‘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.’ C.S Lewis’ oft-quoted remark encapsulates much of what I will say here in rambling form.
I’m not sure how I came by faith (apart from vague notions of grace and providence) but it has been transformative. First an apology: this piece of autobiography will no doubt seem sterile compared to the other inspiring accounts I have read here however I wanted to explore Max’s request (perhaps for self-indulgent reasons): there was nothing dramatic in my conversion and I have never had anything that resembles a full-blown religious experience.
My childhood was one of rather superficial, middle of the road Anglicanism (CoE) but church was reserved for Christmas and Easter which I opted out of upon turning 16. Despite these biannual outings to church, my parents never expressed clear religious leanings and have become increasingly agnostic: once the children left home these excursions ceased. I was an unreflective atheist for much of my childhood but gradually this changed to a self-satisfied agnosticism when I began to study philosophy in a thoroughly secularised environment
Prior to my rather late ‘higher’ education I had begun to experiment with drugs and engage in promiscuous behaviour: my relativistic outlook provided the perfect justification for the self-centred life that I had chosen. The department in which I studied (and the university as a whole) was unashamedly naturalistic – theism was explored as an interesting historical curiosity that had been vanquished by David Hume and no contemporary theistic arguments were considered on the reading lists (or if they were, they were not highlighted by the lecturers as being worthy of the level of scrutiny which they perhaps deserved).
I remember arguments with some lecturers about the objectivity of values where these were defended (rather desperately it seemed) as intuitions or brute facts but such explanations confirmed me in my comfortable view that these were useful human constructs. Looking back on this time of hedonism I realise that even then there was dissatisfaction with the worldview that I was busy fashioning and drug use provided me with an easy, if ultimately vacuous, spiritual substitute. I remember condescendingly engaging a token Christian on my course in the comforting environment of complacency that comes from sharing an unquestioned worldview with my enlightened peers. Her belief seemed rather pathetic and her inability to provide any sensible retorts was a reassurance I did not need. Maybe she did provide retorts and I had not ears…? I pray that God kept her strong despite my snide attacks and those of my peers.
I married my wife who partially shared my hedonistic and nihilistic outlook although she had a more respectful opinion of the theistic position; I remember how much I enjoyed mocking her for this and I wince at how poor my reasons were for the arrogant position that I was so keen to equate with ‘the enlightened perspective’.
Post-graduate studies led me to immerse myself in the works of Freud, Nietzsche, and Sartre and I continued to ‘develop’ a worldview that sustained my lifestyle. The unhappiness which I felt I assumed was just what it meant to live authentically although my agnosticism was becoming less dogmatic. It was the pull of a felt objective realm of values which led to a brief flirtation with Theravada Buddhism, a position which provided interesting parallels to Humean scepticism of my undergraduate days and the Nietzschean/Rortian pragmatism that I understood as being a consequence of a thorough-going perspectivism.
The problem was that I was aware that there was a standard, a standard I frequently fell (and continue to) fall short of. I had tried to pretend that I was the sole arbiter of this standard but the standard was inflexible and it did not appear to be the standard of my peers or indeed the wider culture. I knew that I was guilty despite my attempts to hold to the idea that this was a mere evolutionary by-product.
It was my loss of faith in these masters of suspicion that opened my eyes to the force of the broadly Christian anthropology of the imago dei. Deconstruction had obscured the compelling vision of man as an ensouled moral agent, a substantial person, at every moment dependent on God. I began to read philosophy afresh: Plantinga, Swinburne, Moreland, Craig, Ward and, from a very different tradition but one that was consonant with other existentialist authors that I had read, Kierkegaard and Marcel. Of particular importance has been my reading of Augustine and Thomas.
I began reading the Bible and attended a church of Bible-believing Christians. My academic ruminations began to be enriched by my spiritual experiences. Again, these were not ‘full-blown’ in any dramatic sense but they began to permeate everything in a subtle way that I am often barely conscious of. I realised that I had felt this sense of the divine throughout my life but had suppressed it or chastised myself for allowing myself such experiences. Everything had changed yet it was almost paradoxically familiar. Although I stopped attending that church for reasons which I will not discuss here I now attend my local church with a dwindling congregation. I hope I can make a difference in reversing this trend.
I endure frequent waves of doubt but unlike my previous experience where objective meaning appeared to vie with my subjectivist prejudices this diffidence no longer results in a giddying cognitive dissonance and it can be reconciled through thought and prayer. Through the grace of God I have made changes in my life, and, whilst I err so much, I am aware of this in a way that allows me to attempt to confront it and, God willing, act faithfully in Jesus’ name.
I wish you all a happy Easter.