In the spirit of open discussion and a defense of an approach to faith issues that is predicated on thinking for one’s self, I dug up an old USA Today article that demonstrates what I believe to be an important distinction between the culturally accepted view (that faith amounts to an unjustified “blind leap”) and the biblical view that faith is a thoughtful act of trust. This story, published several years after the 9-11 terrorist attack [linked here: Those Touched Most Deeply By 9/11, A Turning Point In Faith], provides a short but telling insight into the way many approach issues of faith in our culture. The gist of the piece is that the tragedy of 9/11 had a significant impact — in both directions — on the faith of those who were personally affected by the terrorist attacks.
The “violence and pain” of the worst terrorists attack in history brought out not only the dangers of religious fanaticism, but the problem that all religions must face in addressing the problem of evil in our world. As the article notes,
Many whose lives were changed that day are still coming to terms spiritually with 9/11. Some have taken comfort from their faith; others have found it lacking. Some have a stronger faith, a different faith or no faith at all.
I admit that this is nowhere near a scientific study of the issues surrounding how people consider their faith (or lack of it), but I do believe the anecdotal evidence in this story reveals a lot about how many approach the topic. A few examples …
The Jewish rabbi says he was “almost overwhelmed” by the devastation he saw in the incredible devotion of the rescue workers around Ground Zero. “[It] was one of the most affirming moments of my life,” he says now. “I felt this was something I was worthy of doing.”
Similarly, the wife of a trader who was killed in the attacks, Jennifer Sands “pray[ed] for her husband’s safe return” but …
When Jim Sands didn’t come back on 9/11, it shattered her faith. ‘My anger was not at the terrorists. I hadn’t been praying to Osama bin Laden, I prayed to God. He could have stopped it. I felt very alone — rejected and abandoned.’ But she still believed in God. “I realized, I can’t be angry at someone who doesn’t exist!’ Curiosity over that paradox led her to study the Bible for the first time, and to a new evangelical Christian faith.
One young man whose mother was killed in the attacks when he was 12 years old …
… realized his mother was not coming back. His midnight prayer changed from asking that she be found to asking God to care for him in her absence. He says he was not angry or bitter: ‘I knew God does things for a reason, not just when and how we want them. Things don’t happen on our time, they happen on God’s time … As a freshman at Virginia Union University in Richmond 7 years later, he made the dean’s list and founded a gospel choir. He quotes the apostle Paul: ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.’ I was happy to see the unseen; that’s when my faith came into play.’
Another mother, whose son was killed in the attacks had an opposite reaction:
‘I was not a religious person to begin with,’ she says, ‘but whatever faith was left to me, I lost when they took my son away’ … She refuses to be a hypocrite and worship a God who would tolerate 9/11.
Likewise, another woman whose husband was killed …
… stopped talking to God … she still wanted to believe in God, but ‘something shifted, and even my limited spirituality seems to have been squashed among the debris’ … She describes feeling ‘like a spurned friend’ — her relationship with God another casualty of 9/11 … and believes that organized religion has caused most of the problems we’re having today.
Pardon all the quotes above but here is the point I’m getting at:
- Every one of those named in the story who rejected God in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks did so for emotional reasons. They could not accept a God who would allow such a thing to occur.
- In contrast, every one of those named in the story whose faith was renewed or grew in the aftermath of the attacks attributed it to a thoughtful analysis of the issues that led them to a reasoned conclusion about the way the world is.
I think this is significant — especially in light of the commonly accepted notion that people of faith are unthinking and that their conclusions consist of nothing more than an indefensible, blind attachment to the promises of a heart-warming fairy tale. At least in this story, the evidence suggests that the exact opposite is true!
Part of the reason I have become engaged with the True Horizon project is that I reject the notion that a real, biblically-based faith is “blind.” Yes, there are many who are deeply engaged in an ungrounded, unthinking faith, but that is not the kind of faith I believe we are called to practice. It is certainly not the kind of faith that is demonstrated in the Bible. As far as I know, there is not a single example of such a faith anywhere to be found therein.*
I would challenge unbelievers to examine the evidence and arguments of the faithful as the are applied to the human condition. And, though I pray that no one ever has to experience the pain that those in this story have had to endure, I would challenge believers to learn from the thoughtful responses of those whose faith has been so severely tested. I challenge us all to a reasoned and reasonable consideration of these issues before the towers in our personal worlds come crashing down on us.
*For the presuppositionalists out there who would challenge me on this let me say that I understand. There is no doubt that some who cannot defend their faith intellectually no doubt possess a faith that is stronger than mine. Presuppositionalism has merit. But I think it is a false dichotomy to assert that the arguments between presuppositionalism and evidentialism are mutually exclusive. Though I won’t discuss it here, I don’t see any contradiction in appealing to both. My claim is two-fold: 1) that presuppositionalism is not superior to evidentialism and, 2) that evidence is a requirement for unbelievers and those who are emotionally antagonistic to the idea of God’s existence — i.e. for evangelism.