The other day a tentative theist asked me what I might say in favor of Christianity. Needless to say, that’s a huge topic.
Let’s start with this. Once you are persuaded that God does exist (or that God is at least a live option) the next question to consider is whether God might have spoken.
I think God has spoken in many ways. He speaks, for example, through the moral law written on the heart. He speaks through transcendent aesthetic beauty and in the love, friendship and other relational goods that we find in our midst. He speaks through cosmic design and order. He speaks through the inexplicable mathematical structure of reality that has led more than one great mind to exclaim, “O God, I am thinking thy thoughts after thee.”
But does God speak specifically, in a particular revelation? It seems that a question like this is not going to be settled a priori. Instead, we ought to take a look and see. Presumably, the place to begin is in the realm of religion. But which religion?
I would think the place to start in answering this question is with the most widely adhered to religion. The simple reason is that all things being equal, the most widely accepted thesis or theory or movement in any particular competitive field is more likely to be correct (or accurate or reliable) than the minority opinions.
Certainly this is the case in the realm of punditry (i.e. of experts) If you want to figure out whether global warming is human induced, or whether an economic stimulus is required to revitalize the economy, or whether you ought to get the flu shot this year, the best place to start is by surveying the relevant group of pundits in the area. All things being equal, in their respective fields the majority of climatologists or economists or doctors are more likely to be right (or more right) than are the minority groups.
That may be true of punditry. But does it still apply when we’re talking about the hoi polloi, i.e. the average people the world over?
Ahh, now that’s an interesting question. When you want the goods on climatology, you should stick with the climatologists. But do pundits (in this case theologians, philosophers of religion, and other scholars of religion) provide the only relevant input when considering the viability of various religious belief systems?
The short answer is, no. At the same time, let me add immediately that we certainly ought to pay heed to what the scholars say. If scholars can provide evidence for and/or against a particular religion then we ought to consider that evidence carefully. However, absent defeaters against (or evidence for) a particular religion, we ought to pay attention to the hoi polloi for a very specific reason: religion is also judged — critically judged — by its ability to speak to the masses. Put it this way: if God has spoken to the world, he has presumably spoken in a way that will be found meaningful and helpful for the general population. (As with all else this statement is subject to a ceteris paribus clause.)
Consider an analogy. How do we judge the worth of a car? We might judge it by the opinions of automotive journalists testing it on a closed circuit, and that could certainly provide some relevant information. However, the real test comes in the real world as average people consider the car in day to day life. If average people find the car ugly, impractical, unreliable, or otherwise unappealing, then it matters little what the journalists conclude, for cars live not on the closed circuit: they live in the real world.
So it is with religion. It is judged not merely by scholars on a closed circuit. It must also be judged — and ultimately is judged — in the real world of lived experience. And on that criterion, Christianity has been an overwhelming success. Over the last two millennia it has adapted to countless circumstances with its story of creation, fall, and redemption, transforming the world in the process, such that even now it claims a third of the world’s population (at least nominally) including a dizzying cross-section of humanity from great scientists in Europe to millionaire business people in China to sheep herders in the Caucasus to hunters in the tropical rainforest.
Were God to speak, all things being equal we would expect to find that his words have found purchase in the world, that they spoke to humanity not merely on the closed circuit but also on the open road.
And that provides an excellent reason to begin with Christianity.