April 29, 2009 by

Why Does He Insist On Making Our Brains Hurt Like This? Doesn’t He Have Anything Better to Do?


Categories: food for thought, theological questions, Things that make our brains hurt

Don’t know why I was thinking about this…but during the Off the Map Conference in Denver last fall, Matt Casper (co-author of the book Jim and Casper Go to Church) sat down with Jim Henderson (the other co-author) and had a Q & A session with the audience.

If you haven’t read J&CG2C (like the abbreviation?), it’s worth a read. Jim Henderson is a ministry veteran; Matt Casper describes himself as an open-minded atheist. Together they visited a cross-section of churches across the US, and the book is about their journey. An eye-opening look at church culture through the eyes of a non-believer. So you can imagine how intriguing it was to have this friendly, funny, atheist guy sitting in a room full of Christians at this conference, fielding all kinds of questions from us. My 18-year-old son, who’s grown up around the church culture, said of the experience, “That guy has more insight into the church than most of the Christians I know.”


One of the things I remember Matt saying was how he is suspicious of people who claim to be 100 percent convinced of what they believe–people who have no doubt, people who are adamant about their opinion. He said his father was a “fundamental” atheist, fully convinced there is no God; Matt claims to be a more moderate atheist, believing there is no God, but keeping the possibility open that he could be wrong about it. In his view, nearly all the violence and atrocity in the world comes from people who are know that they know that their way of looking at things is the “right” way. Especially concerning religion. I got the idea that he believes such people are dangerous. And so he is naturally a bit put off by Christians who express an absolute belief in God, or are dogmatic about their particular doctrine. He respects believers in general, but being an intellectual, he simply does not comprehend how someone could know for sure there is a God, or never entertain any doubt about Him. To him, doubt is part of the natural order.

So here’s the brain-hurting part of the post. Do you think Matt is right about belief and doubt? Or partly right? Or wrong? Do you think it’s possible to be fully convinced–to have no doubts about what you believe? Do you think someone can be fully convinced without becoming intolerant of other viewpoints?

Do you think it’s dangerous to entertain no possibility of doubt? Do you see doubt as healthy, or a threat?

I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on this at some point in the comments; for now, I’m interested in what you think. Pass the aspirin.

Okay, your turn. Hit it.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

8 Responses to Why Does He Insist On Making Our Brains Hurt Like This? Doesn’t He Have Anything Better to Do?

  1. Reina

    Wow. Interesting.
    As someone who has to DECIDE to believe every day, because doubt and cynicism are an integral part of my nature, and as someone who is leery of religion in general because of it’s intolerant and oppressive nature, I appreciate his viewpoint! Thanks for posting this!

  2. mark-main

    I think confidence and doubt can actually combine to form a very healthy attitude towards our own beliefs and the beliefs of those around us.

    I think we should all have enough confidence in our own beliefs so that they are strong and give us a foundation. On the flip side just a pinch of doubt added into the mix allows us to be open to love those around us who may not see things like we do.

    100% certainty leaves no room for accepting (or loving) others whose beliefs are different. It demands others conform to our beliefs before they can be fully accepted or loved as an equal. In my opinion that is not the Gospel message.

  3. theschramfam

    I think I actually AM one of those people who doesn’t doubt whether God “exists” – I have always believed that part…but the part about God being GOOD, or JUST or MIRACLE-WORKER or SAVIOR … those are the parts that have wavered in my life. And I have encountered other “Christians” who implied that their faith had never wavered in those areas, and I had a really hard time believing them. Faith is sweaty and hard, and if it wasn’t…. if it was obvious… if it was something that you could actually see and feel and show – it wouldn’t be or require faith. So, do I doubt God? … well, maybe God is so vast, we have to be ok with not understanding or knowing everything about Him, but I do not doubt that He is God.

  4. Sarah

    I think it’s possible to be fully convinced of something (like God’s existence) and still be tolerant of other views. More than tolerant, even: open to hearing and listening and seeking to really understand others, and why they hold the beliefs that they do.

    For me, my belief is based in several things – but largely, it’s based in actual experience of the supernatural. I have had times of doubting the love of God, or the goodness of His nature (so much pain around, hard not to have those kinds of doubts) – but never in the reality of Him. I’ve seen and personally experienced too much of Him to deny the reality of Him.

    I have also doubted my interpretation of these experiences. I don’t always have a lot of confidence in my own perceptions of God, but I have undeniable confidence that He is there/here.

  5. Jeff McQ

    Thanks, all, for your insightful comments thus far (and others feel free to chime in). Here are a few of my thoughts…

    I think all who commented so far each have an interesting piece of this. So many see doubt as the enemy of faith, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Doubt can be the very thing that keeps us engaged in asking the questions, seeking to know. Doubt is the thing that reminds us that if God is God, then by nature He is greater than our finite minds can conceive. It’s when we think we have Him “figured out” that we stop searching Him out.

    Another thing to consider, tying into what Sarah said, is knowing God by experience, not just by believing in the mind or intellectualizing. I’ve been reading a book that has reminded me that the Bible was written from a Hebraic worldview. Most of us think linearly, analytically like the Greeks; and when Scripture is approached that way, the apparent contradictions glare at us, and we often draw the wrong conclusions. Hebraic thought is more three-dimensional and abstract, and so paradoxes and mystery are more easily embraced. The Hebrews didn’t see God or their Scriptures as something to be analyzed with the mind, but to engage through the heart, through obedience, through experiential wonder, through application, as well as the mind. To seek God only through the intellect is to cheat ourselves. After all, we can rationalize just about anything supernatural until it means nothing to us.

    That said…I am completely convinced of the existence of God, not just by the mind, but through engaging Him and experiencing Him. I differ from postmodern thinkers in that I do believe there is absolute truth; but I don’t presume to be able to know all of it, and this is the doubt that balances me. My firm belief in God does not mean I’m intolerant of other views, or that I’m religious about what I believe. Because my connection with God is with more than just the mind, I have experienced His nature, which is LOVE. And the love of God, I believe, is the factor that (even more than doubt) tempers us and enables Christ-followers to walk compassionately with those who do not believe as we.

    Even though, admittedly, many Christians don’t walk in this compassion, having instead embraced a religious absolute that does lead to the intolerance Matt described.

  6. Aaroneous

    Makes me think of Mark 9:24ish:

    I do believe; help my unbelief!

    I absolutely convinced in the existence of God, and absolutely convinced that some of the things I believe today ABOUT Him, I may not believe in 20 years or even 20 days. And, some things I say I am convinced about, I must not really be totally convinced, because I don’t act on them.

    But I digress…I fear I may have moved into the whole topic of faith vs. belief, etc.

  7. Anonymous

    Mark Buchanan, author of “Your God is too Safe”, has an interesting perspective on this. He puts out there the idea that the deeper one’s faith is, the deeper at times their doubt. Perhaps it is only those with a shallow faith that entertain little doubt. I find that comforting, since some times my faith is very strong and at other times plagued by doubt.

  8. Paul Wilkinson

    I’m late for the discussion, but thought I’d leave a comment in honor of it being your birthday.

    I think some of the doctrines we believe have to be somewhat non-negotiable if we’re going to call ourselves Christ-followers; but I think other peripheral doctrines should be open to discussion.

    I tell people they should write their pet doctrines in pencil — not ink — and be open to the possibility of changing their minds.

    There’s no shame in that; and there’s no real shame in doubt, either; especially when dealing with matters of faith. In fact, I think we should celebrate our doubts more than we do; they show that we’re human; that He’s God and we’re not, and we can’t possibly claim to have it all sorted.

    Happy Birthday, Jeff!

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