I am sometimes asked why I believe in God, and every time I face a small dilemma about how I should answer. I could give them twenty arguments for the existence of God and twenty more for Christ being his son; but is that enough? I am a convert, and so have spent a decent amount of time amongst other converts and we all tend to say a similar thing, ‘I really want to believe but I can’t’. However, what I personally meant by this is not that ‘I can’t’ but instead ‘I don’t know how’. No one ever explained to me what Christianity was, how to be one or even why I should be one.
The mainline denominations have a habit of assuming that people would magically become Christians just because their parents were; and I think a good amount of the secularisation of the country has come about because of mainline complacency. The only good answer for converts’ ‘I can’t or don’t know how’ comes from C.S Lewis, who similarly had trouble believing even after he had accepted the case for God. His solution was simple – act as if you do believe and eventually you will. This line of thinking is based on a principle we all unconsciously believe; that belief follows action.
But can we know something unconsciously? Simply put it’s something we know but cannot express and so we remain only half aware of it; it sits in our consciousness just outside of reach, close enough that we act out of it but far enough away for us to be incapable of describing it. When we call someone a hypocrite, for example, what we are really saying is that they are a liar, that they don’t believe what they say they do. This is because we recognise that belief is expressed by action; and that if we express that something enough, we begin to believe in it, and this has a strange effect when we lack the belief but have the expression. The expression then creates belief just as the expression of others can cause us to think as they do. So why do I believe? What bridged that gap between evidence and rationality to that which is fraught with emotion, that belief?
Too often I see Christians attempting to use kindness as a battering ram; to break down these checks and guards that people put in place to stop themselves changing their minds but this rarely works. For the message of Christ to settle, you must first break down these mental checkpoints and the best way of doing this, of introducing doubt, is through discussion and apologetics. Once the way is cleared then the message of Christ can be received as what it is instead of what everyone thinks or wants it to be. There are very few people who truly hate Christianity; but there are many who hate what they mistakenly think Christianity to be.
The answer I can give to why I believe is this; in my life there was a point where I had to choose, to choose what kind of person I wanted to be, and as I started to know more about Christianity, this religion of peace, love, kindness and gentle strength I realised that if I was going to be a person then I should at least try to be a good one. That is how I got past the abstract conceptual faith to a fulfilling belief, an emotional attachment. And from there my faith was truly born. It was born out of an emotion, an emotion that is needed to move a convert from assent, to a practical reasoned knowledge, to an emotional attachment. To move one from saying ‘so be it’ to a wholehearted ‘yes’.
I was never very good at ‘yes’ and this is reflected in how I came to the faith; mine was an Old Testament conversion. I wasn’t like Our Blessed Lady; I didn’t without hesitation say ‘yes’ when God called. I was dragged bodily to the altar somewhat against my will. I initially didn’t want to believe but I have always had a strong sense of right and wrong. I was raised with, from more than one source, what I would describe as a kind of ‘secular puritanism’. Don’t drink, smoke, have casual sex, not because it was inherently wrong but because it was stupid; I was always taught in so many unconscious ways that indulgence destroyed self-control and so ultimately led to your own destruction, leaving you unable to make the decisions necessary to keep yourself out of trouble. And so when the weight of Christian morality bore down upon my atheism, a weight that only kept increasing, I started to feel my bones crack under the pressure of my own contradictory beliefs; I knew I had to make a decision, and thus chose Christianity.
So what does this tell us about how to evangelise? It tells us that to open someone’s heart to conversion you must first win their head; ‘killing them with kindness’ simply won’t work. We live in an age where rationality holds a lot of weight and Christians have a bad habit of leaving the argument alone, of not engaging in debate for fear of turning people off. Why? Most people I know (myself included) were converted by the Church fathers and by philosophical argument, not by love. We must make apologetics more prolific; we must be seen to be winning debates. We must show people that rationality and Christianity are not opposed but complementary, in other words, if we can win their heads, then their hearts will surely follow.
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