Skip links

How to Believe in God: A Philosophical Approach for the Sincerely Disposed Skeptic

I have heard it said by several atheists that they wish they could believe in God but are unable to. Of course, I doubt that everyone who says this is sincere—it is quite an easy thing to say after all, and I have heard this line in political conversations as well (“I wish I could vote Candidate X, but . . . ” Frankly, no you don’t.). But I do not doubt that everyone who says this is insincere. This article is for the sincerely disposed skeptic—the genuine, intelligent seeker—or in other words, the person who really does wish they could believe in God, but for whatever reason, finds themselves unable to.

Experience tells me that people fairly often reject belief in God because of entanglements with religious or political ideas, prior negative experiences, or all the above; the idea of God, for them, is associated with notions or experiences that inhibit, or outright prohibit, believing in God because of their rejection of these notions or repulsion to these experiences. Perhaps they grew up in a repressive religious environment where God was viewed as an arbitrary and aggressive punisher, something used to intimidate rambunctious younglings by people in positions of authority, including parents. Or perhaps they see God as something necessarily associated with—for whatever reason—certain (often crude) interpretations of the Bible, rejection of mainstream science, or being a Republican. Or, as is common these days, they might just have had a very cartoonish understanding of God installed in them at an early age by some religious antagonist, the idea of God as some large, powerful entity within the universe, the proverbial bearded gentleman in the sky, or some other deficient idea like that; some idea, indeed, so obviously undersupplied by reason that no person who fancies themselves intelligent could ever accept it. This is quite understandable—all of it.

Biographical note: As someone coming from an atheistic-naturalistic background myself, I can easily classify myself among those who really was open to believing in God, but because of the cartoonish idea of God that I held in my mind for many years, found myself unable to believe. As these notions dissipated and I began to see how philosophers thought about God, belief came fairly easily, and this eventually opened me to religion proper. For what it’s worth, I still reject now what I rejected back then—the comic strip version of God. In that sense, I am still a nonbeliever.  

I propose that a philosophical approach to God can help with these issues by removing barriers to belief through a conceptual clarification of what is meant by God. To understand why philosophers (many of them, anyway, past and present, from Aristotle to Aquinas, Leibniz to Lonergan) believe in God can create a new opportunity for genuine belief—an opportunity where one can begin a spiritual journey afresh, founded firmly upon reason.

Read more at Word on Fire 

Share with Friends: