Critical Thinking and Christianity
One of my pet peeves is when Christians are characterized as blind fools who can’t think for themselves. Perhaps this is because I don’t like being insulted in this fashion, but honestly it bothers me more because it simply isn’t true. Not only do I know many incredibly smart and thoughtful believers, but as a student pastor I regularly encourage young people to take the brain God gave them and put it to good use. I say things like, Being a Christian doesn’t mean you stop thinking and just “have faith”. Faith is based on reason. Christians should be people who strive after the truth and think critically. They should not be blind followers. If your faith hasn’t been well thought through then it will collapse when the challenges of life confront it.
Even the Bible, which promotes faith, also promotes critical thinking. The greatest command of all is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Luke 10:27). The centre of Christianity is, in part, loving God with your mind. There is a thinking aspect to faith. We are not given the capacity to reason and think so that we could leave those faculties at the door. Rather, they are to be harnessed for the right purposes—namely, loving God and loving others.
Scripture has other things to say about the role of thinking in the life of a Christian. Proverbs 14:15 says “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thoughts to his steps.” The biblical stance is that gullibility is to be resisted, and careful thinking used in its place. Even people of faith are actually discouraged in the Bible from being those who will believe anything.
Another passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, says to “Test everything, hold fast to what is good.” In context, this is referring to “prophecies”, or statements made either about God or from God. In other words, just because someone comes along and says something about God doesn’t mean we should believe it. Instead, truth claims about God or from God should be tested. There is an element of critical thought that goes into this process. Christians should not believe everything they hear, because some information is true and some information is false.
The Bible never anywhere calls for people to have blind faith. This is because faith is not entirely blind. There is an element of acting on the unknown when it comes to faith, but that does not mean that faith can’t be grounded in reality. It certainly can—and should—be.
For example, Christians believe that God created the universe. That is an act of faith. Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Yet, that does not mean this belief is objectively “blind”. No one was there to see how the world came about. Those who believe the universe came into existence by purely natural forces are also exercising a degree of faith, since they were not there to see it either. Neither truth claim can be objectively proven to be true. But, there are reasons why one might believe a particular view over another. The question is, do Christians have any reasons to support their claim? The answer is that indeed they do.
As I have talked with skeptics and unbelievers, it becomes clear that many of them have such a limited understanding of what the Bible actually teaches or why Christians believe what they do that any real discussion about it is impossible. I remember when I was young and still pretty naive in my faith I would get very troubled by some of the arguments against Christianity. Only after I looked into it for myself and took the time to think through my faith did I become more grounded in the reasoning behind it.
I have tried on this blog and in my pastoral teaching to help people wrestle with the tough questions about the Bible and Christianity. I have regularly resisted the idea that Christian faith is to be naive and nothing but a leap in the dark. That’s not true for me, and I don’t want it to be true for others. A faith that is tested with hard questions and critical thought is what I’m after, and what I want to help forge in others.
My point in all of this is to encourage critical thinking among individuals and thoughtful dialogue among those who disagree. Hearing both Christians and non-Christians throw around the same old ad hominem attacks or straw-man arguments is tedious to say the least. There needs to be more respect among those who disagree and careful, honest conversation between them. Rather than dismissing one another with a wave of the hand, we should pursue the truth with an attitude of civility. I would very much like to be a part in helping that kind of thing happen more often.