Admittedly, doubts can sometimes serve a positive purpose. I have learned through the years, however, that it can be deceiving to take all doubts at face value. Like my first response to the Ron Bronski story, at times skepticism can be subtly used as a shield to keep people away from deeper motivations. I didn't want to invalidate the legitimacy of people seeking answers to their sincere obstacles to God, but I needed to get to the root of why some individuals raise smokescreen issues.
"In your experience," I said to Anderson, "do some people claim to have intellectual objections, even though their doubts have another underlying source?"
"Yes, that's certainly true," he said as he nodded and planted the front feet of his chair firmly on the floor once again. "In fact, I personally think all unbelief ultimately has some other underlying reason. Sometimes a person may honestly believe their problem is intellectual, but actually they haven't sufficiently gotten in touch with themselves to explore other possibilities."
"Can you give me an example?" I asked.
It only took him a moment to come up with one. "When I was a youngster, a brilliant novelist-an atheist from an atheistic, communist family-came to our little town in Canada to gather local color for a book he was writing. One day he was visiting with our family and he got real serious. He said, 'Can I ask you questions about your religion?' Even though I had been wrestling with doubts from time to time, I said yes.
"He asked, 'Do you really believe there's a God who knows my name?' I said, 'Yeah, that's what I believe.' He said. 'Do you believe the Bible's true? Babies born from virgins, dead people coming out of the cemetery?' I said, 'Yes, that's what I believe.'
"Then he said with great emotion, 'I'd give anything to believe that because I've traveled all over the world and I've seen that most people are miserable. The only people who really seem to be getting out of life what they want are the people who say they believe what you believe. But I just can't believe because my head keeps getting in the way!"'
Anderson's eyes got wide. "I was blown away, Lee. I didn't know what to say next because his head was a lot smarter than mine!"
Then Anderson leaned closer to me. "But, in retrospect, I don't think his head was the real problem," he said. "I started thinking about what he would lose if he followed Jesus. He was part of a guild of brilliant writers who all think religion is a total crock. I really believe his professional pride and the rejection of his peers would have been too high of a price for him to pay."
He let the story soak in. "Let me give you another example," he offered.
"Once I was talking with an ex-Marine who said, 'I'm miserable. I've got a wife and kids, and I'm making more money than I can spend with both hands, and I'm sleeping with every woman in town-and I hate myself. You've got to help me, but don't give me any of that God talk because I can't believe that stuff.'
"We talked for hours. Finally, I said, 'Maybe you think you're shooting straight with me, but I'm not sure you are. I don't think your problem is that you can't believe; I think it's that you won't believe because you're afraid to give up the things that help get you through the night.'
"He thought for a while and then said, 'Yeah, I guess that's true. I can't imagine sleeping with just one woman. I can't imagine going with less money than I make which I'd have to do because I lie to get it.' He was finally trying to be honest."
With that, Anderson's voice dropped to an intense whisper. "And here's my point," he said. "That man would argue and argue for hours about his cerebral doubts. He would convince people that he couldn't believe because he had too many intellectual objections. But they were just a smokescreen. They were merely a fog he used to obscure his real hesitations about God." Anderson leaned back in his chair. "I talked with another girl who had been sexually abused," he continued. "Every way God had been represented to her, as filtered through her parents' religion, was horrible. I don't blame her for having trouble believing. But her arguments were always in the intellectual realm. When you tried to dig deeper into her real obstacles, she didn't want to go through the pain of facing them. She used intellectual doubts to deflect people.
"Then there was the time I had a conversation about God with a guy in the Pacific Northwest. He was raising all kinds of intellectual issues. But when we got beneath that, it turned out he didn't want to believe in God because he didn't want to sell his topless bar. The money was too good and he was having too much fun making it.
"Here's my experience," Anderson said in summary. "When you scratch below the surface, there's either a will to believe or there's a will not to believe. That's the core of it."
I stroked my chin in thought. "So you're saying faith is a choice." I said. Anderson nodded in agreement. "That's exactly right," he replied. "It's a choice."
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