Something which I have great personal interest in, and to which I devote some thought and study, but don’t get much outlet for are the twin subjects of apologetics and Christian worldview. Apologetics has to do with making reasoned arguments for the Christian faith. Christian worldview has in mind, well, the view of a world that a Christian ought to have, as they are led by God’s word and Spirit.
Specifically, I am interested in understanding the specific qualities of our age and culture that influence Christian belief AND unbelief. We tend to think that coming to faith in God, or falling away from faith in God, is simply a rational process of being convinced, or unconvinced of the evidence. But we are more than rational creatures. And there are a number of external factors that work either for, or against, one’s belief in God, many of which fly below the surface of our awareness.
I hope to do several blogposts on this, in part as an outlet for some of what I’m currently reading. But I will briefly share a couple of examples of what I am talking about here.
The watershed thesis on this topic came from Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book A Secular Age (which I make no claim to have read, but have read this book-length summary of). The book considers how western society went from a context where belief in God (or gods) was virtually assumed and universal to a context where belief in God (or gods) is one option among many, including “unbelief.” Whereas the world was obviously “enchanted” to people in previous generations—alive with angels, demons, gods, and other spiritual forces—it is not obviously “enchanted” to people today, such that even many Christians have a hard time seriously conceiving of angels and demons, let alone God’s active involvement in the world.
Importantly, the argument being made is not merely that there are a greater number of secular/non-religious people today than in past. Nor is it merely that secular folk see the world one way, and religious folk another. The contention is that the typical western individual today intuitively sees and understands the world in a much more “secular” way than the typical individual of generations past. Such that to believe in God today requires facing arguments and doubts–even from within oneself–that would have been virtually non-existent previously.
This is beneficial from an apologetics standpoint in helping us see that many questions and doubts that we, or others deal with are affected by the current world we live in, by the “air” we breathe, if you will. While questions and doubts about God and Christian faith may have rational/logical aspects to them, they also may arise simply from the unquestioned assumptions of our current secular age, assumptions which may have very little logical basis.
For example, technology significantly affects how we view the world, and conceive of anything beyond this world. This is largely the point of Joseph Minich’s recent book, Bulwarks of Unbelief: Atheism and Divine Absence in a Secular Age. In less technological societies, human beings know that they are vulnerable and dependent on forces/beings outside themselves: the seasons, the weather, other people with whom they trade/do business, sickness, death. This sense of vulnerability encourages ongoing belief in God (or gods), who controls these forces.
Yet as technology becomes ever more advanced and prevalent, we feel less and less vulnerable and dependent. Technology allows us to seemingly control the effects of the seasons and weather, the unpredictability of other people and sickness, and push off thoughts of death. Want some blueberries in the winter? Either go to the store and purchase some grown in a different part of the world, or build a climate-controlled greenhouse and grow them yourself! Want to purchase some new pants? Never mind having to wait on an actual human being to sew them, just click a button on your computer and they’ll show up on your doorstep tomorrow! Want to ignore the reality of death? Have this operation done, take these medications, put your ailing loved ones somewhere you don’t have to regularly see them.
As incredible and convenient as are many technologies, their combined impact gives us the impression that we are in control of the world, understand all the mysteries of the world, and have little need for a God or gods. Furthermore (as Minich argues), they begin to change our view of reality: we think that which is most real and valuable as that which we can control and manipulate for our purposes, and not that which is outside of us, and therefore, to which we are vulnerable.
To connect this back to the topic of arguing for the faith (apologetics): It is helpful to recognize that we—and those with whom we share our faith–are formed and shaped by the time and place we live in more than we realize. This should give us a sense of humility, and make us willing to doubt our doubts. Our current world does not view reality with 20/20 vision. And since we are affected by the world we live in, our views and intuitions and emotions are not infallible as well.
This is why we need God’s word as an objective guide to truth, and why we need to continually see that we are shaped by it. Because we will be shaped by some version of truth and reality, either way.