Is It Reasonable to Believe in God?

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Christianity is often criticized for putting faith and “allegiance to God” above reason. Our arguments are dismissed for being circular, and we are ridiculed for refusing to consider the possibility that we could be wrong about the existence of God.

I think many of these criticisms are valid, and more Christians should be willing to admit when we have been less than reasonable.

But more on this later.

Many professing Christians simply don’t like to examine whether or not their faith is reasonable. Many of us are simply neither ready nor willing to “give a reason for the hope that we have”. Some of us feel it is not necessary, or it is too much work, or it is giving the devil too much rope.

Some are simply afraid of what they will find on the other side of this logical exercise, so they are not in a hurry to find out.

Reasonable objections

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, once said in his popular book The God Delusion: “A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents.”

Part of Dawkins’ point is that we are products of environmental conditioning and there is therefore no supernatural explanation for why some people choose to be Christians while others don’t. Every child is technically born an atheist and only later compelled to follow the religion of their parent.

Dawkins makes a valid point. Our environment plays a significant role in shaping our life choices. Even one of my favorite 20th century Christian apologists, Cornelius van Til, agrees with Dawkins to some extent. In an essay on why he believes in God, Van Til indulges an atheist friend who tells him that the only reason he believes in God is because everything in his past set him up for that inevitable choice: Born to believing parents, educated at a Christian school and confronted every day with Christian ethics.

Given these circumstances, it would seem Van Til had no choice but to become a Christian! In response, Van Til tells the friend, rather sarcastically:

How different your early schooling was! You went to a “neutral” school. As your parents had done at home, so your teachers now did at school. They taught you to be “open-minded.” God was not brought into connection with your study of nature or history. You were trained without bias all along the line.

Van Til does not deny that a large part of the reason he embraces the Christian worldview is because it is second nature to him. He admits that everything in his past “conspired” to lead him to choose God. But is that all there is to it?

The environment alone?

We can rightly say that many professing Christians today are not Muslims for the same reasons. They didn’t have a choice. However, while Van Til acknowledges the role the environment played in his becoming a Christian, he goes on to argue that this is not the only reason people end up believing in God.

If it was, the friend, raised by similar parents and attending similar schools, would have also been a Christian. Yet he is not. In other words, even though Dawkins logic may explain many religious people in the world, the problem with the logic is that it is not comprehensive. Dawkins restricts and limits the reasons why people choose a religion to environment and effectively closes the door for any other explanations. This is neither fair nor very scientific.

He would have been more reasonable if he said “the only reason I know of” rather than “the only reason there is”. He is putting too much confidence upon how much he, a mere human being, knows about all the reasons that may exist in the world.

Consider this implication: If the environment were all it took, then we would have no atheists walking among us. Everyone would be religious and following some god or another by virtue of being raised in a religious society. Dawkins would be a phony. But the fact that atheists exist points to something more than the simplistic “product of your surroundings” explanation for belief.

Evolution alone?

Of course, Richard Dawkins and his kith will quickly rush to evolutionary explanations for why some people don’t believe. They believe that those who do not believe are the anomalies, the mutants, the “fit” ones in this battle for survival and the ones to take humanity to the next stage of existence — a world without religion, if you ask Dawkins.

Dawkins’ general hypothesis for why people opt for religion is that “human beings have acquired religious beliefs because there is a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb to believe, without question, whatever familiar adults tell them. Dawkins speculates that this cognitive disposition, which tends to help inexperienced children to avoid harm, also tends to make them susceptible to acquiring their elders’ irrational and harmful religious beliefs.”

This explanation not only presupposes that evolution is true, but that evolution is the only explanation for all human phenomena. In other words, evolution is the supreme law or philosophy of the living universe and no other explanations exist for any behaviors on earth. This is quite a leap.

If I am not mistaken, I would say that, even if evolution as espoused by Darwin is actually true, the claim that it is the only explanation for belief in God is itself a giant leap of faith. In fact, the shift from seeing evolution as a description to seeing evolution as an explanation is a leap of faith.

Will the real believers please stand up?

I would argue that the environment, while a big factor in leading people to belief (or to claims of belief), is not the decisive factor when it comes to determining whether one’s belief in God is true. There is still the little matter of whether a faith claim is genuine or not, a question that can actually not be answered by science but is confined to the realm of theology.

There are many people walking this earth today, claiming to believe in God and are even ready to give their life for this belief. Yet, they have never seriously interrogated this belief. They are simply, to use Dawkin’s word, delusional.

These are the people Jesus alluded to when he said:

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

It turns out that the argument that some people are only Christians because they grew up in a “Christian” environment is actually a case for why some people are fake Christians. It has little to do with why anyone is a true believer. To this extent, then, bringing up evolution and environmental factors in debates about the reasonability of faith is largely an exercise at missing the point.

A reasonable faith

However, if the opponents insist on this line of argument, I would say that the environment criticism does in fact contribute to the reasonability of such a belief. It is actually reasonable for people who have been brought up surrounded by the Christian worldview to end up professing Christianity. It would be unreasonable to choose otherwise.

But just because something sounds and looks reasonable doesn’t make it true. There are still questions to be answered concerning the existence of God and the evidence for that supposed existence.

I do hope, though, that it is increasingly becoming clear that we don’t always need irrevocable proof to make reasonable claims and choices. Reason is a servant to whatever evidence is available and our ability to weigh that evidence. You are only as reasonable as your intellectual ability allows you to be. This is why it is reasonable for a child to cry when hungry (because he or she cannot speak) and unreasonable for an adult to do the same in a house with a stocked kitchen.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

A Letter to Kenyan Pastors

What will you do when the politicians come knocking this Sunday?

Dear Pastor,

He will be visiting your church this Sunday, but he won’t be a stranger. You have seen him on television and read about him in the newspaper countless times. You have never met him, but you probably know him better than some of your congregation. He is your local political leader.

Perhaps he is the area member of parliament. Or maybe you are lucky enough to get a visit from the area senator or governor. The President? Whoever he is, Sunday service will be different today. Attendance will be in record numbers and your parking lot will host some of the most expensive vehicles to ever tread on that gravel.

There is going to be great pressure to modify your order of Sunday service because this politician is around. Perhaps the singing will be shorter, the sermon will be hurried. In the heat of the moment, it will make sense to include a slot in the service for the politician to greet and address the congregants.

It seems harmless enough. It is perfectly understandable to make an exception. Special circumstances sometimes call for special actions. But dear pastor, could I urge and remind you not to forget what the Bible says about some of those moments? The following considerations may help guide you.

1. Watch where the politicians sits

The Bible, that book that defines who you are and why your church exists in the first place, says something about where the rich and the influential members of society choose to sit in the congregation. I hope you will not forget to take the words of Jesus to Pharisees into account when that politician visits:

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
LUKE 11:43‭-‬44 ESV

As far as Israel was concerned, the Pharisees were like a rough combination of the legislature and judiciary today. They are the ones who were supposed to understand, interpret and implement the laws set out by God. They even enacted some of the ways the laws of God applied to specific situations. Jesus noticed how self-important they were; how they carried themselves in the marketplace and the places of worship.

How will the politician visiting your church behave? Will they seat in the best seats? Are you, in fact, the one arranging for this? Why are you doing something that the Jesus you claim to be the Bride of clearly frowns upon? Or is it actually not about Jesus?

2. Watch how the politician will give

I am sure the highlight of Sunday service will most likely be the offering. Come on, with such record attendance, and with people overflowing that some are even standing outside the building just to catch a glimpse of their leader, the offering baskets will be bulging today. It is inevitable.

Buy I am not concerned about that. My concern is something else Jesus said about the same Pharisees that are the parallel to today’s politicians:

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
MATTHEW 6:2‭-‬4 ESV

Is this what the politicians visiting your church will do when it is time to give? Or maybe I am being too critical. The truth is these politicians are human, like you and I. They are also sinners. It would be unfair of me to expect them to stick to a higher biblical standard than other people. What if they want to announce their giving to your church? Who am I to judge?

But my concern is with you, dear pastor. You know better. Will you give these politicians a platform to do what Jesus clearly frowns upon? Will you change up your service to allow the politicians announce his donation for your upcoming church project? Will you give your your pulpit for the man or woman to say a word about what he has done for the community? Would you rather please man than God?

3. The sheep are watching the shepherd

In the end, this is more than just a matter of personal preference and opinion, dear pastor. You have a responsibility towards us, your sheep. And you will one day have to give an answer to God. As the Bible clearly puts it:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
HEBREWS 13:17 ESV

Clearly, God wants us, the sheep, to obey you and submit to you. When you allow God’s word to be disregarded and God’s name to be blasphemed by endorsing some of these actions in the church, we find it difficult to obey God. It is hard for the sheep to take their creator seriously when the shepherd doesn’t seem to be doing it.

Dear pastor, please consider God this Sunday and the coming Sundays as you navigate the rising political temperatures in the country. The pressure to fear man rather than God will be high. Your reputation before the world will be at stake. Would you rather please men than God? I hope you will do the latter.

If you care about us, the followers of the Jesus you preach, you would consider these things. It will be difficult. Money is powerful, and the love of it can be tragic. You cannot resist public opinion on your own. I understand that, and for this reason, I will be praying for you.

I hope you do the right thing. I hope you will fear God enough to keep His commandments.

Don’t Be An Upcoming Gospel Artiste

It happens all the time. You hear a given phrase over and over and you get used to it and you never notice anything odd or weird about it. And then one day it hits you. You may have even used the phrase in conversation, until this day when someone says it and you were a bit absent minded and then it really hits you. Suddenly it sounds so different. That’s what happened to me last evening.

I was attending SPA FEST, an annual dancing competition, to cheer a team called DICE. It is the team my friend Winnie (she has written a guest post here before) dances in. In one of the interludes, a guy came onto the stage to perform a rap song. I didn’t catch his name, and it was obvious not many people knew who he was. You could tell from the murmurs in the crowd as he climbed up onto the platform.

“I am an upcoming artiste,” he added after the name I didn’t catch.

That’s when it hit me. I have heard that phrase used hundreds of times and I bet I have even used it a couple of times when referring to people. But what does that phrase, “upcoming artiste” really mean?

L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)

L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)

The surface meaning seems obvious. An upcoming artiste is someone who has recently started singing or performing in public. An upcoming artiste often doesn’t have an album – yet – and he has recently started recording some songs – or not yet. An upcoming artiste is not famous. His name has not caught on and people still struggle to remember him whenever he comes onto the stage.

An upcoming artiste is not an established artiste. In other words, he is not that popular – yet. Most of them can barely move the crowd (although the guy I saw yesterday really worked us up). All that sounds obvious, until it hits you afresh like it did me last evening. Why the “up” in upcoming? In fact, why the “coming”? Does the phrase reveal a worldview that we often overlook, as Christians, but should actually be wary of?

I believe it does, in a way.

An “up-coming” artiste implies that the artiste is “rising” to a certain level and that he or she will one day “arrive”. This bothers me. Because whenever we say an artiste is “rising” whose ranking are we using? The truth is that we have bought into the vocabulary and therefore the worldview of the world. We are categorizing and ranking Christian artistes using worldly standards and we don’t even realize it.

In the world, it is the numbers that speak. In the world, we know an artiste has “arrived” by counting the number of songs and albums and sales he has made. In the world, we know an artiste has arrived by looking at how many followers he has on Twitter and the place he holds in the TV music show charts. In other words, in the world, the stats are counted, not weighed. 

Which leads to the inevitable question, whose standards are we living and “performing” by? The irony is that most of the “upcoming” artistes often begin with a message that is faithful and biblical in the early years of their musical “career”. But as they rise up the ranks and arrive, the message gets more shallow and their gospel becomes watered down and less explicit. By the time they are topping the charts, many are great performers with messages that can barely be distinguished from the other chart-topping “secular” artistes.

Just track the musical journey of many current “arrived” artistes. Check their stats and you will see the consistent rise. Now go back and check the content of their songs and you will see the consistent decline. It will make you wonder if what we need is up-coming artistes or “down-going” artistes.

I am not saying that this is the case with all artistes who gain popularity in their musical careers. There will always be the remnants and the faithful such as Eunice Njeri. The fine wines that only get better with age like Christina Shusho are worth their place in the charts. But these are exceptional because they are the exceptions. The rule is more worrying.

“[Christ] must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

A Public Apology to My Followers

I did something wrong a few minutes ago, no, two things. Well, I actually don’t think what I did was wrong, but most of my readers do, and that is why I felt I should do (say) something about it.

First things first, what did I do? 1. I clicked RT on a tweet by Joel Osteen and I clicked “share” on a status update linking to a blog-post by Rob Bell. The truth is, I really liked the tweet and the post. I thought they were inspiring, creative, and most importantly, I thought they spoke the truth. I thought what I was doing was perfectly innocent and even commendable — I was passing on the truth to the masses.

rob bell

Well, not everyone agrees. Though nobody said anything, I could virtually see the shock in the hundreds of eyes that saw the Joel Osteen Retweet on my Twitter Feed. I could hear the astonished gasps from the dozens of “reformed” friends who were unlucky enough to see the shared Rob Bell post on my Facebook Timeline.

The problem was not the tweet, or the post, the problem was the people who authored them. Continue reading

Lingala Ya Yesu: A Song About Music

After topping the 2013 charts with his collabo with Mwenyehaki, Wanajua, Pitson started out 2014 by releasing another catchy tune in Lingala ya Yesu (The Lingala of Jesus). I may be three months late in reviewing the song, but the mark of a great song is its timelessness. The lyrics to Lingala ya Yesu are self-explanatory.

Here is a loose English translation of the lyrics:

VERSE 1

It’s been a while, and I haven’t sung Lingala to you Father,
I have been busy with Reggae and Ragga,
And The Blues sent me to sleep,
But I’m now awake, Father, and I’m singing Lingala
They told me in a good Lingala song it’s good to tie my belt high above my belly,
And for me to speak Lingala like “petit Lingala le eza moke”
They told me a good Lingala song must have a speaking part
(Spoken) “I am speaking, but I really have nothing to say”
I say that the Lingala of Jesus’ is not complicated
When you’re given the guitar chords x2
You just lift your hands and praise Jesus)

REFRAIN:
The Lingala of my Jesus saves
The Lingala of my Jesus blesses
The Lingala of my Jesus is not complicated
You simply praise x3 Jesus High

VERSE 2

Dear artiste, you don’t need to have piercings all over to be heard
No need for luxury cars for your videos to be hits
You don’t need to speak Lingala to get to Congo
And the dancers, their clothes too tight

REFRAIN

Yes, the song is self-explanatory. But what I find even more fascinating is that this is a song about music. More specifically — Christian music. We have all encountered the debates on what constitutes Christian or Gospel music. Some believe that there are genres in which Christian music should not reside — such as hip-hop. Others are persuaded that it is only the lyrics that matter, and any secular song can be borrowed and adapted and redeemed to make it more relevant. And others insist that a good Christian song must be a song that is designed to be sung in a congregation context, and not just performed on a stage in front of a passive audience.

The issues are diverse, but Pitson steals just 5 minutes and 14 seconds of this long-winded debate to drive home a simple point, what matters is that your music praises Jesus and blesses His people. In other words, a song is considered Christian not just because it is about Christ, but it is also for the glorification of Christ and the edification of the people. After all the debates about form and genre and style and context, is the gospel being preached? Is Jesus being praised?

The rest is details.

Thank you Pitson, for sneaking this one right in front of our eyes without coming off as polemic like some of us often do.

Reaching the Lost at Any Cost

Nowadays, it seems more important to please the world than to please the church (please note I said please the “church” not please “God”) — even though the Bible says we should prioritize those in the household of faith.

We don’t care if our conservative brothers are stumbling all over our creative freedom. The important thing is that unbelievers are not stumbling over our message.

We no longer go to preach where the idols of the world are, it is much more fruitful to bring the idols into the church to lure the world in. We trick them to win them. We tease their weaknesses and manipulate their addictions because the end justifies the means. We bait them with images of wines and spirits and then when they show up we spring up the Holy Spirit on them.

It is not like we are worshiping these idols ourselves, we are not, we are simply going where the sinners are — establishing a point of contact. Like Jesus, we are simply lunching with Simon and dining with Zaccheus.

So what if our brothers in faith disagree with our strategies? So what if our brothers don’t get it? They are the ones who need to grow up, to get with the program. We will not be patient with the weak in the church (read, the “narrow-minded” in the church). Why encourage their hypocrisy? Why succumb to their holier-than-thouness?

Even Jesus faced resistance and condemnation from the Sadducee and Pharisee of his day, that is why we are confident in what we do. It doesn’t matter that the Sadducee and Pharisee were UNBELIEVERS, yes even the high priest. Somehow, it seems more appropriate to dismiss conservative Christians as unbelievers simply because they think our methods unwise.

The end is near and we need to harvest as many of the lost as fast as possible.

And as the masses stream in through the front door after their idols, those inside are being carried out in their #judgmental stretchers through the back door — their faith in a #hypocritical condition.

And it’s really alright because, well, we can see the fruit. We are winning the world.

#Selah

mavuno poster

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:9-12)

A big shout out to J.C.

How Many Stars Would You Give this Book?

How do you decide what books to read and which ones to avoid? With so many stories written and so little time to read, how do you know which book is worth your time? For some of us, we have a few trusted “followees” on Twitter whose book recommendations act as our guides. At other times, some books receive great acclaim and mention in the public sphere and this draws our interest. We read them to be in on the fuss or the buzz. And sometimes, we simply skim through reviews, checking out what the reviewers say about the book, who the reviewers are and how many stars the book gets on Goodreads.

ANewKindofChristianIt is this last form of ranking books – the “starring” – that had me stumped after I finished reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. The book is well written, in fact, it is superbly written. McLaren has a way with words and a way with the hearts of the people that read them. He knows how to tug at our human insecurities and manipulate our emotions. He is a master at appealing to our human need for belonging, justice, fairness, equality and freedom. He may not categorize himself as a liberal (since he avoids all categories), but his messages always have that air of being “liberating”.

After I finished the book and marked it “read” on Goodreads, I was prompted, as usual, to review it and rate it. But I suddenly found myself in a dilemma. It is not a new dilemma, but this book made it even more prominent this time around.

So, how many stars would I give this book?

If I was only looking at the way the story is written, the way the narrative unfolds and the way ideas are weaved, I would give the story 5 stars, hands down. Brian McLaren is an excellent communicator. His sincerity and intellectual honestly flows easily throughout the book. You don’t struggle to believe him. He is convincing because he is not trying to be convincing. He is sincere.

What about his message? His claims? His theology? Continue reading