The Seven Real Reasons for Unbelief
Regular columnist James Knight believes that understanding the reasons why many people choose not to believe in God will assist Christians in reaching out to them.
If Christians are to make a significant evangelical difference in the lives of atheists, it will help to understand more about the real reasons that people are not Christians. Don't assume the plausibility of what you hear superficially, because things on the surface are rarely everything they seem. Atheists like to give us a multitude of so-called intellectual reasons why they claim to not believe in God - but I think this needs exploring further, because I believe it is built on self-deception.
Even a reasonably competent thinker can discover with a little effort that there are no scientific or reason-based arguments against God. Even though most atheists claim their position to be based on philosophical and empirical grounds, the reality is, there is nothing in these categories that provides reasonable ground for disbelief in God. To think otherwise is to fool oneself with a cheat. Believing that you're an atheist because of rational persuasion and a well thought out set of views merely provides a cushion to the psychology that drives the beliefs.
I believe that if we could drill down right into the heart of why unbelievers are not Christian - the real reasons apart from what people claim on the surface - we would find that they are based on a combination of the following seven reasons:
1) Inadequate knowledge or consideration of the propositions
This is far and away the biggest reason why people are not Christians; for them, the Christian faith is simply not something they have ever explored properly or learned about, and its central tenets have never been deeply contemplated. All of us not born into a Christian household can recall a time when we were significantly unapprised of the basics so as to have only a trivial regard for what Christianity offers us. But although this is the biggest cause of unbelief, there are many who have a fair understanding of Christianity and still claim not to believe. For those people, numbers 2-7 are more prominent.
2) Unwilling to become the person Christ wants us to become
This one applies to those who understand enough of the faith to fear it and be apprehensive about it, but who have done a fair job of suppressing those realisations, so they don't have to undergo any radical transformations. I know this feeling as well - to begin to realise that becoming a Christian is going to involve life-changing standards and improvements we've not yet attempted, and accountability and responsibility of which we've never felt the full force - it's pretty unnerving - and it's little wonder that so many people stay in the comfort zone of their own much less challenging moral system. To use an analogy; Christ wants to take our house and help us refurbish it, and eventually turn it into a palace, whereas left to our devices, we think we are quite happy with just a light spring clean every now and then.
3) Pride, ego, and narcissism: the need for status over substance
People love being lord of their life, they love to court status, seek prestige, covet admiration, behave as they want, make rules that suit themselves, and find comfort in superficial approval - this stuff really matters to people, and it's not easy for them to give it over to pursuits with more meaning and substance. I've known people who have admitted that they think Christianity is probably true, but they are not willing to sacrifice their idols for religious discipline just yet. Giving up things that are going to be futile in the end is not an easy thing to do when the pleasures are so immediately satisfying.
4) Too many other priorities in life
This is linked to number 3, and often number 1 - but for a great many people, the everyday priorities of life (relationship, family, home, job, career, hobbies, health) are just so consuming on their time, energy, and resources that religious considerations just don't get a look in.
5) The PR problem of Christianity
There are those who have a reasonable understanding of Christianity, and regard for its core strengths, but make an easy excuse not to explore further on the basis of some of the whacky, extreme, nonsensical, and sectarian elements of the faith. There will be elements of 2, 3 and 4 in this too. Sometimes the church makes it too easy for potential members of the ecclesia to disregard it.
6) A personal psychological barrier
For this group, there is some underlying issue - to do with guilt, past traumatic legacies, sexuality, parental upbringing, disability, and so forth - that acts (either consciously or subconsciously) as a barrier to further exploration of the faith.
7) They've never been asked or invited
This is a very interesting group. Think about it - there are lots of potential Christians out there that no one is reaching out to - people who would accept what Christ is offering if only they were exposed to some good hearted Christians.
(Note: To some extent numbers 2-7 are also likely to contain elements of number 1 too)
I think it would do both Christians and non-Christians a lot of good to contemplate those human factors that act as barriers to belief. People are forever telling us why they don't believe, and they usually try to justify their unbelief with a suite of argumentation around science or philosophy or rational viewpoints. But these arguments are not why they don't believe; they are a mask used to conceal the real causalities listed above.
It is for this reason as well that you can never talk an atheist out of their unbelief using the same language they use to defend it. There is no argument that will ever persuade them, because arguments are not the cause of their unbelief.
I hope this is a useful tool for helping Christians to be a witness to others, and aid us in understanding the real root causes of unbelief. I also hope that the identification of these states of mind can help bring about helpful dialogue about what people are really thinking - because it can do a lot of good for progress if folk who are predominated by these positions can learn to identify the deception and stultification those standpoints prolong.
Understanding these seven principal factors gives us a route into the heart and the psychology of a person; into fears, insecurities, and barriers - and can hopefully help prepare us for how we can empathise and persuade with the good news of the gospel.
The image is courtesy of Tumisu on pixabay.com
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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