“Frank, are you a fundamentalist?” she barked, the contempt clear in her tone. “Are you so religious that you believe the Bible is actually true?”
I tentatively answered yes, but I was stammering in my response. I hardly knew how to support my beliefs with any facts. Like most other Christian college students, I didn’t know much about the evidence in support of the Bible and Christianity, and I didn’t know how to turn the tables on her to reveal that she too was a religious fundamentalist who had a lot of faith.
What? She was an atheist—how could she be a religious fundamentalist with faith? It may sound counterintuitive, but I think it’s true. Just like everyone else, she was religious, had her own fundamentals, and needed faith to believe them. In fact, I’d like to offer a three-point news bulletin for the mocking critics of Christianity:
1. Everyone is religious.
Did you ever notice that people often give their opinions about religion but then caveat it by saying, “But I’m not a theologian”? Well, the truth is everyone’s a theologian. Some are more informed theologians than others, but everyone has some set of religious beliefs. If we define religion as someone’s explanation of ultimate reality—the origin, operation, meaning, and destiny of all things—then everyone is religious, including atheists. While some people devoutly believe that God is the cause of all this, others are just as devout in support of an atheistic explanation or that of some other religious worldview. Even those who are devoutly agnostic or indifferent have taken a religious position. It’s not that they’ve never thought about an explanation for ultimate reality, it’s that they believe the question is unknowable, undecided, or irrelevant. That’s still a religious position.
2. Everyone is a fundamentalist.
While Christians are often mocked for being fundamentalists, everyone has fundamental beliefs about why things are the way they are and how we should live in light of that. Atheists, for example, believe that there is no God; that life arose from non-life without any intelligent intervention; that there is no afterlife; and that science is the supreme if not exclusive source of all truth. Those fundamental beliefs usually result in moral fundamentals such as tolerance for everything (except for those who don’t tolerate everything). So the question is not who is or isn’t a fundamentalist—everyone is. The question is “whose fundamentals are true?”
3. Everyone has faith.
If we define faith as believing something that lacks complete evidence, then everyone has faith. Since no human is all-knowing, all of us—even atheists—require some degree of faith to believe our religious fundamentals. Those that have more evidence for their fundamentals, require less faith– those with less evidence need more faith.
I say all that to show that the playing field is truly level. Everyone is some kind of religious fundamentalist, and everyone has a certain amount of faith. That means that the seventy-five percent of churched students who reject the Christian faith after high school are implicitly adopting another faith, one with its own set of fundamentals and religious beliefs. Of course, few realize that. They think that they are becoming beacons of rationality by rejecting Christianity. Ironically, I think the evidence shows that the exact opposite is true. Those who reject Christianity are becoming more irrational. They require more faith to believe their new worldview than the Christian one they abandoned. The I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist seminar begins to show them why. (To go deeper into the details, get the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.)
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