Why do we believe the implausible? – Do we have to in order to be good Christians?

Questions concerning why or whether we should believe in implausible things that lack evidence come up tangentially in many threads on this blog. They often comes up when people are trying to show that that the Book of Mormon is not believable because it has stuff in it that is at odds with current understanding of archeology or history.  At risk of starting another boring discussion of archeological evidence , I am genuinely curious about in these questions and how believers answer them.

I think it is clear that both LDS and Evangelicals (1) believe things to be true that are historically very implausible and (2) believe these things without the type of objective evidence that is generally accepted as required to establish historically implausible things, and (3) believe that its extremely important to believe these things to be true, despite there implausibility and lack of objective evidence.

When it comes to my questions, it is irrelevant what specifically these beliefs are are and I think its probably counterproductive to compare lists, even if one religion had a longer list, there is are things on each or their lists of implausibilities that are important and maybe even critical to the religion.

It seems that in order to be a strong member of either group you cannot take the position of agnosticism even when there is barely any of evidence to justify belief.    It seems that in order to be a strong follower you need to overlook the lack of evidence and embrace some things as doctrine (e.g. Inerrancy of the Bible, the divine power behind the translation of the Book of Mormon, or even the Resurrection).

Apologetics of course is the activity of making these implausibilities seem more plausible, or at least not silly, but they seem to be more of an afterthought rather than the primary ground of most people’s belief.  Without some other ground to believe, it seems that there is no compelling reason to engage in apologetics.  However should our faith fail if our apologetics do?

So, arise the questions:

A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

What is your most compelling reason for believing in God?

Here is a question that may shed some light and understanding on the common ground between Evangelicals and Mormons:

Why (the heck) do you believe in God anyway?

There are all kinds of reasons not to believe in God, all kinds of proofs for his existence, but I doubt these make a lot of difference in the bedrock reasons for belief in a personal God.  So, for those willing to share, if you do believe that a personal God exists, what is the most compelling reason for you. Is it a historical account, a personal experience, a series of personal experiences?

For me, although there are other reasons, it comes down to a series of personal experiences  (quite a few) that I can’t explain effectively without refering to God.  I know this comes across as pretty weak, but my skeptical nature has stripped bare my interpretations of these experiences to the point to where that is the best description of what anchors my faith.

In recent years I have mentally revisited many of my experiences and tried to be more discerning about what they really mean.  My attitude is partly shaped by the thoughts of the  philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most compelling and entertaining anti-christ writers, who criticised the way people view religious experiences:

” As interpreters of our experiences- One sort of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and their kind: They ahve never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. “What did I really experience?  What happened in me and around me at the that time? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will opposed to all deceptions of the senses and bold in resisting the fantastic?” None of them has asked such questions, nor do any of our dear religious people ask them even now.  On the contrary, they thirst after things that go against reason, and they do not wish to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. So they experience “miracles” and “rebirths” and hear the voices of little angels! But we, we others who thirst after reason, are determined to scrutinize our experiences as severely as a scientific experiment– hour after hour, day after day.  We ourselves wish to be our experiments and guinea pigs.” — (The Gay Science #319 trans. by Walter Kaufmann, 1974, Random House. )

I have tried to take guidance from this advice, because I think it is important for me to feel comfortable that I am not deceiving myself, because ultimately I have to be able to trust myself in order to trust my experiences.  One of these experiences that confirms my belief in God occurred about 4 months ago.  I went to temple square in Salt Lake City and walked through the tour posing as a non-mormon. It was me, a couple from Britain and a guy from Brooklyn.  The sisters that lead us through the tour, although pretty, did not have much game when it came to explaining the church to the savvy, skeptical non-believer.    The tour lasted about 20 minutes and ended at the Assembly Hall a pretty church that sits next to the Tabernacle.   I sat down on an pew and told the sisters I wanted to ask them a question, why did they believe in God.   They gave me the standard, true believer answers, i.e. that everything tells them that there is a God, that they get answers to their prayers all the time (e.g. one sister prayed in the morning when she lost her keys, and they turned up, etc).   I could tell they were sincere believers, not brainwashed, but not skeptical of the experiences they had either, therefore I found much of what they were saying un-helpful. All of this was very sincere, and I don’t find any fault with what they said or how they said it, but I was essentially disappointed, this was the same stuff rehashed and wasn’t at all compelling.  Then one sister turned to me, and said that if I would pray in my room that night, and ask God to show himself that I would get an answer.   Of course this is exactly what I had expected, but I did not expect the internal response I had.  Almost the instant the words came out of her mount, it was all I could do just to hold it together, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  I was not sure if I was surprised or not but tried to remain as “objective” as possible about what was happening, and I don’t want to jump to many conclusions about the ultimate meaning and interpretation of the experience.  But suffice it to say this came at a time where I was at my most skeptical of the existence of God, the Church, Christianity, etc.

The sisters were remarkably cool about how they reacted, they stood there until I pulled it together, I apologized for my tears and they said goodbye, didn’t push anything or put any spin on what they clearly saw happen to me.

Now I am not about to put too much of a spin on this experience either, I don’t know that it should “prove” anything to you at all, after all you were not in a position to observe myself as I was, you were not in a position to be the scientist to make sure that there were not non-God influences that brought about such a strong reaction in me.   Certainly you cotuld chalk up my reaction to so many similar childhood experiences, or even  conditioned response.  But as the observer who knew my history best, and can see the similarities and differences in this context compared to other near identical experiences where I did not have such a reaction, my conclusion is that something outside of me triggered this reaction.  Given the vagueness of the way I felt,  I can’t say that this experience was proof of the truth of the Mormon Church, or Christianity, or anything particularly detailed, but I can say that on that Sunday afternoon, I felt that God existed and was making me feel it in the presence of those two kids with nametags, representing the LDS Church and It didn’t seem to have much to do with what they were saying or how they said it.

This is one of dozens of experiences that  I could relate.  Unfortunately, even taken together, they don’t remove most of the questions I have regarding God and religion, but they do mean something.   To continue with the science analogy, I am still seeking more data points before I draw my regression line.

I am interested to know what Evangelicals and Mormons alike think about this sort of anchor for a belief in God and also very interested to know what anchor’s other people’s faith.   My guess is that we my have more in common on this issue than on our theology.