Apologetics and the Down Side of Tradition

Mark Mittelberg: "Are we willing to step back and examine our inherited beliefs?"

So the question for us is this: Are we willing to step back and examine our inherited beliefs and make sure that we’ve thoughtfully and intentionally adopted a faith worth following?

Here’s the point we need to grapple with: our parents could have been wrong! And their parents could have been wrong before them. And our religious leaders and teachers might also have been wrong.

Looking at things more broadly, somebody’s parents and teachers must be wrong. Why? Because so many contradict each other. As we know, and as we’ll discuss further in an upcoming chapter, opposites cannot both be true. This “law of noncontradiction” is an inescapable reality—and you can’t even argue about it without implicitly agreeing with it. (I say this because you can’t dispute the laws of logic without employing the very same laws. In fact, you can’t even think about disputing the laws of logic without using them.)

Applying this principle of noncontradiction to matters of faith means that the personal God of Christianity is not compatible with the impersonal Brahma of Hinduism. Either God is an intelligent deity, who is distinct from the universe that he made, or he is an unconscious and impersonal pantheistic god, who is in and part of everything—but he can’t be both in any meaningful sense. Logically, both concepts could be wrong, of course, but they can’t both be right, because they are incompatible and contradictory.

As we said earlier, we should support the legal right of both of these traditions (and others) to exist and to spread their messages. That’s tolerance, which is great. But don’t confuse tolerance with truth. There can’t be two contradictory-but-true realities in the sense of genuine, what is truth.

To be fair, I had to face this same reality myself—as I mentioned—when I was in my philosophy class. “Truths” that I had been raised to believe and that I had always considered to be rock solid were being challenged by a professor who seemed to know more about the subject than most of the spiritual teachers and influencers in my life. I sensed that I was no match for this challenge, and the people I talked to about it at my church weren’t much help either. So what was I to do?

From Outreach Magazine  Lee Strobel: Living on the Evangelistic Edge

When faced with the possibility that something you’ve been taught all your life might actually be wrong—as I did in college—it’s tempting to try various defense maneuvers as a means of justifying and clinging to your traditions. Avoidance is one of those tactics—doing all you can to get away from the influence that is causing you to question. Maybe if you don’t think about it, or don’t get near that person or place—maybe if you just put a pillow over your head—the threat will disappear. But then the problem is left to fester beneath the surface, causing doubt and insecurity to spread like a cancer. I’ve met people whose faith was challenged years earlier, but who never addressed the issues adequately. Their confidence was still weakened, even after the passing of so much time.

Other people respond by getting indignant or angry: “Who are you to say that your way is right and mine is wrong? How arrogant!” Such a reaction might feel good at first—but in the end the questions still linger. And deep down you know that it really is possible that the other person’s beliefs could be right—and that you have been taught things that are wrong (even though they were sincerely believed by your parents or others who influenced you).

Wouldn’t it be freeing to just relax and decide that you would rather be a lover of truth than merely a defender of a tradition? Wouldn’t you rather know that you are sincerely seeking an accurate picture of spiritual realities and building your beliefs on ideas that are supported by the facts?

You see, traditional beliefs can be a wonderful thing, both for you and for those you pass them down to—but only insofar as they are actually based on truth. So the testing of the tradition can serve you in one of two beneficial ways: either you’ll find out it’s based of falsehood and myth, and thus have the liberty to set it aside and find something better to believe in; or you’ll discover that there is a real foundation of truth underlying those traditional teachings, and end up confirming that this is something to hold on to. Either way, you win—and end up with a set of beliefs you can embrace and pass on wholeheartedly to the next generation.

From Outreach Magazine  C.S. Lewis and the Rhetoric of Goodwill

Ultimately what we’re recommending is the very thing the Bible admonishes us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, where it tells us to “test everything. … Hold on to what is good.”

You don’t need to become a spiritual iconoclast, challenging every authority or discarding every tradition. Rather, you should maintain respect for your family and teachers while simultaneously scrutinizing what they’ve taught you. Recognize that most of us start out with beliefs that were handed down to us, and it’s a natural part of growing into adulthood to step back and evaluate the validity of the ideas you’ve inherited. You simply need to decide to weigh the reasons and evidence for what you have accepted up to now—so you can be confident that you’ll end up with a faith that really makes sense because it’s based on actual truth.

That was the course of action I took in college. To the best of my ability, I lowered my defenses, opened my mind, and began a process of examining the very foundations of the beliefs I had been taught. And frankly, it was an uncomfortable season for me.

So for a time I lived with a sense of spiritual disequilibrium, while I vigorously went to work reading books, listening to recorded talks, researching answers, and interacting with wise people who could contribute to my understanding. I thoroughly tested my traditions with logic, evidence, and frequent prayers for guidance, trusting that the truth would make itself clear.