BY DANIEL EGITTO
“Truly, truly I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen”
Having been an agnostic from the minute I began to think for myself until my conversion to Christianity at 16, it confuses me sometimes how little religious people talk about why we believe so many ridiculous things. Much as we might hate to admit it, Jesus really does sound a lot like a fairy tale. Some powerful sorcerer back in the day who could walk on water and turn water into wine, who died and then came back, who talked about all these mysterious things until he left and people made him into a religion—believing all that just has to be stupidity, doesn’t it? Stupidity, in this modern world built on science and scrutiny and rational thought, for anyone to keep believing in what basically sounds like magic.
Well, maybe. For what it’s worth, though, I actually spent quite a bit of time thinking about these things both before and after becoming Christian. I’d like to lay out a simple, three-part argument for why I came to believe. It starts with the basics of what any reasonable person should be able to accept, and then at some point flips the switch into all that Christian foolishness. By the end, I’ll have come to terms with the limits of knowledge, the meaning of life, the problem of human nature, and, finally, faith’s necessity.
Why It Is Impossible to Prove God’s Existence By Reason Alone
People love to make arguments claiming to prove or disprove God through reason. This is not one of those.
I grew up with an atheist father and an Episcopalian mother. Faith or the lack thereof isn’t something I’ve ever been able to take for granted, and I spent a lot of time as a teenager hung up on that fundamental question: Does God exist, or doesn’t He?
The problem was, both Christianity and atheism had some kind of explanation for everything I’d ever experienced. Take prayer, for instance. Christians like my mother look at prayer and say it’s being close to God. God is good and gives good news, so that’s why praying brings peace. My father, on the other hand, says prayer is just a comfortable delusion. Of course it makes you feel better to believe in some all-powerful Savior, but that doesn’t make it true.
When it came to prayer—as with all knowable phenomena, I’d argue—the Christian and the atheist were at an impasse. Both had self-consistent narratives, so no matter how long the two spent talking, they never came to any agreement. I could find no argument to crack the edifice of either well-thought-out Christianity or well-thought-out atheism—and so, since I wanted to respect nothing but rational thought, I found myself forced into agnosticism.
Why the Purpose of Life is to Love
With no clear need to believe in any God, humanity, I assumed, was left to pursue its own desires. It seemed to me intuitive that “good” could mean nothing but “whatever makes us feel good”—and as such, happiness was the only reasonable purpose of life.
And so I chased happiness everywhere. Unfortunately, though, there was a problem: Almost every desire lost its appeal just as soon as I could meet it! I might want pizza right now, but if I eat it every meal it soon tastes like greasy nothing. I might devote years of my life to some goal, but after I’d achieved it, what could I do but start working toward something else? “All things are wearisome” (Ecclesiastes 1:8, NIV). We want them until we have them, at which point we start wanting otherwise.
In all my time on this earth at 16 and in the few years I’ve been given since, I have seen only one exception to this: Love.
Love—that deep, indescribable sense of wholeness, connection, transcendence—is the one truly permanent thing in the universe. It is joy that does not wane, treasure that does not rust. It is desire that keeps on burning even after the having. I love my girlfriend. I’ve been with her for five years and I’m still incredibly happy almost every time I’m with her. I love writing. No matter how many times I do it, it never loses its appeal.
Love is thus the only reasonable goal a person can have in the pursuit of happiness. It is, in a word, eternal life—and it therefore only makes sense for us to strive after as much of it as possible. Reason dictates that we immerse ourselves in love, caring for every person as if they were ourselves, and pursuing all true passions with equal fervor.
Love solves happiness like nothing else can, and because of this, I could refine my initial belief that the purpose of life was to be happy. The guiding principle now became, “The purpose of life is to love.”
Why I Have to Believe the Gospels
Now, if I were actually as rational as I’d like to think, that last sentence should have been all I ever needed. It’s just like Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV).
This message on the centrality of love (if not God, just yet) was, I’d seen, attainable through reason. My problem, however, was just how powerful human reason truly is. There is no evil, no cruelty or hypocrisy that cannot be rationalized by the human mind. We know this. We see it in our daily lives! We’re constantly reasoning ourselves out of doing difficult things, and the brain will go through any gymnastics in its power just to escape uncomfortable truth.
And what, I ask, could be more uncomfortable than love? Love fulfills our desire for happiness, but even as it fulfills, so it destroys. Love runs contrary to our every selfish want. It tells us it is better to give than to have, better to feel pain than to allow pain on others, better to be weak than to be strong.
The mind balks. This is war on our most basic nature, death to the selfish, pleasure-seeking drive that led us to love to begin with. Our very being is thrown into danger, and our body and mind take up arms. Surely, they plead, you can’t expect us to give up everything! That’s ridiculous! We have to take things in stride, we have to think things through. There’s no way every person in the world is worth loving. Maybe some of them (the ones who are like us, we mean). Maybe some of the time (when it’s easy for us, we mean).
Or maybe we delude ourselves further. We come up with reasons for why what we’re doing is really out of neighborly love, even if it might “seem” like it’s not. We have to take care of ourselves first, after all. Us, and then our friends and family, and then our acquaintances, and then other people, and then (in theory) people we don’t like. Never mind that we’ll never be finished “taking care” of ourselves—whatever that might mean—let alone the people closest to us. The mind doesn’t care. It wants happiness, but not to the point where it has to sacrifice anything!
So, I ask—how could I escape this? What could I turn to? How could I be smart enough to outthink my own mind, strong enough to overpower my own body? It was impossible. I needed something more, something beyond myself. I needed truth I could hold on to no matter what the flesh told me. I needed something worth believing in.
But what? What teaching was there within this world that could let me overcome this world?
Surely, surely, this is the end of reason.
I have no arguments beyond this point. I can only bear witness to what I saw when the Holy Spirit revealed Himself to me, and what I saw was this. If such truth exists, it is in the four Gospels. If anyone has read a more accurate book on the nature and implications of love, I’m begging you, please, please tell me. Because until that day I have no choice but to believe in what is written, word for word, up to and beyond the bounds of my own comprehension.
I have thought. I have argued. I have wandered to the edge of the world itself in search of answers. I have stood there, gazing out at the fathomless unknown, and from those depths I have heard a single word. Jump.
And so, I hold, I must believe the Gospels. I must jump, and I must leave my doubts behind.
Now maybe I’m wrong to say this. Maybe I was wrong to convert to this lunacy, and maybe it’s all made up and I’ll end this life a fool. But honestly, so what? That was going to happen anyway. We all die fools. Better the fool with conviction than the fool without it. Better to feel and to act and to love than to end our lives bland skeptics.
So let’s be stupid. Let’s believe in stupid things. Let’s leave reason to the wind and prudence to the dead, and see how far this idiocy can take us.