Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive… such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.
-Timothy Keller, The Reason for God
One of the most common complaints of organized religion goes something like, “How arrogant do you have to be to believe that you are right and everyone else is wrong?”
I have a problem with that criticism; not as a Christian, but as a logician.
If I believe 2 + 2 = 3, and you believe 2 + 2 = 4, then there are three possibilities:
- I am right, you are wrong.
- You are right, I am wrong.
- We are both wrong.
What’s not a possibility is for both of us to be right. Statements that contradict each other can’t both be true. This isn’t a spiritual assertion, but a logical one. It’s called mutual exclusivity.
Two years ago, I took sales training where I learned what I now call the “magic words” – a phrase proven more valuable in my marriage than in any sales situation I’ve been in:
I understand why you think that, and if I were you, I might feel the same way.
No part of that statement needs to be insincere. It validates the other person’s position without conceding your own. It acknowledges that our beliefs are often shaped more by life’s experiences than by conscious deduction.
In that class, we also discussed the three steps through which people form beliefs:
- Collect data.
- Analyze data.
- Form conclusions.
I find that the people I really click with – the ones I want to converse with, and live life with – aren’t necessarily those who arrived at same conclusions, but those who work with an analytical process that I respect.
Some of my closest friends analyzed the data and drew the conclusion that there is no God. Some decided that there might be a God, but can’t know conclusively enough to act on it. Some decided that Jesus existed, but that he was only a good moral teacher, and not the Son of God.
Depending on the data you’re working with, these can all be valid conclusions. However, they cannot all be true. God can’t exist, and not exist. Jesus can’t be the Son of God, and be just a prophet.
But I can understand how a person of greater character and intellect could look at the world around us and arrive at conclusions different from my own.
I’m writing all this because I just returned from five weeks in a Muslim country where 99% of the population believe that Jesus was not the Son of God. I disagree with them – and not over a trivial issue – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t respect and understand them, even learn from them.
For example, in the book of Matthew, Jesus says:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.
Turkish Muslims are crushing American Evangelicals on this one. Total strangers offered us rides, invited us into their homes, offered us food from their dinner table, and fed us tea until our bladders burst. Over those meals we had conversations with smart, sincere people holding beliefs entirely contradicting our own.
If I were born in Turkey instead of America, if my father were a Muslim imam instead of a Methodist pastor, then there is a strong chance that I would share their beliefs.
But I don’t.
I think they’re wrong, and they think I’m wrong. And neither of us needs to be offended by that.