“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
At some point we all must ask ourselves why we believe what we believe. Why should anyone believe what we believe? My own confrontation with that question came, unsurprisingly, in college. In my case I had fallen out of practice due to apathy. I thought I had already addressed the issue in an earlier Philosophy of Religion class and my faith came out perfectly intact. In truth, I simply had not internalized the problem yet.
It was only when I had woken up from my apathy that I really asked myself, why believe? I had to decide if I should put the effort into going back to church. It was at this point that I had realized that I’d fallen away; I simply didn’t have a good answer to “why.” In that void is when I began to look for answers.
Without distracting myself with school, career, or hobbies and without the momentum of previous religious practice I asked myself what the point of life was. Seeking happiness seemed fruitless; the hedonic treadmill guaranteed that chasing pleasure would keep it just out of reach. Worse still, suffering is a given in life. There is no way to avoid it. Finally, the impermanence of life itself meant that even if happiness or true joy were possible it would, in the grand scheme of things, be over in an instant. Totally and utterly forgotten. Without any real meaning.
Ethical living presented the same problem. I could strive for justice, to live rightly, to be kind, but there would be no inherit meaning to it. Any good or bad I did would soon be forgotten. Any person who I affected would soon be forgotten themselves. Human existence itself would end soon enough, and any good or evil we inflicted would be gone with us. Things would never be made right, we would exist and than we wouldn’t.
I recognized that I was looking into an abyss. That this was the road to nihilism.
So, in recognition of this I gave my own faith tradition a second look to see if it offered a solution. Christianity teaches that God created ex nihilo, from nothing. God is the only being who is uncreated, He is the only thing that exists unto itself. In other words, his essence is existence. In contrast, all of creation is completely dependent on God. We exist only in relation to God by participating (in the Platonic sense) in God’s existence. Creation is a continual gift from God; at every moment God creates from nothing.
So, in creating and sustaining us God imbues us with meaning. We have a purpose: we are to bear God’s image and reflect it back. We accomplish this through the process of theosis, or sanctification. Finally, we can look forward to a future in which all of creation is reconciled to God. Therefore everything has meaning, even a speck of dust.
Therefore I was left with two stories, or narratives. In the first one, we are an accident of physics with no inherent meaning. We can accept that (ala Buddhism), we can create our own meaning, or we can despair. But in the end, it is all temporary and meaningless. In the other, we are created beings imbued with purpose by a Creator God and we have a role to play in participating in the Creator God’s work of reconciliation.
How than do we know which narrative is the true one? At the root, either could be true. Each is a ‘first-principle’ on which a world-view is built. Both are logically coherent and non-falsifiable.
So, I found the Christian narrative to be the more compelling one. It better explained why we exist, why we intuitively look for meaning in our lives, and it resolved the problem of nihilism.