil the secrets of the physical universe?
How do you then know such a life is unable to bring a comparable level of satisfaction as the Christian life?
How do you know being a mechanic and having a family you are proud of cannot bring the same level of satisfaction?
To settle the issue the best reply a Christian can give is to say that it is okay to pronounce such a maxim because people were created to live in a relationship with God, and thus without God, they cannot accomplish their ultimate purpose.
But what do we see? Buddist, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, all live in harmony with the divine, with the spiritual. How is it possible that a Hindu can speak of the same peace and fulfillment as a Christian would and indeed possess it? Is it not because of our common need for a spiritual dimension that can be satisfied by various means, not only by the God of the Bible?
I then ask again, how do you know only the Christian way of life can lead to a meaningful and joyful existence?
The only way to know, and it would only apply to you, is to try all other ways of living, which is with our limited life spans impossible. You simply cannot know that Christianity is the only lasting source of fulfillment, and I use know here to denote confidence in a proposition, in this case, that Christianity is the only road to true contentment and lasting peace.
Okay, you see a lot of unhappy people, I get it. But is it because they lack God or because they lack a stable source of meaning?
A lot of people live for momentary pleasures which by definition cannot satisfy for long, or for their family, which in case of death, loss of trust, loss of attention, can also be a precarious foundation, others in what people think of them, in their status, which creates a tendency to wear a mask, to live incongruently. There are more than enough ineffective sources of meaning, however, that does not mean people are limited to them.
The common thread in finding a source of meaning that lasts in Christianity and outside of Christianity is to build the meaning of your existence on something that transcendents you, that is bigger than you and your petty selfish desires. We could agree that the human inclination and thereby a cure for unhappiness is the desire for partaking in tasks and goals bigger than oneself.
But equally, as this can be achieved through the belief in God and taking part in His plan [about his plan later], it can also be achieved by adopting such a simple principle as making the world a better place. Both transcend you, both are at least in part selfless, both can last your whole life, both bring you to unity with other people in love, both lead to specific actions, to daily habits, and thus both lead to a meaningful, satisfying life.
Is one better than the other? Well, if there is God then, of course, it is better to live as a believer, but we have no proof [in the sense of certainty, not evidence] of God’s existence, thus I feel that to dismiss all other attempts to live a meaningful life apart from God as futile from the start is a tad arrogant.
So, no, we don’t know the Christian God is the only way to fulfillment and thus claiming so equates to lying.
Another car-salesman worthy practice I noticed in the talk is the frequent creation of a false need or again of creating a false dilemma for the listeners.
Saying things such as, these are the most important three emotional/psychological needs all people have,… and how conveniently do they fit what Christianity offers.
Hey, do you struggle with self-esteem? Did you know that you are God’s daughter?
Hey, do you struggle with addictions? Did you know that God can help you overcome them?
Hey, do you struggle with fear? Did you know the God of the universe is for you and there is nothing to be feared?
Hey, do you have dreams that you don’t think you will be able to fulfill? Did you know God wants to fulfill your dreams?
Of course, people respond with yes. But did you know God is not the only solution to our problems?
It is like running through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and then showing how Christianity satisfies all of them. Just believe and all your needs will be satisfied! It is like handing out a superpill that supposedly solves all our problems.
Although belief in God has been shown to be quite effective in battling various personal issues, such as drug addiction recovery1, it is far from being the only option. Thus, when someone while preaching brings up the needs of the audience and then offers the Christian solution as the only solution, it equates to manipulation.
God is not the only one who can solve our problems. We are also responsible. And if we need help, other people can support us along the way.
It is only natural the belief in God can provide lasting fulfillment. If you are a believer, you automatically believe your life has cosmic value, that you belong to a group of chosen individuals, that there is a Being who loves you unconditionally, that this Being cares for you, protects you, provides for you, that you are a child of God. Is there something more potent to enable a person to cope with life than such a set of beliefs?
“I don’t have to be afraid because if I put everything into God’s hand He will take care of me.”
“With God, I can do all things.”
“I am God’s daughter/son.”
“I am forgiven of all my wrongdoings.”
Imagine what such a belief set will do to your well-being, sense of worth, enthusiasm, sense of peace, and more. Don’t get me wrong, all are things to hope and strive for. It is a wonderful thing to live in peace, full of joy, in hope for the future, knowing one’s worth. What I have a problem with is preachers abusing these insecurities with a lie that only God can take them away. It is dishonest, manipulative, short-sighted, and factually wrong. I am not arguing believers should look for the solution elsewhere, what I arguing is that Christians should not use it as a tactic of persuasion.
“But Andrej, I know it works so why shouldn’t I tell the other people?”
I am not saying you shouldn’t, I am saying you shouldn’t tell them that the only way for them to overcome their insecurities is through God. It isn’t.
Likewise, I think Christian should realize the sense of peace and contentment their belief brings is not an argument for God’s existence. We can ask a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an old Indian about their sense of peace and contentment and we will get the same answers as from the Christian. It is then impossible to discriminate the existence of what god does this subjective experience support.
So I say, let’s stop lying, manipulating, and confusing people. Disrespecting people’s agency is not a good way to try to persuade others of your opinion.
I am not trying to make preachers philosophers, careful with the probabilities and certainties they assign to their claims, however, forgoing manipulative practices is not much to ask.
You ask what else to use?
Well, how about starting with truth that stands on its own.