I asked a question to the (in)famous Dr. William Lane Craig, one of the world’s foremost apologists. He wowed my question and posted it in the Weekly Question and Answer section of his blog, reasonablefaith.org. The title, Coming to Love God, is his.
Coming to Love God
ME: Here is my problem, Dr. Craig: I am as atheist as one can be. Never believed even for 1 minute in my life. However, when I think about it, as a philosopher, I have to admit that I have no good argument to disprove the existence of God. And what’s more, watching online debates and reading papers, I find theistic arguments very compelling. The arguments you present, with which I am very acquainted, are sound arguments. Yet, and here is my problem, I am still not convinced. Moreover, I think this: what if I met God today? Surely I will believe in his existence. But why worship? Even if arguments convince me that God exists, why should I care? Either I worship because if I fail to do so God will torture me for ever, or I accept his friendship voluntarily. But what if I don’t want to be his friend?
CRAIG: Wow, what an interesting question, Carl! I really appreciate your honesty. Your question underlines the difference between merely believing that God exists and believing in God. One could give a sort of disinterested, even apathetic, acknowledgment of the fact that God exists without really loving and trusting God.
Jesus taught that he who has been forgiven much loves much, whereas he who has been forgiven little loves little (Luke 7:40-50). I suspect that therein lies the key to your question. Worship of God is kindled by a deep gratitude to God for His forgiveness of one’s wrongdoing. People who do not have a deep sense of their own sinfulness will probably not feel much of a need to come to God. But to know that, unworthy as you are, you have been forgiven of even your worst sins and cleansed of your guilt forever issues spontaneously in thanksgiving and praise to God for such unmerited favor.
I was forcefully struck when, at the end of our debate on the existence of God, Louise Anthony confessed that one of the drawbacks of the atheism she had come to embrace is that under atheism there is no redemption. Think of that! One’s sin and guilt are truly indelible. Nothing can undo what has been done and restore your innocence. But the Christian message is a message of redemption. That’s why the hymnist exclaims, “Redeemed! How I love to proclaim it!”
So in order to come to God, I think you probably need to reflect upon your own sinfulness. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “No one knows how bad he is until he has truly tried to be good.” The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard made the same point. Kierkegaard thought of life as lived on three levels. The most basic level is the aesthetic stage, in which life is lived selfishly for the pleasure it affords. Life so lived ultimately issues in boredom and ennui. The next higher plane is the ethical stage, in which one lives according to strict moral standards. But this life results ultimately in despair because one cannot live up to the standard of the moral good. Only on the highest plane, the religious stage, is authentic existence truly to be found. Kierkegaard rightly saw that it is the failure of the ethical life that propels one to the religious plane.
I recall that when I was a non-Christian and first heard the Gospel message, even though I was living an externally moral life, I was acutely aware of the darkness and twistedness within. Until you come to have an awareness of your own fallenness, selfishness, and need of forgiveness, you probably won’t be inclined to worship and love God. But I’d encourage you to read a little Kierkegaard or perhaps Pascal’s Pensées and to try to live faithfully according to the Golden Rule. That may help to arouse in you an acute sense of how truly needy you are.
William Lane Craig is a Christian apologist, an author, and a public debater. During the last 10 years or so, he’s quickly become a popular phenomenon on the merits of his exceptional rhetorical skills that he employs in debating atheist philosophers and scientists. However, I am afraid that he has become so (in)famous prevalently thanks to his exceptional oratorical skill rather than to his arguments. To be sure, he has no doctrines of his own, but rather recycles those of others. I do not mean this in a bad way, though. From his published works, speeches, and debates, (most of which are freely available on YouTube and from his website), most of his arguments are taken from Plantinga, Swinburne, C.S. Lewis, Copleston and other Christian philosophers.
In any event, in the above exchange, we get an important picture of the nature of apologetics and Christian doctrine. One curious aspect, at least to me, is that Christian philosophy at the academic level boils down to the same consommé as popular, layperson Christianity. Namely, in establishing the validity of Christianity, personal experience is, in the end, superior to arguments.
Craig’s attitude clearly shows his stubbornness and unwillingness to accept any arguments that may cast doubt on the veracity of Christian doctrine. What’s more, he—like all Christians—fails to see the important point raised by my question. For Christians, you’re either Christian or you do not yet realize you need to be one! Christians’ imagination is, well, so disciplined by their faith that as bright as they may be, as in the case of Craig, they cannot conceive that one may not be interested in this alleged being they refer to as God. What’s important here is to realize that in order for me to enter into a friendly relationship with another being, I ought to do so freely and willingly. The friendship that Christianity claims existing between God and humans is of compulsory nature. If I do not want this relationship, according to Christian dogma, I will be punished for it and sent to hell. So, why call it friendship? If, in the alternative, I am not required to enter into this relationship with God, if God really exists, and no consequences result from my decision, then, what do we need God for?
This is an aspect of religion that seldom gets discussed. People—even many atheists—typically assume that if God’s existence could be proved, one ought to believe in him. Surely if God’s existence could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, it would be irrational not to believe that God exists. But then, many people make an unwarranted philosophical jump: they assume that the default position is that if God exists one should automatically worship God. To me that position is intellectual bankrupt. Unless I am brainwashed, I could never accept this shady metaphysical predicament. If I cannot do anything about it, that is, if my opposing is useless because in the end if God exists and he is the boss and I have no choice, well, then I have no choice.
Craig says “Worship of God is kindled by a deep gratitude to God for His forgiveness of one’s wrongdoing.” Forgiveness? Wrongdoing? Gratitude? Is he referring to the original sin? Why would an intelligent person regard that story as true? Why would anybody see the virtue in that story? I do not need to be forgiven for my sin because I have no sins. How great is a religion that tells you that you “need to reflect upon your own sinfulness”? This is a religion that tells you that you are born defective, with sin, and to get rid of it you must enter into compulsory friendship with a metaphysical entity, the existence of which is dubiously claimed in some ancient book? This is completely a fraud!
My position is what I call Agnostic Anti-Theism.
And I am glad to conclude with Bakunin’s dictum “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”